Vigilo 55

Page 1



The National Trust of Malta



Din l-Art Helwa


May 2021







Din l-Art Helwa

V Din l-Art Ħelwa 133 Melita Street, Valletta VLT 1123 T: +356 21225952 E: Like our Facebook page and join the group Follow us on Twitter


FOUNDER PRESIDENT Judge Maurice Caruana Curran (1918-2015) Executive President Professor Alex Torpiano Hon. Secretary General Simone Mizzi Hon. Treasurer Martin Scicluna Members Albert Attard Joe Attard Professor Anthony Bonanno George Camilleri Cettina Caruana Curran Dr Petra Caruana Dingli Maria Grazia Cassar Josie Ellul Mercer Cathy Farrugia Joseph Philip Farrugia Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon Martin Galea Ann Gingell Littlejohn Kenneth B. Micallef Professor Luciano Mulè Stagno Perit Joanna Spiteri Staines Hon. Life Council Member Martin L. Scicluna Patron H.E. The President of Malta

Din l-Art Ħelwa is a non-profit non-governmental organisation whose objective is to safeguard the cultural heritage and natural heritage and natural environment of the nation. Din l-Art Ħelwa functions as the National Trust of Malta, restoring cultural heritage sites on behalf of the State, the Church and private owners, and managing and maintaining these sites for the benefit of the general public. Din l-Art Ħelwa strives to awaken awareness of cultural heritage and environmental matters, through a policy of public education and by highlighting development issues to ensure that the highest possible standards are maintained and that local legislation is strictly enforced.

Din l-Art Ħelwa has reciprocal membership with: u The National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland u The National Trust for Scotland u The Barbados National Trust u The National Trust of Australia u The Gelderland Trust for Historic Houses u The Gelderland ‘Nature Trust’ u Manx National Heritage

Din l-Art Ħelwa is a member of: u Wirtna – Our Legacy u ICOMOS – Malta u Europa Nostra u The International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) u The Heritage Parks Federation u Qantara u Future for Religious Heritage Association

The views expressed in Vigilo are not necessarily those of Din l-Art Ħelwa

Vigilo email Editor Petra Caruana Dingli Design Ramon Micallef Text and images copyright © the authors and the publisher Din l-Art Ħelwa Printed at Gutenberg Press Ltd, Gudja Road, Tarxien GXQ 2902, Malta Vigilo - ISSN – 1026-132X Number 55 - May 2021

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa

Issue 54 • NOVEMBER 2020


Editor’s Note


COVER IMAGE Moon rising behind Delimara Lighthouse - Daniel Cilia FEATURES Malta’s Secret Gardens - Vincienne Bezzina 3 The Marouflage Paintings in Nadur, Gozo Amy Sciberras and Ian Camilleri 12 The Phoenicia Spa



Sancir: A Medieval Countryside Church at Ġnien is-Sultan - Charles Dalli 19 The Country Villa of Bishop Baldassare Cagliares in Zejtun - Ray Gatt 24 Batteries and Redoubts: Defensive Posts at Mellieha Stanley Farrugia Randon 28 A Painted Frieze and Altar at Palazzo de la Salle, Valletta - Jennifer Herrick Porter 34 INTERVIEW Creating Habitats: Interview with Ray Vella - Joe Attard 38 OPINION A Perfect Storm: Developers, Architects and Regulators Alex Torpiano 41 Axing and Bartering Trees - Claire Bonello 46 NEWS - PROPERTIES - PEOPLE Din l-Art Ħelwa Architectural Heritage Awards XV Edition


Bending and relaxing planning laws: Din l-Art Ħelwa AGM 2021


The foundation of Din l-Art Ħelwa Mellieha


Restoration Report - Stanley Farrugia Randon 52 Let’s clean up the place: Volunteers at Mellieha and Armier 54 Keeping in shape at the Garden of Rest


Vigilo Short News


From the Din l-Art Ħelwa Archives - George Camilleri


Vigilo People


Vigilo Books - Petra Caruana Dingli


Rent a Lighthouse


he pandemic and the related social restrictions continued over recent months. While our social activities and site openings were of course limited, this did not hamper the enthusiasm and energy of Din l-Art Ħelwa’s council and many volunteers. Taking a bold step, Din l-Art Ħelwa’s first regional committee has been set up, founding the Mellieha section of the organisation with a group of active and committed volunteers aiming to boost nature and heritage protection in and around Mellieha. This move will help to reach a wider audience, and could set the path for other regional committees to follow in future. This and other initiatives are presented in this 55th issue of Vigilo. We also include an in-depth article on the nineteenth-century gardens known as the Ġonna tal-Kmand, located in various villages and towns of Malta. Another essay describes the restoration of the Marouflage paintings by Ġużeppi Briffa in Nadur, Gozo. Two winners of the XV edition of the Din l-Art Ħelwa Architectural Awards are featured – the new Phoenicia Spa in Floriana and the painted frieze in the private chapel of Palazzo De la Salle in Valletta. Following other articles on country houses in the two previous issues of this magazine, here we turn the spotlight on Villa Cagliares in Zejtun, and also review a recent book focusing on three eighteenth-century country villas. We are also pleased to feature an expert view of the historical social context of the medieval church of Sancir near Rabat. Din l-Art Ħelwa has long been requesting to be granted the necessary permission to restore and save this building which is gradually falling to complete ruin. Turning the lense back onto Mellieha, we present an overview of the defensive posts built along the coast in this area, as well as an interview with the former ranger of Foresta 2000 at Ghadira, a protected nature site which Din l-Art Ħelwa helped to set up twenty years ago. Retaining a focus on trees, another viewpoint outlines the current legislation and explains the lack of adequate protection of trees on the islands. An essay on the current planning sector outlines the perfect storm created by developers, architects and regulators. As usual we introduce some of our dedicated volunteers. We also include a new feature with selections from our archives. Din l-Art Ħelwa was founded in 1965, and its extensive archives provide rich and fascinating insights into the evolution of interest in the natural and cultural heritage of Malta and Gozo, from the 1960s to the present day.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


YOUR SUPPORT! Din l-Art Ħelwa thanks those many people who have sent donations during this difficult time, in particular those generous sponsors and individuals listed at the back of this issue.

Memberships and donations u u u u

If you have not renewed your subscription to Din l-Art Ħelwa this year, please do so as soon as you can. If you have already renewed it, do consider upgrading your level of membership to a Life Membership. Those of you who have Life Memberships, or are already a Double Life Gold Member, could perhaps consider another generous contribution. You can also simply encourage one other member of your family and friends to subscribe as a member. Talk to them about Din l-Art Ħelwa and its work. Ask them to join us and become Guardians of Heritage too.

You can send a cheque to Din l-Art Ħelwa at 133 Melita St., Valletta VLT 1123. Payments can be made through Internet banking by using any of the following Din l-Art Ħelwa accounts: HSBC MT76MMEB44336000000033181181001 BOV MT51VALL22013000000040021787427 APS MT02APSB77024000892010892010012 It is very important that your deposit includes name and surname. Or donate directly through our website:


If you wish to help Din l-Art Ħelwa at a heritage site as a volunteer, just contact us. From Dwejra at the northern tip of Gozo, to Delimara Point in Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa’s historic sites offer you this perfect opportunity. Visit our website and email for further information.



Din l-Art Helwa


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


Secret Gardens

By Vincienne Bezzina

All photographs taken by the author in 2018, unless indicated otherwise.

‘...beautiful gardens, public or private, for which Malta is famed – hidden jealously away, many of them in mean, narro w streets behind high, shabby walls’ Elizabeth Schermerhorn, 1929

Left: Central Passageway of iI-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Qrendi. Right: Entrance of iI-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Qrendi.


The Casal gardens are a chain of gardens situated in various villages around Malta. They were commissioned by Sir Alexander Ball between 1804 and 1805, as part of his plan to introduce an improved system of cultivation in Malta. The plants and trees cultivated in Floriana’s Maglio were distributed around the island and made available to the villagers through the Casal gardens. Ball entrusted Michele Cachia with the design and supervision of their construction.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


he Casal gardens, once finished, were handed over to the luogotenente of the village. Because of this, many of these gardens were known as il-Ġnien tal-Kutnent (lieutenant’s garden) or, as they are still known, il-Ġnien tal-Kmand (commander’s garden). Ball’s intention was to make these gardens accessible to the public while gratuitously providing farmers with plants, seeds and shrubs. However, after some time, being indifferent to agricultural improvement, the luogotenenti kept them for their own use. Eventually, in 1839, with the abolishment of the role of the luogotenente, the government leased them to private individuals and they were no longer accessible to the public. A total of 23 gardens are mentioned in a variety of sources which include the Amministrazione dei beni pubblici, the Cabreo plans, 1900s survey sheets and tenement sheets. The extant gardens have all remained government owned. Three of them (Qrendi, Żejtun and Safi) are administered by the local councils. In 2009 the Planning Authority scheduled the gardens in Attard, Lija, Għargħur, Gudja, Qrendi, Safi, Siġġiewi, Żabbar, Żebbuġ and Żejtun as grade 1 national monuments. In 2010, those in Attard, Balzan and Mosta acquired grade 1 and in 2013 surviving areas of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Għaxaq were scheduled as grade 2.

Raison d’être Sir Alexander Ball intended to improve agriculture and horticulture in Malta and at the same time turn it into a ‘green isle’. William Domeier, physician resident in Malta for three years, in 1810 (a year after Ball’s death) credited most of Malta’s advancements in agriculture and horticulture to Ball’s work through the gardens: ‘...must be mentioned, that he rendered a barren surface, near each village, often a naked rock, fit for cultivation; that he

enclosed it with a high wall, provided it with young trees, shrubs, and plants, and gave this, as an additional income, to the justice of peace of each village, obliging him, at the same time, to give gratis to each petitioner of his village, seeds of his plants, to share his shrubbery, and to allow the people to graft from his trees’. During his term as Civil Commissioner, Ball insisted on importing new plants and trees, some of which were cultivated in the botanical garden in Floriana along with indigenous ones. Both indigenous and imported plants were transported to the Casal gardens managed by the luogotenente del casale. The establishment of such gardens made it easier for farmers to learn new cultivation techniques and to be exposed to new crops and plants which were introduced for their benefit. After the blockade, Malta was short of food supplies. Ball allocated a large sum of public funds to construct these gardens in order to promote horticulture, to diversify the economy and to supplement the food supply. The cost of these gardens raised expectations.

Internally, a central stone passageway protruding from the main entrance is flanked by stone pillars supporting trellis vines.

Characteristics During his travels to Rome and Naples, architect Michele Cachia must have been inspired by the work of Italian architects. In fact, most of these gardens follow the style of eighteenth-century Italian gardens. The gardens are surrounded by a high boundary wall, most of which are perforated only by a central doorway on a symmetrically designed façade. A marble plaque, with an inscription commemorating King George III, Sir Alexander Ball and the luogotenente under whose responsibility it was entrusted, is usually set above the entrance. Blocked windows and doors are another feature on the façade, an architectural style that Cachia adopted. The gardens at Żejtun and Gudja have an elaborate centrepiece in a classical

Blocked Apertures in Qrendi, Siġġiewi and Safi Gardens.

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Above: The high boundary wall of iI-Ġnien talKmand, Gudja. Right: Interior of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Qrendi. Below: Apiary with insertions for clay beehives of an eastern fashion at il-Ġnien talKmand in Qrendi. This is now used as a tool room and is not functioning as an apiary.

style above the doorway displaying the George III Royal cypher. Internally, a central stone passageway protruding from the main entrance is flanked by stone pillars supporting trellis vines. Narrower pathways, attached at right-angles to the main passage, divide the gardens into separate plots. In some gardens, a gatehouse is attached to the entrance. These were used as offices by the administrators. At Għargħur, this served as the residence of the luogotenente. An apiary and a barumbara were common features within the fabric of these gardens.

Secret gardens After Ball’s death the aim of the Casal gardens was buried along with their founder. How did they become ‘secret’? Did their high walls and enclosure hide their assets? Were they intentionally and egoistically rendered secret, or was their function inappropriate?


Already in 1812, in his letters to the Mediterranean, Lieutenant Edward Blaquière shared his concerns on this matter. He noted an increase in the growth of wheat and barley together with the introduction of new plants and trees. However, in his opinion, agriculture had experienced little or no improvement even though Ball had worked hard to introduce new cultivation techniques and advances in agriculture. He insisted that the gardens were not very successful, an opinion he confirmed with an English gardener residing in Malta, who informed him that, ‘the gardens established by Sir A. Ball, have been of no use whatever, owing to his having confided their care and cultivation to the Luogo Tenenti, persons totally ignorant of agricultural improvement, prejudiced in favour of old customs, and above all, more anxious to derive personal advantage from the charge, than to fulfil the governor’s original design, which was that of making them accessible to the public, and providing the farmers with plants, seeds and shrubs, gratuitously.’ While Blaquière mainly blamed the luogotenenti for the misuse of the gardens, the Report of the Royal Commission of 1812 points towards other reasons. The first reason was the infertile soil. Another reason was the conservativeness and stubbornness of the Maltese, who did not like to experiment with new crops and farming methods. The Royal Commission considered Ball’s project to be a waste of public funds. Already in 1811 in his account on agriculture, Giacinto, who was in charge of the botanical garden in Floriana, expressed concern and encouraged the Maltese to avail themselves of the great opportunity provided to them by Ball.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Left: il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Qrendi façade. Below: Façade of Ġnien Sir Alexander Ball, Safi.

Another reason could be the governance style of Sir Thomas Maitland (1813-1824) whose principles were not in line with those of Ball. While Ball was ready to give the Maltese a share of civil liberty, Maitland excluded all Maltese participation. This could have made it easier for the gardens to lose their raison d’être and to be forgotten by the public. The luogotenenti under Maitland were demoted to deputati di luogotenente di governi. Malta was divided into six districts, each under a new luogotenente. The final blow occurred in 1839 under Sir Henry Bouverie, who completely abolished the luogotenenti and their deputati, replacing them with seven syndics each leading a district. After this, the government leased the gardens to private owners and from then onwards they were no longer accessible to the public. Having fallen into private hands at a very early stage of their existence, the significance and historical value of the Casal gardens was locked away and forgotten for over 200 years. This lack of awareness gave an opportunity to the government and the tenants, to manipulate the gardens to suit their needs. Only a few remained intact, while the rest were tampered with or completely wrecked.

The survivors The gardens in Qrendi, Siġġiewi and Safi have remained almost completely authentic. They were barely intervened upon and their present layout still matches that of the original Cabreo plan.

Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Qrendi, looked after by the local council, is one of the largest Casal gardens. It is located in Triq Santa Katerina and is now well integrated within the village fabric. A marble plaque attached to one of the walls inside the garden denotes that in 1992 the garden was made public but it has remained closed for the past 20 years due to lack of funds. Another garden managed by a local council and open to the public, is Ġnien Sir Alexander Ball in Safi. It is located very close to another garden listed as Ta Bria on the Cabreo plans. Surrounded by agricultural fields with a few rural structures, its setting is still very authentic. Tal-Cmand in Siġġiewi, located in the outskirts of the village is largely ignored by the residents of Siġġiewi since it is enclosed by a high boundary and has blocked-up apertures. The garden is still privately leased and operates as an orange grove. Overall, these gardens have not suffered any major interventions. The few changes included the blocking of doorways with stone, which is reversible. Other gardens in Gudja, Għargħur, Balzan, and Żebbuġ/Rabat still survive but their fabric has been slightly intervened upon during the years to adapt to various uses during the periods of their leases. Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Gudja has long been leased and converted into a residence. The façade has remained authentic but the internal layout has been tampered with. In 1968 a permit was granted to build a bungalow within the garden’s boundary and at a later

Above: Façade of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Żebbuġ/Rabat. Left: Full façade of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Attard. Right: Present façade of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Balzan.

