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VIGILO D I N L - A R T Ħ E LWA

ISSUE 54

November 2020

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The National Trust of Malta

XATT Hidden l-AħMAR

The Anatomy of Hamrun’s

MANUSCRIPTS

Heritage

The ‘Red Coast’ in Gozo


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 133 Melita Street, Valletta VLT 1123 T: +356 21225952 E: info@dinlarthelwa.org WWW.DINLARTHELWA.ORG Like our Facebook page and join the group Follow us on Twitter

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.

FRONT COVER PICTURE: The Red Tower at sunset. Photograph by Daniel Cilia

THE DIN L-ART ĦELWA COUNCIL 2019-2021

FOUNDER PRESIDENT Judge Maurice Caruana Curran (1918-2015) EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT Professor Alex Torpiano HON. SECRETARY GENERAL Simone Mizzi HON. TREASURER Martin Scicluna MEMBERS Joe Attard Professor Anthony Bonanno George Camilleri Cettina Caruana Curran Dr Petra Caruana Dingli Maria Grazia Cassar Elizabeth Cremona Josie Ellul Mercer Joseph Philip Farrugia Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon Martin Galea Ann Gingell Littlejohn Cathy Mercieca 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 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 vigilomag@gmail.com 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 54 - November 2020


ViGiLO - Din l-Art Ħelwa

ISSUE 54 • NOVEMBER 2020

IN THIS ISSUE

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Editor’s Note

The Dea(r)th of Planning – Alex Torpiano

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FEATURES Ħamrun’s Hidden Heritage – Reuben Grima and Cheryl Deguara

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A Coastal Enclave Worth Conserving: Xatt l-Aħmar, the ‘Red Coast’ in Gozo – Alan Deidun

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Creating a Family Patrimony: Villa Barbaro in Tarxien – Petra Caruana Dingli

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Domus Zamittello: Breathing Life Back Into the Structure – Edwin Mintoff

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Ideas, Ideals, Realities: Community and Heritage in Bormla – Patricia Camilleri

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Ballistics and Experience: The Tough Job of a Bombardier – Stanley Farrugia Randon

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St Roque Protect Us!: A Glance at Epidemics in Malta – James Licari 36 The Anatomy of Manuscripts: Over 600 Manuscripts Treated for the Notarial Archives – Theresa Zammit Lupi 39 Remembering a Chapter of Valletta’s History: The Theatre at Palazzo Carafa – Vicki Ann Cremona 44 OPINION Keyhole Views and Local Museum Publics – Sandro Debono 48 NEWS - PROPERTIES - PEOPLE St Agatha’s Tower: A Red Jewel of Our Heritage – Maria Grazia Attard 50 Calling for Volunteers at Majjistral Park

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Dubbed ‘Maltese Fungus’… but it is neither a fungus nor Maltese – Joe Attard

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Vigilo Short News

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Vigilo People

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Vigilo Books

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Help Us Save Our Heritage 64

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e are delighted to present this new issue of Vigilo to you, the second in Din l-Art Ħelwa’s 55th anniversary year. Sadly the Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing, and activities continue to be restricted. Funds are tight and raising financial support is hard at this time, which has made it especially tough for Din l-Art Ħelwa to maintain its usual pace of initiatives and events. Yet thanks to the generosity of sponsors, members and supporters, the organisation has managed to fufil its obligations until the end of the year, including the publication of this magazine. A special word of praise and thanks must here go to Din l-Art Ħelwa’s Honorary Treasurer, Martin Scicluna. This issue includes an article on Hamrun, focusing on its water system dating back to the early seventeenth century. This aspect of the town’s heritage is threatened by insensitive development along its main road. Another article traces the history of Villa Barbaro in Tarxien, where Din l-Art Ħelwa has been actively engaged in trying to limit building heights to preserve the context of this historic property. We return to Gozo with a look at the natural features and beauty of Xatt l-Aħmar. Three further essays explore the abysmal state of our planning system, community and heritage in Bormla, and the future of museums. Continuing with built heritage, the restoration of Domus Zamitello won a Din l-Art Ħelwa award last year. The job of a bombardier is described in another study, while a presentation of street niches featuring statues of St Roque reminds us of epidemics in the more distant past. Our knowledge of history relies on documentation, and we are pleased to feature recent restoration work undertaken on documents from the precious notarial archive of Valletta. Restoration is often controversial, with divergent interests and approaches, as can be seen with the theatre at Palazzo Carafa. We take a look at the Red Tower, Majjistral Park and Dwejra, at recent activities, and end with a book review. And as always the magazine presents some of Din l-Art Ħelwa’s volunteers, the heart of the organisation. Many dedicated volunteers have shown their commitment and loyalty to Din l-Art Ħelwa despite the uncertain and difficult situation that we all find ourselves in. May this experience make us all stronger and more clear about where our true priorities lie.


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HELP US KEEP DIN L-ART ĦELWA GOING FOR ANOTHER 55 YEARS AND MORE! 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. Thanks to you and to our numerous volunteers we have succeeded in keeping up with our obligations to the end of this year. We take this opportunity to wish you a happy festive season and a safe start to 2021.

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:

https://dinlarthelwa.org/product/donation/

Volunteers

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 info@dinlarthelwa.com for further information.

A 55TH ANNIVERSARY OFFER TO OUR READERS

Maurice Caruana Curran, Guardian of Heritage and Justice This publication illustrating the life of Din l-Art Ħelwa’s Founder President, Judge Maurice Caruana Curran is offered to our readers at €22. The book is a perfect gift at this time of the year and is of special interest to all who are keen to know more about Din l-Art Ħelwa, its foundation and the last 55 years of challenges to Malta’s built and natural environment. Email info@dinlarthelwa.org to order your copy.


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How not to do planning

THE DEA(R)TH OF PLANNING

By Alex Torpiano

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he greatest problem the Maltese have to face concerns how their island – a mere speck in the Mediterranean Sea – is going to accommodate all the activities that the authorities have suggested should be undertaken on it. It seems inconceivable that a mere 120 square miles, and a population of 320,000 people (equivalent to a city the size of Leeds) can possibly encompass all the proposed developments in the way of tourism, of free-port trade and capital intake by attracting expatriates, without a drastic change in the appearance of the Malta which we know. Inevitably these will involve a modification of Malta’s natural qualities – of her uniqueness as a place which, over the centuries, has developed in a particular way to fight the sheer inhospitability of the terrain. This is where planning has to be authoritarian. If we are to preserve areas of natural beauty, controls are essential. This survey is concerned with ways in which Malta can be preserved, because what it has now is its greatest value and quite unrepeatable. The unthinkable alternative is that Malta should choose to neglect her heritage and join the development rat-race. Yet she is already trying to do this. If Malta accepts laissez-faire development, the whole island will be obliterated by buildings. And this will take very little time. It will happen unless the planners, architects and the legislators take action very soon. Malta could lead Europe into a new era of environmental and cultural re-evaluation, or it could become, through a laissez-faire attitude, just another blighted area of exploitation. The injection of more and more vehicles into the urban areas will create a parking nightmare…” (Sir Quentin Hughes)


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his is what Sir Quentin Hughes, together with Peter Richardson, both new lecturers in the then Department of Architecture at the Royal University of Malta, wrote in the Architectural Review in 1969, half a century ago. We were reminded of these words at an event held recently to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Quentin Hughes’ birthday. The newspaper report of this event had one headline: ‘If Only We Had Listened To You’. After muddling through with Temporary Provisions Schemes and the Building Development Areas Act, many thought that with the new Development Planning Act approved by Parliament in 1992 and the consequential setting up of the Planning Authority, and the publication of the Structure Plan, Malta and Gozo had finally gained a structure to implement the ‘authoritarian’ planning that Quentin Hughes considered necessary to harness development. Over the last 30 years, as a result of continuous tweaking by politicians who seem resentful of losing their traditional power to accommodate rich constituents, the planning process is increasingly weakened, and indeed seems to be destined to oblivion. It is inevitable that many people feel that the Planning Authority has actually forgotten what it means to plan for our future, and what its role was really meant to be. What we nowadays call planning is now reduced to simply a mechanism that adds a legalistic veneer to greed. Let us look at some of the ‘planning’ exercises being undertaken at the moment.

Marsascala A Development Brief for the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel site in Marsascala was published for public consultation in June 2020. The preparation of the Development Brief was requested by the then Minister responsible for planning. A public consultation about the objectives of the amendments to the Development Brief and, in particular, about the proposed floor space that would be allowed by the Brief, was previously held in the third quarter of 2019. In this first document, the Planning Authority proposed that the overall development should not exceed 100,000m2. In June 2020, the Planning Authority’s draft Development Brief recorded how, during the 2019 public consultation, many submissions queried the justification for the increase in

gross floor area from 61,000m2 to 100,000m2. In order to show how sensitive the Planning Authority was to submissions made during public consultations, in June 2020 the Planning Authority was proposing a maximum of 65,000m2, seemingly a reduction of 35,000m2. Sounds reasonable, does it not? The full facts are different. The Jerma Palace Hotel was opened in 1982, as a prestigious fourstar, five-storey hotel comprising 30,000m2 gross floor space. The developers of the hotel, the Libyan Foreign Investment Company, were sold land at the tip of the area south of Marsascala Creek, located between the historic San Tumas Tower and the sea, in order to promote tourism development in the south. The rocky headland was located seaward of the coastal promenade that skirts, and contained, the development zone all round this newer part of Marsascala. In 2007, the hotel experienced some difficulties and shut down its operations, originally temporarily. The hotel was subsequently sold to contractors who proposed, in 2009, to transform the hotel into luxury apartments and to add another hotel and a yacht marina. These grandiose plans never materialised. The place was subsequently abandoned to squatters and to dumping of garbage for many years.

San Tumas Tower and the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel at the tip of the coast in Marsascala (Google Maps)


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Over the last 30 years, as a result of continuous tweaking by politicians, who seem resentful of losing their traditional power to accommodate rich constituents, the planning process is increasingly weakened, and indeed seems to be destined to oblivion.

In 2016 proposals were submitted for the redevelopment of the site, in the form of two residential towers, one 32 storeys high and the other 44 storeys, together with a 22-storey hotel. These proposals were shot down, not least by the Marsaskala Local Council. In 2016 the Planning Authority ordered the owners to demolish the problematic shell of the old hotel. This order was not followed through. At some stage the site was presumably sold and another development proposal was floated. This is the context for the instructions by government to the Planning Authority to prepare the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel Development Brief. It is important to look at the Local Plan provisions for this new part of Marsascala, which comprises a headland, known as Ras il-Gżira, between Marsascala Creek and St Thomas Bay. Policy Map MS3 had intelligently proposed that the development that would be allowed in the Ras il-Gżira headland behind San Tumas Tower, would have a broadly concentric structure with height limitations that would rise from bungalows along the peripheral coastal road, rising to two-floor villa areas in the second ring, to three-floor development with basement in the third, and finally to four floors with a basement in the central portion. The height limitations were subsequently given a new meaning with the sneaky adoption of Annex Two in the Design Guidelines of 2015, but the hierarchy of height limitations from the sea towards the centre, remained. In the re-draft of the Development Brief, the Planning Authority touted the reduction of the original proposal of 100,000m2 to 65,000m2, but failed to really justify either figure, particularly since the original five-storey hotel had a gross area of 30,000m2. During the Parliamentary Committee meeting, which discussed the proposed Development Brief, the Planning Authority admitted that the only real justification for either the 100,000m2, or the ‘reduced’ 65,000m2, was the specific instruction given by government! From this arbitrary decision, the other key Development Brief parameters clearly follow. The tourism-related development allowed by this Brief remained at 33,000m2, that is, ‘never smaller’ than the original hotel. But an additional 32,000m2 of residential and commercial development were added to the development potential of the site. This is equivalent to at least 170 residential units; plus an area for commercial development which is four times the floor plate of the Market in Valletta!

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This excludes a level of car-parking and services (over and above the 65,000m2) set to rise on the rocky headland to 3m above sea level; the 65,000m2 figure includes a podium, which is envisaged to rise by another 4.8m above sea level, potentially over the area of the original hotel, that is 1780m2. Development above this level is then required to have a maximum coverage of 52%. Ironically, the Planning Authority argues in its draft Development Brief that, in order to recover public access to the foreshore (the same access that was available to the public before the original Jerma concession was made) and in order to fit the allowable development volume, effectively dictated by government, on to the ‘restricted’ site area, the allowable development has to ‘necessarily’ rise up to 32m above mean sea level, that is ca. 11 floors. This development will tower above Torri San Tumas by 9m! Even more ironically, the Development Brief is full of pseudo-justifications for the development, at the same time as it quotes the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (the need to protect and enhance the character and amenity of existing distinct urban areas), or the Local Plan (the strategic policy direction for Marsascala is not to encourage large scale retail activities); and at the same time as it outlined, and ignored, the many consultation submissions made by the public, including the families who live around the San Tumas Tower. The discussion on the proposed Brief by the Parliamentary Committee, which is meant to provide the ultimate over-sight of Planning Authority proposals, highlighted the ineptitude of our planning processes. The politicians around the table, from either party, were clearly out of their depth as far as planning issues were concerned. No questions were asked about how the calculation of ‘33%’ of the extent of the land, to derive the 17,700m2 proposed footprint, included the public foreshore, the scheduled tower, and the existing public streets. No questions were asked about the fact that the quoted ‘open public space’ was actually to be located above the building podium. Nor was any concern expressed on the impact of the development on the surrounding community, or about the traffic that it would generate. No concern was expressed about the proposed diversion of a public road, or about the impact of the proposal on the historic San Tumas Tower. No attempt was made to address any of the issues raised during the public consultation.


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The discussion was a mere formality, with the conclusion clearly already reached before the session started. One concern of one politician was whether the planning gain would be benefit one of the local clubs, clearly his constituents – the answer, unfortunately for him, was no, it would go towards the restoration of the tower. As if bad planning could be compensated for by ‘planning gain’. The detailed story of the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel Site Development Brief was necessary to show that, in spite of our knowledgeable planners, the key decisions are taken by politicians, who are very responsive to the demands of developers, but completely oblivious to the needs of communities. This story is not unique.

Ta’ Qali The current planning process is highlighted by another Planning Authority proposal, to partially review the Ta’ Qali Action Plan so that the industrial destination of the 60,000m2 area would be changed into one dedicated to commercial activities, including offices, supermarkets, clinics, education facilities, retail areas, food and drink establishments (and storage and distribution facilities!). A previous round of consultations was undertaken in 2018, before the latest consultation concluded this October. The document is introduced by the words: ‘Government’s request to amend the Plan’s Policies NWTQ32, NWTQ33 and the maps’ relative to the area, emphasising that planning starts from political decisions, which are rarely transparent, and not necessarily from a rational land-use point of view. Seventeen pages of consultee submissions are published in the same document; 45% of the submissions come from land-owners, obviously asking for more. The one change that the Planning Authority has announced it is taking on board, following the 2018 consultation, is the requirement that 40% of the relative development areas has to be retained as open space, this including the landscape buffer at parts of the perimeter. This may sound like quite a large open space, especially if we could imagine it as full of trees and bushes, complementing the adjacent National Park. Unfortunately, the reality is different. Typical dimensions of commercial or industrial buildings could be taken as, for example, 33m wide by 76m deep, that is, 1254sq.m. 60% site coverage would demand 836 sq.m. of open space, which, after removing

the ‘landscaped buffer’, translates into a strip, all around the perimeter, of barely 6.5m width – barely enough for a vehicular access road and pavements, let alone trees and bushes. This may well be the type of development the Planning Authority has in mind, but it is misleading to suggest that this provides any meaningful ‘open space’. And were there any studies undertaken on the impact of vehicular traffic on the adjacent National Park? Or consultations with the local community? Of course not!

Mriehel Ironically, just as the Ta’ Qali industrial area is proposed for re-configuration for commercial use, the Planning Authority also published proposals to remove the height limitations in Marsa, and the Malta Industrial Parks Estate areas of Mriehel, because the ‘need to address the shortage of space for industrial and business uses is essential’. The ‘public consultation’ document, for such an important planning change, consists of nine lines of text, of which only one line contains anything resembling a planning objective. The text raises so many questions: Is the Planning Authority really proposing that industrial activities could be housed in a multi-storey facility? Given the current saturation of the office market, and the changes in office typology that are expected to result from the COVID-19 pandemic, is there any real justification for the Planning Authority’s decision? If commercial use also includes supermarkets and retail centres, has the Planning Authority quietly decided that out-oftown shopping is the desirable future for Malta? How can a proposed change of this nature be considered serious planning if the Planning Authority simply proposes that, instead of height limitations, ‘non-numeric urban design policies to guide assessment of building heights’ will be used in these areas? Should the PA not share these non-numeric design policies with the public, before asking for the removal of the height limitation? If, in the Ta’ Qali re-configuration proposal, the Planning Authority highlights the need to protect views of and from Mdina, why is the same concern not expressed for the Mriehel removal of height limitations? If the vision for Mriehel is evolving, why does the Planning Authority not embark on a proper master-planning exercise, rather than pandering to the demands of a single land-


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The renaissance of public interest planning must be based, as Quentin Hughes put it, on an ‘authoritarian’ approach, where the rights of the community trump the perceived rights of the land-owner.

owner of one particular area, in this case, the Government of Malta? So much for the usefulness of the public consultation. There is yet another twist. The Development Notification Order legal notice, first promulgated in 2001, is intended to remove the requirement of a Development Application, originally for a number of development activities considered minor, including painting of façades, placing tables and chairs in public spaces, putting solar panels on roofs. A series of amendments since 2017 widened the concept to include projects by the Armed Forces of Malta (Class 17), the Corradino Correctional Facility (Class 20), the Malta Police Force (Class 21), and development in any Malta Industrial Park areas or Malta Enterprise Zones (Class 16). The only limitation that was imposed on any type of development within these areas was, in fact, the 15m height limitation that the current proposals seek to remove. In other words, for our industrial estates, not only is there poor planning, but the Planning Authority is formally declaring that there is no need for planning!

