Villa Guardamangia (Italian – 'look' and 'eat'), formerly known as Casa Medina and sometimes referred to as Casa Guardamangia, is a townhouse in Gwardamanġa, Pietà, Malta, which served as the residence of Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh (later Queen Elizabeth II), and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, between 1949 and 1951, while Philip was stationed in Malta as a naval officer.
Villa Guardamangia was built in 1900 (not in the mid-18th century) and was called Casa Medina. The villa was formerly owned by Judge Sir Augusto Bartolo until the British royal family negotiated to rent it and eventually buy it. In more recent years it was purchased and refurbished by the politician Ġużè Schembri and still belongs to his family.
In around 1929, the villa was first leased to the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who had interest in it because of its proximity to Marsa, which has a horse racing track and a golf course that suited his lavish entertainment lifestyle. When the royal couple came to Malta at first they lodged at San Anton Palace hosted by Gerald Strickland and his wife. The Earl of Mountbatten, known as "Uncle Dicky" by the royal couple, passed the villa to the royal couple, after their spending some time as "guests" at the villa. The villa was in a bad state and divided into apartments, leading the Mountbattens to reside at the Hotel Phoenicia in Floriana, in two rooms, while the house was being renovated. Mountbatten bought the villa after some time and frequented it while the Earl of Mountbatten was stationed in Malta as Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet in the 1950s. Elizabeth celebrated her 24th and 25th birthdays at the villa, that are the only birthdays of hers to be celebrated outside the UK.
Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and her then-fiancé, Philip Mountbatten (later Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), first stayed at Guardamangia in 1946. The couple returned a number of times between then and 1952, while Philip was stationed in Malta as a Royal Navy officer when he was known as "Jimmy the One". The then princess, now Queen, has worked with the Soildiers, Sailors, Airmen Families Association (SSAFA) at Auberge de Castile, when she had started to be known as "Lilibet". The royal couple resided there continuously between 1949 and 1951 and it has been suggested that their second child, Princess Anne, was conceived at the villa. The Queen, who refers to the house simply as "Guardamangia", has described her stay on Malta as one of the best periods of her life, as it was the only time she was able to live "normally".
Queen Elizabeth II visited Villa Guardamangia during her state visit to Malta in 1992. She asked to see the villa when she visited again in 2007, but was reportedly refused by its owners. In 1992 the royal couple celebrated their 60th anniversary at the Villa. The Queen was given a painting of Villa Guardamangia by the Maltese High Commissioner in London, Norman Hamilton, in 2013. The Queen did not visit the villa while she was in Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015, as it was in a poor state of repair and subject of a dispute between its owners and the government, but President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca presented the Queen with another painting of the villa's façade.
Building and gardens
The villa is found just outside the outskirts and suburb of Valletta in the hamlet of Guardamangia hill set just at the crest in a quite residential area in a narrow street. The villa is described as built in the form of a palace complemented with sea views over Marsamxett Harbour. The Queen describes it as a "town house". It is a typical traditional Maltese residence. The building is built with Limestone, known as sandstone and described by the Queen as "yellow stone", and designed with spacious interiors. The house has two entrances with one set at street level and another set after going up a flight of stairs under an elaborate front porch. The royal family had taken their own personal belongings from Britain when they lived at the villa allowing them to live in a lavish residence, in a once-elegant home. The royal family had British servants at the villa to serve them for their daily requirements.
The gardens of the villa are secluded. The Queen has described it simply as the "small garden at Villa Guardamangia". The Queen herself had decorated the gardens and the surroundings according to her tastes and lifestyle, however most garden-related work was done by a gardener. The main outdoor feature in the garden is the long terrace taking from the building of the villa to the other side of the garden. In the middle of the terrace is where a bench stood that is the place where most known published photos of the royal couple and guests were taken. Other photos were taken on the roof terrace of the villa, while some were taken by the press back then at the front of the villa while the couple walked in on the flight of stairs. The garden had a function to entertain and also to cultivate flowers, which Prince Philip enjoyed to have in his cabin and wardroom.
Today, Villa Guardamangia is privately owned by Marika Schembri and her siblings. The building is scheduled as a Grade 2 monument by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and it is in a dilapidated state. The NGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar has called for its restoration and the government is attempting to expropriate and restore the villa, accusing its current owners of allowing the villa to deteriorate in order to justify demolishing it so that the site can be sold and redeveloped. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth, during her stay at San Anton Palace, said that the villa "looks rather sad now."
Villa Guardamangia is a potential tourist attraction once restored. A recent survey conducted by The Daily Telegraph revealed that 84% of respondents would visit the villa if it were restored and opened to the public. The villa is a common landmark associated with the royal family. The Daily Telegraph has mistakenly portrayed the front façade of Villa Luginsland in Rabat as the back of Villa Guardamangia.