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The significance and historical value of the Casal gardens was locked away and forgotten for over 200 years

Gardens in Safi, Cabreo Plan NAM MBK3 Plan 423 (NAM, 1860s).

stage a pool was also constructed, for which permits could not be traced. In the outskirts of Għargħur, overlooking terraced landscape and sea, il-Palazz talKmand stands alone. It is known as Palazz because the garden also has living quarters which were the residence of the luogotenente. The same family from Għargħur has tended the garden for consecutive generations and it is still under lease. By 1994 the original dwelling was extended a further 126sqm to suit the needs of its tenants. The pillars which once flanked the pathway were completely lost, but the pathway still exists. The Casal garden in Balzan is located opposite the Old Mill in Birkirkara. The façade, which is approximately 65m long, is not the original one. A drawing at the Public Works Records and Archives shows that the façade of

this garden was demolished to make way for a wider road. On plan the Cabreo shows parts of the façade extruded which would have created a panelled design similar to other gardens. Situated outside the development zones (ODZ) between Żebbuġ and Rabat, another garden is surrounded by agricultural fields. With its chevron shape, it is a very particular one. The façade together with its door are still authentic but in great need of restoration and parts of its boundary walls were rebuilt several times. The fabric of this garden has undergone quite a number of alterations. Other gardens which survived the test of time are those in Attard, Mosta, Attard/ Lija and Żejtun. The layouts of these gardens have changed drastically due to permanent interventions but their use has still predominantly remained as a garden.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in the limits of Attard lies in a rural setting. A record at the Public Works Records and Archives lists that in 1955 the garden was leased for four years to the Malta Shooting Club. Aerial photos reveal that the internal layout of this garden has changed radically over the years and is barely recognisable from the Cabreo. By 1957 the pathways were already lost as they made way for a skeet shooting arrangement, and only the boundary walls and rooms remained according to the original layout. It was later adapted to accommodate a residential use. Another Casal garden in Mosta, close to the Rotunda, experienced a number of changes both internally and externally. Recently this garden was under threat of new development. An application was submitted to the Planning Authority, to demolish existing pre-1967 dilapidated rooms and construct a terraced house interconnected to the adjacent garage. This application was reccommended for refusal but is still awaiting a decision from the Planning Authority. Another garden situated between Attard and Lija is positioned within a densely built area with small pockets of undeveloped land. Presently it forms part of a larger area turned into a Plant Biotechnology Centre. Tenement records show that the land was held by the Department of Agriculture. The area was to be enlarged through the addition of seven adjacent fields, in order to convert it into a government nursery. These lands now fall under the Plant Health Department, and the garden forms part of the Plant Biotechnology Centre for micropropagation. In the aerial photo of 1967, the boundary wall was extended to incorporate the fields acquired by the Department of Agriculture. The new area followed the layout of the Casal garden. To cater for the needs of its new use, the garden experienced several interventions including a driveway, two large laboratories with two basement levels, a climatic chamber and four green houses within it. The left boundary wall of the front section was completely demolished. Ġnien Luqa Briffa is located in the outskirts of Żejtun and lies between Triq id-Daħla ta’ San Tumas and Triq Xrobb l-Għaġin. Since 1927 this garden has been leased to the Żejtun Local Council and open to the public. During its first 150 years, the garden was isolated among a large number of agricultural fields. As development expanded the garden was driven closer to the community and was eventually connected to a larger public open space. Comparing the Cabreo plan and the 1957 aerial photo, it can be

Façade of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Siġġiewi.

Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Mosta façade.

Il-Palazz tal-Kmand, Għargħur façade.

Façade of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Gudja.

Figure 2 Illustration of skeet game / Aerial Photo 1957 revealing shooting range (Pattoko, 2006; PA, 1957).

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


seen that by this time part of the gatehouse and the exterior shell of the garden remained intact but the internal layout had changed completely. The busy roads that encroached on the garden are creating quite an edge between it and the community of Żejtun.

The victims

Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand, Attard/Lija façade.

Attard/Lija Aerial Photo of 1957 vs that of 1967 (PA, 1957/1967).

1957 Aerial Photo of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Lija (PA, 1957).

While twelve gardens survived, three are in ruins and another six have been completely lost. The gardens in Żurrieq, Lija and Għaxaq have mostly been covered by development, although parts survive with some hints of the original structure still visible. A large plot of land, which is now mostly developed and located in the aptly named Triq il-Kmand, used to house Żurrieq’s IlĠnien tal-Kmand. By circa 1967 its frontage was completely destroyed. It made way for the construction of Triq il-Belt Valletta and a roundabout. A number of garages were also being developed in the first section of the garden. By 1988 the garages were fully constructed but this was not the greatest concern for admirers of the garden. Out of its remaining area of 5,000m2, a social housing project which included the construction of 18 dwellings devoured 3,600m2 of it, leaving the garden with only 1,400m.2 A section of the original boundary wall is partly visible from the adjacent petrol station. Ruins of the original reservoir are also still visible. In an area now known as Ta’ Kmand, situated close to the Belvedere Tower of Lija, another Casal garden existed. Over the years this area changed drastically with new road infrastructure and development. The aerial photo of 1957 shows Transfiguration Avenue dividing Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in two parts. The north section was transformed into a public project while the southern section of the garden was sacrificed for semi-detached villas and only a small section of 422m2 remains. Il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Għaxaq has been encroached on by development and large parts of it are lost. A small part of this garden can be seen from Triq San Filippu, and the remaining parts have become private gardens. Other gardens in Qormi, Birkirkara, Luqa, Mqabba, Naxxar and Żabbar have been totally demolished and some made way for residences. The one in Mqabba was lost at a very early stage and by 1911 it was already built up as a government school. The one in Luqa was still intact in the 1930s but the 1957 survey sheet lists the site as a quarry, and it now serves as a Wasteserv site.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

By the 1880s, il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Żabbar was already surrounded with dense development and it was decided to convert this walled garden into a piazza covering approximately the same shape and size of the garden. In the 1900s the piazza was known as Prince of Wales Square but nowadays it is known as Misraħ is-Sliem. This piazza underwent several upgrades. Contrary to its once flourishing fruit orchard, it is presently a bare area paved in a modern design with a central fountain. No hints of Il-Ġnien talKmand remain except for the usual marble plaque which has been attached to a residential dwelling overlooking the piazza. This is very misleading as it is not in its original place. Apart from the gardens mentioned, there is still a possibility that more gardens formed part of Sir Alexander Ball’s horticultural project. The fact that the plans of these gardens were drawn 60 years after their existence, indicates that some might have already been lost by the 1860s and a plan in the Cabreo was never created for them. This is the case for the Casal gardens in Tarxien and Paola which were listed in expenditures in the Amministrazione dei beni pubblici (ABP), but these have yet to be identified. Most of the Cabreo plans were listed as Tal Cmand, but this description was not used for all the gardens, making it more difficult to identify them.

Above left: Photo of Ġnien Luqa Briffa pre 1950s (MALTA - Through the ages Facebook group, 2018). Above right: Photo of Ġnien Luqa Briffa. Left: Photo showing façade of il-Ġnien talKmand, Żurrieq in the background (Private collection, Caruana Family). Below: Part of il-Ġnien tal-Kmand boundary wall as seen from adjacent petrol station, Żurrieq.

Green lungs The sudden increase in development in recent years has resulted in denser communities and an ever-increasing need for public open spaces and green lungs. Investigating the resources already present in our localities should be the initial step towards an improvement in this regard.

The Casal gardens can be considered as established and protected assets that were developed in the past, when the need to increase greenery was already being felt. Ironically, this was a time when the density of the built fabric was hardly comparable to the present situation.

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The Casal gardens can be considered as established and protected assets that were developed in the past, when the need to increase greenery was already being felt. Ironically, this was a time when the density of the built fabric was hardly comparable to the present situation.


Above: Dwellings which once overlooked il-Ġnien tal-Kmand in Żabbar. Below: Żabbar’s Casal garden’s marble plaque attached to a residential dwelling overlooking the piazza.

It is clear that lack of heritage appreciation from both the government, who committed some of the gardens for infrastructural works, schools and housing schemes, and from tenants who intervened on the gardens to try to make them more residential, created havoc in nearly all the gardens and most interventions were also illegal. Although some of the gardens have been scheduled, they are still at great risk of

more illegal development and deterioration while being leased. Should these gardens be given back to the public and restored after termination of lease, they may once again regain their purpose, be safeguarded for future generations and provide for an ever-increasing need of open space. n

References V. Bezzina, Malta’s Secret Gardens: A Compilation of Underutilised 19th-Century Public Gardens and the Evaluation of their Present State (unpublished dissertation, University of Malta, 2018); E. Blaquière, Letters from the Mediterranean: Containing a Civil and Political Account of Sicily, Triply, Tunis, and Malta (London, 1813); W. Domeier, Observations on the Climate, Manners and Amusements of Malta: Principally Intended for the Information of Invalids Repairing to that Island for the Recovery of Health (London, 1810); C. Giacinto, Saggio di agricoltura per le isole di Malta e Gozo (Messina, 1811); National Archives of Malta, Amministrazione dei beni pubblici 43: Introito dalla tesoriere e corrispondente; esito dalli 25 luglio 1804 a tutto li 24 luglio 1805; E. Schermerhorn, ‘Colours and Perfumes in a Garden’, in D. Manley (ed.), Malta: A Traveller’s Anthology (1929); National Library of Malta, Report of the Royal Commission (1812).

Vincienne Bezzina is an architect. She graduated M. Arch in Architecture & Urban Design from the University of Malta. Her architectural background influences her passion for photography, the visual arts, history, and music.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Appeal to save the

‘marouflage paintings’

in Nadur, Gozo By Amy Sciberras and Ian Camilleri

An ambitious project is underway to conserve and restore the marouflage paintings that embellish the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Nadur, Gozo. These are part of the artistic legacy of the renowned artist Ġużeppi Briffa (1901-1987) and vividly represent the crucifixion of Christ and the blessed sacraments in a style influenced by Art Nouveau.


nfortunately, Briffa’s paintings in Nadur have been in dire need of conservation for many years and if not treated urgently the Maltese Islands risk losing a unique set of paintings within this devotional church which is frequented daily by many local people for religious services, along with numerous sightseers.

(Top) The dome paintings still not concealed by the current platforms, as photographed in June 1988. Photo courtesy of Johnaton Grech. (Above) The interior of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Scaffolding assembled by Agius Stone Works Ltd.

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Ġużeppi Briffa in his studio in Birkirkara. Photo courtesy of his son Alfred Briffa.

Vast areas of the nave and dome marouflage paintings have become detached from the stone support

The church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was built between 1902 and 1908. The news that a new church was going to be erected in Nadur was announced in the newspaper Il-Ħabbar. The founder of the church was Fr Ġużepp Vella and the church’s plan was designed by Fr Peter Paul Charbon. Its interior is richly decorated and gilded. The majority of the sculptural motifs were designed by the well-known Maltese sculptor Francesco Saverio Sciortino (1875-1958) and they started being executed in 1952. The following year, in 1953 when sculptural decoration of the church was close to completion, the Vella family decided to further enrich the church’s dome and ceiling with paintings. Three Maltese artists, Emvin Cremona, Ġużé M. Caruana and Ġużeppi Briffa, were approached and asked to hand in bozzetti for the decoration of the Church. The preferred bozzetti were those by Briffa, who had been responsible for a vast number of works executed for ecclesiastical patrons.

Ġużeppi Briffa The artistic output of Ġużeppi Briffa has been described by art historian Dr Christian Attard as ‘a bridge, connecting an old ailing tradition of academic anachronisms with a more innovative search for modernity’. Briffa’s major contribution to Maltese art comprises a vast number of works executed for church patrons. From his student years in the early decades of the twentieth century, until World War II, Briffa produced some of his most memorable ecclesiastical works. Briffa generally used the marouflage technique to decorate churches. This painting technique involves the attachment of canvas supports to the interior of architectural settings, or to an intermediate rigid support which is, in turn, fixed to the wall. The materials and methodology of the marouflage technique employed by Briffa were scientifically investigated by the present author in her unpublished thesis, ‘A Study on the Deterioration Phenomena of Marouflage Paintings: The Nave Marouflage Paintings by G. Briffa at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Nadur, Gozo’ (2015). Like many other artists of the period, Ġużeppi Briffa believed that the marouflage technique, as opposed to painting directly on the wall, offered an increased chance of preservation. Artists were concerned that paintings executed directly on walls were more susceptible to flaking due to the decay and salt


problems manifested by Maltese limestone buildings. Yet in spite of this, marouflage paintings in Malta and Gozo still tend to exhibit deterioration which is typically also related to the deterioration of the stone support. As expected, Briffa’s hometown Birkirkara possibly has the largest share of his works. His paintings are found in the churches of TalĦerba, St Paul, St Helen’s Basilica, and the old parish church. Away from Birkirkara, other examples of his work are at St George’s Church in Qormi, St Leonard parish church, Kirkop, Kerċem’s parish church, and at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Nadur.

Current state, initiatives, events and planned actions Unfortunately the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is in a critical condition. The advanced deterioration of the historical marouflage paintings decorating the entire ceiling and dome, prompted conservatorrestorer Amy Sciberras to carry out intensive scientific investigations and studies within the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage at the University of Malta, which enabled the formulation of a unique and specific conservation strategy to save these paintings. This intensive scientific postgraduate study by Amy Sciberras and monitored by Professor JoAnn Cassar, led to the initiation of an awareness and fund-raising campaign launched in March 2019 by the Hon Anton Refalo, MP and former chairperson of Heritage Malta. This had a satisfactory response and attracted several sponsors, which encouraged the project team to commence work. Three of the main sponsors were Gozo Graphics Ltd, MAPFRE MSV Life and Computime Technology Ltd. The Farsons Foundation have recently joined this mission as well. The fund-raising and marketing strategy was further developed, whereby each entity or individual donor sponsors the restoration of a square metre of painting or a specific work package of the restoration. Support and guidance is also being received from the Hon Chris Said, MP and former mayor of Nadur. Additionally, activities organised to raise awareness and funding in aid of this worthy cause, included a concert which was held at the church on 2 November 2019. A recital of religious music and solo harp works was performed by Classique Meets Pop Duo, with Dr Lydia Buttigieg on the harp together with singer and guitarist Fiona Cauchi. Poems specifically selected for this occasion were recited by Justine Balzan Demajo. The main sponsors of this event


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were Gozo Graphics Ltd and Vini e Capricci by Abraham’s. Further funds for carrying out urgent first-aid treatment of Briffa’s marouflages were obtained from the National Lotteries Good Causes Fund administered by the Ministry of Finance. The current objectives are to carry out urgent conservation treatments aimed at stabilising vast areas of the nave and dome marouflage paintings which have become detached from the stone support. These detached painted canvases are literally hanging in air. Other urgent treatments being undertaken include maintenance work on the architectural fabric aimed at eliminating defects such as open mortar joints, which can lead to water seepage. These are mainly being catered for by the Vella and Grech families. As these paintings are an integral part of the architectural structure, the success of the entire conservation programme depends upon first carrying out the necessary maintenance works on the church’s stone fabric. Architect Edward Scerri was appointed to provide architectural services, submit a planning application and advise the project team. Over the past months urgent upkeep and maintenance works on the external stone fabric of the dome were addressed. These were aimed at arresting water seepage and consequent further deterioration of the marouflage paintings. Detached, fallen pieces of the dome paintings were being discovered regularly, and it was therefore imperative to stop the infiltration of water. These repairs will now enable the ‘first-aid’ conservation treatments of the paintings to commence. The two platforms beneath the dome and nave are the first to be modified. These were installed several years ago, when the intention was to arrest pieces of the historical paintings from falling on congregants. Implementing improvements recommended by the appointed engineers is the immediate next step which will ultimately allow the initiation of conservation treatments on the paintings and for which sponsorship is currently being sought. With a fund-raising strategy in place, an urgent drive to seek potential sponsors and funding opportunities has started. The project team hopes for an encouraging response from the local Nadur residents and others, from the public and private sectors, keeping in mind that this is national patrimony. The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an artistic gem of historical significance open to the public for daily religious services. Saving this church and its impressive paintings will

not only reinstate the dignity of this fine place of worship, but will also return to our collective patrimony a significant achievement within the twentieth-century artistic heritage of Malta and Gozo. When completed, the project will provide educational, religious, social and cultural benefits to the local community in Nadur, as well as to the nation. n

Above: The dome paintings.

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Above: MAPFRE MSV life sponsorship being presented by Chief Financial Officer David Demarco, during a visit to the church where he met fine arts conservatorrestorer Amy Sciberras. Above right: The nave marouflage paintings. Right: A site visit by volunteer and project manager Ing. Ian Camilleri. Far right: Lydia Buttigieg on the harp with singer and guitarist Fiona Cauchi during the concert held on 2 November 2019.

Saving this church will return to our collective patrimony a significant achievement within the twentieth-century artistic heritage of Malta and Gozo

Acknowledgments With special thanks to all individuals and entities who are already supporting this project. These include the National Lotteries Good Causes Fund – Ministry for Finance, Gozo Graphics Ltd, The Farsons Foundation, MAPFRE MSV Life, Computime Technology Ltd, Capture IT Media, The Basement Lounge / Wood and Coal, Vini e Capricci by Abraham’s, and Whale Digital Marketing agency. The authors would also like to thank the Vella and Grech families, together with the Hon Anton Refalo and Josef Camilleri, without whom the commencement of this project would not have been possible. Sponsors will be benefitting from a long-term marketing campaign and other benefits. For more information, please contact Amy Sciberras via Donations can be made directly to the following fundraising account: BANK OF VALLETTA - BIC: VALLMTMT - IBAN: MT74 VALL 2201 3000 0000 4002 5502 501.