Institutional failure One of the saddest aspects of the state of spatial planning in Malta and Gozo is the declared helplessness of the newly-appointed Executive Chairperson of the Planning Authority, who recently declared that he did not believe that the Planning Authority had any legal basis to stop the ugly pencil development that is bedeviling all our towns and villages ‘if plans and policies allow it’. It does not seem to have occurred to him that it is the duty and responsibility of the Planning Authority to change those plans and policies that have been proven to be deleterious to Malta. That is what is intended by planning! The general public is increasingly exasperated by this institutional failure. A recent survey by EY Malta has confirmed that many people, particularly young people between the ages of 16 and 39, believe that the problem of the worsening environmental

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situation in Malta needs to be addressed properly. 60% of this cohort decried overdevelopment, and 52% decried the state of the environment – interestingly, concern for the economy only featured at 31%. Reflecting these views, a Eurobarometer Survey recorded that 45% of the population is worried that our rural landscape has deteriorated in the last 10 years, and 62% believe that the area covered by trees and forests has declined. And a recent MaltaToday editorial focused on the ‘glut of uncontrolled development’, and on developers’ ‘disdain for rules and procedures’; and proposed a campaign to force ‘whether by court action or (preferably) by popular referendum’ a radical change in our planning legislation, particularly to wrest planning clear of the grasp of members of parliament, who have proved too susceptible to the pressures of developers and landowners.

A different approach The renaissance of public interest planning must be based, as Quentin Hughes put it, on an ‘authoritarian’ approach, where the rights of the community trump the perceived rights of the land-owner. A return to the basics of the principles of planning is necessary – and the basic principle is that the community, through the state, holds the rights to develop. Development rights are effectively nationalised. Land ownership is not the same as the right to build, and, in particular, to benefit financially from the development decisions taken by the community. This is why a landowner applies for planning permission from the community. Perhaps the next step ought to be the realisation that the increase in the value of land, as a result of the grant of planning permission, should consequently not accrue solely to the individual land-owner, but mainly to the community that granted that permission. That would remove the extreme pressures of profit that distort current planning decisions. n

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


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ĦAMRUN’S Hidden Heritage

By Reuben Grima and Cheryl Deguara

A casual visitor to Ħamrun may be forgiven for thinking that the history of this locality began in the 1880s, when the bustling town that we know today took shape. The streetscapes along the main artery of the town, Saint Joseph High Road, still preserve the iconic vistas that were formed in the building boom of the late nineteenth century. Yet behind these familiar façades, there lies a much longer story of urban growth, which is today largely forgotten.


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Casa Leoni is the best known of the early modern villas that took advantage of the abundant supply of water provided by the aqueduct to irrigate their sumptuous gardens.

Top right: Early 17thcentury plan of the route of the aqueduct, from manuscript AOM 1034 (not to scale) compared to present- day streetscape (based on PA Geoserver base map). Right: Early 17th century schematic view of the underground system that carried water from the Torre di San Giuseppe (visible on the right), to Valletta (visible on the left). Torre San Nicola is visible to the right of centre of the schematic view. In the section drawing below the schematic view, Torre San Nicola is shown in the centre (Reproduced from AOM 1034, by kind permission of the National Library of Malta).

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amrun straddles a ridge that runs roughly east-west. To the east, the same ridge curves northeast to terminate in the Floriana-Valletta peninsula. To the west, it leads to the lowlands of Santa Venera, Mrieħel and Attard. The spine of the ridge afforded the gentlest gradient connecting the new city of Valletta to the interior of the island, making it the natural corridor of communication between them. The origin of the road along the axis that we know today as Saint Joseph High Road is lost in time. It is clearly depicted on several early views and maps, such as the monumental cycle of wall-paintings by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio recording the siege of 1565. Centuries later, the same topographic advantages offered by the ridge were to determine the route of the railway inaugurated in 1883, even as the urban explosion of Ħamrun was gathering momentum. Apart from road transport and the railway, however, this natural corridor was exploited for another purpose that was no less vital, which was the provision of water to the new city of Valletta.

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The Wignacourt Aqueduct The Wignacourt Aqueduct is one of the most remarkable infrastructural projects witnessed in early modern Malta, and one which was to have a decisive impact on the urban development of Ħamrun. The engineering of the aqueduct was closely dictated by topography. Completed in 1615 after overcoming several reversals, it tapped a number of springs in the Rabat-Dingli highlands to secure a supply of fresh water for Valletta (Pace 2016). Although the natural corridor presented by the axis of Santa Venera, Ħamrun and Blata l-Bajda was the most favourable route, it was not without its challenges. Water was carried by gravity above or near the ground surface as far as Torre San Giuseppe in Santa Venera, where the aqueduct arches end and the gradient dips more steeply towards Valletta. From this point, the water was carried to the city in sealed underground pipes, which had to rise and fall with the topography, effectively forming an inverted siphon.


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From Torre San Giuseppe, the route of the aqueduct descended and rose again on the high ground behind the present day parish church of Ħamrun, before descending once more and rising to Sarria, in what is today Floriana. In order to prevent airlocks and regulate water flow, at the apex of each of these high points the water was allowed to vent or pour out of the first siphon at normal atmospheric pressure, before entering another inverted siphon formed by closed pipes, that carried the water downhill again under pressure, to rise again to another opening at the next high point in the system. In order to have a manageable water flow, the outlet of each stretch of sealed piping needed to be at a height only slightly less than that where the water had entered it. For this reason, the Torre San Nicola was built on the hill of Our Lady of Atocha, and the Sarria Tower was built at Sarria. A sealed vertical pipe was built into each of these towers, with an opening

at the summit. A little understood fact is that the height of these towers, even their very existence and purpose, was closely dictated by the height of the Torre San Giuseppe, as is very clearly explained in a near-contemporary source attributed to ‘Cavalier Poncet’, who was one of the first persons responsible for the management of the aqueduct (Menchetti 2013). The creation of the aqueduct transformed the landscape along the axis of what is today known as Saint Joseph High Road. The availability of an abundant and reliable supply of water encouraged the creation of a string of gardens and country villas during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The best known today is Casa Leoni, built by Grand Master Vilhena in the early eighteenth century. A no less palatial but lesser known villa and garden was that built by Balì Carneiro in the late seventeenth century, and used by the

Above: Torre San Nicola once dominated the surrounding landscape, but today it literally stands in the shadow of the surrounding late nineteenth-century housing. Left: Nineteenth-century overlay showing the extensive gardens of Blacas Palace, and the scheme to parcel these into a public piazza, a housing block, a school, and the railway station and workshops (Reproduced from NAM, Plans Section, Descriptive Plans of Crown Property in Malta, 1862, Vol.1, Tent. No.28, by kind permission of National Archives of Malta). Lower left: Alberto Pullicino: 'Valletta from the countryside in front of Floriana'. Blacas Palace is visible in the centre.18th c., oil on canvas (Reproduced by kind permission of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Restoration sponsored by ART 5 0 Trust). Below: The main block of Blacas Palace today.


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Top left: A handsome portico defines the façade of the seventeenth-century church of Our Lady of Atocha. Top right: The baroque church of Porto Salvo today. The contemporary villa to its right has been integrated into the more modest and dense fabric of the nineteenth-century town.

Balì de Blacas in the eighteenth century. It was still referred to as the Blacas Palace in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Blacas Palace is conspicuous in several paintings and drawings dating from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Recent research (Deguara 2019) has shown how with the urbanisation of Ħamrun in the 1880s, its extensive gardens were carved up to accommodate Piazza Fra Diegu, a block of housing, a school, a train station and workshops, and the convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which still includes the main block of the seventeenth-century palace. There were also several other villas and gardens on a more modest scale, which have been largely lost as a result of urbanisation since the late nineteenth century. Some examples still appear on the early twentiethcentury survey sheets, such as the villa and formal garden that stood in front of the Church of Our Lady of Atocha (aka Atocia or Attocia). The garden was replaced by housing before the Second World War, but part of the main villa block is intact. The Church or Our Lady of Atocha, popularly known today as Il-Madonna tasSamra, was built on a hilltop in the early seventeenth century, on the site of an earlier church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, which gave its name to the Torre San Nicola. The church lies at the heart of the earliest known urban core in the locality, which flourished with the arrival of the abundant supply of fresh water secured by the aqueduct. During the Maltese uprising against the French (1798-1800), one

of the insurgents’ improvised gun batteries was placed on this hilltop. The distribution of water from the aqueduct to feed private properties was carefully managed and regulated, and was also a source of income. A key source on the operation of the aqueduct is a manuscript held at the National Library, containing the memoirs of the knight Fra Anna Giuseppe de Beaumont Brison, Sopraintendente delle Fontane, dated 30 November 1747. He records that some daily allowances of water for private individuals were granted against payment. The area around the Torre San Nicola is well documented in the archival sources as a node for water distribution to gardens in the vicinity. As the tower was at a high point in the hydraulic system described above, it was a convenient point for the controlled distribution of water to irrigate gardens on the surrounding lower ground. The Beaumont Brison manuscript records the following: Dalla Torretta di S. Giuseppe sino alla Torre posta nella co[l]lina di S. Nicola oggi della Beata Vergine d’Attocia nella qualle Torre rotonda in mezzo vi e un sfiatatore, e nel piano di detta Torre rotonda vi sono una chiave di Bronzo che serva per dare l’aqua nei bisogni alli ter[r]eni e giardini del vicinato (fol.14). Water storage was an essential element of water management. Rock-cut underground cisterns, or gebbie, were required for this purpose, and were an integral component of this hydrological system. These allowed water to be stored when supply was abundant, to be used in times of scarcity.


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Scarcity and abundance followed different temporalities. Demand was less during the night than during the day. Supply was scarcer in summer and more abundant in winter. Some years were dryer than others. For all these reasons, the flow of water through the aqueduct was carefully nursed and distributed. As Beaumont Brison explains: Poi quando l’aqua è abondante e che le piogge [h]anno abbondato nelli tempi favorevoli si può dare senza pregiudicio della città, una e due pitanze d’aqua al giorno… alli particolari che la chiedono… (fol. 48).

Formal town planning in the 1880s The suburb of Ħamrun took the form of a modern town in the 1880s, as a combination of socio-economic forces resulted in the creation of several modern suburbs around the harbour region. Key among these was the intensification of activity in the Royal Navy dockyards which drew in workers from rural areas, resulting in demographic growth in the harbour region (Deguara 2019). An added attraction of the new town was that it was well connected to the capital by the new railway. The landscape of the locality went through its fastest transformation yet in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Many of the gardens and villas that had characterised the locality until the early nineteenth century now made way for denser housing development. Ħamrun continued to grow between 1915 and 1958, but expansion has been much slower since. Many features of the pre-1880s historic landscape still survive, such as the route of Saint Joseph High Road and Qormi Road, and a number of villas and gardens which were incorporated into the fabric of the new townscape, in whole or in part. The most outstanding example, the Blacas Palace, was referred to above. Some of the buildings that replaced its grounds have themselves become significant elements of the urban heritage of Ħamrun. Most notably, the railway station and workshops, and a housing block with a very distinctive typology on Piazza Fra Diegu, designed by the indefatigable Superintendent of Public Works Emanuele Luigi Galizia, and still practically intact. Another villa stood on the east side of the baroque Church of Porto Salvo on Saint Joseph High Road. Many elements of this palace were lost when it was integrated into the nineteenth-century urban fabric, but several features remain clearly legible today, such as the distinctive cornice that surmounted the

building, the monumental corbelled balcony supports, and two decorative pilasters, making this a remarkable document of the urban transformation of Ħamrun. Many of the streetscapes that were created in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are still largely intact today, as confirmed by a study of the drawings that exhaustively record the planning and of every street over the period from 1887 to 1911 (Deguara 2019). In most cases, the street layout as eventually realised closely follows the schemes in these early plans.

Safeguarding Ħamrun’s Heritage Traces of the Wignacourt Aqueduct also survive. The two components of this system in the Ħamrun locality that have been scheduled to date are the Torre di San Nicola (given Grade 2 protection status in 1994) and an obelisk commemorating works on the aqueduct by Grand Master de Rohan (given Grade 1 protection status in 2012). The obelisk is presently englobed within the back gardens of the early twentieth-century housing. The

Below: Some of the iconic vistas of Ħamrun still present the streetscapes that were created in the 1880s, virtually intact.


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Left top: One of the lesser known works of Emanuele Luigi Galizia, this modest but elegant housing block on Fra Diegu Square is still preserved almost entirely intact. Left middle: Emanuele Luigi Galizia’s original drawings of the housing block in Piazza Fra Diegu, dated 1883. (Reproduced from Roll 123, Public Works Records & Archives Office, by kind permission of the Director General, Works & Infrastructure Department).

water storage systems that were integral to this network remain largely unrecorded. However the archival and material evidence give very good indications of the underground route traced by the aqueduct across Ħamrun. The underground components of the Wignacourt Aqueduct, and the associated water management and storage systems, have to date been much more vulnerable to damage and destruction, as they are largely out of sight and at risk of remaining unreported when disturbed by excavation works. The ever-increasing pressures that are being witnessed across Malta’s historic urban environments have made it more urgent than ever before to create failsafe planning constraints to safeguard what survives of these underground systems. The route of the Wignacourt Aqueduct, and its expansion during the nineteenth century is extremely well-documented, as revealed by recent research (eg. Pace 2016) and widely disseminated in the public domain by the excellent work being done by the Malta Water Interest Group (https://www.facebook.com/ groups/MaltaWaterAssociation/). An urgently needed measure is the precautionary scheduling of the entire route, or at least the establishment of an Area of Archaeological Importance that protects a corridor along the route of the aqueduct, on the same principle as the archaeological planning constraints that are in force in Rabat. A no less urgent measure is the scheduling of several buildings of outstanding importance in Ħamrun, which clearly merit Grade 1 protection. According to the data presently visible on the Planning Authority Geoserver, none of the following appear to have been scheduled to date: the seventeenth-

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century church of Our Lady of Atocha (TasSamra); the villa that survives at least in part across the road from the same church; the eighteenth-century church of Porto Salvo; the adjacent villa that has been integrated into the nineteenth-century fabric on Saint Joseph High Road; the seventeenth-century Blacas Palace; the railway station and workshops; and the housing block designed by Galizia on Fra Diegu Square. The revision of the protection of Torre San Nicola from Grade 2 to Grade 1 should also be seriously considered. The scheduling of these outstanding buildings would also benefit the surrounding streetscape through the recently announced measures to better protect the setting of scheduled buildings (PA Circular 3/20). Another serious weakness in the protective measures presently afforded by the planning framework is that the Urban Conservation Area in this locality is for the most part limited to the corridor formed by Saint Joseph High Road. Many of the back streets just outside this corridor boast a largely intact streetscape which was formed over a century ago. Unless protected in time, these streetscapes will be left vulnerable to the ravages that have already destroyed the legibility of comparable streetscapes in Sliema and Gzira, which were not protected in time. Many residents and community leaders in Ħamrun are immensely knowledgeable and fiercely protective of the rich kaleidoscope of urban heritage of which they are the proud stewards. It is time that this heritage also becomes more widely recognised and appreciated beyond the locality, and that it finally begins to receive the serious and effective protection that it deserves. n

Acknowledgements: The authors are grateful to the Staff of the National Library of Malta, the National Archives of Malta, and the Public Works Records and Archives Office for their kind assistance, and to Mr Joseph Amodio, Dr Keith Buhagiar, Ms Maroma Camilleri, Dr Patricia Camilleri, Mr Lawrence Mangion, Dr Brian Restall and Prof. Nicholas Vella for generously sharing their knowledge on the issues discussed here. References: Cheryl Deguara, Urban Streetscapes in Transition: The Case of Ħamrun (unpublished Master’s dissertation, University of Malta, 2019); Francesco Menchetti, Architects and Knights: Italian Influence in Malta during the Late Renaissance (Malta: Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, 2013); Mario Pace, Padre Tomasucci’s Subterranean Aqueduct (unpublished Master’s dissertation, University of Malta, 2016). Archival sources: National Library of Malta (NLM), AOM 1034, Disegni e Piante dei Condotti della fontana per la Valletta, con Diverse Annotazioni, Opera del Cav. Poncet; NLM, Libr.768, Memorie del Sopraintendente delle Fontane Beaumont Brison, 1747.

Cheryl Deguara is an architect, and holds a Master's degree in architecture (Architecture and Conservation Studies). Reuben Grima is an archaeologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta.


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XATT L-AĦMAR THE ‘RED COAST’ IN GOZO A coastal enclave worth conserving

By Alan Deidun

It is hard to conceive how, in a small and densely-populated archipelago such as the Maltese Islands, there are still coastal localities whose whereabouts are unfamiliar to many residents. This is the case for Xatt l-Aħmar, which owes its name to the reddish hue of its soils, the clay slopes overlooking it and the two sandy enclaves which it contains. ‘Xatt’ in Maltese denotes ‘coastline’, whilst ‘aħmar’ is the Maltese word for ‘red’.

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ike a vigilant sentinel, the imposing Fort Chambray overlooks Xatt l-Aħmar. It was completed in 1758 in an attempt to instil some security for those navigating the Malta-Gozo Channel at a time when incursions by Ottoman pirates were still common. This massive fortification was named in honour of a Norman knight, François Chambray, who offered to pay single-handedly for its construction, to the tune of 40,000 scudi (roughly equivalent to 10,000 euros at current currency rates).

A carpet of chequered fields, a hallmark of intensive agriculture, characterises the slopes leading down to the Xatt l-Aħmar coastal area. The cultivation of broad beans (Vicia faba), and sulla (Hedysarum coronarium) as animal feed, prevails within the fields and a sizeable freshwater pond, known as Għajn il-Papri (the duck pond, or duck spring), lies at the top of the cultivated area. It attracts regular freshwater visitors such as numerous species of dragonflies, as well as a sizeable population of a recentlyintroduced invasive aquatic species – the red


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swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), a feisty crustacean native of south-east USA. A set of faults runs through Xatt l-Aħmar, with a major fault running through the area in SW-NE direction, from Mellieħa point headland towards Mġarr Harbour. The coastline at Xatt l-Aħmar is a microcosm of different geomorphological formations, ranging from eroding clay slopes and limestone cliffs to wavecut platforms, pocket beaches and boulder screens, with such formations juxtaposed within a secluded corner of the island of Gozo.

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A kaleidoscope of different geological and geomorphological formations is encountered at Xatt L-Aħmar, all the result of an interplay between erosional processes (mainly wavemediated) and friable limestone, which has yielded a number of stunning landforms. The underlying stratigraphy of the foreshore at Xatt l-Aħmar consists of the Upper Globigerina Limestone and the accompanying Phosphorite Nodule Bed. The prevalence of erosional processes at Xatt l-Aħmar is evident through the shifting shoreline over the last century. The most prominent landform at Xatt l-Aħmar is the shore platform. The low-lying shore platform known as ‘Il-Ponta tal-Mellieħa’, or ‘is-Salina’, juts out into the sea and separates the northerly and easterly facing beaches. This shore platform is the largest on the island of Gozo, having a shore-parallel length of almost 200m and a maximum width of 80m, forming a horizontal limestone bench in the form of a ramp at the foot of the cliffs. Within the same shore platform, a number of salt pans have been etched, with the salt trapped within and still being harvested annually. Despite sandy beaches generally dominating the open coasts of tropical and temperate regions, they are rare in the Maltese Islands and constitute just 2.4% of the 271km-long coastline of the Maltese Islands. The coastline of the islands is almost entirely rocky, broken at intervals by sandy stretches which are no more than a few hundred metres long and which are still fondly known as ‘beaches’. Xatt l-Aħmar comprises two sandy pocket beaches: an exposed one facing east, and a more sheltered one facing west. A cobble beach is contiguous with a sandy one along this side of the shore platform. The westernfacing inlet is much more sheltered with respect to wave action and contains a sandy beach, because of the protection afforded by the TalFutma headland. As a result, seagrass debris is deposited exclusively on this beach. Such debris supports the establishment of pockets of dunal vegetation in the backbeach area of the westernfacing sandy beach, at the foot of the Blue Clay slopes. Partially-submerged boulders act as a natural breakwater along the northern side of Xatt l-Aħmar, dissipating the wave energy before it hits the coast. Xatt l-Aħmar may be considered a naturalist’s paradise. With respect to its small size, the site has a disproportionately rich biodiversity that extends both to the floral and faunal domains. By virtue of the site supporting one of the few sand dune pockets on the islands, and by virtue of its relative isolation, which has


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This walkway is, to date, one of the few hallmarks of human intervention at Xatt l-Ahmar, where dynamic erosional forces are constantly at play to shape the coastline. spared the site from anthropogenic degradation suffered by other sand dune remnants, Xatt l-Aħmar now constitutes a refuge for a number of sand dune plants which have been under threat in other parts of the Maltese Islands. These include the purple spurge (Euphorbia peplis), the sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) and the sea knotgrass (Polygonum maritimum) that were formerly much more widely distributed in the Maltese Islands but which are currently restricted to Xatt l-Aħmar and, at most, to two or three other beaches. Some dune plants are hanging on by an even finer thread. For instance, cottonweed (Otanthus maritimus), which was formerly known from a number of beaches in the Maltese Islands, has virtually disappeared and was only re-discovered at Xatt l-Aħmar as recently as 2008. These rare dune species are interspersed at Xatt l-Aħmar with more frequently occurring halophytic plants such as the prickly saltwort (Salsola soda) and sea-rocket (Cakile maritimum). As its scientific name implies, the tissue of the former is impregnated with soda/ alkali and has been being burnt in the past for its ash which was used for soap and glass-making.

Isolation and the lack of human disturbance are not the sole agents behind the floral diversity at Xatt l-Aħmar. The prodigious accumulation of banquettes of a seagrass i.e. Neptune Grass (Posidonia oceanica) is also significant. The coastal accumulation of such subsidies is common along low-lying Mediterranean coastlines, but is even more pronounced along sheltered coastlines and along those where grooming – that is the clearing of debris - is not regularly carried out. Once again this may be seen on the northern beach at Xatt l-Aħmar which is colonised by 2m high deposits of P. oceanica debris for most of the year. These deposits, known in the Mediterranean as ‘banquettes’, if left undisturbed for long enough, are well-known for promoting the establishment of pockets of sand dune vegetation through the stabilisation of the sandy substrate. Xatt l-Aħmar is also a popular diving site in Gozo where experienced divers can explore three shipwrecks sunk for this purpose such that, after so long in oblivion, the direction to Xatt l-Ahmar is signposted along the main Mġarr port-Victoria road. These shipwrecks


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It is refreshing to note that the Maltese Islands, despite their hustle and bustle, still harbour coastal localities which have an intrinsic appeal to geologists and naturalists alike.

are the Gozo Channel’s former MV Xlendi, MV Comino Land, and MV Karwela. After serving for many years ferrying around the Maltese Islands, they ended up at the bottom of the seabed for divers to explore. Apart from the economic value of these wrecks, these ships serve as shelter for many types of fish and different marine life inhabiting them, effectively serving as oases of life in a largely depauperate marine environment, especially since most of the said wrecks are laid to rest on sandy bottoms. A large number of iconic marine species seek refuge in the wreck environment, some (e.g. cephalopods, including squid and cuttlefish) even choosing to lay their eggs within these structures. It is refreshing to note that the Maltese Islands, despite their hustle and bustle, still harbour coastal localities which have an intrinsic appeal to geologists and naturalists alike. No wonder that, as early as 30 years ago, the Chambray-Mġarr ix-Xini coastal stretch that includes ix-Xatt l-Aħmar – was listed as a site of conservation importance.

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Despite this, Xatt l-Aħmar is still subject to occasional human impacts, most notably exposure of bare sand and clearance of accumulated seagrass debris (‘grooming’) for bathing purposes, which is considered as a major threat to dune floral species at this site. Xatt l-Aħmar sheds some light on what the coastal biota of the Maltese Islands could have been prior to the tourist boom, whilst at the same time acting as a living geological laboratory through the variety of dynamic processes that are etched in its landforms. n This article is an abridged version of the paper: Deidun, A., Sciberras, A. and Ciantar, A., 2019. A coastal enclave worth conserving: Xatt l-Aħmar (the ‘red coast’, Gozo). In Landscapes and Landforms of the Maltese Islands (pp. 203212). Springer, Cham.

Alan Deidun is a coastal and marine biologist. He is director of the International Ocean Institute – Malta Training Centre, and associate professor within the Faculty of Science at the University of Malta. He is a board member of the Environment and Resources Authority.


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Creating a family patrimony

VILLA BARBARO IN TARXIEN By Petra Caruana Dingli

One of Malta’s earliest surviving country houses, located in Tarxien, is today still the residence of the Barbaro family. Over the years this lovely property has been surrounded by built-up streets, but it was once sited in open fields. View of the garden from upstairs window


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Left: Main entrance - remodelled in the 19th century Right: Carlo Antonio Barbaro in 1748 - detail

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efore the eighteenth century, the building of large country houses in Malta was not widespread. Among the best known are Villa Bologna in Attard, Selmun Palace in Mellieha or Villa Preziosi (Villa Francia) in Lija. These were mostly built after 1700 and were prominent in the open landscape, constructed on a relatively imposing scale and designed to impress. Earlier country houses often began as small hunting lodges. Grand Master Verdalle shifted this to a grander scale in the 1580s, building a fortified lodge and summer retreat for himself at Buskett outside Rabat, today Verdala Palace. Inquisitor Onorato Visconti followed suit in 1625 and built a summer residence at Girgenti, not far from Buskett, today used by the Prime Minister. This trend continued. Around the 1620s Bishop Baldassare Cagliares built a summer residence (villereccia) near TalVirtu outside Rabat, and in 1624 Andreotta Cumbo Navarra built a house at Bahrija.

Handwritten description of the house by Carlo Antonio Barbaro, late 18th century.

At around the same period, Gio Maria Cassia acquired lands in Għemieri near Bahrija and some 50 years later his granddaughter Beatrice Cassia and her husband Paolo Testaferrata expanded an existing hunting lodge there into a larger house, today Palazzo Gomerino. Other early country houses include Palazzo Abela in the village of Tarxien, said to have been begun by Monsignor Leonardo Abela in 1562 just before the Great Siege. Villa Barbaro in Tarxien also dates to this earlier period. The gardens are large while the old house is typically more rustic than later, eighteenth-century Maltese country houses. It is quite long and narrow in shape, and originally had an external stone staircase. The real fear of raids by corsairs made living in the countryside in the seventeenth century a dangerous business, and the house typically does not have any large windows on the ground floor, with only two narrow slit windows on the façade.


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The present owners recall the date 1625 inscribed on an external garden wall, but this has since been eroded and is no longer legible. The house is thought to be even older than that. Its first origins have yet to be explored within the family archive and other documentary sources, as well as through an architectural appraisal. In 1760 this house in Tarxien belonged to Gioacchino Psaila.

Gioacchino Psaila Only few personal details about Gioacchino have surfaced so far. He was born around 1695 and was the son of Antonio and Maria Psaila. On 26th November 1724 Gioacchino married Rosa Attard. Rosa’s family lived in Senglea. She was the daughter of Giuseppe Attard and Francesca Borg, and was one of at least six children. Her brothers Raffaele and Benedetto were both priests, and another brother Gio Batta Attard had a son named Aloisio who was also a priest. Her sister Marcella married Giovanni Farrugia and another sister Teresa married Francesco Bellia. A third sister, Maria, was married twice – first to Giovanni Psaila and then to Antonio Darmanin. The Attard family had origins in Zebbug, Malta, and owned some land in Handaq near Qormi. Gioacchino and Rosa Psaila had at least two daughters. Maria Vittoria was born 1726

and Teresa Francesca was born later but did not survive into adulthood. In 1741 Gioacchino erected an imposing, free-standing niche on some land which he owned in Mriehel, dedicated to his namesake San Ġwakkin (S. Joachim). This monument was restored in 1996 by the Qormi Local Council.

Gioacchino Psaila’s fedecommesso of 1750 Throughout history, people have sought to build and maintain a patrimony and status for themselves and their families. Formal legal instruments were also used to achieve this aim and to safeguard a family patrimony from being dispersed among heirs or sold off. One of the available tools was the establishing of a fedecommesso – essentially a type of trust which prohibited the division or sale of property received through inheritance. The fedecommesso (fideicommissio) was widely used in Malta, as it was in Sicily and elsewhere. A fedecommesso enabled a testator to ensure that selected assets, such as a principal family home, other houses, land or artworks, would be transferred as a whole in ownership from one generation to the next, and not divided. Moreover, the testator could restrict this succession from first-born to first-born, through the primogeniture line of the family. Such trusts could provide stability and longevity to the family status, but on the other

Top left: carved stone staircase Above: garden path with prospettiva


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Above: coffered ceiling on the first floor Top right: view of garden from upstairs balcony

hand they also took away the freedom to dispose of assets and could at times be a source of tensions among relatives. In May 1750 Gioacchino Psaila fell ill and drew up a will. In it he determined the dowry to be given to his only surviving daughter Maria, as yet unmarried. She is referred to throughout as just ‘Maria’, not her formal name ‘Maria Vittoria’, suggesting that this is how she was generally known. To create a lasting patrimony for his heirs, in his will Gioacchino Psaila also set up a fedecommesso. With this legal instrument, he tied up some of his assets to be restricted to inheritance by the male primogeniture of his descendants. In this fedecommesso, Gioacchino included some property at Mriehel near the village of Qormi. He presumably already owned land there when he built the niche in 1741, but he had also acquired some more land in the area in 1744. As Maria was his only child, the income and ownership of these properties were thus intended to pass down through the line of Maria’s future eldest son, then her grandson, and so on. This legal structure was not unusual. His wife Rosa’s family had also established a fedecommesso, tied to her brothers. Four months after her father Gioacchino set up this trust, on 20th September 1750 Maria Psaila married in Senglea. Besides money and other goods to the value of 15,000 scudi, her

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dowry included a house in the principal street of Senglea in the area known as ‘del Fiordolese’, another in Birgu in the street known as ‘dietro l’Arsenale’, and a third in the area known as ‘delli due balle’ (sic) in Valletta. Maria’s husband was 30-year-old Carlo Antonio Barbaro, who had studied law at La Sapienza university in Rome. He was the son of Simone Barbaro and Graziulla, also referred to as Lucrezia, née Bartolo. Carlo’s brother, Gio Domenico Barbaro, became a conventual chaplain at the langue of France of the Order of St John. On his marriage to Maria Psaila, from his parents Carlo received a house in Valletta in the area known as ‘dall’ Arcipelago’, among other property.

Gioacchino Psaila’s house in Tarxien Carlo Antonio and Maria’s first son Giuseppe died in infancy. Their second son Gioacchino, bearing his grandfather’s name, sadly also died in March 1760. At this point in time they had no other male children, only daughters. In August that year Gioacchino Psaila, who was nearing the end of his life, decided to draw up a codicil to amend his will. Gioacchino now changed some of the terms of the fedecommesso which he had set up in 1750, such as specifying how it could be inherited through the female line of the family. He also added some more land at Mriehel to this trust.


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Far left: enfilade of oldest rooms downstairs Left: main façade Bottom: garden wall

Importantly, he now also included his country house at Tarxien. Here he describes it as a ‘… tenimento de beni, che possiede in casal Tarxen, consistente in un casamento grande con diversi appartamenti terrani, e superiori, con un giardino con diverse conserve d’acque, e due terreni contingui al detto giardino unitamente col vicolo’. [translation: ‘a property that he owns in the village of Tarxien, consisting of a large house with various rooms at ground level and above, with a garden with various water reservoirs, and two pieces of land adjacent to this garden together with the lane’]. In his 1760 codicil Gioacchino listed the land neighbouring his Tarxien property as being partly owned by Baron Testaferrata Abela and leased out to Giovanni Bellia, another part owned by Signor Decos, and another part by maestro Giacomo Bianco, a well-known perito. Another side of the property bordered a public road. This is the house which is today known as ‘Villa Barbaro’ in Tarxien. It is unclear when Gioacchino Psaila inherited or acquired the property, or whether it came into his possession through the family of his wife, Rosa Attard. Further research could discover this. One of the witnesses to Gioacchino’s codicil was Fra Francisco Castillo of the langue of Aragon within the Order of St John, then rector of Our Lady of Victory church in Valletta (today under guardianship of Din

l-Art Ħelwa). In the codicil Gioacchino is noted as residing in Valletta, not Senglea. Gioacchino died soon afterwards, and in March 1762 his daughter Maria requested permission to have his remains moved to a grave within Porto Salvo church (St Philip Neri) in Senglea, together with his brother Giovanni, and to install an inscribed marble gravestone there. Gioacchino was a benefactor of this church, particularly of its side altar devoted to Our Lady of Sorrows. Carlo and Maria later had another son named Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro, and the ownership of the Tarxien house descended through his heirs.

Carlo Antonio Barbaro In 1778 Carlo Antonio Barbaro was granted the title of Marquis di San Giorgio by Emanuel de Rohan, Grand Master of the Order of St John. Carlo Antonio was also an accomplished scholar. He built up a unique collection of antiquities, which enjoyed a wide reputation including among foreign visitors to Malta. At his country house in Attard he created a beautifully decorated and purposely designed room to display this collection, known as the Zodiac room. Carlo Antonio and Maria Vittoria now had two country houses – the one in Tarxien inherited from Gioacchino Psaila, and another


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Above: 17th century doorway downstairs Below: the garden

in Attard. This second villa was named ‘Bellosguardo’, as it enjoyed country views, but today it is mostly known as Villa Barbaro like the Tarxien house. It was originally a smaller house which Carlo Antonio then extended, enclosing its gardens within high walls. Yet the Barbaros were clearly fond of their Tarxien country house too, and they did not abandon it in favour of their newer and somewhat grander, more ‘modern’ country house in Attard. In an unpublished manuscript Carlo Antonio described the Tarxien house as: ‘… l’altro casino posto nel confine di detto casale spettante alla famiglia Barbaro … La qual famiglia possiede pure il sudetto casino con un delizioso ed amplo giardino con una possessione di terre contigue al medesimo giardino, che per essere di ottima qualita formano tutto assieme un tenimento in cui s’accoppia l’utile col dilettevole. Il qual tenimento e membro della primogenitura spettante alla suddetta famiglia’ [Translation: ‘… the other house which lies in the outskirts of that village and belongs to the Barbaro family … this family also possesses this house with a delightful and large garden with a holding of land adjacent to this garden, which is of high quality and together form a property which combines utility with pleasure.