Conservator Amy Sciberras directs a team of conservators and has been entrusted with restoration projects of national and international importance. Ian Camilleri is a retired civil engineer, who had been previously contracted by Transport Malta as project manager on the St Elmo and Ricasoli breakwater restoration projects. Ian is a volunteer with Din l-Art Ħelwa and a former Council Member, and on this project Ian is responsible for project management services, fund-raising and events.


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Photo: Julian Vassallo

ThePhoeniciaSpa By the AP Valletta design and restoration team

This project won the Prix d’Honneur in its category ‘Major Regeneration Project’ at the XV Edition of the Din l-Art Ħelwa Architectural Awards 2021, as well as the Judge Maurice Caruana Curran Award given to the best winner in all categories.

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Photo: Julian Vassallo


main gate to the seashore (Fig.1). The location of the new spa was selected to enhance and pay respect to the original shape and layout of the hotel. Historical documents suggest that the hotel is sited on the location of a place of arms and spur, which were part of the fortifications network but seem to have been inexistent at surface level when the hotel construction was underway. The project is part of a masterplan for the regeneration of the Phoenicia Hotel, which included the restoration and the extension of the main building and the redevelopment of the pool area at the foot of the bastions, aiming at a contemporary experience that pays tribute to the prestige of the pre-existing structure. The main objective is to put forward a viable project that can function holistically and to revive the original concept or legibility of the building guided by an understanding of the inherent values attached to the monument. In the light of these identified values, any proposals result in a scheme that enhances the quality of the monument whilst reducing the rate of decay. Prior to addressing the restoration of the British stables and coach house, historical plans were collated and a chronology of interventions studied. This led to the discovery that the original proposed plans were not implemented and the buildings did not comply with the original drawings. The site was heavily bombed during an air raid on 27 April 1942, with an estimated 100 bombs dropped on the building and gardens, which affected the ditch too.

Introduction and historical outline

Historical features and methodology of works

The new wing of the Phoenicia Hotel, hosting a new spa, is located in the area immediately adjacent to the hotel building, bound by the Mall to the south-east, the ditch of the outer works to the north, the ring road to the southwest and an interruption in the covered way to the north-west at the junction with the Floriana entrenchment. Historically this area was part of the glacis situated in front of Valletta’s fortifications, however the area was already modified prior to the hotel construction. The hotel is located right on the edge of Valletta’s walls, and partly sits on some of the fortification system outer works. This location gave the hotel its shape and also contributed to the general organisation of the grounds, with its elongated shape that stretches from Valletta’s

Structurally the complex faced challenges as the presence of large historic ruins was discovered during construction. The works conducted on the historic structures were carried out ensuring the preservation and the integration of the historical features. The methodology of the works was articulated as follows: a) Excavation works, which led to the covering of historical features which formed part of the foundation systems of the Place of Arms, including Wall 1 (Fig.2), running along the length of the new spa, and Wall 2 (Fig.3) running within the mechanical plant room; b) Coverage with a dimpled membrane of the reburied section of Wall 1 to allow for a ventilated barrier between the historic wall and the structure; c) Underpinning of retaining


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1. plan of 1936 showing the original proposal for the hotel before construction. Image courtesy of Records and Archives section, Public Works Malta.

2. the historic wall (Wall 1) uncovered, running along the length of the Spa. 3. the historic wall (Wall 2) uncovered, which runs within the mechanical plant.

➌ walls in the plant room, which was required to ensure the structural integrity of the retaining walls for its continued preservation, structurally stabilising it for the construction of the plant room. Furthermore, a membrane sheeting was inserted between the existing retaining wall and the new precast concrete structure, to ensure a barrier between the two, for the preservation of the historic wall (Fig.4). Finally, the restoration of the historic walls within the spa and the plant room. The walls were restored and integrated within primary spaces in the hotel, to ensure their continual maintenance and preservation. The walls were retained intact in their entirety. Wall 1 was integrated into the spa while Wall 2 was integrated into the mechanical plant room. The lower portion of wall uncovered in Wall 1 was recovered to allow for a build-up of finishes, as part of its integration into the spa, while a portion of Wall 2 was reconstructed, to allow for it integration into the plant room. Any interface between the historic elements and the surrounding construction material was always separated by a dimpled membrane barrier, finished off with a lime-based mortar.

Project description and design approach The concept behind the design of the new wing of the Phoenicia Hotel hosting a spa is rooted in the memory of ancient Roman baths and their positive benefits, both on the body and the spirit. Designed to be a meditative and soothing space,

4. area of retaining wall that was underpinned.

the volume of the spa is developed around the sixteenth-century fortifications, recalling the atmosphere and the setting of thermal baths. The fortifications, as well as the surrounding bastions, are always visible: from the suspended treatment rooms and fitness area, as well as from the pool and lounge area. Planned to allow further use of the old colonial stables within the historic ditch, the circulation guides the visitor along a spring of water which leads to the relaxing pool area, the arrival of the thermal journey. The architectural language of the new wing stems from the re-interpretation of the Art Deco style of the main building, resulting in a clean repetition of patterns and a distinct linearity, gently promoting the contemporary nature of the intervention. A neutral, pastel and natural palette, resonating throughout the materiality of the spa, creates a homogenous sculptural effect enhancing its emergence from a fortified preexistent base and projecting the space into a timeless dimension. The reintroduction of the hotel’s historic and exposed turrets led to the articulation of a new and unique aesthetic language for the spa, in a dialectic exchange between old and new. The design considerations were combined with sustainability principles, of which the most tangible outcome is the installation of a green roof on the extension, providing the structure with an alternative cooling system and making it very energy efficient. n

The fortifications, as well as the surrounding bastions, are always visible: from the suspended treatment rooms and fitness area, as well as from the pool and lounge area

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Sancir a medieval countryside church at Ġnien is-Sultan By Charles Dalli •Photographs by Stanley Farrugia Randon The humble late medieval church of San Mikiel is-Sanċir (St Michael ‘the Sincere’), stands on the grounds of the former agricultural estate of Ġnien is-Sultan in the countryside of Rabat.


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‘Sancir still lies in a quiet agricultural setting outside Rabat, as it always did – here in the centre of the image'


ne of six churches built in the late Middle Ages scheduled for Grade 1 protection in October 2020, Sanċir brings together a story of medieval piety with one of modern perseverance. Almost forty years ago, a group of volunteers embarked on the rehabilitation of the church, which had suffered centuries of neglect. The rehabilitation process is eloquently recorded by historian Dominic Cutajar, who was one of the team of activists rolling up their sleeves to restore and preserve Sanċir. First clearly recorded in 1575 by the Apostolic Delegate Pietro Dusina, when it was described as dedicated to St Michael, the small church was strategically located within the lands of Ġnien is-Sultan, which formed part of the Grand Master’s estates. The church was mentioned in different pastoral visits until 1678, when it was ordered to be deconsecrated by Bishop Molina, and subsequently refashioned into stables and agricultural storerooms by the local farmers. The initiative to work for its restoration three centuries later, followed up by a foundation, the ‘Sanċir Trust’, to oversee the archaeological survey of the church and its wider context led by Anthony Bonanno, serves as a milestone in the field of Maltese heritage. This short contribution takes a wider look at the medieval context of Sanċir. The lack of documentation makes it impossible to answer the question: Who built Sanċir, and when?

That being said, Sanċir says some significant things about its people and their history. Ġnien is-Sultan, ‘the King’s Garden’, the estate on which the church of Sanċir was eventually built, formed part of the regio demanio, namely the lands of the Crown in the Maltese Islands. The earliest account of the organisation of production on the Crown estates is found in the well-known reply to the report of Giliberto Abbate, a royal administrator in around 1240/1242. Frederick II Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor (d.1250) took a personal interest in the Maltese Islands because of his passion for falconry. No expense was spared as expeditions were undertaken by Frederick’s falconers to capture the prized birds and take them safely to the royal court. Giliberto’s account discloses how the royal estates across Malta and Gozo were worked by Saracen serfs as well as slaves from the North African island of Djerba. Some of the estates must have been confiscated from the former chief landowners of Muslim times in the previous century, when the Norman rulers established their control over Malta and Gozo. The process of land confiscation was all but completed under Frederick II. Under his authority, the final expulsions of Muslims from Malta and Gozo were organized to Lucera, the Apulian stronghold populated by Saracen deportees from the Sicilian territories. In Maltese petitions to King Charles I of Anjou,

The lack of documentation makes it impossible to answer the question: Who built Sanċir, and when? That being said, Sanċir says some significant things about its people and their history.

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ruler of Sicily (1266-1282), there was mention of the lands of the former Saracen owners. It is unclear if the Muslim qaids had any specific structures on their Maltese estates, but beyond the characteristic functions of the farmstead, both defensive as well as religious buildings were observed on some private country estates in the medieval Maghrib and al-Andalus. Moreover, it was not unknown for Christian landholders to similarly erect military and/or religious buildings on their country estates in the Norman Kindom of Sicily. The practice persisted in the later Middle Ages. As Malta and Gozo were Christianised, an ecclesiastical organization centred on the town of Malta and the castrum maris, and then the first churches were documented on the islands in the late thirteenth century in sea charts and last wills, to mention two examples. Moreover, the case has convincingly been made by Mario Buhagiar to date several cave- and rock-cut churches to this period of the high Middle Ages. Strategically located churches along the coastline were also serving as reference points for mariners, as shown in the research of Timothy Gambin. Following the war of the Vespers and the Aragonese victory over the Angevin fleet in the Battle of Malta in 1283, the Maltese Islands were held by the Aragonese monarchs of Sicily. By 1299 works on the cathedral church of St Paul were ongoing, as indicated in the last

The area of Ġnien is-Sultan may have been the site of an agro-villa complex in (late) Roman times. Viticulture was still characteristic of the estate at the end of the sixteenth century


will and testament of the resident knight in the Gozo castrum, Guglielmo de Malta the nephew of the Count of Malta. Based at the castrum maris, the stronghold guarding the strategic Maltese harbour, and its embryonic suburb of Birgu, a community of seafarers and traders emerged. Among the ship captains of Birgu and the gentry of Mdina one encounters the names of fief holders, who enjoyed the rents from the chief estates in return for their services. The best example is arguably that of the mid-fourteenth century knight Giacomo de Pellegrino, who rose to prominence in royal service in the 1350s and married a relative of the reigning Aragonese monarchs in Sicily, King Ludovico and his successor King Federico IV, the noblewoman Margerita d’Aragona. Giacomo was appointed Captain of Malta and Gozo, and entrusted with the Castellany. For more than a decade, he had de facto full control over the affairs of Malta and Gozo, even as one of the chief magnates of Sicily, the Count of Modica Manfred Chiaromonte formally claimed the islands as Count of Malta. It took a Genoese expedition against Malta, led in person by King Federico, in 1372, to expel Pellegrino from Malta and recover the Maltese islands for the Crown. Pellegrino died shortly afterwards, and his widow Margerita d’Aragona petitioned the Crown to be allowed access to her portion of the wealth confiscated in her husband’s downfall.


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Ġnien is-Sultan was listed among the estates granted by the Crown to Giacomo de Pellegrino, Justiciar, Captain and Castellan of Malta. For his services he received the viridarium magnum of Lu Jardinu di lu Re with the water springs of Ayn il Cayd (Għajn il-Qajd/Qajjed) and Ayn Tosen (Għajn Tewżien ) as well as the cultivated estates of La Chafe ac Fonte, the fief of Beniarratu (Benwarrad), and the field of Chabel Salet (Ħabel Salet) in the contrata of Marsa next to Pellegrino’s own vineyard (18/ On the basis of some of the archaeological findings, including pottery, coins, the top part of an olive pipper, as well as part of a marble column, Cutajar suggests that the area of Ġnien is-Sultan may have been the site of an agro-villa complex in (late) Roman times. Given the proximity of water sources and the relative quality of the land, it is not a surprise to find indications of viticulture. Indeed, Ġnien is-Sultan seems to have possessed a substantial vineyard in late medieval times, when it was managed by the Secrezia as part of the regio demanio. The estate was described as being enclosed with a wall during the time of Pellegrino. After 1530 it formed part of the Grand Master’s estates as prince of Malta. Viticulture was still characteristic of the estate at the end of the sixteenth century, alongside the production of cereals in the adjacent lands. The custom of vine dressers attending vespers at Sanċir on Michaelmas, which coincided with the end of the grape harvest, was mentioned by Bishop Gargallo. The presence of water also attracted flax producers. Ġnien is-Sultan was included in a list of places specified in proclamations issued by the jurats of the Università of Mdina warning against the illegal practice of the retting of flax by individuals polluting public water sources, alongside Dejr ilBaqar, Għeriexem, and the Bishop’s estate (for instance, in 1518, 1519, and 1527). The Secrezia, which managed royal (and, from 1530 onwards, magisterial) properties, listed Ġnien is-Sultan among its territories for much of the later Middle Ages. The communities of farmers and animal husbandmen active in the countryside of Mdina and Rabat, regularly paid their rents to the gabellotti of the Secrezia or those of the leading landed families. Unfortunately few records have survived pertaining specifically to the management of Ġnien is-Sultan in the later Middle Ages. Variously named as Jardinu di lu Re/ de lo Re, and viridarium magnum, in the late medieval records, it was also recorded in the Maltese version by Brandano de Caxaro in 1556: the viridarium of Ginen Soltan.

The dedication of the church to St Michael as reported by Pietro Dusina in 1575, has led some authors to suggest that ‘Sanċir’ was an adjective for ‘St Michael the Sincere’. The painting of St Michael was described by Bishop Cagliares to be in a poor state in 1615. Alternatively, the idea that the church was previously dedicated to St Cyr may also be upheld. The child saint Cyriacus, or Quiricus, was said to have been martyred together with his mother Julitta at the beginning of the fourth century, at Tarsus, with his cult spreading to different parts of the Christian world. The female saint Cyriaca, a martyr from the Diocletian persecutions, seems to have been Latinised into St Dominica. The fifth-century St Cyriacus the Anchorite may well be the San Ċir venerated in this case, as his feast in the Orthodox calendar is held on 29 September, coinciding with the feast of St Michael in the Latin calendar, and marks the end of the grape harvest in some Orthodox communities. The alternative is to view the term San Ċir as an epithet of St Michael ‘the Sincere’. The other example of the lost medieval church of ‘San Ċir’ in Bubaqra would seem to support a local cult. The remains of the church of ‘San Ċir’ at Bubaqra, taken to refer to ‘St Michael the

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Sincere’ by Mario Buhagiar, were photographed around 1930. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether any documentary evidence may be adduced for this interpretation of ‘Sanċir’ as ‘San Mikiel isSinċier’. Perhaps this is a case of a twin dedication - a church of St Cyr (re)dedicated by the harvesters of the vineyard of Ġnien is-Sultan to St Michael. We will probably never know for sure. But there is no doubt that Michaelmas was one of the key dates in the agriculture of the late Middle Ages, as evidenced by contracts stipulating the payment of debts on that feast day at the end of the annual grape harvest. n

The custom of vine dressers attending vespers at Sanċir on Michaelmas, which coincided with the end of the grape harvest, was mentioned by Bishop Gargallo. Bibliography: The essay by Dominic Cutajar, ‘Sanċir. A rural medieval chapel in Malta. The story of its rehabilitation’, at: collects much of the relevant information on the church of Sanċir and its modern restoration. The documents on Giacomo de Pellegrino’s tenure of the estates between 1361 and 1372 may be consulted in Stanley Fiorini ed., Documentary Sources of Maltese History. Part II. No 1 Cancelleria Regia, 1259-1400, Malta University Press, 1999. The proclamations of 1518, 1519 and 1527 are recorded in Stanley Fiorini ed., Documentary Sources of Maltese History. Part III. No. 3: Acta Juratorum et Consilii Civitatis et Insulae Maltae, II 1512-1531, Malta University Press, 2016. The report of Pietro Dusina may be consulted in George Aquilina and Stanley Fiorini eds., Documentary Sources of Maltese History. Part IV. No 1. Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Congregazione Vescovi e Regolari Malta: Visita Apostolica no.51 Mgr Petrus Dusina, 1575, Malta University Press, 2001. The place-name evidence on Ġnien is-Sultan was published by Godfrey Wettinger, Place-Names of the Maltese Islands, ca.1300-1800, PEG, 2000. Mario Buhagiar, The Late Medieval Art and Architecture of the Maltese Islands, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, presents evidence of ‘San Ċir’ church at Bubaqra, while Mario Buhagiar, The Christianisation of Malta. Catacombs, Cult Centres, and Churches in Malta to 1530, BAR International Series 1674, 2007, studies the Christian archaeology of the Maltese islands. Timothy Gambin, The maritime landscapes of Malta from the Roman period to the Middle Ages, University of Bristol, 2005 for a study of the landscape and its reference points. Henri Bresc’s study ‘The Secrezia and the Royal patrimony in Malta, 1240-1450’, in A.T.Luttrell, ed, Medieval Malta. Studies on Malta before the Knights, London, 1975, is fundamental for an understanding of the Secrezia in medieval Malta; while his paper ‘Malta dopo il Vespro’, Melita Historica, vi, 3, 1974, published for the first time the will of Guglielmo de Malta of 1299.