This property is part of the primogeniture of this family’]. As expected, the house was modified over the years. At some stage along the way it was painted red and it is still referred to as il-palazz l-aħmar (the red palace) in Tarxien. Palazzo Gomerino in Għemieri outside Rabat is also painted red. The old external staircase was removed. Balustrades were added on the upper terraces, a covered balcony was installed on the main façade, and the main entrance door was modernised. In the 1840s, Gustavo Barbaro added an internal staircase with elaborately carved stonework, on which he inserted the initials ‘G’ and ‘C’, after himself and his English wife Caroline. In 1870 the next title holder Giorgio Crispo Barbaro, 5th Marquis di San Giorgio, lived in the Tarxien house and referred to it as ‘St George’s Palace’. In the twentieth century, the property was temporarily used as a base by the British army. Today Villa Barbaro’s beautiful and extensive gardens, cultivated and tended by the villa’s present owner, are regularly visited by the Royal Horticultural Society. The villa has been scheduled as a Grade One site, however the context of this historic property is threatened by insensitive and excessive new development. Din l-Art Ħelwa has been actively engaged in efforts to limit the permitted building heights surrounding the garden. n Acknowledgement: The author thanks Anthony Cremona Barbaro, Marquis di San Giorgio and present owner of Villa Barbaro, for some of the information and images featured in this article. References: Notarial Archives of Malta, Not. F. Pisani, 12 April 1744, 25 May 1750, 9 Sep 1750, 27 June 1759; Not. A. Zerafa, 4 Aug 1760. Archiepiscopal Archives of Malta, Suppliche 8, 1762; Giorgio Crispo Barbaro, The Nobles of Malta and the Maltese Gentry (Malta, 1870).

Petra Caruana Dingli is senior lecturer within the Edward de Bono Institute at the University of Malta, and a council member of Din l-Art Ħelwa

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Domus Zamittello

BREATHING LIFE BACK INTO THE STRUCTURE By Edwin Mintoff

The elaborate stone-built defense that is Malta’s capital city Valletta, is one of the most impressive military architectural monuments in Europe and is well-endowed with remarkable buildings, amongst which is Domus Zamittello – a palatial townhouse which enjoys a strategic and prominent position lining the main street which carves through the capital.

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he structure was found to be in a state of considerable disrepair and, through EM Architect’s design implementations, life was breathed back into the derelict structure with its conversion into a boutique hotel. The palazzo, now a boutique hotel of the highest quality known as Domus Zamittello, was originally part of the estate of the Auberge d’Italie. It was written about by Victor Denaro (1959) who noted that in 1716 it was occupied by Comm. Fra Sigismondo Piccolomini after the death of Comm. Fra Vincenzo Galluccia. Our design process, which began more than 17 years ago, concentrated on respecting the integral historic fabric of the building whilst simultaneously improving the façade and interior spaces. Additionally, the project also functions at an urban scale. Its restoration has effectively contributed towards the urban renewal of Valletta and in particular to its immediate surroundings, by restoring the different façades to provide a more homogenous stone profile. The rehabilitated layout was designed to maximize engagement between the edifice and

passers-by. One enters the hotel from Republic Street though large arched doorways which lead directly into the courtyard from the main hall which is decorated by four Tuscan columns. The hotel also has a distinctive openair terrace on the third floor, allowing guests to admire spectacular views of the Gateway to Valletta while overlooking Republic Street. The boutique hotel now accommodates 21 rooms, including six suites. Each individual room has a different layout and therefore all rooms offer a unique charm. Attention to detail and guest comfort was provided in all elements of the hotel design, including but not limited to individually controlled air conditioning, underlying heated and double-glazed windows. The concept governing all design decisions was that of focusing on and exhibiting the historical and cultural layers of this edifice. Constructed out of beautiful, soft globigerina limestone, this palatial townhouse was adorned with elaborate stone carvings and ornamentation. Unfortunately wartime damage, compounded with subsequent careless civil works


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whilst forming openings to accommodate commercial premises, had disfigured the original built form. Our design sought to reverse these harmful acts through incorporating stone arches within the built fabric so as to reinstate structural stability whilst simultaneously emu-

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lating the original building façade as collaborated by mid-nineteenth century photographs. All the modern interventions are distinctly visible when compared to the original structure. The distinction between old and new, existing and altered is mediated via the use of contemporary materials, so as to ensure that the timeline of the building is visually clear. During the process of rehabilitation and construction, two subterranean basement levels were found. One of these levels was unfortunately still infilled with material from the Second World War and one level was in a state of considerable disrepair, but was still being used as a store. These were then proposed to house ancillary facilities like a kitchen, a gym, a spa and also back of house facilities. Extensive restoration was carried out with the utmost care and any modern interventions were planned to be distinctly visible when compared to the original structure. The entire structure from the first floor upwards had been vacant for a considerable number of years and was in a severely dilapidated state. On the ground floor level, some of the existing palazzo building had been rented or sold to commercial entities and these were purchased back by the proprietor at great expense. These spaces also had to be completely cleared out and restored. The restoration works themselves took years to complete and foreign specialists were brought in to carry out such precise and skilled tasks. Severely weathered stone was replaced whilst salvageable stones were restored; decayed mortar joints were raked out and re-pointing subsequently took place; replastering was initiated, coating tired walls in a fresh lime wash, making sure that this delicate construction material was allowed to breath properly and expel moisture; rusted metal inserts were removed and scars filled; wooden louvers, known locally as persjani, together with the famous Maltese balconies were all also repaired, together with decorative wroughtiron railings; all internal timber doors were found to be representative of their time and were therefore preserved and restored with a suitable wood preserver and a natural wood varnish; broken stone slabs, known locally as xorok, had to be replaced. Within select portions of the building, steel beams were inserted into the existing masonry structure in order to ensure structural integrity. These were then clad in timber, replicating the exact proportions of the former elements of the ceiling. The building had many architectural


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features which we wanted to restore and conserve for future generations: mainly the visually impressive staircase, the gran salone at piano nobile level and the coffered ceiling and frieze of the gran salone. The timber coffered ceiling in the gran salone at the first floor level is an architectural element of significant historic value. This ceiling had to be completely restored and some of the missing plaster of paris rosettes had to be replaced. The existing courtyard had previously been covered by a temporary structure (corrugated sheeting) and our design decision was to maximize the daylight and natural crossventilation that could be gained from an open courtyard. A retractable glass cover was designed, so that the hotel could enjoy the courtyard’s sustainable and aesthetic benefits

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whilst ensuring shelter from rain. A number of stone balavostri (balustrades) within the existing internal parapet wall were found to be severely deteriorated with visible cracks and therefore had to be replaced with identical copies. The old balcony running along the interior of the courtyard had to be repaired and in some parts replaced due to structural safety concerns. A large cleaning exercise had to be conducted to remove rubble, weed and vegetation, as well as to remove accretions and old cement rendering from internal courtyard walls. This project was awarded the Planning Authority Award for Conservation Architecture 2018 and the Din l-Art Ħelwa Award in the Category for the Rehabilitation and Re-Use of Buildings in 2020. It was also shortlisted for the Premju Galizia 2018 Awards. n

AFTER ‘After' photos courtesy of Domus Zamittello

Edwin Mintoff is an architect and civil engineer. He holds a doctorate in the field of architecture and urban design.

The concept governing all design decisions was that of focusing on and exhibiting the historical and cultural layers of this edifice.


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IDEAS, IDEALS, REALITIES Community and heritage in Bormla

By Patricia Camilleri

A sense of place is understandably common amongst those who have grown up in a community. Some families will have lived in a particular town or village for generations. While conducting some research in Bormla – or Cospicua – a town of 5,000 inhabitants in the Southern Harbour area of Malta, I listened to various community ‘voices’. My conclusion was that their attachment to Bormla ran so deep that it demanded an explanation that was not going to be uncovered through simplistic declarations of familial connections.

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ommunity is a word that we frequently hear with reference to race, religion and place. We talk about community diasporas as well as closed communities. However diverse, local or global these groups are, they share communalities which are important enough to allow the individual a place within that group. We can, of course, be part of more than one group, possibly several. Our adherence to a group can vary between superficial and visceral whilst extricating oneself from a community or joining a new one can be complicated. Shared information and the passing on of skills and techniques through traditions, rituals and stories has always been the strength on which communities relied and survived. Cultures tend to create mythic, significant narratives, of which Malta has many, which are told and retold and provide a handle to grasp onto in a changing world. To use a much-quoted phrase in museology, these are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. They are not supposed to represent the truth but that does not mean that they cannot denote authenticity. A well functioning community also knows that those myths have to be flexible for the group to survive and flourish.

Over the centuries, perceptions of community have changed – from the Greek city state, to a concept subservient to ‘society’ and, later, the ‘nation’. More recently, sociologists have defined adherence to a community as a search for identity and belonging and, with the arrival of advanced communication technology, communities have accessed a global arena as never before. Strangely, however, the more global our world has become, the more the ‘local’ has taken on new significance amongst urban, suburban and rural communities. It is as though they sense that the global may see them integrated, nolens volens, into a vast group that might not appreciate the things that are meaningful to them. Communities provide markers of memory, both to the physical and to the ephemeral. They contain layers of recollection that are laid at different stages of an individual’s life and that of the group as a whole. In this way, a palimpsest of history is created and these various ‘histories’ are recalled through community initiatives today. They take on myriad forms and express past events and traditions, be they of old or more recent origin. However, these events would not take place unless there were a need to do so, a feeling that members of the community


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are taking something from them but also giving something back. Some are uneasy about the very concept of a community that unites people and point to the individualistic and the precarious existence of many people in today’s world. This may be true and one should not try to romanticise community or get carried away with images of unadulterated positivity. As many researchers in the field have found, community memory can be fickle and selective. It would be doing the concept of ‘community’ an injustice if it were to remain a political word that oozes a ‘feel good’ factor and ignores the significant challenges that are inherent in many groups. It is a far more complex concept than that. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence both in this country and beyond that being part of a community can be a profound and life enhancing experience. The concept is often associated with genuine and enduring sentiments, with relationships and community of place and with mutual connections that are reinforced within the group. These links clearly play a strong part in creating, maintaining and consolidating emotional ties. In this land of saints and fireworks, band clubs and church bells, community still has a powerful resonance. It is often said that humans are social animals and it really does seem that we all need to feel part of a group. Even if our decision is to live ‘off the grid’ we are still part of a community of people who have chosen that particular life style. Most of us, however, recognise ourselves within the company of others, not just family but local residents, fellow philatelists or football enthusiasts. Just to throw in a statistic, there are some two thousand NGOs registered with Malta’s Commission for Voluntary Organisations. The visceral attachment to a place and a space, such as that expressed by the people of Bormla, has been described as topophilia, and is akin to the attachment of a farmer to his land. Bormla provided both a physical intimacy and, for many decades, a material dependence. It was a contained space of memory, community and hope. In this urban environment, it was the physicality of the enveloping fortifications that helped to create a feeling of security. Once the tunnels are traversed, the people of Bormla feel they have come home. Although poverty was barely mentioned directly by my respondents, it was clear that earlier hardship was also a uniting factor, as was the fact that many of them had worked for the Dockyard in one capacity or another. The home space and the workplace had been, for most, within walking distance.

Through listening to the respondents, through discussions with those close to Bormla and with the artists and artisans of that city, it became very clear that the landscape, the spiritual, the built environment and the emotional and psychological engagement with place played a huge part in how they viewed themselves individually and as part of the whole. Such a community manifests its ties to memory, history, common places, time together, and similar experiences through its cultural heritage. If asked about the cultural heritage of Malta and Gozo, most people would probably include in their reply the Knights of St John and their architectural and artistic legacy. Others would add the Neolithic Temples and, perhaps the Ħal

“There is ample evidence both in this country and beyond that being part of a community can be a profound and life enhancing experience.”


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Above: People line the streets for the Good Friday procession in Bormla

Saflieni Hypogeum. Those are, without doubt, significant cultural objects and part of Malta’s archaeology and history. These are the most mentioned in schools and are the images that the Malta Tourism Authority places on London buses. It is gratifying to see Malta promoted as more than a beach resort. However, as the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society 2005 reminds us, cultural heritage is about more than the most obvious and well known and involves every single one of us: ‘a heritage community consists of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations’ (Faro, 27.X.2005). A community recalls that which gives it meaning and which it values. This could be something that is generally considered as high culture such as a revered titular painting at the parish church or it could be the tradition of a football club. Individuals may have particular reasons to give objects heritage status for themselves or within their family group. Larger communities also make choices about what they wish to represent to the community itself and to those outside it as heritage assets. The question of how others can identify and communicate with that community is very often resolved through heritage – both tangible and intangible. Heritage is that which a community, however large or small, decides to carry with them from history into the present day in the hope and expectation that it will still be valued in the future. As the cultural philosopher Cassirer reminds us, many of the things that are important to us, such as religion, language and art are never tangible for us except in the testaments that are created to express them. It is through these ‘tokens, memorials, and reminders’ that we can perceive meaning. The cultural object is a reflection of our inventiveness and artistry which, like other objects, has its place in space and time. Objects are not simply what they appear to be – a vase, an oil painting, a wedding ring, a shopping basket, a Good Friday procession. ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’, Magritte’s famous declaration on a painting of 1929, tells us that it is an image and not the real thing but it also means that it is not just a pipe but so much more. The depths of meaning and memory stretch far beyond the object – in the widest possible interpretation of that word. Cultural objects are, together with the natural environment, our world. Many cultural testaments will be among that canon of objects significant to a particular

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country or even globally. But other memorials might be objects that are not even protected by legislation, nor accepted generally as culturally significant. They could be ephemeral objects such as song, spontaneous poetry, and ritual performances or more material ones such as vernacular architecture that are not generally valued according to the ‘higher’ ideals. However, these ‘lesser’ testaments are significant culturally because they reflect the creativity of a family or a group or a community. They give rise to feelings of self-esteem, belonging and are part of a meaningful existence. If we lose sight of them, their memory will no longer enrich our present day experience. It is not simply that people are grasping at a fading past. They are nostalgic in the most positive sense of the word which is no longer regarded as a negative notion but as a strength which serves to consolidate social connection and continuity, that gives confidence, enhances self-worth and appreciation of one’s surroundings. And such sentiments are not limited to the people directly involved in a particular community. The cultural indicators that mean so much in a local context can also hold great significance for visitors both local and international who search for historical objects. Heritage markers of all kinds are appreciated, understood, desired and are meaningful also to a wider audience. The idea of heritage also and increasingly involves many other structures in our society. The economic value of cultural heritage cannot simply be measured in ticket sales at the main sites. We know that it has the potential to improve the quality of life for individuals and a community. It can increase an understanding of the past and thus help develop historical literacy but it can also drive economic growth. Cultural assets can and do create employment opportunities and give a new lease of life to dying artisanal and artistic skills. Towns such as Birgu (Vittoriosa) grew throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s. Previously the town had no restaurants, just one or two coffee shops and was visited only by the most intrepid tourists. It benefitted from the setting up of the Malta Maritime Museum, the installation of the Vittoriosa Waterfront and the restoration of Fort St Angelo. However, these assets were accompanied by sensitive restoration within the town itself. Once people began to see that the more was done to restore the town, the more visitors came, Birgu began to flourish. During this time, Bormla remained hidden from view by the high walls of the Dockyard.


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The usual economic markers again said it all – few coffee shops, no restaurants and only basic retail and a reputation that discouraged outsiders. Some people had the foresight to ‘buy in’ to Bormla before its inevitable renaissance. They made the right decision both culturally and economically. As soon as the Dockyard closed in 2010, Bormla started to open its doors. Long aware of its own value – a beautiful walled town steeped in history, a parish church that survived the ravages of war, artisans of excellence, a people enriched by its seafaring history – the city began to welcome visitors. Some came to stay, others just came to discover the underappreciated gems of Bormla. It still remains a town with social issues, which are not going to disappear just because the soot and the high walls have been cleared, but now it can breathe. The people of this city have a great respect for the history of the Dockyard. Hated at first, they know how important it eventually became to them not only as a livelihood for themselves but as a forum for their development. However, although the significance of the Dockyard was always acknowledged, I did not meet anyone who actually said that they would like it back. The world has changed and the residents have come to understand that there are other opportunities for development still very close to home. The people of Bormla are beginning to realise that their cultural heritage, including the vestiges of the Dockyard, is now a very valuable asset. They were pleased to be able to view the now watery dry dock, look across to Senglea and walk around the British and Knights’ buildings, closed to them since c. 1840. Fortunately, Bormla is in time to use its newly acquired openness in a sustainable way. The community has a chance to manifest its cultural assets to visitors who search for those fascinating alleyways, steep stepped streets, old houses, magnificent fortifications and traditional cultural practices. Restaurants have opened, cafés are always full and, in addition to ecclesiastical performances, secular cultural events are taking place. It is Bormla’s unique heritage that will bring in interested visitors and with them financial benefits.

There are dangers inherent in this kind of growth including gentrification – the pushing out of local people and the appearance of residents who might not wish to pursue the practices of the local community. But this can be recognised from the outset and accounted for. This group of people has been welcoming ‘the other’ for centuries and will surely be able to manage this new influx. Cultural heritage by definition always belongs to someone. It ‘belongs’ to those who made it and it currently has an owner – a private individual, the church or government but also the Maltese people. Each of these owners knows that if cultural assets, both the physical and the ephemeral, are to survive they need to keep them in good repair so that they can be shared with others. The value of these heritage objects was embodied in them as they were created and that value is appreciated in the present and, if preserved and used, can survive to be enjoyed by the next generation and beyond. If we manage our cultural heritage in an intelligent and sustainable way we shall be able to move forward more equitably, without regret, respecting our past, our present and our future. n

Patricia Camilleri holds a doctorate in community and heritage studies and is president of The Archaeological Society Malta

The people of Bormla are beginning to realise that their cultural heritage, including the vestiges of the Dockyard, is now a very valuable asset.