Charles Dalli lectures on medieval history within the Department of History, Faculty of Arts, at the University of Malta, and is the author of numerous works on the subject.


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Country Villa OF Bishop Baldassare CAGLIARES

in Zejtun

By Ray Gatt • Photos by Tracey Sammut

Left: The 17th-century chapel with cupola and lantern as seen from Triq Dun M. Cassar. Above: The front court.

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ra Baldassare Cagliares was the only bishop of Maltese descent who was selected to occupy the highest position in the local ecclesiastical hierarchy during the time of the Order in Malta.1 His was an eventful and turbulent life. Despite multiple political face-offs with incumbent grandmasters, he was renowned for his many charitable deeds to the local church and the indigent population. Besides building the Archbishop’s palace in Valletta, the bishop also seems to have had a penchant for country villas. Bishop Cagliares (?1575-1633) is known to have had at least three private residences, two in rural settings and the other in the Gozo citadel.2 One was located in an area known as Ix-xagħra ta’ l-Isqof3 on the outskirts of Rabat, close to Verdala palace and Girgenti; today unfortunately, only one wall of what must have been a rural retreat and associated chapel has been left standing.4 The fateful well just outside the building’s evident foundations is also still visible. Another house, still extant but in partial ruin, lies next door to a chapel dedicated to St Joseph in the Gozo citadel. Yet another country villa is situated in the outskirts of Zejtun in the suburb anciently known as casal Paschualino; fortunately, this villa has survived the ravages of time.

Historical ties with Zejtun

Villa Cagliares is located in the northern outskirts of Zejtun, in an area previously forming part of the hamlet of Bisqallin, or casal Paschualino and, as it is known locally, ir-Raħal t’Isfel.

The known ties that Bishop Cagliares had with casal Sancta Catherina are tantalizingly few and patchy. There is obviously the house in Zejtun with its ornate private chapel and which, despite the Testaferrata Abela escutcheons on its walls, was described by E.B. Vella in 19275 as having the coat of arms of Bishop Cagliares apparently still visible on its remissa doorway. The baptism of a Hieronimus Cagliares in November 1622, personal slave of Bishop Cagliares, is recorded in the parish baptismal archives in the church of Santa Catherina and is yet another link between the Bishop and Zejtun. As was the normal custom then, the slave was given the surname of his sponsor, a fact that the bishop must have rued as future events unfolded in the last years of his life.6 Michael Ellul describes three inscriptions found in the Zejtun country villa, one of which revealed the fact that one of the sisters of the bishop, Beatrice Cagliares, described as his twin sister (possibly indicating the closeness of these two siblings) had renovated the garden of the Zejtun villa, where her brother could find respite, ‘in these turbulent times’.7 Another


tenuous link is the fact that the fields behind the Zejtun villa (Ta’ Brungiel) were the property of his two other sisters, Fulgentia and Marietta Cagliares.

The bishop’s residence in Zejtun Villa Cagliares is located in the northern outskirts of Zejtun, in an area previously forming part of the hamlet of Bisqallin, or casal Paschualino and, as it is known locally, ir-Raħal t’Isfel. Unlike some other country houses, the house lies low in the valley known as il-Minzel,8 at the very periphery of the village. The house has been known locally by various names such as ‘it-Tempju’ and ‘il-Palazz’. However, despite these high-sounding appellations, and the realization that this building had a spectacularly sculpted chapel and underground rooms traditionally known to have been used as ‘prison cells’, until two decades ago, the whole building was divided into several small holdings and used for animal husbandry. Unfortunately, not much is known about its past history and its provenance. Definitely it has ties to the family of Bishop Baldassare Cagliares but it is not clear as to who actually built the house. It is known that the Cagliares family possessed lands in the area known as ilMinzel and a possibility is that the house might have been built by the bishop’s father, Melchior, a prominent jurat in his own right. Later on, it passed into the hands of the Testaferrata Abela family whose coat-of-arms are found on the external façade of the house as well as in the garden on the western aspect of the house. This family was related through marriage to the Cagliares family. These escutcheons along with those of Bishop Cagliares, were also faithfully described by E.B. Vella in his book IzZejtun u Marsaxlokk (1927), on ‘the exterior of house number 37 in Strada Barone, Zejtun.’ The present house was probably built in different phases. The architecture of the oldest part of the house dates back to, at least, the seventeenth century; it was in the form of a fortified country house with its square build and with eight slit windows on the ground floor level – four overlooking the street and another four facing the garden – and spanned by threepoint masonry arches. The original building was made up of a square house with two rooms at ground level and two above. These are the largest rooms of the house to date and one of the rooms downstairs served as the kitchen as attested by the presence of a large double chimney in its wall which had


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Villa Cagliares in relation to its context, at the periphery of Zejtun.

been blocked up. A date showing the year 1621 is roughly inscribed on the lintel of the kitchen entrance making the house 400 years old. Other rooms were added later. The house is built on an east-west axis. The main remissa door opens onto a large courtyard which lies on the eastern side of the house and contains a stone staircase leading up to the piano nobile. This used to be the only staircase leading to the first floor before an internal staircase was installed during the restoration of the house. A semicircular nymphaeum lies on the eastern end of the courtyard. During the conservation, the rather large foundations of another edifice of unknown significance had been uncovered; these were photographed and then later on carefully covered again under the new pavimento of the courtyard. A most important attribute of this country house must be its chapel. E.B. Vella makes reference to a chapel with beautiful stone carvings in his book and describes how it was being used to store hay at the time of writing. It lies on the first floor of the house suggesting that this was for private use only and not open to the public. The chapel has a small circular dome and lantern giving Villa Cagliares its characteristic appearance; it is well visible from the outside of the house and can also be seen from across the valley from road towards Zabbar. There are intricate stone carvings on its walls and a stone altar. Fortunately, the stonework survived despite the fact that the lantern and the cross that topped it became a dovecote to pigeons whose excrement caused significant damage.

The altarpiece was missing when the restoration of the house started, but the sculpted stonework adorning it indicates that the chapel was dedicated to the Virgin though it is not known under which appellation. There are another two oval side niches on the northern and southern walls of the chapel over the windows. The altar and flagstones remained original and have been restored, as well as the wooden shutters of the windows. Part of the wooden altar (skannell) which had gone missing was remodelled later on by the late Renzo Gauci. There were references to an inscription found in the garden of this house that Baldassare’s twin sister, Beatrice, had built or refurbished a garden in the house to help her brother find peace – an inscription which has been faithfully reproduced and hung in the restored garden. Outbuildings on the eastern end of the house include a sienja and a huge underground barrel-vaulted water reservoir, 32 filati deep and roofed onto 27 massive stone arches, which is still in use.

Restoration of Villa Cagliares c.2000-2005 The raison d’être for the resurrection of the villa was always the total and unequivocal preservation of what remained viable of the building fabric of the house, and to maintain the structural integrity of the building as a whole without too much interference. Reconstruction was carried out by two master masons inured in the traditional building techniques, particularly in the preparation of limestone masonry. The structural work involved during restoration included the whole spectrum of works that such a project would need, from the replacement and proper dressing of huge spans of xorok, replacement of components of the masonry arches, the reconstruction of the kontrabejt with deffun, the laying of new flagstones with old flagstones being preserved as much as possible. Masonry blocks were specially brought from the quarry, properly sized to replace ones that were structurally unsafe. The chapel at first floor level was restored to its original grandeur. The two original wooden windows complete with their original iron works were restored, and the original paving stones were treated and kept. Apart from the restoration to preserve the structural integrity of the building, the villa also needed to be rehabilitated to bring it to a level compatible with twenty-first century habitation. An internal masonry staircase with a corrected raking of winders was reconstructed in the thickness of one wall, to avoid the taking

The pergola along the formal garden.

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up of room space. As the ground floor had few windows, many of which were slit like, little natural light was available. To maintain the ethos of preservation of the original character of the house as much as possible, only one window (not one of the slit windows) was enlarged opening up onto the courtyard. There is always a compromise between the restoration and rehabilitation of old buildings to make them acceptable for current living standards, without mutilating and disfiguring their unique character and identity, to be lost forever. The professionalism of the restoring architect, the traditional skills of the stonemason, and the empathic understanding of the owner, are the main components for the success of the venture. Finally, these historical houses did not come down the centuries in isolation. The wider setting of the house is as important as the fabric of the building itself, and their setting gives them context as well. Town planners need to be sensitive to the conceptualisation of space around these, and the preservation of their ambience, as much as possible, is as important as the safeguarding of the house itself.


There is always a compromise between the restoration and rehabilitation of old buildings to make them acceptable for current living standards, without mutilating and disfiguring their unique character and identity, to be lost forever.

It is always gratifying that an old built structure, albeit a small cog in the outstanding heritage of our country, continues to be a visible testament of this heritage, a veritable link between our ancestors and posterity. These structures, present all over the Maltese landscape, encompassing the whole spectrum


The private chapel.

from the original temple builders through the Hospitaller fortress builders, including the builders of palaces and country houses, give testimony of our varied and rich culture, and annihilation of them and their setting would be unforgivable in the long term. We must realise that we are ephemeral custodians of what in reality are universal possessions. n

NOTES: (1) He was also auditore to the grand master. See Alexander Bonnici, I vescovi di Malta Baldassare Cagliares (1625-1633) e Michele Balageur (1635-1663), Melita Historica 5:2 (1969), 114157; (2) Ignazio Saverio Mifsud, Biblioteca Maltese (1764), 131. They were entitled ‘casini per proprio divertimento’; (3) Domenico Magri, Hierolexicon (Ex Typographia Balleoniana, 1765), introductory pages. Mifsud, 131. The bishop’s house in Rabat was situated on a small hill, then known as Monte Cagliaresio near the old capital city. See also Giovanni Bonello, Histories of Malta, vol 1: Deceptions and Perceptions, (Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, 2000), 57 et seq; (4) The reasons why this dwelling is in ruins are unknown. Attrition by time was probably a main factor. Other hypotheses range from demolition by the governing British Forces in 1942, as the building perched high on a hill lay directly in the flight path to Ta’ Qali airfield, to destruction by the ecclesiastical authorities of the time after the death of the bishop, in an attempt to obliterate the memory of its manner; (5) Vella; (6) Roger Ellul Micallef, ‘Devils, Demons and Dementia: The Undoing of a Maltese Bishop’, in Scientia et Religio, ed. by John Azzopardi (Wignacourt Museum, 2014), 69-102; (7) Ellul; (8) Godfrey Wettinger, PlaceNames of the Maltese Islands ca.1300-1800 (PEG, 2000).

Ray Gatt is an Orthopaedic Surgeon by profession, latterly inclined towards the history of seventeenth-century hospitallers in Sicily, as well as the preservation of our Maltese architectural heritage.


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BATTERIES AND REDOUBTS Defensive posts at Mellieha By Stanley Farrugia Randon

Left: Malta-Comino Channel - detail of Don Felice Cutajar map entitled Descrizione delle Isole di Malta, Comino e Gozo, con i nomi delle batterie, carline, trincieramenti, che vi sono intorno le coste di queste isole, 1833.

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Above left: Malta-Comino Channel - detail of map of Charles Amadeus De Berey Carte des Isles de Malte, du Goze et du Cuming, 1720 (name of posts inserted by author according to legend). Above: Crivelli Redoubt.


Apart from the battery of the L-Aħrax Tower constructed in 1715, other coastal defences were constructed to defend the Malta-Comino channel. Old maps give us a clear indication where these batteries and redoubts were located.


hese are the pen and watercolour map Carte particuliere des Isles de Malte et du Goze, 1719; the Charles Amadeus De Berey map Carte des Isles de Malte, du Goze et du Cuming, dated 1720; the Bowen map An Accurate Map of Malta, Goze and Cuming, dated 1747; the Brian de la Tour map Carte des Isles de Malte et du Goze, dated 1784; and the Don Felice Cutajar map Descrizione delle Isole di Malta, Comino e Gozo, con i nomi delle batterie, carline, trincieramenti, che vi sono intorno le coste di queste isole of 1833. Entrenchments were also constructed. The batteries and redoubts include the De Louvier Redoubt (Ta’ Ħossiliet, Eslien, Għoslien, White Tower Bay Redoubt), the Crivelli Redoubt (Barriera, Armier Redoubt), the Great Battery of Vendôme (Ta’ Maċċa Battery), D’Escalar Redoubt (Qortin Redoubt), La Spada Redoubt (Wied Musa, Tal-Bir Redoubt) and the Marfa Battery (Wied Musa, Sgħajtar, Sevin de Bandeville Battery) and entrenchments. Coastal batteries were intended to open fire on troops entering a port. Where possible

batteries were erected on each side of a bay to make the most of their cross-fire. Their high and solid parapets, with embrasures, were intended to support heavy cannon firing. The Maltese coastal batteries built by the Order of St John in 1715-1716 followed a pattern evolved by the French at the end of the seventeenth century. Small blockhouses at the gorge of the battery accommodated the garrison and the ammunition. The outer walls of the blockhouses were fitted with musketry loopholes to defend an eventual landward approach to the battery. Some of the batteries were fitted with one large blockhouse which spanned the entire length of the gorge. The land front of most batteries was fitted with a redan, a V-shaped wall, projecting outwards from the centre of the land front and fitted with musketry loopholes. Most of the coastal batteries were surrounded by a rock-hewn ditch, and others had a ditch communicating directly with the sea, depending on the nature of the site. Others had only a shallow ditch protecting the redan or simply a pit in front of the main entrance.


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The structures and positions of redoubts varied considerably, making it difficult to give a precise definition and model of one. Those constructed around our islands were pentagonal platforms surrounded by shallow parapets and fitted with a single block house at the gorge and surrounded by shallow ditches. They were primarily designed for use by infantry but their platform could accommodate a small number of light cannon. Entrenchments are irregular walls erected along places accessible to enemy embarcation. These were built in various places including Ramla and Marsalforn bays in Gozo, at Marsaxlokk, Marsascala, St Paul’s Bay, Mellieħa and on the coast overlooking the channel. Obviously all these sites had to be guarded and armed to withstand an enemy fleet attempting to disembark. The grand masters and knights offered money and fixed their coat-of-arms on them, but it was the Maltese who had to guard them, mostly away from their families and fields. Often there were not even enough men to guard all these posts. Some were abandoned soon after they were built. During the winter months, when bad weather made piracy practically impossible, the guards were not needed and this was a great relief for the Maltese. The coastal posts were more open to deterioration and weathering, especially because of their close proximity to

the sea. This made their upkeep even more complicated and costly.

De Louvier Redoubt (Ta’ Ħossiliet, Eslien, Għoslien, White Tower Bay Redoubt) This redoubt was built in 1715 as part of the coastal defences proposed by Vendôme and was named after the person who financed part or all of its construction. It was built to attack infantry if the enemy fleet managed to disembark its soldiers after being attacked by the guns of the nearby batteries. Its parapet lacked embrasures. It had the shape of a typical pentagonal redoubt built during this period. The redoubt cost 1239 scudi, 3 tarì, 19 grani and 5 piccoli. The construction of the walls cost 720 scudi, excavation works cost 122 scudi, the five arches supporting the two rooms of the blockhouse cost 20 scudi, the well cost 30 scudi and 144 scudi were spent on transportation of stones and other material. In his 1829 report Whitmore wrote that the redoubt was bastion-shaped and closed at its gorge by a straight loopholed wall and a barrack which was divided into two rooms. At the time it was unoccupied and lacked doors, windows and a bridge. He proposed the following for its restoration: 550 square feet of masonry, 540 square feet of pavement, 1080 square feet of roofing, 3350 square feet of pointing, 1 pair of

Above left: Descriptive plans of Crown Property in Malta, 1866 (No. 213/232) showing the various batteries, redoubts and entrenchment walls still present (National Archives, Rabat). Above: The bay where the De Louvier Redoubt once stood. Above right: Malta-Comino channel - detail of Brian de la Tour map Carte des Isles de Malte et du Goze, 1784.

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Coastal batteries were intended to open fire on troops entering a port. Where possible batteries were erected on each side of a bay to make the most of their cross-fire.

doors 10.6 by 5.6 feet each, 1 door 8 by 4 feet, 1 door 6.6 by 3 feet, 2 shutters 6.6 by 3 feet and a cover to the well 2 by 2 feet. Today no remains of this redoubt are visible but its foundations are still buried under the sand.