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Ballistics & experience, the tough job of a

BOMBARDIER

By Stanley Farrugia Randon

Firing of the 4-pounder cannon from the roof of Wignacourt Tower on 10 February 2020.

Din l-Art Ħelwa takes care of a number of coastal towers which were armed with cannon. The guards of these towers received training. However the bombardier was not an ordinary guard because he had to receive special training on how to use the cannon.

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n the eighteenth century bombardiers attended a school at St Andrew’s Bastion, a large pentagonal bulwark commanding the entrance of the Marsamxett harbour. Other places were used for practice, such as the bastions of St Elmo, the ditch at St Elmo and ships in port using a ‘caicco’ (boat) as a target. Coastal caves were sometimes used as targets, towards which the cannon balls were shot from the sea. The importance of cannon grew exponentially between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries, aided by mathematicians and scientists who conducted experiments to increase the range and penetration of the projectiles being shot, as well as by refined techniques which produced more uniform bores during the manufacturing of the cannon in their foundries.

The number of cannon and their weight hampered the movement of armies. While ordinance powerful enough to destroy was too bulky, the lighter guns which were easy to maneouver with armies, lacked the power to destroy. This was not a real problem in Malta as most cannons were not needed to advance against any attacking army on land. Cannons were either stationed on the roofs of towers which had to be built with stronger roofs to spport their load, or on ships where they were stationary. In the seventeenth century, the bombardier did not learn ballistics and so it was mostly a matter of experience. A bombardier could only obtain full seniority as capomastro after 15 years of service and four complete caravans carried out on the galleys. Ballistics was still an art.


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Ballistics is the study of the movement of projectiles. Galileo studied the principles of motion to derive the parabolic form of the ballistic trajectory. One of the members of the Academie Royale des Sciences, F. Blondel, wrote a book on the art of shooting bombs in 1683. In England Robert Anderson published the book Genuine Use and Effects of the Gunne in 1674. These two books became reference works. In 1684 Sir Isaac Newton published his treatise De motu (In motion) and in 1687 he published Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). In two Memoires published in 1719 and 1721 in the Acta eruditorum, Bernoulli also gave mathematical solutions to the science of ballistics. Eulke Robins published New Principles of Gunnery in London in 1742 and Euler expanded on mathematical solutions of equations of motion within the framework of ballistic theory. In 1753 he wrote Memoires de Berlin published by the Berlin Academy of Sciences and his study was entitled ‘Recherches sur la veritable courbe que decrivent les corps jetes dans l’air on dans un autre fluide’. Thanks to the work of Robins and Euler, schools of artillery and military engineering could offer training to military engineers and the school of bombardiers started to teach in

a scientific manner. Complicated formulae took into consideration the resistance of the atmospheric medium, the velocity and acceleration of the initial motion and a ballistic coefficient. Ballistics was no longer an art but was developing into a science. In Malta the building which is today the Fortifications Information Centre close to St Andrew’s Bastions was used as an artillery school and the bastions were used to mount and shoot cannon. During the first half of the eighteenth century, bombardiers often referred to studies published by the French mathematician Bélidor, who experimented with gunpowder charges at the La Fère artillery school in the North of France. He claimed to have discovered that the charges used to fire a cannonball were too high and that the amount of gunpowder used was only making warfare more heavy and more expensive. Bélidor obtained permission from the court of France to conduct experiments using 24, 16, 12, 8 and 4-pounder cannons (the number referring to the weight of the cannon ball and not to the weight of the cannon). These experiments were conducted on 19 October 1739. He concluded that by reducing the charge, the range of the projectile would

Bottom left: Warship from a map by Matthaus Seutter c.1730. Bottom right: Foundry marked on one of the trunnions of the cannon at Wignacourt Tower, St Paul's Bay.


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Detail from a 17th century map by Homann.

The bombardier was considered to be the most important member of the guards on duty and was usually the capo mastro or castellano in charge of the tower. He was paid more than the ordinary guards and had to be literate and understand mathematics.

actually increase. The best weight of gunpowder needed to fire the projectile, he claimed, was of three eights the weight of the cannonball. The only exception was the 4-pounder cannon which fired best with gunpowder weighing half the weight of the projectile. These experiments were repeated between 8 and 11 June 1740 under the direction of the knight d’Abbouille, commander of artillery in France, and the same results were recorded. The original manuscript with these results was brought personally to Malta by the knight de Turgot who commanded one of the Order of St John’s galleys in the Mediterranean. These results led to arrangements for bombardiers to decrease the gunpowder charge in their cannons both on land as well as on sea. The capomastro Triganze, head of artillery on the ship San Gio was one of those who started implementing these changes.

Experiments in Malta This theory began to be questioned. In Malta a number of experiments were conducted using three bronze cannons which were judged to be of perfect quality; these were a 24-pounder produced in Barcellona in 1724 by Ribot, a 12-pounder produced in Malta in 1735 by Luigi Boiciut, and a 4-pounder produced in 1694. These cannons were placed on their wooden platform on the rampart of the Carafa Bastions under the keep of St Elmo Castle and

directed north west towards St George’s Bay. A fine gunpowder of France was used for these experiments. Interesting to note is the instruments used by the bombardier during these experiments. These included a balance to weigh the gunpowder, the projectile and the wick. Another essential instrument was the quadrant which was an instrument used to measure angles up to 90 degrees. The term quadrant, meaning one fourth, refers to the fact that early versions of this instrument were derived from astrolabes (used by astronomers and navigators to measure the altitude above the horizon of a celestial body) and this instrument was essentially a quarter of an astrolabe. The instrument used in the experiments in Malta to calculate the angle of the cannon above the horizontal line was not a quadrant but a semi-circular copper rod of 27cm diameter to which a lead weight was hung using a very fine silk line. This copper rod was attached to a wooden rod about 195cm long which was inserted in the bore of the cannon. A thermometer of Mercury of Reaumur was also used as the ambient temperature was considered to be another variant. Callipers were used to measure the size of the bore of the cannon as well as the size of the cannonball. The results of these experiments clearly showed that, contrary to those conducted by Bélidor and the knight d’Abbouille, the more


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gunpowder used the further away the cannon ball was shot. For example, gunpowder weighing 3.17kg projected cannon balls up to 2621m away while gunpowder weighing 4.53kg projected the cannon balls up to 2954m distance. Another experiment was conducted in Malta to compare the fine gunpowder which was used on the vessels of the Order of St John with the gunpowder from Genova. The latter was more similar to the coarse grain gunpowder used by the French artillery and that used during the experiments conducted by Bélidor and d’Abbouille. When using the gunpowder of Genova, incresing the amount of this gunpowder above a certain weight did not lead to any increase in the distance of the shot. This experiment showed that apart from the quantity, the quality of the gunpowder determined the efficiency of the shot. There were a number of different sources of gunpowder stored in the different ‘magazini’ and ‘polveristi’ in Malta and Gozo. The different gunpowders were named after the place from where they were imported. Manuscripts dated 1775 and 1776 included gunpowder from France, Holland, Genova, Venice, Denmark, Lucca, Rome and Trieste. Gunpowder from France and Holland was the most popular with the Order of St John. It is interesting to note that the manuscript mentioned that the fine gunpowder of France was scarce at the gunpowder magazines at that time, and there was more gunpowder from Holland or Genova. Other experiments in Malta conducted during the same period in the ditch of St Elmo, were intended to judge the penetration of the projectiles in a circular lead medallion of diameter 135cm and 21.6cm thick. The more the gunpowder used the bigger was the indentation in the medallion. Also, the bigger the projectile and the cannon used, the deeper the penetration of the projectile. These logical results were not maintained when the gunpowder of Genova, which was less fine and took longer to ignite, was used. In fact when the gunpowder used weighed more than three eighths the weight of the projectile, the penetration was even less. Another experiment was conducted at St Elmo as well as at the school of the bombardiers at St Andrew’s Bastions with the help of the capo bombista Giuseppe Pace using a cannon manufactured by Giacomo Rocia in 1694. The cannon was placed on gravelled earth. Other shots were conducted both from land

as well as from sea after the gravelled earth on which the cannon and its platform was placed was beaten to render it more compact. This led to the cannon ball being shot at a longer distance. Different platforms made of wooden strips were also used to observe the recoil and efficiency of the cannons.

No easy job! The bombardier did not have an easy job. It was not enough to learn mathematics and physics to know how projectiles act. In order to know whether a cannon ball would hit an enemy ship from another ship, from a tower or battery (redoubts and entrenchments around our islands were rarely armed with cannon), he had to approximate the distance at which the enemy stood.

Equipment used to operate a Cannon (Manuscript Manual of the Navy of the Order)


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This was however not enough. The type of cannon used was obviously most important as the length and uniformity of its bore, the shape of the muzzle and the recoil it produced were all important. The angle at which the cannon was placed, the carriage and platform on which it stood, the wind force and direction, the ambient temperature, the amount and quality of gunpowder poured by use of precise ladles to place the exact charge all had an effect on the result. Experiments also showed that the larger the angle of the cannon bore was from the horizontal, the more gunpowder was needed as the weight of the cannon ball exerted a greater weight on the gunpowder which took longer to ignite. Although theory was important, experience was still an asset. The Status Animarum of various parishes reveal details about the people living there and events related to them. We come across various people who were bombardiers or assistant bombardiers in coastal towers or on the galleys of the order. Other trades also feature, varying from tailors to skarpar (shoemaker). The great majority were Maltese and at times petitions were forwarded by knights invoking the promotion of Maltese soldiers to bombardiere and capo bombardiere. Many men who served the order, including bombardiers, had a pension and families who lost a bread winner while on active duty were also given a pension. Sometimes bombardiers lost their lives at sea when their galley was attacked, but sometimes accidents occurred while igniting the charge.

Bombardiers in towers

The bombardier did not have an easy job. It was not enough to learn mathematics and physics to know how projectiles act.

The bombardier was considered to be the most important member of the guards on duty and was usually the capo mastro or castellano in charge of the tower. He was paid more than the ordinary guards and had to be literate and understand mathematics. Garzes Tower, for example, was run by a resident bombardier and three soldiers. These soldiers were paid by the Order on a roster of three 24-hour shifts, and had to spend the night there. The castellan received an annual salary of 60 scudi and two oil measures, and was licensed to operate a tavern for the benefit of the tower’s soldiers and neighbouring inhabitants. The fixed salary of the resident

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bombardier was supplemented by 10 scudi, while each of the soldiers was paid 48 scudi annually Moreover, a small plot of arable land was assigned to the castellan and soldiers for their use. While explaining the need to erect between 12 and 14 towers around the coasts of the island (13 were eventually built), Grand Master de Redin stated that at the time there were about 60 guard posts which had about four soldiers each. He wanted to erect the towers at his own expense and guard them with four people. Three of them were to be given a salary of 2 scudi per month each and the bombardiere was to be offered a salary of two and a half scudi per month. The Order would then be in a position to provide each tower with a ‘small piece of artillery’ but the guards would be paid by the Università. In June 1722 the Congregation of War instructed that St Agatha’s Tower would be armed with five guns and manned by a garrison of four men as the tower became an essential part of the defence of the island. There had to be a resident bombardier and three militia men. The garrison of Wignacourt Tower was commanded by a master bombardier. In 1792, the Congregation of War ordered that the redoubts at Ramla Bay in Gozo and at Mellieħa in Malta be armed with two 6-pounder and four 6-pounder guns respectively. These defence posts were to receive a complement of 6 bombardiers and 22 gun crew. The bombardier of the Dwejra Tower received an annual salary of 60 scudi, with 40 scudi paid by the Order and 20 scudi by the Università. He also received 2 scudi for oil consumption and was entitled to harvest the underlying saltpans. On 10 February 2020, for the 410th anniversary of the laying of the first stone of the Wignacourt Tower, the ‘Show of Arms’ re-enactment association shot the 4-pounder cannon manufactured in 1782 by Akers Bruck foundry in Sweden as demonstrated by the sign AB on one of the trunnions. This was the oldest cannon to be fired on our island. n

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


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ST. ROQUE PROTECT US! A glance at epidemics in Malta

By James Licari

Throughout history Malta – like other European countries – was struck by epidemics. The first mention of an epidemic in Malta was during the medieval era. Due to Malta’s geographical location and its strategic trading position, diseases brought from overseas were inevitable.

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n the fifteenth century the plague hit Malta. Church burials were thought to contribute to such diseases and so became prohibited during epidemics. Open air cemeteries started to be created on the outskirts of various towns and villages. Some villages also utilised small chapels outside their locality for such burials. Many of these chapels and cemeteries were dedicated to St Roque. A plague epidemic occurred in the late thirteenth century and some of the victims were buried in a cemetery in Rabat, Gozo. In October 1347, a Genoese ship carried the plague to Messina in Sicily and the Black Death pandemic started to spread throughout Europe. It is believed that a year later in 1348 this reached the shores of Malta through trade from Sicily. Little is known about the effects of the pandemic in Malta.

In 1427-28, 1453, 1501 and 1519 further plague epidemics hit the island. In 1523 the municipal authority of Mdina discovered that the plague had entered on a captured galleon. The owners refused to burn it and its cargo, yet the authorities ordered it to be burnt and the crew were isolated from the rest of the population. Despite these efforts, the plague broke out in Birgu, which was also isolated from the rest of the country. There were also other epidemics besides the plague, for example an outbreak of ‘morbus di la punta’ (possibly scarlet fever) between 1453 and November 1455, which caused many deaths. The Council of Trent (1545-65) encouraged burial in parish churches. It was customary for the casket to be left in the church before burial, sometimes until the following day with a lapse of 24 hours. This custom was changed

Cemeteries and nearby chapels were often dedicated to St Roque, believed to have been healed from the plague through divine providence, by a dog licking his wounds.


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Above: 1. St Roque Cottonera [In school grounds]; 2. Painting of St Roque in the chapel of St Roque, Three Churches Street, Balzan; 3. St Roque niche, Balzan [Dolphin Centre]; 4. St Roque Niche, central Balzan; 5. St Roque Niche, Luqa; 6. St Roque, Vallettarequiring sponsorship for professional conservation.

Right: 1. St Roque niche, Qormi- Prior to an intervention and after restoration and necessary chromatic reconstruction.

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due to the spread of disease and epidemics and, ‘during burial, the dead person would be lowered into the tomb and then quicklime (calcina or biancheggina) would be scattered over the corpse to accelerate decomposition’ (Cassar 2012, 21). Church burials were eventually prohibited by canon law, although in Malta the practice continued for a while longer. The earliest known extra-mural cemeteries are dated 1592, caused by the outbreak of the plague while church burials were stopped temporarily. Further cemeteries developed during the 167576 plague and that of 1813. In 1830 there was an outburst of smallpox, and cholera spread in 1837, 1865 and 1887.

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Such cemeteries and nearby chapels were often dedicated to St Roque, who was believed to have been healed from the plague through divine providence, by a dog licking his wounds. Many communities and families erected free-standing statues or niche statues on the façades and corners of their houses. This was partly due to religious devotions, but it was also believed that such representations within the streets would ward off the devil as well as bad events. Almost every town or village has a statue or chapel dedicated to St Roque. Some of the largest statues of St Roque in Malta have been studied and conserved by Ingrid Ross and the present author, in collaboration with Din l-Art Ħelwa. This includes the statue attributed to Vincenzo Dimech, by the side of Santa Rita chapel in Birkirkara, which was formerly a free-standing monument sited further down the road. Another example is the statue sited in a corner opposite St Roque chapel in ĦażŻebbug. The statue is in Main Street, the former principal street of the village leading from the De Rohan gate to the parish church, and was a free-standing statue erected prior to the eighteenth century, before buildings were constructed around it. It is held to be the largest statue dedicated to St Roque in Malta. Its creator is unknown but according to an account by Ciappara in his Storia del Zebbug e sua Parrocchia (1882), the image resembles an


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extraordinary well-built priest who lived in the vicinity. The same account notes the date of an indulgence in the year 1736. The monument consists of the standing figure of St Roque and a dog by his feet. The saint wears a hat behind his head, an undergarment, coat, mantle, thick socks and closed shoes. There is also a metallic halo attached behind his head. The saint has a beard and long hair. He carries a shell on his left pectoral and a gourd beneath his left arm, which was used to collect and drink water. In his left arm he holds a staff, a sign of pilgrimage. He is posed with his right hand outstretched pointing towards the plague sore on his leg. The weight of the figure appears to be borne on the right leg while the left leg is slightly bent and showing his bleeding sore. The dog is seated on the saint’s right side holding a bun of bread in his mouth. This statue was conserved around six years ago by conservator-restorers Ingrid Ross together with the present author. St Roque was a confessor believed to have been born around 1295 and the Catholic faith commemorates his death on the 16th August. He is specifically invoked against various infectious diseases, including the bubonic plague, cholera, other epidemics, knee problems and skin diseases. He was named the patron saint of bachelors, dogs, surgeons, gravediggers, pilgrims, diseased cattle, invalids, falsely accused people, tile-makers, second-hand dealers and apothecaries. He is usually represented wearing a pilgrim’s habit, often lifting his tunic to demonstrate the plague sores on his thigh and accompanied by a dog carrying a loaf of bread in its mouth. It is not entirely certain whether St Roque was a real historical personage. He might have been a fictitious character from Church legends. In the research of Belgian historian Pierre Bolle (2001), St Roque is suggested to References: Charles Cassar, Stones of Faith: Tombstones, Funeral Rites and Customs at the Gozo Matrice (Malta: Midsea Books, 2012); Samantha Lorenz, Buried in Malta: A Glance at History and Tradition, OMERTAA, 2011, 507; Charles Savona Ventura, The Medical History of the Maltese Islands: Medieval (2020); and, personal communication in 2012 with the late Michael Bonnici, former custodian of the St Roque chapel in Żebbuġ under guardianship of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

James Licari is a professional conservator-restorer

Above: St Roque statue, Birkirkara- Before and after conservation

have been a hagiographical double of a more ancient saint, known as Saint Racho of Autun (died c. 660). This latter saint was invoked in prayer against storms. Bolle suggests that this derivative of the saint’s name and invocation is a linguistic development. If the first syllable of the word in French and Italian ‘tempeste’ (storm) is dropped we are left with ‘peste’ (plague). Medieval medicine attributed the cause of illness, including the plague, to the corruption of air that affects the equilibrium inside the human body. Bolle does not, however, completely disprove historical data that a Saint Roch of Montpellier existed. It is believed that a French prisoner, who attained a certain popularity for his saintliness in Piacenza and Sarmato, died in Voghera in Italy in the fourteenth century. It is documented that the 1391 calendar of Voghera states that a mid-summer festival in honour of Sancti Rochi (St Roch of Montpellier on 16th August) and not Santi Rochonis (St Racho of Autun on 25th January), clearly reflecting the existence of two different saints. Therefore St Roch of Montpellier developed a following as early as 1391. The body of St Roch of Montpellier is believed to be located in Voghera in 1469 and has been venerated ever since. This led to the further deduction that St Roch probably died in Voghera in Italy and not in Montpellier in France. n

Above: St Roque statue, Zebbug - Before conservation


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THE ANATOMY OF

MANUSCRIPTS Over 600 manuscripts treated for the Notarial Archives By Theresa Zammit Lupi

Notary de Agatijs R202 Vol 4 showing severe war damage

For those who have never been to the Notarial Archives in St Christopher Street, Valletta, it must be said that prior to the intervention of Dr Joan Abela in 2004, the place was in shambles with little hope for its recovery. After the setting up of NARC (the Notarial Archives Resource Council, later NAF Notarial Archives Foundation), and several years of voluntary work, the Archives began to change radically, both in terms of its upkeep, and its approach to preservation and access for researchers.


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One of the fundamental changes that will transform the Notarial Archives into one of its kind, will be the method of storage of the bound manuscripts

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n 2013 a steering committee was set up and chaired by Joan Abela who always had a clear vision of how the Archives should be run. In 2014 an application for ERDF funding to rehabilitate the Archives was submitted by the Office of the Chief Notary to Government and accepted the following year. Works started in 2016 and tenders were issued in 2017. The Archives building in St Christopher Street will now be connected to the abutting building on St Paul Street so that the Archives will be double its original size. The previous archive building will house the main depository, and the new one will be a staff and visitor building where activities happen. It will house a museum, a conservation laboratory, a reading room, offices and social spaces. All areas that will house the collection shall be acclimatised to provide stability to the manuscripts. One of the fundamental changes that will transform the Notarial Archives into one of its kind, will be the method of storage of the bound manuscripts in the main depository and reading room. For several decades (if not centuries), the manuscripts have been stored vertically on open shelves. The strain and sheer weight of the volumes in this position has caused the textblocks to sag, the sewing to come apart, and damage to be caused to the lower edges of the covers. From the presence of a title tab which includes the notary’s name and date that is

Conservator Elena Verona carefully dismantling one of the de Agatijs volumes

attached to the lower front cover of several of the volumes, we know that the manuscripts were sensibly designed to be stored horizontally. For this reason, a decision has been made to re-shelf and re-house the entire collection horizontally. This ensures no stress on the textblock and binding materials and guarantees safety for the long term storage of the collection. A major exercise through the ERDF funding has been the treatment of 609 volumes which were tendered for and won by PrevArti Co. Ltd, a private local conservation firm directed by Pierre Bugeja. The manuscripts selected for this tender will eventually be displayed in the reading room once structural works are completed. The idea is to have a large glass acclimatised tower in the reading room in which several volumes will be stored horizontally. The volumes of 15 different notaries, amounting precisely to 609, were selected for this tender and range from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth century. Having a wide historic range of manuscripts means that a variety of different binding styles could be shown and enjoyed by those visiting or working in the reading room. The different types of parchment and cartonnage bindings that have spines ranging from 2cm to 35cm in thickness, would also serve as a didactic exercise to show the extent of how busy a notary was being kept by the number of contracts bound together in a given


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R202 Vol 10A Severe war damage, before and after treatment

year. A year always started on 1 September and ended on the 31 August because that was the administrative year that only changed from January to December under British rule. The display in the glass tower will also allow visitors to walk around it in order to look at the manuscripts closely and observe the smaller details such as the title tabs, the sewing structure and the patterns of the leather tackets on the spines. An international team of seven conservators concluded the two-year project at PrevArti in September 2020. Headed by Laura Chignoli, the conservators were Roberta Bove, Alice Ferri, Lucia Medici, Gislene Nuñes, Rebecca Ranieri and Elena

Work and discussions on Briffa's volumes

Verona. The conservators followed a strict protocol that is also practiced by the Notarial Archives conservation team. In so doing it was ensured that there would be continuity and homogeneity of work practice, methodology and standard. All conservation work was under my supervision, so this enabled the team to follow the Archives’ conservation approach more closely. The volumes selected for treatment presented a range in complexities. Some simply required two to three hours of work. These included tasks such as the removal of the black marker that was sadly allowed to be used for the reference number on the spines of the volumes some 15 years ago. Mid-


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de Agatijs fragments stored for future study

range treatments would include small repairs of corners, the consolidation of corroded inks and the reinforcement of loose sewing structures which would on average be a threeto five-day task. But other treatments were far more interventive and lengthy and involved as much as 1,200 hours to complete. The 13 volumes of the contracts of Notary Nicolò de Agatijs (1535-1547) took eight months alone to complete. For this there were four full-time conservators. Work on the de Agatijs volumes was extremely time-consuming because of the extent of war damage that the manuscripts had been through. The effect of the blast was so powerful that it penetrated the entire volumes from front to back. This meant that all volumes had to be carefully dismantled so that they could be repaired folio by folio, sewn again and rebound. A variety of papers were used for repairs, from 3.6gsm to 49gsm and sometimes a lamination of different thicknesses if necessary. The number of conservation papers available are infinite: short or long fibres, shiny, mat, tough, translucent, smooth, laid and wove, and also come in several different shades of white (or rather, cream). Those used for paper repairs are always made in Japan. These are preferred over other papers because the fibres used for making them are sourced from plants that have very long fibres (mainly kozo). When water-cut and frayed, the fibres interlace beautifully with the old Western fibres of the old papers, providing strength and uniformity to the joins of the tears and infills.

The fragments of the leaves of the de Agatijs volumes were so crushed and misplaced, that it took several hours until one folio was flattened and repaired. The so-called orphaned fragments were all kept for future study. This is because their repositioning requires having the knowledge of sixteenth-century Latin palaeography which is far from simple to read. The fragments were attached onto sheets of Japanese tissue which was backed by a sheet of paper onto which the folio numbers were written. They were then inserted into polyethylene sleeves which prevent soiling and allow viewing the fragments without actually handling them. If their location is eventually found, the detachment of the fragment from its tissue support is easy and reversible and may be reattached in its original position without any fear of causing any damage. The de Agatijs volumes had been rebound in acidic cardboard covers in the early twentieth century. These were removed and replaced with a parchment cover with alum tawed skin tackets which follow a style that is more in keeping with sixteenth-century bindings from the Archives. Calf skins are also very sturdy and the quality that was used was only of conservation grade that ensures stability and longevity to the textblock. The conservation work on the De Agitijs volumes was one of great reward. The transformation is quite incredible as were the conservators who worked on them. The manuscripts are now legible and easy to handle; they may be studied fully and will also be digitized to minimise their handling.

As conservators we are fortunate that our work allows us to dissect through manuscripts and understand their anatomy


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R89 Vol 23 Notary Giuliano Briffa, the spine before and after treatment showing extended leather tackets

One other remarkable set of manuscripts worth mentioning is that of Notary Giuliano Briffa of which there are 25 volumes in the collection. Briffa was active from 1571 to 1596 and was indeed a very busy notary. His volumes are almost all extremely thick, with the thickest being 35cm amounting to over 2,300 folios. This means that there would be about one thousand contracts drawn up in one year – an impressive workload that certainly also meant he had a very busy scribal assistant. Briffa’s manuscripts have some very intriguing covers, 16 of which have exceptionally long external leather tackets which were used to hold together the individual quires to the cover externally. Having very thick spines, these manuscripts have several tackets making them look quite attractive. These external tackets alternate in position from having two in the first quire, one central one in the second, and again two in the third quire and so forth. Owing to the varied, large and complicated sewing structures of these bindings, there were numerous discussions taking place because a compromise had to be reached between the functional elements of the books which made them structurally sound, and the salvage of their unique codicological features.

Such long leather tackets are unique within the Notarial Archive collection and elsewhere. This has curiously led to question their possible influence and production. Correspondence with conservators and book historians in leading archives and libraries in Malta and abroad to enquire about possible similar examples, has shed no light as to where influences of such long tackets may have been drawn from. To date, the Briffa volumes remain distinctive and unparalleled. On an island which had just been through a siege, where materials were scarce and where supplies were recycled, it is remarkable and surprising to see how the extended lengths of leather used as tackets were lavishly afforded for such notarial bindings. As conservators we are fortunate that our work allows us to dissect through manuscripts which allows us to understand their anatomy. Sometimes our patients are in such bad shape that it is easy to see how they are constructed without even using any tools because they are already dismantled. The careful examination, interpretation and treatments carried out on manuscripts is crucial and if untrained one may unknowingly over-treat a volume giving it an altered structure and losing much of its historicity. n

Theresa Zammit Lupi is a freelance book and paper conservator. From 2017-20 she was consultant conservator for the ERDF Rehabilitation Project of the Notarial Archives. Theresa studied conservation in Florence and London and received her doctorate in 2008 from Camberwell College, London, specializing in French Renaissance manuscripts.


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Remembering a chapter of Valletta’s history

THE THEATRE AT

PALAZZO CARAFA By Vicki Ann Cremona

Imagine yourselves back in 1914. You are standing in a hall in the beautiful Palazzo Carafa in Old Bakery Street, Valletta. The Unione Cattolica di San Giuseppe, forerunner of APS Bank, has just moved out of the building, which later the same year becomes the new premises of the Istituto Italiano Umberto Primo, founded in 1888,1 one of the many schools financed by the Italian state around the world, that follows the Italian syllabi and system of education. The Unione Cattolica di San Giuseppe, one of the very first workers’ associations in Malta, used to organize leisure and educational activities for its members on the premises. Since 1912, thanks to its efforts, the palazzo has become one of the earliest places for the public to watch films, due mainly to the generosity of a businessman, Giovanni Apap, who lent the organization a projector.2


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This history needs to be written, understood and remembered.

The theatre hall in Palazzo Carafa, viewed from the stage.

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heatrical activities also became an important part of the programme of the Umberto Primo school which in its heyday had well over 300 pupils. Primary school teaching included the Montessori method, which believed in motivating pupils through drama activities. By the mid-1930s, the enfilade of rooms along the entire façade of the of the piano nobile of the palace had been interconnected to form the large hall that still exists today, equipped with a stage for theatrical performances. A rare programme of a prize day held on Sunday 2nd February 19363 shows a mixed programme of entertainment both in Italian and in English that includes the staging of two performances. Mussolini, who had first become Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, is mentioned in the programme, by means of a tribute entitled ‘Al Duce’. This was the year when the British withdrew the licence of the Istituto di Cultura Italiana, and severely restricted the activities of the Umberto Primo school.4 A photograph of the time, taken from the stage, shows a cultural activity. The hall is packed to capacity, and decorated with flags and banners. The carved fireplace on the left of the photograph is clearly recognizable as the one still preserved in the hall. There is no doubt that this is the very same hall that still exists today in Palazzo Carafa, and that therefore, the interconnection of this series of rooms to form one large hall took place before the Second World War, when this building housed the Umberto Primo school.

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The concrete balcony at the rear of the hall is not visible in the photograph, and its date remains to be ascertained. However the crooked cross motif in the wrought-iron railing on the balcony reflects a similar motif on the proscenium arch, suggesting that these formed part of a single scheme, which may have been executed in successive stages. What is beyond doubt is that the hall is one of the very few surviving architectural traces of the assiduous investment by Italy in promoting its culture and system of education in inter-war Malta. This was the period when the language question was reaching fever pitch. The fascist government’s rhetoric was that Malta was ‘terra irredenta’, a lost part of Italy that needed to be liberated and reclaimed. The large number of pupils who attended the school attests to its popularity. Even after the colonial government imposed restrictions in 1936, there were still over 300 pupils attending the school. By 1938, the Umberto Primo school had vacated the building, while the impending war in Europe loomed closer. That year, the palazzo was taken over by the Circolo Gioventù Cattolica, when it moved out of its premises in Old Theatre Street that had formerly belonged to the newspaper The Daily Malta Chronicle. Many prestigious names in politics and in the arts were to emerge from this association, such as Herbert Ganado, George Borg Olivier, Lawrence Gonzi, Vincent Apap, Charles Coleiro and Mario Micallef. It was patronised by intellectuals such as Dun Karm Psaila.

Left: The monumental entrance of Palazzo Carafa in Bakery Street, Valletta; Right top: The top floor of the Palazzo, which houses the theatre hall; Right bottom: Stage and proscenium arch


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Theatre was an essential activity for the Circolo; in fact, already in 1924, the association’s theatrical company had mounted the boards of the Manoel Theatre for the first time, and many of its members have acknowledged that ‘the stage was synonymous with Gioventù Cattolica’.5 This was mainly thanks to the efforts of the indefatigable Mgr Salv Laspina, who had a passionate love for theatre and cinema. Already in the smaller premises in Old Theatre Street, Laspina used to put up plays and project films. He had in fact built a projector and a radio to show ‘talkies’.6 According to Dun Eddie Borg Olivier, ‘in Palazzo Carafa, Dun Salv found the stage and the hall he had wished for: he found them ready from the Italian school Umberto Primo, and continued to improve them.’7 He would even project popular films, such as those of Laurel and Hardy, for British servicemen and, at least in one case, afterwards gave them each a set of rosary beads!8 After the war, with the Royal Opera House destroyed and the Manoel Theatre closed, the stage of the Circolo was practically the only functioning theatre in Valletta. It was a thriving hub of activity for the Valletta community well into the seventies, and it has been claimed that 80% of Valletta boys and men frequented the Circolo and either watched or participated in its plays while receiving a religious and civic education. Plays were produced every Sunday, with the younger members sitting in the balcony before the still-existing projection room was built. Following Mgr Laspina, Joe Tonna continued to maintain the Circolo and its tradition of

plays and films, which reached their apex every Christmas. Sadly, Palazzo Carafa has remained closed down for a number of years – yet its stage remained intact and in sound condition until earlier this year. The stage itself took up the smaller room at one end of the enfilade, while the rest of the connected rooms were used to seat the audience – the furthest one contains the balcony previously referred to, on which a projection room was built at some point. The stage, complete with trapdoors and even a prompter’s box, was inclined to the front, in order to create better effect for scenery in perspective, thereby creating an illusion of greater depth to the stage. The stage builders had started the inclination above a fireplace, in such a way as not to break or damage it in any way. It is recorded that one of the Circolo’s volunteers, Charlie Azzopardi, used to regularly sprinkle the stage with water and make sure it was kept in a good state.9 A proscenium arch was created in the dividing wall between the rooms, which at some point, was reputedly decorated by young Vincenzo Apap in the art-deco style fashionable at the time. Because the stage was not high enough to fly up the scenery, a system of rollers and ropes would wind it around horizontal poles, just like the sails on a ship. Until February 2020, some pieces of scenery were still rolled up above the stage, which was in a very good condition. One wonders if these have been discarded, or whether, hopefully, they are still intact and retrievable. Many were the possibilities to give the space new life: as a fine example of a community theatre, as a community museum, or even simply as a testimony of the extraordinary story of this building, and the changing social needs of the communities that it has served.

After the war, with the Royal Opera House destroyed and the Manoel Theatre closed, the stage of the Circolo was practically the only functioning theatre in Valletta.

Left top: The raked floor of the stage, showing one of the trapdoors; Left bottom: The timber stage was preserved intact until earlier in 2020; Below: An event in the theatre hall of the Istituto Umberto Primo. The photograph is taken from the stage (Private archive)


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Right: A programme for Prize-giving ceremony at the Istituto Umberto Primo; 2 February 1936. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Fondazzjoni Fortunato u Enrico Mizzi). Below: An event in the theatre hall of Gioventù Cattolica, featuring Mons. Salv Laspina and Mrs. Carmen Carbonaro on the stage (reproduced from Tonna 1995, p. 174).