Crivelli Redoubt (Barriera, Armier Redoubt) This redoubt follows the typical pentagonal plan and is closed at the gorge by a loopholed wall and blockhouse divided into two rooms. A ditch surrounds the whole structure. Fra Ferdinando Crivelli, Prior of the Order of St John, sponsored part or all of the building and he deserved the inscription above the main door which says ‘Il Ven. Prior Di Capua F. Ferdinando Crivelli’. It is also called Barriera Redoubt because of the nearby quarry. The redoubt was constructed at a cost of 955 scudi, 10 tarì, 11 grani and 1 piccolo. The structure included the building of the walls, excavation works, building of the counterscarp, trenching, levelling out of the area, construction of the terrace, the platform, a well for the conservation of water (gebbia), 5 arches, a drawbridge, plastering and transport of material including stones, puzzolana, and lime. In his 1829 report Whitmore wrote that the Barriera Redoubt was circular, closed at the gorge with a loopholed wall, broken by a redan and including a guard house divided


into two chambers, one of which was used as stables. He also wrote that the interior of this work was choked up with drift sand and the woodwork was deficient. It could be that he thought that the structure was circular because the parapet wall was totally covered with sand. He proposed the following for its restoration: 250 square feet of masonry, 348 square feet of pavement, 125 square feet of roofing, 3065 square feet of pointing, 1 pair of doors 10.6 by 5.6 feet each, a door 8 by 4 feet, a door 6.6 by 3 feet, 2 shutters 6.6 by 3 feet each and a cover to the well 2 by 2 feet.

The Great Battery of Vendôme (Ta’ Maċċa Battery) The construction of the battery cost 1059 scudi, 1 tari and 9 grani. This included the construction of the walls, the counterscarp, excavation, levelling out of the area, trenching works, construction of the terrace, platform, cistern, drawbridge and door, 11 arches, pointing and plastering. It was one of the largest batteries to be constructed in the island and the blockhouse has 11 arches. The pen and watercolour map Carte particuliere des Isles de Malte et du Goze, 1719 documents the presence of 16 cannon. The Felice Cutajar map of 1833 records the same number. In 1829 Whitmore reported that the battery is ‘semicircular, closed at the gorge by


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a loopholed wall broken by a redan. Within is a guard house, divided into two rooms - in bad order and unoccupied’. He estimated that to repair it needed 300 square feet of masonry, 650 square feet of pavement, 350 square feet of platform, 1535 square feet of pointing, 1 pair of doors 10.6 by 5.6 feet each, one door 8 by 4 feet, one door 6.6 by 3 feet, 2 shutters 6.6 by 3 feet each, and a cover to the well 2 by 2 feet. The battery was scheduled as Grade 1 by the Planning Authority in 1994 and should be conserved and restored. It is surrounded by boathouses and requires restoration. It is not accessible to the public as its entrance is blocked by one of the boathouses and its platform is used to cultivate trees and crops.

D’Escalar Redoubt (Qortin Redoubt) This redoubt was built to guard Qortin Bay. According to the Whitmore report in 1829 the redoubt was ‘bastion-shaped, closed at the gorge - much dilapidated and unoccupied’. For it to be restored it required 893 square feet of masonry, 376 square feet of pavement, 80 square feet of roofing, 2371 square feet of pointing, 2 doors 8 by 3.6 feet, 1 door 6.9 by 3 feet, 1 shutter 6.6 by 3 feet, 1 door 2 by 3.6 feet and a cover to the well 2 by 2 feet. The redoubt was scheduled as Grade 1 by the Planning

Authority in 1995 although all that remains of the original redoubt is the front outer walls. Several alterations and additions were carried out on the blockhouse.

La Spada Redoubt (Wied Musa, Tal-Bir Redoubt) This redoubt was built in 1715 to defend Ramla tal-Bir. It cost 1213 scudi, 8 tarì, 4 grani and 3 piccoli. Work included construction of the walls, platform, palace, excavation works, construction of 5 arches for the blockhouse, puzzolana, lime and transport expenses, plastering and painting. The name La Spada is probably linked to a member of the Order of St John who contributed to the building of this post. In 1829 Whitmore reported that this defensive post was ‘constructed for the defence of a landing place and of the passages between the islands of Malta and Comino - bastion shaped and closed at the gorge by a loopholed wall and Barrack; the latter is divided into two rooms, they are occupied and in tolerable repair’. He estimated that for its repair there was need of 1040 square feet of pavement, 75 square feet of roofing, 300 square feet of pointing, 1 door 9.6 by 4 feet, 1 door 8 by 3.6 feet, 1 door 6.9 by 3.6 feet, 1 shutter 6.6 by 3 feet and 1 door 2 by 3.6 feet.

The grand masters and knights offered money and fixed their coat-ofarms on them, but it was the Maltese who had to guard them, mostly away from their families and fields.

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List of armaments present in the L-Aħrax battery in 1770

Although the outer walls are still clearly visible, the blockhouse is demolished. It is thought that the foundations of the blockhouse were converted into a well - hence the Maltese name of the bay.

Marfa Battery (Wied Musa, Palazz tal-Marfa, Sgħajtar, Sevin de Bandeville Battery) Above left: Great Battery of Vendôme. Above: Underground British structure.

This battery was financed by Fra Charles Sevin de Bandeville who is buried in St John’s CoCathedral. It was constructed in 1715 as part of the defences to guard the channel between Malta and Comino. It had four embrasures for four cannon. Originally it consisted of two blockhouses joined together by a redan but it was extensively modified during the initial years of the British period. The construction of the battery cost 938 scudi, 1 tarì and 8 grani for the construction of walls, excavation, construction of the platform and terrace, trenching, levelling of the ground, 10 arches for the blockhouses, a bridge, a well and channelling of the water, 4 embrasures, plastering and painting, stones, puzzolana, lime, water and transport of material. In 1829 Whitmore reported that the battery was constructed ‘on the south side of Malta erected to defend the passage between the Island and Comino: semicircular and closed at the gorge by a Barrack divided into three rooms: on these an upper floor was constructed and some additional Building appended by the late Marquess of Hastings,

for a summer residence - it is in good repair and occupied’. The only repairs needed at that time were 25 square feet of pavement, as well as repairing and painting of doors. The pen and watercolour map Carte particuliere des Isles de Malte et du Goze, 1719 (Heritage Malta, Albert Ganado collection), documents the presence of six cannon. The Felice Cutajar map of 1833 records only five pieces of cannon.

British military posts A number of searchlight and machine gun posts can be discovered if one roams around the garigue surrounding the White Tower. These were partly excavated in the rock and accessed by steps also cut in the rock. They served to protect the soldier who was operating the machine gun or searchlight. The purpose of other structures such as a trench about 20cm wide running from a concrete platform close to the sea towards the battery, through the battery wall and underground towards the tower, has not been identified. Presumably this was used to accomodate a pipe for fuelling boats, or to pass another hydrophone cable other than that documented (and discovered during restoration) to have been running towards Armier Bay. n

Stanley Farrugia Randon is a medical doctor and a council member of Din l-Art Ħelwa


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A painted frieze and altar at Palazzo de la Salle, Valletta By Jennifer Herrick Porter


alazzo de la Salle, located on Republic Street in the heart of Valletta, is perhaps best known for its exciting programme of exhibitions and events organized by the Malta Society of Arts (MSA), which has been based at the palace since 1924. Part of what makes those exhibitions so successful is their beautiful setting, largely the result of a concerted campaign by MSA since 2009 to renovate the palace, showcasing its original knights-period elements while also converting its spaces for contemporary use. A little-known gem within the palazzo complex is its early baroque domestic chapel,

decorated with various wall painting schemes. Though the space had been neglected during earlier tenancies, the MSA, under the leadership of perit Adrian Mamo, recognized its value. In 2016, as part of their larger programme of renovations, the MSA invited the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage of the University of Malta to study and conserve the chapel’s wall paintings. This project, completed in 2019, was recently awarded the the Prix d’Honneur for Rehabilitation and Re-Use of Buildings by Din l-Art Ħelwa, and the Department is very proud of this recognition of its collaborative work with the MSA.

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Left: The chapel at Palazzo de la Salle, at the completion of the conservation project in 2019. The carved and painted altar surround can be seen on the south wall, and portions of the frieze painting on the tops of south, west and east walls. © 2019 Malta Society of Arts Above: Coat-of-arms of Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena. Detail from the frieze painting on the south wall of the chapel, during conservation. © 2017 Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, University of Malta. Top right: Detail of the coat of arms of Grand Master de Vilhena on the south wall of the frieze, after conservation. © 2019 Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, University of Malta.

The project to conserve the chapel at Palazzo de la Salle can serve as a model for conservation treatment design and conservation education.

The chapel is a small room, approximately 4 x 5 m with 6 m high ceilings. Its walls are bare except for a large arch in its north wall which once framed an altar, which is therefore referred to as the altar surround (Fig 1). The surround is embellished with painted relief stonework, characterised by the extensive use of pure gold leaf with painted details of cherubs, insignia and foliate motifs. Above the altar surround, a painted frieze decorates the upper portion of all four walls of the chapel, displaying scenes from the life of St John the Baptist and the coat-of-arms of Grand Master de Vilhena and of Fra Guillaume de la Salle, a knight of the Order of St John and mideighteenth-century resident of the palace (Figs 2 & 3). These painted decorative elements were the focus of the Department’s conservation project. Evidence uncovered during the project clearly indicates that the two decorative schemes are from different periods, the altar surround having been created first and the frieze being painted some time thereafter. An informal stylistic analysis of the altar surround by Professor Keith Sciberras, of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Malta, confirmed its earlier date, placing it in the mid-seventeenth century, while the frieze can be dated to the period between 1731-1736, a period arrived at based on the overlap between the grandmastership of Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736) and Fra de la Salle’s residency at the Palace (1731-1739). No information has so far been found to identify the artists responsible for either work, but it can be inferred that Fra de la Salle commissioned the frieze painting. Sometime after Fra de la Salle’s departure from the palace, the chapel was repurposed and the frieze was painted over, possibly because the painting had begun to deteriorate, or due to factors such as changes in taste or changes in the use of the room. Although an attempt to remove


the covering paint was made at some point in the past, the covering paint still obscured most of the surface of the frieze at the outset of the conservation project in 2016 (Fig 4). A leaking roof and somewhat damp walls, and damage during past building modifications, compounded this problem, resulting in the loss of some areas of the painting, powdering of paint and underlying stone, and a whitish veil which covered large areas of the surface of the frieze, making the decorative elements very difficult to appreciate. Meanwhile, the altar surround had fortunately escaped this fate. When the Department began work on the chapel in 2016, the altar surround was found to be covered in a layer of soiling and was suffering from some areas of flaking paint; otherwise the scheme was mostly intact, with little deterioration. A first essential step in the process of conserving both paintings was the identification of the materials and methods used for their creation, since this informs an understanding of the paintings as historic works of art, but also helps understand the causes of their deterioration and is essential for the design of the best solutions for their long-term preservation. Analytical work carried out by the Department found that the pigments used in both paintings were bound with oil, most likely linseed, and the range of materials used was quite typical of the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries in Malta, including pigments such as blue, glass-based smalt; orangey-red and bright white lead-based pigments; the lemony-yellow, arsenic-based pigment orpiment; muted red, yellow and green earth pigments; rich, pinkishred cinnabar; and dark blue indigo dye. Despite the similarity in ingredients, the techniques used to create the paintings, such as the mixing and layering of the paints, and the use of gilding, are quite different in both


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Above: East wall of the frieze, after conservation. © 2019 Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, University of Malta.

schemes. A more detailed study of the painting techniques and their deterioration are the subject of ongoing research and the results will be published in due course. The technique of the paintings and many of their deterioration problems are typical of wall paintings created in Malta during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, the chapel conservation project was exciting because it allowed the Department to take specific and innovative approaches to resolving these common conservation problems and therefore will hopefully be useful to future conservation projects facing similar issues. For example, it was sought to minimize the use of modern organic coatings and adhesives because these are known to cause problems when used in the repair of porous materials (stone and plasters) in humid environments. For this reason, the wall paintings were not varnished or coated at the end of the project. Plasters and injection grouts were specifically formulated using natural lime and local stone materials to maximize compatibility with the aged historic materials of the paintings. After careful consideration of the sensitivities of aged oil paints, the project minimized the use of water and other solvents during the cleaning of the paintings, and chose to carry out only a partial cleaning of the paintings rather than to risk damaging them in an effort to remove all traces of covering paint and dirt layers – and the end results are still stunning (Fig 5). The conservators then worked with the MSA to develop a lighting system to provide satisfying illumination of the objects to be displayed in the chapel, but which would minimise damage to the sensitive original painting materials and also help to show them in their best light. Like all the conservation projects undertaken by the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, the chapel at Palazzo de la Salle served as a practical training site for students following the three-year MSc in the Conservation of Decorative Architectural Surfaces, who spent approximately

Above and above left: Details of the altar surround painting, after conservation. © 2019 Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, University of Malta.

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Above: West wall of the frieze, after conservation. © 2019 Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, University of Malta.

Above: The chapel in 2016, at the beginning of the conservation project. The carved and painted altar surround can be seen on the south wall, and portions of the frieze painting on the tops of south, west and east walls, still partially obscured by covering paint. © 2016 Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, University of Malta.

50% of the entire course working in the chapel. The project therefore offered the first opportunity for these aspiring professional conservators to put into practice appropriate, modern conservation methodologies by first undertaking in-depth examination, documentation and scientific analysis of painting materials and their deterioration, before designing and implementing appropriate treatments. The MSc students were thus involved in all aspects of the project, from its inception to its completion, always under the careful supervision of the Department’s academic staff, who are all also professional wall painting conservators. Where possible and appropriate, students were given the opportunity to advance significant aspects of the project on their own. This was the case for Nathalie Debono, now graduated and working as a wall painting conservator in private practice in Malta, who, under close supervision, developed the cleaning intervention for the frieze paintings as the subject of her final-year MSc dissertation. Once she had completed her research and graduated from the MSc program, the MSA engaged Ms Debono and another of the MSc graduates to implement the treatment she had developed and complete the final phases of the conservation project, to the point where the entire chapel was then ready to be enjoyed by any visitors, of which now there are many. The Department feels that the project to conserve the chapel at Palazzo de la Salle has been both successful and inspiring, and can serve as a model for conservation treatment design and conservation education, in Malta and abroad. It has helped launch young conservators into the oftencomplex world of the conservation of wall paintings by giving them the right knowledge, skills and practice to address unique situations in the most professional manner. It is also an excellent example of collaboration between conservators and architects, highlighting in a very practical way the multi-disciplinarity of conservation work, often lacking in commercial projects. Din l-Art Ħelwa’s recognition of the process and outcome of this unique project are thus gratefully acknowledged. n

Jennifer Herrick Porter is a wall painting conservator and assistant lecturer in the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage at the University of Malta, where she lectures and directs student field projects for the MSc course in the Conservation of Decorative Architectural Surfaces. Since 2007, she has worked with a variety of institutions on field conservation and research projects worldwide. She currently leads the Department’s project to conserve the 16th-century Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio Great Siege wall painting cycle in the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta.


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HABITATS Photos by Joe Attard

Foresta 2000 is twenty years old. Close to the Red Tower in an area known as is-Sdieri in Mellieha, Din l-Art Ħelwa was at the forefront of this project and its financial contribution has helped in no small way to see it through. Din l-Art Ħelwa council member Joe Attard catches up with retired ranger RAY VELLA to speak about his experiences at Foresta 2000.

When did the project start and who came up with the idea?

Foresta 2000 was originally a project initiated by the young members of Birdlife Malta as a millenium project in 1996. The idea was to plant 2,000 trees as a gift to the public in the millenium year. In a short time the project grew and Din l-Art Ħelwa and the Parks Department joined in. In a project of this size, it was important to involve as many partners as possible. The Italian Corpo Forestrale dello Stato and the Istituto Agronomico di Bari were also involved in consultations and the donation of thousands of trees and shrubs.

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When did you get involved and how many years did you spend as ranger at Foresta?

I joined Foresta in 2004 and remained there until 2020, when I reached retirement age. A total of sixteen years. I was not the first ranger there, but I guess it was when I started that things started to gather momentum.

How big is the area and how many trees were planted?

The area is 550,000 square metres, of which 450,000 sqm were to be planted. This is an area about the size of Buskett, not small at all.


Not everywhere was planted as some areas are typical maltese habitats, like the garigue and clay steppe. These were left untouched as they hold an abundant number of species of their own.

The area is quite large. Is it all public land?

Most of the area is public, with some small pockets leased to farmers for agricultural purposes. When the project started there was no thought of evicting anyone who was there legally, but in some cases there were some evictions. There was also an area popular with off-roaders and this had to stop. Wooden poles and low rubble walls were placed on the slopes.