Where is the theatre stage now? Gone, broken to pieces under an insensitive axe, without authorization, and mindless of its significance for one of the most deeply formative chapters in Malta’s socio-political and cultural history. The absence of the stage is interfering with the architectural legibility of the theatre hall. The possibility of rebuilding the stage should be seriously considered, using the extensive photographic documentation that is available. This sad story has many facets to it. On the one hand, the suppression of Italian culture in 1930s Malta is a section of our history that has been occulted, because colonial interests and the harshness of the Second World War have made us look upon anything pro-Italian dating before the war as pertaining to fascism, with overtones of betrayal. This history needs to be written, understood and remembered. The hall of Palazzo Carafa is one of the last remaining traces of this painful

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chapter in our history, which therefore adds an important layer to the significance of this venerable palace. Another issue is the fact that in Malta, we do not exploit the expertise that is at hand. There are experts on theatre, music, dance, just as there are experts on concrete, stone and building conservation and so on, in our national institutions such the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and the University of Malta. Yet, when important decisions, that involve the cultural and social value of a building, a feature, a landscape or townscape, are to be taken, their views are often either not sought, or brushed aside. As a result, the attrition of Malta’s historic environment continues on a daily basis. n An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the Times of Malta on 15 October 2020. Footnotes: (1) Carmel Joseph Farrugia, Polluted Politics: Background to the Deportation of Maltese Nationals in 1942 (Malta, Midsea Books, 1995), p. 31; (2) Giovanni Bonello, ‘Early Cinemas in Malta’, in Histories of Malta: Confusions and Conclusions, vol. 12 (2012), p. 208; (3) Kindly made available for study by the Fondazzjoni Fortunato u Enrico Mizzi; (4) Charles Debono, ‘80th Anniversary of WWII (2): Malta steels itself for the gathering storm’, Times of Malta (8 Sept 2019); (5) Joe Tonna (ed.) Gioventù Cattolica (1995), p. 313; (6) Ibid. p. 26; (7) Ibid. p. 34; (8) Ibid. p. 83; (9) Ibid. p. 284.

Vicki Ann Cremona is professor of theatre studies at the University of Malta


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KEYHOLE VIEWS and Local Museum Publics By Sandro Debono There is no question that the local museum ecology, including public, nongovernmental and private museums, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are the factors at play. Much relates to the sudden shrink in tourism arrivals which confirms, yet again, that local museum publics are still prevalently tourists. This continues to be the case in spite of the significant efforts to bring local publics to the museum happening over the past decade.

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he local museum public is nothing short of a paradox and Eurostat Culture Statistics for 2019 provide the necessary research to explain it. Indeed, the Maltese rank high in terms of acknowledging the significance of the country’s cultural heritage. Well over 80% consider this to be the case (Self-Reported Importance of Cultural Heritage - September to October 2017, 40). On the other hand, Malta has one of the lowest percentage of local publics visiting cultural sites in Europe. Less than 30% are known to visit a cultural site between one to three times. From that percentage, around 10% are registered as having visited over four times (Frequency of cultural participation in the previous 12 months, by cultural activity, 2015, 129).

There is even more to this data that awaits further in-depth study. Visiting times and relevance remain unquantified. Quality of experience, which is a generic term by the latest research, or participatory content too. The high frequency of repeat visits is certainly on the low side. This state of fact can be arguably read in some of the generic statements that one hears from time to time. ‘Foreigners foster a greater awareness towards our cultural heritage than we do’, some would state. Others claim, more specifically, that ‘we visit museums abroad, knowing too well that we have a history that is equally significant’. To a certain extent, it may be fair to consider the clamour for free access by local publics registered, yet again, in more recent


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“Malta has one of the lowest percentage of local publics visiting cultural sites in Europe”

times as a reaction to the claim that ‘…this is ours and we have a right to access as much as the tourist does’. Would this be tantamount to an increasing awareness and relevance? Certainly not, and it would be a mistake to consider visitor attendance or participation as a yardstick with which to measure institutional relevance and impact. The local museum institution has a very distinct profile. It is still overwhelmingly object and material-culture centred, looks almost exclusively towards the past to preserve it in a bid to script and occasionally revisit still-standing colonial narratives. Indeed, the raison d’être of the Maltese museum idea, be it public, private or both, is historically and overwhelmingly rooted in preservation. There is a history to this that can be traced back to colonial times when the institution, then prevalently public, functioned as a safety net to recover and protect Maltese cultural heritage from potential and oftentimes permanent loss. By default, history has defined the ethos of the Maltese museum idea and its collections development ambitions with an almost exclusive focus on Malta-related material. Indeed the historic narrative has informed the ethos of the local museum landscape. By contrast, the museum of the future shall be less about what it holds, then what it stands for. Museums around the world are fast becoming public-centred, shifting away from their almost exclusive focus on an object-centred narrative. Indeed the museum that looks towards the future is a public space where to address the needs of contemporary societies, rather than a space to experience. This new understanding of the museum institution brings relevance much more into the picture as they become the voice of the communities they represent. The ambition, which is already late by at least a decade, is the participatory approach to what I call the museum organism, understood as a living space where contents and inhabitants – rather than publics and collections – come together to script meanings and histories. This is, to all intents and purposes, the evolution of the participatory approach advocated by

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Nina Simon in her seminal publication The Participatory Museum (2010), amongst others who followed. Rather than dictating relevance from institutional and academic high-ground, the desired ambition of the Maltese 21stcentury museum would be informed by cocreative practices in exhibition, programming and outreach. Relevance also concerns the potential understanding and comprehension of cultural heritage assets, including collections. The reasons why Malta still has such a low percentage of museum publics when compared to its European peers may well concern the need for a rethink in interpretative methodologies that reflect the knowledge level and understanding of Maltese publics. Simplification is the name of the game, which is distinctively different from banalisation. This may oftentimes be a bone of contention given that the museum idea for the Maltese public is the historic museum stereotype institution which is but one of very many other forms that the museum idea has been given tangible form throughout its history. Last but not least, participatory also refers to governance. The Participatory Governance in Cultural Heritage Report published in 2019 outlines reasons, ambitions and best practices in the field. The reasons for participatory governance could be a matter of principle, understood as the public’s right to participate as part of democratic governance. It could also be more related to practical and pragmatic questions such as responsibility, resource and knowledge sharing. These possibilities might be just about scraping the surface, particularly when seen in the context of what is happening in the museums and heritage landscape all over the world. Nevertheless, they can certainly go a long way to foster the sustained growth of a local museum public. n

Sandro Debono is a museum thinker, culture strategist and University of Malta lecturer. He holds a doctorate from University College London in heritage policy and collections development.


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St Agatha’s Tower

A RED JEWEL OF OUR HERITAGE

By Maria Grazia Cassar

St Agatha’s Tower, or the ‘Red Tower’, is back to its beautiful glorious self thanks to the intensive restoration both inside and out which was made possible by the European Regional Development Fund, Operational Programme 2014 - 2020.

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he official inauguration took place on 7th September, the eve of the feast of The Nativity of Our Lady, il-Vitorja, which is celebrated in a special way in Mellieha, being the dedication of its parish church. Julia Farrugia Portelli, Minister of Tourism, unveiled a plaque and together with Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds Dr Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi and the Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority Dr Gavin Gulia who were also present, praised Din l-Art Ħelwa for its stirling work, thanking its volunteers for their dedication and efforts. Din l-Art Ħelwa’s Executive President Professor Alex Torpiano thanked the Ministry for Tourism and the Secretariat for their considerable help in the co-financing as well as the implementation of the project, saying that this was a new and successful model of cooperation between Din l-Art Ħelwa and the Ministry. It is not enough, however, to look after the ‘jewels in the crown’ of Malta’s heritage, but it was vital to protect all of Malta’s environment, both natural and built, against destruction and bad development.

Completing this much awaited restoration was another milestone for Din l-Art Ħelwa, as 20 years after the first restoration a major overhaul was needed, especially the plastering and painting of the façades which was not an easy task. Under the expert guidance and supervision of conservation architect Edward Said, and with the collaboration of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the right materials, technique and colour were achieved. An updated, eco-friendly electrical system was installed internally and externally, and all the walls were cleaned and replastered with a lime-based material. A new parquet floor was laid, leaving the original flagstone flooring and the cistern visible beneath glass panels. The roof was treated with a suitable waterproofing material and finished with a non-slip paint, while a new metal waterspout was added to ensure that water from the roof did not gush down the walls. Restoration work on the front steps gave the access to the tower a muchneeded improved appearance.

Top left: The newly plastered and painted Red Tower. Photo: Joe Attard Above: Professor David Bartolo, volunteer at the Red Tower raises the Din l-Art Ħelwa flag once more at the tower on 1st September 2020 after 18 months closure due to restoration and the Covid pandemic.


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Above: (left to right) Doreen Considine, Brian Sly, Prof. Alex Torpiano, Maria Grazia Cassar, Perit Edward Said, Simone Mizzi, Jo Woodall, Mike King, David Cauchi and Red Tower warden James Evans after the inauguration ceremony at the Red Tower. Photo: Joe Attard Top right: The reception area Below: (left to right) Maria Grazia Cassar, Dr Gavin Gulia, the Hon Julia Farrugia Portelli, Dr Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, Prof. Alex Torpiano

Completing this much awaited restoration was another milestone for Din l-Art Ħelwa

Apart from the physical fabric of the tower, all the necessary services such as burglar alarm, CCTV system, fire detection system and lightning protection were installed, bringing the site up to date with the best modern standards. A new reception desk, television and comfortable chairs for viewing a documentary on the history of St Agatha’s Tower, complete the fresh presentation of the interior. Attractive new signage, welcoming visitors to experience the Red Tower, was installed outside and provided the finishing touch to this extensive project. The restoration of St Agatha’s Tower forms part of the Northern Coastal Watch EU-funded project which also includes the completed Santa Maria Battery on Comino and Dwejra Tower

in Gozo whose restoration will be carried out next year. Din l-Art Ħelwa is very grateful to Director Perit Kevin Fsadni at the Directorate for Product Development within the Ministry of Tourism for the great assistance that he and his staff provided throughout this project. As project leader, I wish to thank Din l-Art Ħelwa council members Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon and Josie Ellul Mercer, the Red Tower warden James Evans and the volunteers for their immense help throughout the project. n

Maria Grazia Cassar is a council member of Din l-Art Ħelwa

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NEWS

CALLING FOR VOLUNTEERS At Majjistral Park The Covid pandemic has renewed interest at Majjistral Park with many visitors taking the time to reconnect with nature and take long walks in the stunning countryside. Whilst this reduced over the hot summer months we expect it to pick up in the autumn and winter.

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he staff continued their work, at first mainly from home during the lockdown and then with appropriate precautions since then. Much time was spent preparing a master plan which was approved by the board of management and then passed on the Environment and Resources Authority as the regulator and to the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning, Aaron Farrugia. This plan calls for an increase in funding to finish the restoration of the barracks and help make the park self sustaining. The rangers have been working hard. We have some new additions with Twanny Spiteri who has been appointed senior ranger and who brings new enthusiasm to the job. He joins our conservation officer Darren Saliba who is leading the project.

ERA volunteers All images taken pre-COVID-19 restrictions

PWC volunteers

HSBC staff volunteers


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HSBC staff volunteers

The Park is however a huge area and we need more volunteers to help. The range of works needed is huge so there is a job for everyone, whether it is painting apertures, removing alien species, rebuilding rubble walls, or clearing up rubbish and debris. So if you feel that you can help we can provide you with an invigorating afternoon out in the fresh air and in beautiful surroundings. You are welcome to come alone or in a group – refreshments will be provided. The volunteer scheme started on Saturday 7th November and will continue every first and third Saturday. We will be observing all the regulations concerning Covid-19 and keep to working groups of under 10, suitably masked, and with temperature taken and questionnaires filled prior to arrival. You can call 21521291 for further information or email outreach@majjistral.org. Volunteers will meet at the Reception Centre at 9.30 and work until 12.30 hrs, after which refreshments will be provided.

Park volunteers

Majjistral is Malta’s first nature and history park and is run by the Heritage Parks Federation which is made up of Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Gaia Foundation and Nature Trust. Be a part of saving Malta’s heritage and have fun doing it!


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Dubbed

’MALTESE FUNGUS’ …but it is neither a fungus nor Maltese By Joe Attard

Close to Dwejra Tower in Gozo, today managed by Din l-Art Ħelwa, lies ‘General’s Rock’, also known as ‘Fungus Rock’. It is named after a plant once treasured for its medicinal properties. The so-called ‘Maltese Fungus’ – or ‘General’s Root’ – is part of our Maltese heritage and is protected at law.

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t is spring. The year is 1600. A galera is patrolling the sheltered coves around Gozo on the look out for anything suspicious. Aiming his spyglass at a large boulder in the bay, the ship’s commander spots dark red plant-like objects on the plateau. The news is quickly relayed to the highest authorities. The root has been found growing in Malta. The rock is quickly called ‘ħaġira tal ġernal’, later Ħaġra tal-Ġeneral (General’s Rock). Such was the importance of the find. To the knights of the Order of St John, this was not such a special discovery. Running hospitals in Palestine, from which they got their title as Hospitallers, they knew that the Arabs had long known about the existence of this ‘treasure of medicines’. The good news was that it had now also been found in Malta. At first the Order paid little attention to the find and many years passed. Naturalists and scholars squabbled about its properties,

trying to describe and place it in the right plant family. It was so rare and bizarre that nobody managed to get it right. They cannot be blamed for this, as this plant is still the subject of controversy to the present day. But in 1741 the Portughese Emmanuel Pinto da Fonseca was elected grand master of the Order of St John and the story took a spin. Firstly, Pinto prohibited anyone from scaling the rock, punishing those who

Dwejra Tower in late summer storm Photo: Simon Wallace


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breached the rules. He then engaged his military engineer, Merandon, to make scaling the rock impossible. The base of the rock was hewn smooth and all footholds were removed. Two small caves were dug, facing each other. One was on the rock itself, and the other on the mainland. These were used by guards stationed there round the clock. A clumsy contraption was put in place, hanging on two thick ropes, crossing the sea passage from one side to the other. This wooden box on wheels could carry two people and served as a funicular. News of the plant spread, and artists and scientists flocked to the scene. Scores of paintings and sketches were drawn and published. Italian scholars brought to Malta by Pinto ‘confirmed’ the near miraculous powers that the plant possessed. It was stressed that the full benefit could only be obtained if the plant was harvested from General’s Rock, as the plant had now also been found growing in Tunisia, Sicily, Pantelleria, and a dozen other places. It worked wonders and many European princes and noblemen asked for the special powder, confirming that the Order of St John had the best medical remedies. By the turn of the century, when Malta became a British colony, the golden era of the wonder drug soon waned. n Top: Caper plants at Dwejra with 'General's Rock' in the background. Above: Wild carrot flowering at Dwejra. Photos: Simon Wallace

In 1815 English adventurer Claudius Shaw described crossing over to Fungus rock: “it is not a very pleasant sensation to be suspended some hundred feet above the water and if there is any wind, the movement of the box is anything but agreeable and all that can be obtained are a few pieces of fungus. I was well pleased to be back again and made a determination never to risk my carcase in that conveyance again.”

Joe Attard is a council member of Din l-Art Ħelwa


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Commemorating Din l-Art Ħelwa’s 55th anniversary

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he Council and some Din l-Art Ħelwa volunteers gathered at Bir Miftuħ in July 2020 to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the organisation. Din l-Art Ħelwa was founded on 9 July 1965 by Judge Maurice Caruana Curran and a group of persons who loved and wanted to protect Malta’s heritage. This mission has been faithfully continued by the many volunteers, helpers, members and sponsors which the organisation has been honoured and proud to have over the last 55 years. Unfortunately it was not possible to hold the usual anniversary dinner this year due to the Covid pandemic. A Mass was held in the grounds of the chapel at Bir Miftuħ. This was followed by a small reception.

Goodbye to two long-standing volunteers

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rian Sly and Bill Clarke spent the past nine years volunteering at the Red Tower, and are now returning back home to the UK. Sadly for all of us, we must say goodbye. Brian had started the popular ‘Sunset Evenings’ at the tower together with his wife Janice who has sadly passed away since. Executive President Alex Torpiano presented Bill and Brian with a set of ‘Heritage Saved’ prints depicting Din l-Art Ħelwa sites – of course with one of them being the Red Tower. He thanked them for their years of dedication and service to the organisation, and wished them all the best for their future. (left to right) Brian Sly, James Evans, Bill Clarke, Maria Grazia Cassar, Prof. Alex Torpiano

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Luke Azzopardi Fashion Show at Bir Miftuħ

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n the recently restored frescoes at Bir Miftuħ, local designer Luke Azzopardi found inspiration for his latest collection ‘The Tree of Life’. Using Bir Miftuħ as a backdrop, elements of the chapel were present in the project from set curation to print design. While a physical event for guests was not held, a digital version was relayed instead. The collection was unveiled on 2 September 2020. Presented as a virtual presentation which was filmed on site, the fashion show was a reworking of references from the period, borrowed from the architecture and the building’s history. The project was supported by Arts Council Malta through their project support grant, and was carried out in collaboration with Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Malta Airport Foundation, Ecabs, and Camilleri Paris Mode Ltd.

Compagnia di San Michele Re-enactment at the Red Tower

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n Sunday 27 September, the re-enactment group Compagnia San Michele staged a day of activities at the newly restored St Agatha Tower, or the ‘Red Tower’, in Mellieha. Guards wearing period costumes stood watch on the tower roof as they did in the seventeenth century, alert in case of signals from the nearby Santa Marija Tower on the island of Comino. Reenactors depicting Maltese country people sheltered outside the tower, preparing food as well as carrying out other activities such as sewing. Tours of the tower were held explaining the coastal defence strategy of the Order of St John, and the day concluded with a demonstration of the military drills of tower guardsmen and their equipment, including blackpowder firearms.