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Steppe-loving plants and trees like tamarisk and esparto grass were planted. This had a positive effect on the eroded areas and grasses started to heal the scars.

recent as 2017 when around 100 olive trees were destroyed. The public has always reacted in a positive way to these vandal acts and more tree-planting took place.

What type of trees were planted and is there any particular reason for choosing these trees?

Habitats attract new species of flora and fauna. Did you notice this during the years you were at Foresta?

We had made the obvious choice to plant only native trees and shrubs. The common ones include carob, pines and lentisk. Less in number are the western strawberry trees, holm oak, myrtle, buckthorn, ash and araar. The araar, our national tree, is represented with around 400 examples and is possibly the biggest concentration of this species on the Islands. It was also decided to keep the ratio of 60% shrubs and 40% trees, to maintain a healthy undergrowth in the forest. The shrubs provide leaves and berries for birds, insects and mammals. In total, the number of trees and shrubs is close to 21,000. The Corpo Forestrale dello Stato had helped to propagate many of the trees from local seeds. The success rate is around 94% which means that the vast majority of these trees and shrubs are now mature.

What was the most difficult task you encountered during your years working there?

There were a few, but the most notable was vandalism. In May 2007, 3,000 trees were chopped down in a single night. There were similar arson attacks in 2005, 2010 and as

Certainly many new species have made Foresta their new home over these past twenty years. These include many species of birds, reptiles, amphibians etc. There are now some rockpools with a wide variety of pondlife including frogs and rare plants. These were not present before. Foresta also has a large population of chameleons and cat snake. And the collared dove breeds there regularly. There are also two plant species of cistus, which were not present before. n

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Developers, architects and regulators By Alex Torpiano

The term ‘uglification’ is an inherently ugly word. More and more frequently it is being applied to the spatial environment of Malta and, perhaps a bit less up to now, of Gozo. The spatial environment includes both urban and rural areas – the boundaries between these two, in a small country like Malta, are rather undefined.


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he concern about ‘uglification’ expressed by eNGOs such as Din l-Art Ħelwa, but also by many citizens, is not merely a nostalgic aversion to change, or to development in general, by a group of people fixated on the past. This is a genuine, and increasingly widespread, worry. The ugliness is there for all to see; it cannot be dismissed as a subjective opinion, or as a matter of taste; there is a wide consensus that there is ugliness around, even by those who have contributed to this ‘uglification’. The buildings that are blotting the landscape do not sprout out of the ground spontaneously. They are commissioned by a developer, designed by an architect, and approved for building by the regulator. To a certain extent, this has always been the case, but the characteristics of these actors have changed over the years. The ‘developer’ is certainly a recent actor; in the past, architecture depended on patrons who would commission major buildings. The smaller, vernacular, residential buildings would very often be built by the owners themselves. The patrons were generally people who were land-owners, who had money to invest, and who wished to achieve specific objectives. The earliest objective was probably shelter, or defence, as in the case of fortifications and fortified palaces, commissioned by the rulers of a region. Another early objective was a place for the practice of religious rites, commissioned, in the West, either by the Church, or by rich practitioners of the faith, who would wish to bequeath a place of worship, to perpetuate their memory. An important objective was that of reflecting the glory and (economic) power of the patron, perhaps as a way of impressing peers.

These were the generators of what we today consider as the treasures of architecture; the issue was rather about how much money could be invested into the work, than about how much profit that particular construction could make. Probably by the late eighteenth century, the role of the ‘developer’ had already emerged, as the person or company building and selling houses and other buildings, especially in the bigger cities of Europe. In Malta, the achievement of political independence in the 1960s required the replacement of a defencebased economy by one based on tourism and industry – the broad objectives were those of providing a framework for the development of an alternative economy. The 1960s saw the first ‘building boom’, as well as the emergence of the first modern ‘developers’, initially entrepreneurs and professionals, who had the financial resources to invest. This activity drew the support of a growing banking industry and, of course, of government, which saw investment in development as a provider of employment. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, the real estate industry flowed and ebbed; home ownership schemes, and easy financing provided by financial institutions such as Lohombus, introduced the real estate world to first-time home-owners, and gave them a taste for the potential returns from real estate. Up to the late 1990s, the volume of development activity remained healthy but not extravagant. There were, of course, concerns about the loss of built heritage even back then – Din l-Art Ħelwa was set up in 1965 as an expression of this concern – and there were some development decisions, often by the State, which we certainly regret today. The

In the current social media chats between architects, 99% of the discourse is about development permission minutiae, and never about architectural style or philosophy. The question arises whether we even need architects for development permit processes?

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opening up of some old village cores by wide boulevards piercing through the old urban fabric was one such regrettable activity. Most of the new development also took place on virgin land, rather than by demolishing old buildings. Importantly, the objectives of the developer ‘patrons’ had begun to change significantly; development went beyond the mere provision of accommodation, be it residential, industrial or tourism. A major objective was that of investment, and therefore of profitability, based on ratios of gross-to-net floor areas, on floor heights, and so on. With accession to the European Union, and the political decision to expand the economy by pumping up demography (latest statistics show a 25% population growth over the last ten years), demand for all types of accommodation exploded. Development as an investment attracted more entrepreneurs and more money. Financing this type of activity was not easily possible for everybody, although banks did, initially, provide relatively easy terms for real estate investment. With the promise of good returns (particularly when igaming, Airbnb, financial services and, more recently, the investment citizenship programme, created a strong demand for residential and office accommodation), and the absence of significant alternative investment opportunities, many people poured their financial resources into the real estate business. At a certain stage, the promise of a good return on investment was so powerful a perception, that developers found it increasingly possible to sell property ‘on plan’ even before construction had started – indeed even before development permission was issued – and were thus able to finance their project with pre-sales. Nevertheless, some small-time investors, lacking experience, also had their fingers burned as estimates of cash flow became unrealistically optimistic. This situation has fostered: (a) an increased haste in development, for a project to be placed on the market as quickly as possible, and before competitors; (b) the relentless pursuit of cost-cutting, in the context of smaller profit margins; (c) the pushing aside of all considerations of aesthetics, design and, especially, of the impact of development on the common urban realm.


When blips in growth occurred, say during the global recession of 2013, the development industry ran to the state to ask for help, for example, by requesting the state to take over unsold residential properties, often of dubious standard, as social housing or as old people’s homes. The state, in turn, increasingly depended on property sale taxes, and was consequently ready to listen when asked to lower floor-to-floor heights, or to lower the minimum apartment floor areas – all in the general direction of ‘packing them in’, rather than of offering a worthy addition to the urban realm. And when COVID stalled the economy, the industry proposed – and the state glibly accepted – that a lowering of sales tax would encourage more people to buy, hence ‘bolstering’ the GDP. We have already heard the industry proposing that, post-Covid, such subsidies to the development/real estate industry should continue. Development today is therefore completely different from what it was in the past. While previously development had the primary objective of providing shelter and enclosure, whilst fulfilling intangible objectives such as the projection of power and glory, today it is primarily an economic activity in itself. The second actor is that of the architect, the ‘perit’ (I obviously declare my ‘conflict of interest’ here). During the period of the Order of St John, there were both military engineers/ architects, imported from Europe for specific commissions, as well as home-grown periti, gradually emerging from the role of mastermason position into that of architect-designers in their own right. As private commissions increased, even with early twentieth-century real estate ‘developers’, there was an increasing demand for architects who had received training, often abroad, say in the Beaux Arts tradition, or later in the Modernist style, that is, a training focused on contemporary architectural movements. Architects were commissioned to ‘design’ buildings, meaning that they were required to give buildings style and elegance. Even up to the 1980s, approval for development required the architect to prepare designs that had to satisfy an Aesthetics Board, first set up in 1935 – the process of getting approval for the proposed aesthetics was a major step in getting development approval. The other rules to be satisfied were rather simple, and established. There were sanitary regulations to be followed, ensuring that new buildings had sufficient light and fresh air; and there were rudimentary


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The government continues to make promises about stream-lining and fast-tracking, as if speed was the problem. The focus of the Planning Authority is not ‘planning’ but getting permits out quickly.

planning rules, mainly about where one could build and where one could not, including height limitations and curtilages, and the like. The architect addressed these issues as part of his commission, the other part being that of following the construction process, and taking responsibility for structural integrity of the construction. After the free-for-all, which was the Building Development Areas Act of 1983, the rules for development permission were tightened under the first Development Planning Act of 1992. This was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it also resulted in an increasingly legalistic approach to planning issues, with architects seeking all sorts of ‘loopholes’ within the prototype legislative framework that was set up. More lawyers became interested in the planning process; the process of taking development permit decisions began to resemble, more and more, processes in courts of law. More architects began to see their role as primarily that of obtaining planning permission on behalf of their clients and, hence, the art of making effective submissions to the various boards became very important. This took up more and more time of architects, and consequently the time devoted to actually ‘design’ buildings became less and less. If one follows the current social media chats between architects, one would observe that 99% of the discourse is about development permission minutiae, and never about architectural style or philosophy. Architectural design has been subsumed into the process of obtaining development permits; which has itself abandoned planning principles to become a legal debate on ‘rights’ and ‘legitimate expectations’. The question arises whether we even need architects for development permit processes?

The remaining, and most important, actor is the regulator. A degree of regulation did exist at least as from 1962, but the first comprehensive development planning legislation had to wait until 1992. This was the first, laudable attempt to introduce a serious planning process to manage land use. An underlying objective of this planning legislation was to take planning permission out of the hands of (corruptible) politicians. The 1992 Act sought to separate the act of planning and of development permission from the patronage of politicians. Even more important was the research that preceded the ‘act of planning’. For the first time, the spatial implications of the socio-economic development options of Malta were studied, and used to inform ‘plans’ and ‘policies’. The Planning Authority of 1992 morphed into the Malta Environment and Planning Authority of 2002, and then reverted back to the Planning Authority in 2013. These movements were the result of different political visions of the relationship between development and the environment. The bottom line, however, was that politicians (and their clients) did not like the fact that the leverage inherent in politicians’ ability to influence development permit decisions had been diluted in 1992. After 1992, successive governments sought to claw back control over the development permitting process, in various not-so-subtle ways. By 2013, the Planning Authority was firmly within the portfolio of the prime minister. Various changes in administrative structure were enacted since but, effectively, direct government control of planning decisions was brought firmly back. Whilst the methods of filling important positions, such as that of the attorney general, the ombudsman, the judiciary, have been subjected to significant scrutiny in order to ensure independence and hence integrity

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The Planning Authority has forgotten about planning, just as architects have forgotten about architecture.

of action, the executive chairman, wielding immense power, is appointed by and answers directly to the minister. The majority of the members of the Planning Commission are appointed by the prime minister, or directly represent political parties. The members of the Planning Commissions are now selected after a call for application, but their tenure and rules of appointment have nothing to do with those of, say, magistrates. The links that such members retain, on the one hand, with the political party they are affiliated to, as well as, on the other hand, private practice interests, cannot result in independence. Within the Planning Authority, the group of professionals dedicated to ‘forward planning’ – that is, actual planning (since no planning can be other than ‘forward’) – has been disbanded. The focus of the Planning Authority is that of determining development applications. The emphasis is on ‘efficiency’, ‘short determination periods’ and turnover of applications – ‘delays’ are perceived as detrimental to the industry. Planning considerations are considered as bureaucracy. And the government continues to make promises about stream-lining, fasttracking, and the like, as if speed was the problem. The focus of the Planning Authority is not ‘planning’ but getting permits out quickly. Government agencies have an aversion to any planning process at all. The use of Development Notification Orders (DNOs) to cover wider and wider categories of ‘development’ attests to this aversion. The DNO process is basically one which allows certain types of developments to be permitted, completely by-passing the permission processes and, hence, oversight. DNOs now cover road works, development within industrial areas, by the armed forces, the correctional services, civil protection and the police, as well as, as per a current proposal, ‘urban greening projects’. The Planning Authority has forgotten about planning, just as architects have forgotten about architecture – developers are simply in a rush to make money. The evolution of the three actors as outlined above make for the perfect storm that is hitting our urban and natural environment. Perhaps, it ought to be


better termed a ‘tragedy’. The current debate is, inexplicably, not about what we should change to save the environment, but whether there should be compensation for changing the rules curtailing inappropriate development. There is a dangerous and misleading narrative in this debate, since those promoting the doctrine of ‘legitimate expectation’ use this argument to browbeat planning commissions into approving applications, while realising the deleterious nature of the proposal. The argument in favour of compensation presumes that only the owners of properties wishing to develop (higher) have the right to enjoy their property – and not the neighbours who wish to preserve the character of their street and their way of life. And it is an argument merely focused on permissible heights, and not on quality of architecture and urban space! How can we walk back from the environmental precipice? Will public pressure convince politicians that they have gone too far in undermining proper planning processes? Do we have the time to enact rules to preserve urban areas, for the benefit of the communities that live in them, before they are ruined? Can we resolve the multiple demands that legitimate, and often illegitimate, activities make on our rural areas? Can we create planning governance structures that are free of (small p) political interference, (otherwise known as clientelism), with sufficient checks and balances? e-NGOs are no longer considered as Cassandras, but their warnings and objections are perceived as fundamentally correct. Other organisations such as the Kamra talPeriti, the Chamber of Planners, even the Malta Developers Association, recognise the perils of not taking drastic corrective action. The mobilisation against over-development in Gozo, across party lines, is also very encouraging. We may yet save the day. n

Alex Torpiano is an architect, and Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. He is Executive President of Din l-Art Ħelwa.


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Axing and bartering

TREES By Claire Bonello • Photos by Joe Attard

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt held strong views about trees. He once said, ‘A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people’.


t would seem that the prevailing sentiment held by Maltese government agencies is a million miles away from that. Rather than protecting, nurturing and promoting Malta’s diminishing tree cover, there seems to be a concerted effort to axe trees and urbanise natural and agricultural land. This attitude is encapsulated in Immanuel Mifsud’s poem, ‘Aqta Fjura u Ibni Kamra’ (Cut a Flower, Build a Room): Aqta’ fjura u ibni kamra; Aqla’ siġra u tella’ dar; Imxi metru, ibni villa; Tinkwetax… dak li sar sar. (Cut a flower, build a room Uproot a tree and build a house Move a metre, build a villa Don’t worry... what’s done is done.)

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The present state of affairs has come about by dint of the intentional dilution of the relevant regulations.

To date, the attempt to maximise developable floor area and viewing trees as an obstruction may have been more evident in the private sector which seeks to maximize profit. However, we are now seeing government agencies and even environmental regulators taking up this unsustainable view. In fact, the impression that trees no longer enjoy any meaningful form of protection is completely justified. The present state of affairs has come about by dint of the intentional dilution of the relevant regulations. Up to 2018 trees were protected by means of the Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations. These regulations classified trees into different groups. There were the strictly protected tree species which included trees of antiquarian importance and trees protected by tree protection orders as well as some other tree species. Then there were other trees which were protected because they were present in selected areas. These included trees which were more than 50 years of age within protected areas or located Outside Development Zone and Urban Conservation Areas. Carob trees and Judas trees were amongst the species which fell under this category within protected areas and Outside Development Zone. A third category of trees consisted in invasive, alien or environmentallyincompatible species. The first two categories of trees enjoyed strict protection. Nobody was allowed to carry out any action which could be damaging to them or to the biological diversity of any protected tree. Any intervention on such trees required a permit from the Environment and Resources Authority. Furthermore wherever a development, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, was likely to have an adverse effect on any protected trees, the Environment and Resources Authority could refuse the application, impose conditions, require an assessment of the impacts or a combination of all the above. Then there was a very fair and sensible regulation which stated that no permit for interventions on protected trees should be granted whilst an application for a permit was being processed or being appealed and the intervention would prejudice the merits of such processing. This regulation was (and remains) necessary to safeguard the application or the appeal process. It doesn’t make sense to have an intervention such as the cutting down of protected trees being completed whilst an appeal on the same intervention is underway. Allowing this to happen renders the appeal a futile and academic process.


So, up to 2018 we had a perfectly adequate and functional regulatory system for the protection of trees. At that point the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) set up a consultation exercise for the public to submit its comments about proposed amendments to the the Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations. Ostensibly, the reason for this was the improvement of the existing regulations. Much was made of the fact that persons who would be allowed to carry out interventions on protected trees would have to be licensed. This appeared to be an eminently reasonable suggestion to prevent heavy-handed and insensitive pruning of trees. ERA said that it wanted to revise the regulations in order to protect an additional 14 tree species in the Maltese Islands and to protect trees in urban public open spaces. The new regulations came into force in 2018. They stated that no interventions on protected trees could take place unless carried out by a licensed tree specialist. However, to this day – a full three years from the enactment of the regulations – this particular criterion is not yet in force. So, the highly-publicised improvement of having persons with expertise prune trees is not yet in force. There were other retrograde steps. Although a permit was still required for an intervention on protected trees, ERA was now obliged to process the applications for such permits without undue delay. This was not simply doing away with needless bureaucracy, but paved the way for the rubber stamping of applications to destroy trees. The prohibition on interventions on protected trees whilst an appeal was underway was done away with. The result of this is that it has become extremely difficult for third parties, such as NGOs, to intervene to try and intervene to protect trees when there is an application for them to be uprooted. This is because their uprooting may already have taken place whilst the appeal is underway. Then there is the other obstacle of trying to figure out when ERA is considering and deciding upon such an application. There is no regular notification or publication of ERA decisions in public, so NGOs have a very hard time trying to extract information from ERA or its website in order to be able to file an appeal on time. In a recent appeal filed by NGOs to appeal ERA’s approval of a permit to uproot 300-year old carob trees in Dingli, ERA also argued that NGOs had no legal standing to file such an appeal. This issue has not yet been confirmed in the Court of Appeal.