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European Heritage Day Open days at the Garden of Rest

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n collaboration with the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, a two-day event was held at the Garden of Rest in Floriana between 3 and 4 October 2020, when the garden was opened from 9 am to 3 pm. A total of 18 volunteers were involved in this activity, including students. The activities on offer included ‘stone rubbing’ where visitors were able to make copies of inscriptions, patterns and symbols from gravestones and memorials. Books, including melitensia publications generously donated to Din l-Art Ħelwa by the Superintendence, were on sale.

Wedding at the Red Tower

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wedding was held at the Red Tower in September 2020. The tower’s roof provided a gorgeous setting for this delightful occasion.

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Open day at Wignacourt Tower

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n open day was also held at the Wignacourt Tower in St Paul’s Bay on 8 August 2020, with Din l-Art Ħelwa volunteers welcoming the public back to the tower after a period of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Support from the Alfred Mizzi Foundation

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he Alfred Mizzi Foundation rallied to the support of Din l-Art Ħelwa after the organisation recently appealed for assistance due to a sharp drop in income with scarce tourist arrivals and visitors to the many historic sites it looks after, and with all fund-raising efforts diminished by the Covid-19 pandemic. Chairman of The Alfred Mizzi Foundation, Mr Julian Sammut said the Foundation was happy to offer assistance with a monetary contribution and also presented a motor vehicle which will be used by the Din l-Art Ħelwa maintenance team. Din l-Art Ħelwa Treasurer Martin Scicluna accepted this as a much-needed replacement to the organisation's 15-year-old van and thanked The Alfred Mizzi Foundation for its constant commitment. The presentation took place in front of Our Lady of Victory church in Valletta, a masterpiece being restored by Din l-Art Ħelwa, a project also supported by The Alfred Mizzi Foundation.

Julian Sammut, Chairman of The Alfred Mizzi Foundation, during the presentation to Martin Scicluna Din l-Art Ħelwa Treasurer

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GUDJA TOMBS PUNIC FINDS ON DISPLAY AT BIR MIFTUH CHURCH

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lso in collaboration with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, and with the newly formed Heritage Group SKALI Gudja, visitors were invited to view the recent finds from Punic tombs at Gudja on display at the Church of Santa Marija of Bir Miftuh on Saturday 3 October 2020. Activities included workshops and pottery washing in the grounds of the chapel on the day, with volunteers from SKALI and Din l-Art Ħelwa in attendance.


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People Amy Sciberras In 2012 I was appointed by Din l-Art Ħelwa as resident conservator at Our Lady of Victory church in Valletta. This was the beginning of a wonderful journey within Din l-Art Ħelwa. Since then I have worked closely with many of its members, especially with former executive president Simone Mizzi. As resident conservator and project manager of the church until 2014, I was involved in the coordination of the initial phase of the conservation project, in the artistic conservation of the contents of the church, and in managing the relationship

with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. This included reporting and advising on issues related to conservation and preventive conservation, as well as carrying out conservation-restoration treatments on wall paintings, canvas paintings, panel paintings and polychrome sculpture. I also supervised conservation works being carried out by other conservators, including students being trained in the sector, allocating the necessary training programmes and monitoring their progress, as well as helping at fundraising events, lectures and concerts. Since then I have been consulting on conservation issues regarding the general care of the collections housed at the church and I was entrusted to conserve and restore its prestigious paintings, including works by Antoine de Favray (1706-98), Antonio Falzon (1805-65) and others. My goal is to continue conserving the many treasures which Din l-Art Ħelwa safeguards. Through Din l-Art Ħelwa I will also continue striving to raise public awareness, especially among youths, emphasizing the importance of preserving our national patrimony to future generations. As a member of the Youth Committee of Din l-Art Helwa, together with fellow conservators, I had organised a conservation and restoration workshop held at Our Lady of Victory church in November 2013, held with the support of the Ministry of Education. The outcome of this workshop was very positive attracting over 600 visitors and many new members. Din l-Art Ħelwa is by far one of my most treasured experiences since I embarked in the field of conservation and restoration back in 2005. My role at Din l-Art Ħelwa gave me the opportunity to widen my experience in this sector and to work alongside some of the most dedicated and professional individuals relentlessly conserving our artistic and natural heritage, as well as to work on some of the most important national treasures safeguarded by this NGO and, most important of all, to serve and give back something to the community. Being part of this professional and noble organization is truly close to my heart. Amy Sciberras is a warranted, professional, freelance conservator-restorer with a special interest in artistic and natural heritage


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James Evans As a young secondary school student, I was fascinated by archaeological discoveries and immediately joined the ‘school archaeological group’ set up by Mario Buhagiar. When Teenagers Din l-Art Ħelwa was formed, I became the first president of the teenagers’ committee. When I took up teaching as a career, I became heavily involved in sports coaching which prevented me from continuing in my role at Din l-Art Ħelwa but I remained interested in its activities. So, when we had the 50th anniversary reunion of Din l-Art Ħelwa, and by then I had ceased all participation in sports, I gladly accepted the invitation to reconnect and resume volunteering with Din l-Art Ħelwa. Now I am the warden at St Agatha’s Tower (the Red Tower) in Mellieha, and I am in my 15th year at the tower. This involves organizing the volunteers’ roster, keeping detailed accounts of takings and visitor statistics, as well as stock taking of Din l-Art Ħelwa and ‘Red Tower’ branded items that we sell at the tower. Another aspect is coordinating the cleaning and maintenance of the site. It is quite a commitment but also a huge satisfaction seeing the tower go from strength to strength. At the Red Tower, we continually strive to enhance the overall visitor experience. The most important outcome is to meet visitors’ expectations by providing an internal ambience and appropriate material that enables visitors to interpret the tower in its

Josette Cini I am the guardian of the Delimara Lighthouse. Essentially, I function as a liaison with the guests who come to stay with us in this beautiful property, tackling their requests with the aim of making their stay as pleasurable as possible. We obviously also strive to highlight the serene setting in which the lighthouse is located as well as the historical relevance of the building in which they are staying. Our philosophy on this project orbits

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historical context. Visitors can also identify other historical sites and environmental features in the 360 degrees view from the roof of the tower. This requires constantly upgrading our written material and visual aids. The tower serves to promote Din l-Art Ħelwa’s work as a voluntary organization that safeguards our nation’s heritage - the restoration and conservation of the Red Tower being a shining example of protecting historical structures. The proximity of the tower to the Foresta 2000 site and Majjistral Park also enables us to underline the role of Din l-Art Ħelwa in protecting our open spaces and the natural environment. We are also glad that we can participate in promoting Din l-Art Ħelwa ideals through school educational visits. I find the site management aspect rewarding, particularly when it translates into high visitor numbers that in turn generates considerable and much needed income. I am proud that the Red Tower volunteers work as a team, building on what we are good at and identifying possible improvements in the way we welcome visitors and present the site to them. The interaction with visitors is also rewarding in itself, especially when they take a keen interest in the restoration and history of the tower, and also voice their admiration for the work of Din l-Art Ħelwa and its volunteers. On a personal note, I feel that I have come round a full circle and I am proud to be associated with the Red Tower and the work of Din l-Art Ħelwa. James Evans is a retired teacher and hockey coach

around sustainability. We are extremely proud of the fact that the funds that the property brings in are applied not only to maintaining itself, but also to other properties managed by Din l-Art Ħelwa. The work that Din l-Art Ħelwa takes on is of self-evident importance, and the resources one needs for such tasks are sizeable. It is difficult for me to choose between the three main reasons why I put in my energy into this project. It keeps me in touch with some very interesting people who choose to be our guests, whether local or foreign visitors. Being able to give my small effort to the upkeep of our country’s heritage is extremely satisfying. Last but not least, I have to mention the enjoyment of doing this in a sustainable manner, which to me is imperative.


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SILVER SAVED

FROM THE MINT

Antonio Arrighi’s ‘Apostolato’ Reviewed by Petra Caruana Dingli • Photographs by Daniel Cilia

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his book emerges out of a restoration project. In 2007, Sante Guido and Giuseppe Mantella had restored fifteen gorgeous Baroque silver statuettes by Antonio Arrighi (1687-1776) at the Mdina Cathedral. The statues depict the twelve Apostles, with St John the Baptist, St Paul and the Virgin Mary, and the set is known as the Apostolato. The results of that project were not immediately published due to a lack of funds. They are now presented here, some years later, with studies featuring new research and findings. In a preface by ‘The Authors’, we read that ‘thanks to the patronage of a knight of St John, Silvano Pedrollo, chairman of S.p.A. Verona, and thanks to the generosity of the Metropolitan Chapter of Malta, as well as thanks to the perseverance of Mgr John Azzopardi, the book which started out with the essay ‘Antonio Arrighi’ written by Jennifer Montagu has now been published, enhanced moreover by new studies and research’.

BOOK Review The Apostolato of the Order of St John at the Cathedral of Malta: Antonio Arrighi’s Fifteen Silver Statues (The Mdina Cathedral Chapter, 2018) pp. 383

Far left: Apostolato silver statues on altar Left: St John the Baptist

While the volume does not name an editor, the bulk of the text is by restorers Sante Guido and Giuseppe Mantella. Photography and book design are by Daniel Cilia. The statues have a fascinating history. They were first commissioned in the late 1730s by the Order of St John to embellish their Conventual church in Valletta, under Grand Master Ramon Despuig. When Napoleon and his troops took over the government of Malta in 1798, they confiscated and melted down silver from Maltese churches to finance their military campaigns. In a valiant attempt to save the precious Apostolato from being sold or melted down, the canons of Mdina exchanged other silver and precious items for them. The statues have been in Mdina ever since. This dramatic story is related in detail in this volume, accompanied by transcripts of original documents related to this turbulent episode of Malta’s history. In her contribution, Jennifer Montagu provides an expert analysis of Arrighi’s workmanship, noting the superb quality of


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Above: The dismantled statue of St Bartholomew

Statue of St James Major at St John Lateran, Rome

the modelling and execution of the Apostolato. Unfortunately, many of his important works were destroyed with other silver throughout the Papal States, sent to the mint in the aftermath of the French revolution. Montagu highlights the importance of Arrighi’s Apostolato in the history of Roman Baroque silver as, apart from its intrinsic quality, it is ‘the only major enterprise in silver to remain from the hand of one of the more remarkable Roman silversmiths of the middle years of the Settecento’. Adding to this story, John Azzopardi describes the ‘despoliation’ of the treasures of the two cathedral churches of Malta by the French military, including other artefacts which featured in this plunder of precious items in 1798. Aloysius Deguara also examines this

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episode, focusing on the securing of the statues in Mdina. Rome and its art was a constant point of reference in Malta. Arrighi’s Apostolato figures are inspired, on a smaller scale, by the marble statues of the Apostles at St John Lateran church in Rome, completed some 20 years earlier. These famous statues were widely admired. Here Maria Chiara Cozzi analyses these marble statues and their sculptors. She notes that Arrighi’s Apostolato constitutes ‘one of the most significant examples of the diffusion of the Lateran style’. Series of statuettes of the Apostles were not uncommon at this period, and in his essay Edgar Vella opens the context to other artworks in Maltese parishes, such as at Mellieha and Zurrieq, or in Gharb in Gozo. The Apostolato can be divided into two groups on the basis of their commissions and dates of execution, as indicated by the heraldic escutcheons and inscriptions on the pedestals. Through their research, Guido and Mantella link these to an earlier sixteenth-century set of silver statues owned by the Order. They note that, prior to work carried out by Keith Sciberras and Jennifer Montagu, the history, artist and exact dating of the Apostolato were unknown. Further reseach work, as presented in this volume, was conducted at the Magistral Palace in Rome and the National Library in Malta, analysing records of the Sacro Collegio and the Comun Tesoro. In other chapters, Guido and Mantella describe the treasures of the Conventual church of St John in Valletta, as well as the ceremonial function of the Apostolato statues in the eighteenth century. They trace Arrighi’s career as a silversmith in Rome, suggesting that Cardinal Pietro Ottobone (1667-1740) in Rome could have played a role in commissioning the statues. In another essay, Alberto Bianco presents the figure of Giovanni Battista Baratta, also involved in the commissioning. Besides an account of the restoration project itself, Guido and Mantella provide an expansive overview of the background to these fine statuettes. They delve into the history of their making by Arrighi, with an analysis of each statue. They view them as ‘the ‘final act’ of the Baroque re-styling of the Conventual church of St John the Baptist in Valletta, which had been initiated eighty years earlier.’ This beautifully illustrated volume was published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the archives and museum of the Cathedral of Malta in Mdina. An edition in Italian was also published. n


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ViGiLO - Din l-Art Ħelwa

ISSUE 54 • NOVEMBER 2020

Help us save our heritage

Din l-Art Ħelwa is continuously involved in restoration works. This includes maintenance of existing properties managed by Din l-Art Ħelwa as well as new properties entrusted to the organisation. The restoration committee is led by Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon, together with Maria Grazia Cassar and Josie Ellul Mercer.

RESTORATION REPORT

We rely on funding and support from sponsors to be able to carry out this important part of our organisation’s mission.

O

ver the last months, restoration works neared completion at Delimara Lighthouse. Din l-Art Ħelwa received funds from the Gal Xlokk Foundation to restore the turret. The clockwork mechanism, including the turntable and the pear-shaped paraffin tank that once fuelled the three wicks which lit the lantern, also require cleaning and treating with protective lacquer. Din l-Art Ħelwa is still seeking funding to restore these elements. Ħal Millieri chapel with its medieval frescoes is one of the most important gems entrusted to Din l-Art Ħelwa. It requires regular restoration and maintenance. The recently changed metal gate and cover to the well have weathered beautifully and will now be painted. During a recent storm, part of the rubble wall adjacent to the pathway leading to the chapel collapsed and was rebuilt. The restoration of the White Tower (l-Aħrax) is underway thanks to EU funds obtained by the Malta Tourism Authority. Part of the ditch wall collapsed, mainly due to erosion of the underlying rock as well the roots of trees planted inappropriately close to it. Part of the funds were allotted to the resurfacing of the concrete flooring around the tower, especially where the illegal buildings once stood on the western side. Once these were removed, the irregular floor was replaced with a smoother floor more safe to walk on. Other external works included the laying of new drains towards the cesspit and the laying of services towards the room in the ditch. We hope that these works will be completed by the end of the year. The restoration of the Red Tower has been completed (see pp. 50-51 of this issue).

Stanley Farrugia Randon says: “I used to think that St Agatha’s Tower was called the ‘Red Tower’ because the stone from which it was built has a red coloration or because it was painted red to make it more visible and scare away any invading Ottoman pirates. However in November 2019 Pascal Brun, the assistant mayor of Castellar which was the birthplace of Grand Master Jean Paul Lascaris de Castellar, donated a Castellar Flag which has a red tower as its emblem! It could well be that this colour was a symbol of the family.”


Malta Stock Exchange Malta Tourism Authority MAPFRE Middlesea plc Mapfre MSV Life plc Medserv plc Melita Ltd Ministry for the Environment,

Corporate members & sponsors ADRC Trust

Alfred Mizzi Foundation APS Bank plc Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd Avantech Software AX Holdings plc Bank of Valletta plc Best Print Co Ltd BNF Bank plc Corinthia Group Citadel Insurance plc Curmi and Partners Ltd Cyberspace Solutions Ltd Deloitte Malta Dingli and Dingli Law Firm

Climate Change and Planning Ministry of Finance Good Causes Lottery Fund MISCO P Cutajar Foundation Psquared Asset Management AG Plaza Centres plc PWC Malta RCLIN Pharma Ltd Sak Ltd Shireburn Software Ltd Simonds Farsons Cisk plc Sparkasse Bank Malta plc STM Malta Trust & Company Management Ltd The Tanner Trust TOLY Group Tug Malta Ltd Vassallo Builders Group Ltd Voluntary Organisations Projects Scheme VJ Salomone Marketing Ltd

ECOVIS GRC Ltd

Xlokk Local Action Group Foundation

Eden Leisure Group

LEGACIES

EY Malta Farrugia Investments Ltd

Karmen Micallef Buhagiar

Farsons Foundation

Marjorie de Wolff

Fenlex Corporate Services Ltd

Anne Crosthwait

FIMbank plc

Major Nestor Jacono - The Agapi Trust

Frendo Advisory

Gita Furber de la Fuente

JZT Holdings Ltd

Benefactors

Ganado Advocates GasanMamo Insurance Ltd

Anne and John Cachia

GO plc

Zoe and the late Pierre Chomarat

Horizon 2020 Project GEO4CIVHIC

Heribert GrĂźnert

HSBC Bank Malta plc

Anthony Guillaumier

IIG Bank (Malta) Ltd

Albert Mamo

Izola Bank plc

Peter Mamo and family

IZT Holdings Ltd

Chevalier Joseph Micallef

KPMG Malta

Matthew Mizzi

Lombard Bank Malta plc

Dr John Vassallo and Dr Marianne Noll

Malta Airport Foundation

Dr Ingrid Vella

Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation

Robert von Brockdorff

Malta Industrial Parks Ltd

Nicola Woodward


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ViGiLO - Din l-Art Ħelwa

ISSUE 54 • NOVEMBER 2020

VIGILO D I N L - A R T Ħ E LWA

The National Trust of Malta

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

T: +356 21225952 E: info@dinlarthelwa.org WWW.DINLARTHELWA.ORG Like our Facebook page and join the group Follow us on Twitter


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