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It has become customary for the agencies carrying out large scale projects to highlight the number of trees which will be planted to make up for those being uprooted. This is the result of the compensatory tree planting scheme adopted by ERA where permits are issued for uprooting trees as long as more are planted in their stead. At first glance, this may appear to be a satisfactory trade-off as the end result should be more trees. However, it doesn’t work out like that in reality. Trees are not gadgets which can be plugged in and played. Mature trees with their magnificent canopies, gnarled trunks and extensive roots are ecosystems in their own right. They support a host of other creatures and form their own microhabitat. They provide a resting point for birds. Mature trees are essential elements of well-loved landscapes. The substitution with saplings is not a satisfactory one as time, energy and resources are required for saplings to establish themselves to the point at which we can glean the same amount of benefit from them. Despite the fact that ERA has adopted this tree barter system, it is doubtful whether ERA has sufficient resources to ensure that the substitute trees are planted where they ought to be, that the right kind of trees are planted in the appropriate locations and that they are wellmaintained for the requisite amount of time. In replies to queries regarding the rate

of compliance, ERA stated that out of 30 permits, 6 were found to be fully compliant, 9 were partially compliant, 4 were totally noncompliant and the remaining 11 permits were still under review. No fines have been issued for non-compliance with compensatory planting conditions under permits. These figures are not reassuring figures and do not foster any faith in the soundness of the compensatory tree planting system. The compensatory tree-planting system is at odds with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the main points of the Convention is ‘in situ’ conservation. The objectives of the draft local biodiversity strategy which were recently issued for local public consultation make absolutely no reference to one of the main aims of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, namely on site conservation. In situ conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats is cited as being a ‘fundamental requirement’ for the conservation of biological diversity in the Convention. Yet this fundamental requirement is largely ignored in the Maltese context where the easier substitution approach is preferred. This mirrors the overall approach to development and planning on the Maltese Islands, where the wholesale substitution of entire urban landscapes is taking place without much regard as to whether the end result is sustainable, enduring on desirable. n

Claire Bonello been practising law for over 20 years and is self-employed. She is a legal consultant for local environmental NGOs and has led several environmental and information campaigns. Claire serves as the chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Council on the Environment – a national advisory entity enjoined with providing professional views for sustainable, professional and holistic legislation.

it is doubtful whether ERA has sufficient resources to ensure that the substitute trees are planted where they ought to be, that the right kind of trees are planted in the appropriate locations and that they are well-maintained for the requisite amount of time.

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Winners of the XV Din l-Art Ħelwa Architectural Awards.

XV Edition of the Din l-Art Ħelwa Architectural Heritage Awards Photos by Daryl Cauchi


t is a measure of success that, each year, the standard of entries for these awards is rising. Established 15 years ago in 2005, the Din l-Art Ħelwa Awards for Architectural Heritage have given recognition and visibility to projects which, in the opinion of the judges, made an outstanding contribution to Maltese cultural heritage and to the achievement of architectural excellence in Malta. Maria Grazia Cassar, head of the judging panel and Din l-Art Ħelwa council member, noted that “many projects, past and present, are directly connected to tourism; all, however, directly impact our quality of life, and we hope that through these awards we will promote the safeguarding of heritage and best practice in restoration and conservation.” The rest of the jury were Prof Conrad Thake representing the Kamra tal-Periti, Prof Antonio Mollicone from the University of Malta, and Din l-Art Ħelwa council member perit Joanna Spiteri Staines. The Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, the Hon Clayton Bartolo, presented the awards. The prizes were awarded as follows: Category A – A Major Regeneration Project The Phoenicia Hotel Spa, Floriana, by AP Valletta – Prix d’Honneur The British Building, Cospicua, by EM Architects – Diploma

Din l-Art Ħelwa president Professor Alex Torpiano.

Category B – The Rehabilitation and Re-Use of Buildings Palazzo de la Salle, Valletta, by the Malta Society of Arts and the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage at the University of Malta – Prix d’Honneur The King George Project, Gharghur, by perit Elena Borg Costanzi and 3DM Architecture – Diploma Admiralty House, Valletta, by the Restoration Directorate – Diploma Category C – A Restoration and Conservation Project Casa Manresa, Floriana, by the Archdiocese of Malta – Prix d’Honneur

Maria Grazia Cassar, chair of the judging panel, at the presentation.

Cimiterju tal-Abbati, by Parocca Ħal-Lija and Architecture XV – Diploma The Sacred Auditorium, Blata l-Bajda, by Atelier Maison – Special Commendation The Judge Maurice Caruana Curran prize signifying the best overall in all categories was won by the Phoenicia Hotel Spa by AP Valletta.


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Bending and relaxing

planning laws



in l-Art Ħelwa’s Annual General Meeting was held on 24 February. Due to the social restrictions of the Covid pandemic, members were invited to follow the meeting online. The organisation’s executive president Professor Alex Torpiano, secretary general Simone Mizzi, treasurer Martin Scicluna, council member Professor Luciano Mule Stagno and office manager Rosanne Zerafa, met at a venue at the University of Malta. Din l-Art Ħelwa members were able to follow the presentations, ask questions and participate in voting, online via Zoom. Besides the president’s address, and the reports of the secretary and treasurer, the meeting adopted three resolutions. As usual, these highlighted the current concerns of the organisation on planning and environment related matters. The first resolution dealt with the need for good governance in development planning. Good governance in spatial planning in Malta has been found lacking. It is not an independent process that gives due weight to our natural and cultural assets when proposing a long-term vision of the islands. Instead, it is a process whereby planning laws continue to be bent, and relaxed, on the advice of ‘experts’ close to the development lobby. Planning boards are packed with partisan members, leaving the real power in the hands of government which promotes projects according to its whims or worse. Watchdog entities, such as the Environment and Resources Authority, and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have been rendered toothless, and their recommendations on applications largely ignored. ‘Independent’ tribunals deciding appeals against decisions taken by the Planning Authority are chaired by officials effectively seconded from the same Authority, to whom they return once their term is up. At the AGM, Din l-Art Ħelwa called for a truly independent Planning Authority, with members of the various Boards who are truly independent and who can properly evaluate planning applictions, and apply legislation and policies based on the long-term needs of

the country and the merits of the proposal. It also called for a clear delineation between government as the legislator who fashions the long-term socio-economic objectives of Malta, and the Authority, as the executor, once and for all, since only in this way will the country be guaranteed the environment and the quality of life its citizens deserve. The second resolution called for an urgent review of Annex 2 of the Design and Policy Guidelines. These were approved in 2015 by simple ministerial notice, and have enabled the wholesale demolition of terraced houses, and their haphazard replacement by 5- to 6-storey apartment blocks, all over the islands. This policy is a primary cause of the ongoing ‘uglification’ of Malta, the destruction of our urban areas, the desecration of our heritage buildings, and ensuing environmental degradation. The third resolution noted that, while the safeguarding of the landscape and the cultural and artistic patrimony of Malta and Gozo is enshrined in Article 9 of the Constitution of Malta as a grave obligation on the State, the article is deficient because, according to Article 21, no action in any court can be taken to enforce this provision. At the AGM, Din l-Art Ħelwa called for an amendment to the Constitution of Malta, to introduce a mechanism enabling civil society to monitor, challenge and enforce the protection of our natural and built heritage, as enshrined in Article 9 of the Constitution. The introduction of such a mechanism will ensure the enforceability of the obligations of protection and preservation, to introduce a necessary element of sustainability of our longterm health and quality of life. n

(Left to right) Treasurer Martin Scicluna, Professor Luciano Mule Stagno, Executive President Professor Alex Torpiano, Secretary General Simone Mizzi

Watchdog entities, such as the Environment and Resources Authority, and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have been rendered toothless

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


Officials from Din l-Art Ħelwa, DLĦM, and the Mellieħa Local Council. Norwex Malta Ltd sponsored the tree planting event.

The Foundation of


I A newly planted ħarruba, a carob tree.

Above: Din l-Art Ħelwa president Professor Alex Torpiano, Mayor of Mellieha, Dario Vella, together with Albert Attard and Daniela Cilia, co-founders of DLĦM, plant their tree, one of the 100 trees planted to mark the event. Right: Din l-Art Ħelwa president Professor Alex Torpiano and cofounder of DLĦM Albert Attard sign the agreement establishing the new Regional Committee.

n a captivating area of natural beauty in the region of Mellieħa, in February a tree planting celebration took place to mark the foundation of Din l-Art Ħelwa’s first regional committee through the joining up of the long-established heritage organisation with the voluntary group For A Better Environment Mellieħa. This move will boost nature and heritage protection in and around Mellieħa, with a strong hands-on presence in the popular beach town which is now fast becoming a prominent residential area of Malta with a population that more than doubles in the summer months.

Din l-Art Ħelwa, now in its 55th year, is already present in the area, having restored major landmarks such as the Red Tower which is open regularly to the public, and the White Tower. It also helped to establish natural habitats at Foresta 2000, and is part of the Heritage Parks Federation that manages the Majjistral Nature and History Park in the North West of Malta. Professor Alex Torpiano noted that the setting up of this regional committee, Din l-Art Ħelwa Mellieħa (DLĦM), was a bold new step for the organisation. Through the energy and drive of the new committee, the mission of the organisation can reach a bigger audience. Albert Attard, co-founder of DLĦM, said that the missions of the two groups were aligned – the protection of nature and the quality of life brought about by a healthy and clean environment, and the defence of built heritage through restoration and upkeep. Mellieħa has the longest coastline in Malta, a proliferation of heritage monuments and wild open spaces with a variety of biodiversity that deserve looking after. The new Mellieħa committee will organise regional events and activities, such clean ups, tree-planting, restoration projects and initiatives related to the marine environment. During the launch, 100 trees were planted to symbolically commemorate the union. Volunteers of the two organisations came together and in the presence of the Mayor of Mellieħa, Dario Vella, and Mellieħa Local Councillors, participated in this satisfying and fun occasion. The event was made possible with the support of Norwex Malta. n


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


Report Stanley Farrugia Randon

u Delimara Lighthouse


aintenance work is being carried out on the lantern and lighting mechanism of the lighthouse. Twelve years have passed since it was last restored, and some water was percolating through various parts of the housing of the lighting mechanism. These parts had to be sealed and the mechanism was restored.

Stone damage at Torri Mamo.

u Torri Mamo


in l-Art Ħelwa has been granted 10,000 euros by the GalXlokk Foundation, to be spent on the restoration of the external façades of Torri Mamo. An application to the Planning Authority was submitted, to change stones which are deteriorating and in some parts even falling off. Part of the rubble wall surrounding the ditch at Torri Mamo also required rebuilding.

Stone damage at Għallis tower.

u Għallis Tower

T The Delimara Lighthouse mechanism.

his is one of the thirteen towers built during the reign of Grand Master De Rohan. Unfortunately it is no longer a prominent feature on the coastroad from Salini to Baħar-iċ-Ċagħaq since a high wall was erected along parts of the road in recent years. In 2017 Din l-Art Ħelwa applied to the Planning Authority for the restoration of the external walls of Għallis Tower and the necessary permit has now been granted. Restoration will include pointing of the walls and the changing of some stones. Din l-Art Ħelwa has applied to GalMajjistral for funding to assist with this project.

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

u White Tower Battery


sponsorship from Malta Tourism Authority has enabled Din l-Art Ħelwa to restore the 1715 battery which was constructed to accommodate ten 12-pounder cannons. The tower was funded by Grand Master Martino De Redin in 1658, and was armed with two 5-pounder guns. Works started in June 2020 and 50 capping stones which were missing or broken were changed to similar pieces of coralline limestone which were purposely cut in Gozo. Overgrowth flourishing on the wall had to be removed as this was further damaging the structure. Most of the low-lying parapet wall, from where the cannons were fired, had lost its surface and this had to be meticulously restored by replacing rubble stones found in the immediate vicinity and binding them with a mixture of lime and sand. Small parts of the surface of this wall were still intact and it was possible to replicate these parts to re-create a uniform surface. Other works funded by the Malta Tourism Authority included replacing part of the flooring around the tower, where illegal structures had been removed leaving a very irregular area which was dangerous to walk on. Amenities from the tower to the ditch room as well as drains towards the cesspit were passed. The cesspit was constructed in 1919 when the tower was used by the British Naval Authorities when it utilised the tower as a Hydrophone Station school. The inauguration of the restoration of the battery was held on 22 March 2021, and was attended by the Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Mr Clayton Bartolo.

Restoring the upper part of the battery wall at the White Tower at l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa.


u The medieval chapel of San Ċir


rchitect Nadia Martinelli generously offered Din l-Art Ħelwa her professional services in the drafting of an application to the authorities to restore this medieval chapel. Din l-Art Ħelwa is now waiting for this property to be transferred to its management under the Guardianship Deed Act. Procedures with different government entities change continuously and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has formally requested that the chapel is transferred from the Lands Authority to them. In this way, the Superintendence can then transfer the property to Din l-Art Ħelwa, which has been expressing its interest to restore this site for the past 15 years during which the condition of the chapel deteriorated further. Din l-Art Ħelwa has already been granted a permit from the Planning Authority to start works. The medieval chapels of the Annunciation at Ħal Millieri and the chapel of Bir Miftuħ, adorned with its unique medieval frescoes, are among the most important gems entrusted to Din l-Art Ħelwa. Although the association does not receive much income from donations and entrance fees, the chapels and their immediate environs require regular restoration and maintenance. The recently changed metal gate and cover of the well of the Annunciation chapel have weathered beautifully and were painted. Also, during a recent storm, part of the rubble wall adjacent to the pathway leading to this chapel collapsed and was rebuilt. The wooden sign of Bir Miftuħ was also restored.

u Vandalism at the Red Tower


art of the staircase leading to the Red Tower was vandalised. Member of Parliament the Hon. Robert Cutajar offered his prompt help and sent a builder to repair it. The stone structure of a well at the White Tower was also vandalised and will have to be repaired.

The restored Battery below the White Tower.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Let’s clean up The Din l-Art Ħelwa Mellieha section have organised some great clean up activities in the vicinity of properties managed by Din l-Art Ħelwa. The volunteers focused on the Red Tower in Mellieha and the White Tower near Armier Bay over the winter months. Many other initiatives are being planned. If you are interested in joining in, follow the group on Facebook and contact Albert Attard or Daniela Cini.

the place!

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Volunteers get going at Mellieha and Armier



Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021







Keeping in shape at the Garden of Rest

Work never stops at Din l-Art Ħelwa. Keeping our sites in good shape is a continuous challenge, with a lot of the maintenance handled by dedicated volunteers. Under the watchful eye of Paolo Ferrelli, warden of the Garden of Rest in Floriana, groups of students from MCAST and Junior College, as well as Erasmus Plus students, also came along and joined in over the winter months.

1. Junior College student cleaning marble pieces, 2. Junior College students cleaning a monument, 3. Junior College students surveying the headstones, 4. MCAST students replacing broken stones and fixing the wall, 5. MCAST students weeding the garden, 6. MCAST students carting out the debris, 7. MCAST students fixing the collapsed cangatura, 8. MCAST students repointing the wall and cangatura, 9. Volunteers fixing the water pump for rain water to be collected, 10. Volunteer and Erasmus Plus student surveying a marble tablet, 11. Volunteer and Erasmus Plus student studying a stone found recently.






Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021



NEWS Soprano Nicola Said at Our Lady of Victory The beautiful Our Lady of Victory church in Valletta offers an exquisite setting for musical events. A lovely performance by soprano Nicola Said in the church is available to watch on YouTube. watch?v=uaM0FvmdRDU

Orange the World The Wignacourt Tower in St Paul’s Bay was lit up in orange by the government to raise awareness of domestic violence. As countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified. The United Nations called it a ‘shadow pandemic’ and called for a global collective effort to stop it. 25th November 2020 was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with the theme: ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’

NEW VICTORIANS The popular award-winning Maltese sister duo New Victorians performing at Bir Miftuħ church.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Victor Rizzo 28.01.1942 – 7.02.2021 Victor was a good man. He came to Din l-Art Ħelwa, as many do, on his retirement and threw himself into helping the organisation in any way he could. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was lumbered the job of treasurer. When the post came before our council, most of those present looked at the ceiling or dropped their pencil. Victor accepted with good grace and looked after our tattered finances for quite a few years. He did not enjoy this, but did it out of a sense of loyalty to Din l-Art Ħelwa and his were a safe pair of hands due partly to his integrity and honesty. However his real love was publishing a series of books of walks around Malta. Because we were hard pressed (on all fronts), much as we are today, once he thought of the project he had to see it through himself. He had to contact the local councils, route the walks, research the historical and natural features along the walks, find the sponsors and printer, proofread and distribute, and then find other authors. He published a number of these booklets which were a joint venture between local councils and Din l-Art Ħelwa. A steady hand on council, he could be relied upon to give honest and sound advice, always with passion but delivered in moderation. Victor was that sort of gentle patriot – who loved the country of his birth, and fought to protect the good things we have inherited from our forefathers and he worked to pass them on. Victor, the work continues - thank you for all you have done.

Martin Galea

Kultant jien nitħasseb By Lorraine Micallef Kultant jien nitħasseb hux jien jew iż-żmien Hux aħjar dak l-iblaħ Li m’għandux għarfien L-egoiżmu tal-bniedem Jidher ċar b’mod sfaċċat Li taħseb f ’ħaddieħor Sar mod tal-passat Min prinċipji jarmi Jitqies ta’ modern Flok pinnur jgħidulu Jew ħaqqu l-infern Żviluppi madwarna Bl-adoċċ bla ppjanar Jekk int tipprotesta Meqjus bħala ħmar Il-ħażin sar normali Is-serq aċċettat Fit-taxxi w fl-iskemi Nibdew mill-kbarat

Gorgeous winter days at Dwejra Photos by Simon Wallace

Kultant jien nitħasseb Għaż-żgħażagħ tal-lum X’se jsibu ma wiċċhom Fil-qrib il-futur



Dak li aħna ħawwilna Ħa jaħsdu dalwaqt It-trab li tajjarna L-exhaust li hemm ġo s-sħab Kultant jien nitħasseb Fejn aħna sejrin Hux veru li jgħidu Li hemm id-destin



1. Nature's Carnival - early Spring flowers. 2. Sulla flowering. 3. Winter day. 4. Capers

Il-futur jagħmlu l-bniedem B’deċiżjoni tal-lum Kull pass li jittieħed Jaffetwa l -futur Kultant jien nitħasseb! 28 April 2021

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

From the

Din l-Art Ħelwa



By George E. Camilleri


embers attending lectures at the Din l-Art Ħelwa headquarters in Melita Street will have noticed the display areas on the landing. Among the various artefacts are a number of archaeological specimens of varying nature ranging from extinct animal teeth to Roman items. Delving into the archives one finds interesting information of the provenance of some of them. In July 1998, Mrs Selina Ballance of Gloucestershire presented a number of artefacts to Din L-Art Ħelwa, via Andy Welsh, together with the following note: “The enclosed objects have been in my possession since 1936. In that year the top of a hill in an area known as Takali was sliced off as part of the levelling work necessary for the construction of an aerodrome. I assume it was for military aircraft at that time as my father, Air Commodore Paul Maltby, Air Officer Commanding the RAF in the Mediterranean, took a great interest in it, and when prehistoric material turned up he took me along to see it. Whoever was in charge gave me these bones. The labels on them are those I, aged eleven, wrote at the time: I therefore do not vouch for their accuracy. It seems right they should be returned to Malta, and I shall be very glad if they are of any interest or use in a museum or other collection”. Martin Galea, then secretary general replied in February 1999 stating that, “Further to your handing over the archaeological remains you found before the war, we had an expert look them over,” adding “We have now applied to the Museums Department to have the remains exhibited here at our headquarters”. These had been examined by Dr George Zammit Maempel, curator at the Għar Dalam museum who identified dental elements of extinct animals dating back to the Tertiary Period, 13 to 18 million years ago and hippopotami and pygmy elephants of the Pleistocene period over 130,000 years ago together with molluscs and other shells. The museum authorities granted the requested permission and these interesting specimens, thanks to Mrs Selina Ballance, now grace our headquarters. n

George Camilleri is a retired dental surgeon and former dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the University of Malta. He is now researching the history of dentistry in Malta and is a volunteer archivist at Din l-Art Ħelwa.


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

People Joe Degiorgio I am one of the volunteers at Mamo Tower, or Torri Mamo, in Marsascala. As volunteers at a historical site our work permits the site to be accessible to the public. We also keep the site clean and help with identifying areas that may need attention, such as maintenance or repairs. I always had a passion for our local history. A few years ago, while scrolling through a social media app, I saw a call for volunteers and decided to do something about it. By joining as a volunteer, I am now doing something tangible and contributing part of my time towards the safeguarding of our heritage. For me, the best part of this experience is the opportunity to meet other people and share with them the beauty of our immense history. As a member of another voluntary organisation active in the research and representation of our history, the Compagnia San Michele, I often strive to merge the historical site with historical representation, thus giving additional context to the site itself. This also contributes to keeping alive the collective memory of the nation.

Martin Vella I am the curator at the Wignacourt Tower in St Paul’s Bay. In 2001, I met Stanley Farrugia Randon who encouraged me to join Din l-Art Ħelwa as a volunteer. Between 2016 and 2019 I was the site manager during the restoration works at the Torri l-Abjad site in Mellieha. What I enjoy most about my role at Din l-Art Ħelwa, is welcoming visitors at the Wignacourt Tower and explaining its historical background to them. I also enjoy doing general maintenance and keeping the other volunteers involved in the daily running of the site. Presently, we are considering ways in which to revive the Wignacourt Tower once again once the present social restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted. Who knows what the future has in store.

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


Rosanne Zerafa I am the office manager at Din l-Art Ħelwa’s main office in Valletta. I administer the office work which includes keeping in touch with and helping the volunteers. I also take care of the accounts and try to solve the many problems that crop up on a daily basis. I am also in charge of renting out the Delimara Lighthouse. What I can say is that no one day is like the next. I got to know about Din l-Art Ħelwa when I first became a volunteer at Our Lady of Victory Church in Valletta. I appreciated the history of the church and got to know about the restoration work being done there at that time. This inspired me to take a closer look at Din l-Art Ħelwa’s activities and I eventually joined. I enjoy meeting and talking to all the volunteers who altruistically all give their time to help support Malta’s heritage. I feel very happy when I see that Din l-Art Ħelwa’s work has saved another part of our history such as a chapel or tower and I am pleased to think that with my small contribution, I would have helped Din l-Art Ħelwa’s efforts to save Malta’s heritage. Looking ahead, I hope to give more input in seeing our sites used more for events and eventually when I retire, I will like to once again become a volunteer.

Simon Wallace I am a volunteer based at Dwejra Tower in Gozo. My main task is to welcome visitors to the building, manage the tower’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and help raise awareness of the wider work of Din l-Art Ħelwa through social media. Just over five years ago, I replied to a ‘volunteers needed’ post on Facebook by the warden in charge at the time. I had recently moved to Gozo after having taken early retirement from a busy career with library and museum services back in the UK. In that previous role, I had worked alongside and supported many volunteers, so I knew how rewarding and enjoyable such work can be. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the opportunity, and after visiting the tower (the view from the roof gets me every time) I volunteered for a trial period of three months. Well here I am, still here after five years, and still enjoying my volunteering work! I think that’s also down to the season-round natural beauty, the rare flora of the surrounding Natura 2000 site and the impressive dark skies that you can experience over at Dwejra. I really enjoy sharing the tower’s unique and interesting story with local residents and visitors. It is also good to raise awareness of the importance and fragility of such an important natural environment on the Maltese Islands. Dwejra is an area where nature’s beauties come together; through geology, flora and fauna, archaeology, astronomy, history and ecology. I’m lucky enough to be Din l-Art Ħelwa volunteer in such an amazing place and to be part of a small, but enthusiastic and dedicated team. We are now looking forward to the forthcoming restoration works planned at Dwejra. These form part of ‘The Northern Coastal Watch’ initiative through the European Regional Development and the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA). Once completed we should be able to offer an enhanced visitor experience and we hope to build on our programme of educational events and other activities in partnership with local agencies and NGOs. Looking further ahead to 2022, the tower will be (just) 370 years old and that we feel deserves some form of celebration!


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021


IN THE THREE VILLAGES Reviewed by Petra Caruana Dingli • Photographs by Charles Paul Azzopardi


t requires an imaginative leap to read about a world in which spacious country villas were built in the ‘Three Villages’ of Malta - Attard, Lija and Balzan. Today every corner of this area is tightly built up with houses, apartments and shops, of all shapes and sizes, and it spreads seamlessly into the sprawling urban mass of Birkirkara. It is hard to visualise the open landscape that once existed there. The Order of St John began a trend in Malta, in the late sixteenth century, of building houses in the countryside, providing gardens and recreation away from the crowded, hot city of Valletta in spring or summer. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Three Villages had a sizeable concentration of such country villas. Some are now unrecognisable, or no longer exist. In this book, Carmel Spiteri focuses on three of the largest and best preserved examples: Villa Gourgion and Villa Preziosi in Lija, and

BOOK Review Review of Carmel Spiteri, Country Villas in Eighteenth-Century Malta: A Comparative Analysis of Villa Gourgion, Villa Preziosi and Villa Bologna (Kite, 2020)

Villa Preziosi

Villa Bologna in Attard. Besides giving a detailed architectural analysis, he also points towards the social, economic and political context of their construction. Spiteri identifies possible reasons why country villas were popular in this area. San Anton Palace with its extensive gardens, the country villa of the grand masters of the Order of St John, was located in Attard. Moreover, the stone that could be quarried in that part of Malta was suitable for building, and the soil was fertile. The topography favoured rainwater catchment, and the location was central and not too far from Valletta, with wide countryside views. The first of these three houses is Villa Gourgion, built in the early eighteenth century by Giovanni and Elena Gourgion. Spiteri suggests the involvement of capomastro Giovanni Barbara in the building project. This estate was built on sloping terrain, with the

Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

Villa Gourgion

Villa Bologna

house prominent at the top and the garden and orchards at the lower levels. This layout also exists at Villa Preziosi, providing visibility and prestige for the house above and using the gradient to facilitate water management in the land below. The façade of Villa Gourgion lies directly on the building line of the street, unlike the other two villas which both have a front garden. Part of its land was taken up for roadbuilding, and other parts of the garden were sold off in the twentieth century and used for residential development. The villa now only retains its central formal garden at the back. Its upper balconies would once have enjoyed views all the way to Marsamxett harbour, but this vista is now blocked by extensive building in Lija, l-Iklin, Birkirkara, Swatar and Msida. The grand belvedere in its lower fields would also have enjoyed these views. This was a nineteenth-century addition by later owners of the property, and is now sited on the main entrance road to Lija. Spiteri notes that the architecture of Villa Preziosi, today named Villa Francia, is more refined, and points out similarities to country houses in Bagheria near Palermo in Sicily. This villa was originally constructed by Count Giovanni Preziosi, and was expanded by later owners. Beyond its high garden walls, tracts of agricultural land also formed part of the estate.


The architectural historian Leonard Mahoney suggests that this house dates to before 1757. Villa Bologna in Attard was built by Fabrizio Grech for his daughter Maria Teresa in the early 1740s. Spiteri points out that its formal garden and nymphaeum were originally to its left, with a total footprint of approximately 5,200 sqm, around one-seventh of the present area. In the 1920s, Margaret Strickland acquired adjacent land and added gardens at the back. Unlike the other two villas under study, this one lies on practically flat terrain. A main determinant for its location may have been its close proximity to the grand master’s country villa nearby. The book studies each house in a dedicated chapter, providing architectural drawings based on surveys. The architecture of each building is described and analysed in meticulous detail, including their decorative features. Spiteri also builds in considerations of patronage and social context, noting that all three owners adopted baroque architectural elements to enhance prestige and grandeur, seeking political power and social influence for themselves and their descendants. This large-sized book is richly illustrated with striking and masterly photographs by Charles Paul Azzopardi. The images are all in black-and-white, which enhances the focus on the architecture and layout of the sites. The study begins by tracing the evolution of the country villa from classical times. It is not limited to the Maltese architectural context, but also seeks to identify specific architectural influences and similar villa typologies elsewhere in Europe, even providing photographs of villas in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy for comparison. For example, the gazebo at Villa Borghese in Rome is compared to that at Villa Preziosi, with both illustrated side-by-side in photographs. Images of scenographic staircases in Italy are provided to indicate possible inspiration for Villa Preziosi, whose imposing external double staircase leading to the piano nobile was a later addition to the house. An insightful comparison is drawn between the main gate of Villa Bologna and architecture with military overtones in Malta, such as the De Rohan arch outside the village of Zebbug. This study began as a Master dissertation within the History of Art department at the University of Malta. With this in mind, Spiteri is to be commended for the extent of detail and analysis which he provides. With introductions by Mario Buhagiar and Conrad Thake, and published by Kite, this volume covers new ground on a niche topic within the history of architecture in Malta. n


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he restored maritime painting scheme of the Delimara Lighthouse, with its striking black and white stripes, welcomes visitors who frequent the Delimara peninsula popular for its beaches, trekking and cycling trails. Its cliff edge location makes it an iconic landmark, visible from both land and sea. The lighthouse, built in 1856 to guide maritime traffic safely to Valletta’s harbours has two converted apartments, perfect for heritage breaks and each accommodates five persons. The lighthouse has proved very popular during the pandemic as it offers families isolated spaces and open air. Any income from rentals is dedicated entirely to the upkeep and restoration of the Lighthouse.

The project, completed by Din l-Art Ħelwa in 2020, was made possible due to funding from the Xlokk Local Action Group Foundation for restoration of cultural assets in rural areas in the south of Malta as part of the European Agricultural Rural Development Fund, with cofunding from the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Sports, Recreation and Voluntary Organisations, and the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector. The interiors of the Lighthouse and its lantern were restored with the support of GasanMamo Insurance Ltd. To book the Lighthouse for a holiday break please email



M19.2 – Measure 1 - Restoration of assets of artistic and cultural value



Din l-Art Helwa

Corporate members & sponsors

Medserv plc Melita Ltd Ministry of Education and Employment Ministry of Finance Good Causes Lottery Fund

ADRC Trust


Alfred Mizzi Foundation

P Cutajar Foundation

APS Bank plc

Parliamentary Secretariat for Sports,

Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd

Recreation and Voluntary Organisations

Avantech Software

Psquared Asset Management AG

AX Holdings plc

Plaza Centres plc

Bank of Valletta plc

PwC Malta

Best Print Co Ltd

RClin Pharma Ltd

BNF Bank plc

Sak Ltd

Corinthia Group

Shireburn Software Ltd

Citadel Insurance plc

Simonds Farsons Cisk plc

Collinson Grant

Sparkasse Bank Malta plc

Curmi and Partners Ltd

STM Malta Trust & Company Management Ltd

Cyberspace Solutions Ltd

The Tanner Trust

Deloitte Malta

TOLY Group

Dingli and Dingli Law Firm

Tug Malta Ltd


Vassallo Builders Group Ltd

Eden Leisure Group

Voluntary Organisations Projects Scheme

EY Malta

VJ Salomone Marketing Ltd

Farrugia Investments Ltd

Xlokk Local Action Group Foundation

Farsons Foundation Fenlex Corporate Services Ltd FIMbank plc



Karmen Micallef Buhagiar

Frendo Advisory

Marjorie de Wolff

Ganado Advocates

Anne Crosthwait

GasanMamo Insurance Ltd

Major Nestor Jacono - The Agapi Trust

GO plc

Gita Furber de la Fuente

Horizon 2020 Project GEO4CIVHIC HSBC Malta Foundation IIG Bank (Malta) Ltd Izola Bank plc

Benefactors Anne and John Cachia

JZT Holdings Ltd

Zoe and the late Pierre Chomarat

KPMG Malta

Heribert Grünert

Lombard Bank Malta plc

Anthony Guillaumier

Malta Airport Foundation

Albert Mamo

Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation

Peter Mamo and family

Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector

Chevalier Joseph Micallef

Malta Development Bank

Matthew Mizzi

Malta Industrial Parks Ltd

Dr John Vassallo and Dr Marianne Noll

Malta Tourism Authority

Dr Ingrid Vella

MAPFRE Middlesea plc

Robert von Brockdorff

Mapfre MSV Life plc

Nicola Woodward


Vigilo - Din l-Art Ħelwa Issue 55 • MAY 2021

VigILO The National Trust of Malta

Din l-Art Ħelwa 133 Melita Street, Valletta VLT 1123

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Din l-Art Helwa