Vigilo 58

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ISSUE 58 November 2022 VIGILO DIN L-ART ĦELWA The National Trust of Malta MALTA’S RUBBLE WALLS Industrial Heritage in Use AN ART DECO FAÇADE 58

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

T: +356 21225952 E: WWW.DINLARTHELWA.ORG Like

Din l-Art Ħelwa is a non-profit non-governmental organisation whose objective is to safeguard the cultural heritage and natural heritage and natural environment of the nation.

Din l-Art Ħelwa functions as the National Trust of Malta, restoring cultural heritage sites on behalf of the State, the Church and private owners, and managing and maintaining these sites for the benefit of the general public.

Din l-Art Ħelwa strives to awaken awareness of cultural heritage and environmental matters, through a policy of public education and by highlighting development issues to ensure that the highest possible standards are maintained and that local legislation is strictly enforced.



Judge Maurice Caruana Curran (1965-1999)

EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT Professor Alex Torpiano


HON. TREASURER Michael Warrington

MEMBERS Albert Attard Joe Attard Professor Anthony Bonanno George Camilleri Perit Dr Shirley Cefai Stéphane Croce Cettina Caruana Curran Dr Petra Caruana Dingli Maria Grazia Cassar Josie Ellul Mercer Cathy Farrugia Joseph Philip Farrugia Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon Martin Galea Ann Gingell Littlejohn Kenneth B. Micallef Martin Scicluna

Professor Luciano Mulè Stagno Perit Joanna Spiteri Staines



H.E. The President of Malta

Badan Warisan Malaysia • Czech National Trust • Geldersch Landschap & Kasteelen – Netherlands • Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) – Italy • Herita – Belgium • Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga • Kulturerbe Bayern – Germany • Manx National Trust – Isle of Man • National Trust of Australia • National Trust of Barbados • National Trust for Canada • National Trust for the Cayman Islands • National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland • National Trust Guernsey • National Trust for Ireland – An Taisce • National Trust of Korea • National Trust Jersey • National Trust for Scotland • National Trust of Slovakia • National Trust of Tasmania • National Trust of Zimbabwe • Pro Patrimonio Foundation – Rumania

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 Future for Religious Heritage Association


EDITOR Petra Caruana Dingli

DESIGN Ramon Micallef

COVER IMAGE Daniel Cilia - The seventeenth-century Ta' Xutu Tower at Wied iz-Zurrieq. This was the 10th coastal watchtower restored and saved for the nation by Din l-Art Ħelwa. Today it is opened regularly by volunteers.

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 58 - November 2022

our Facebook page and join the group Follow us on Twitter THE DIN L-ART ĦELWA COUNCIL 2021-2023

Industrial Heritage in Use: The Reinforced Concrete Water Tower Conservation Project – Ruben Paul Borg 3

An Art Deco Façade at the Old Brewery Building in Hamrun – Edwin Mintoff 9

The ‘Immaculate Conception’ of the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta, and at Sarria Church in Floriana – Mark Agius, Valentina Lupo, Maria Grazia Zenzari and Sandro Debono 13

A String of Forts Against Enemy Ships: The British Coastal Fortifications of the South-East – Joseph Galea Debono 18

The Restoration of the Manoel Theatre: A Milestone in the Theatre’s History 26

The White Scapular of the Trinitarians: The ‘Nazzarenu’ Image in the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta – Mark Agius, Valentina Lupo, Maria Grazia Zenzari and Jonathan Farrugia 30

A Garden Sketchbook: Villa Frere, an Urban Garden – Matthew Axiak, Karen Muscat and Nadine Zammit 34 Malta’s Rubble Walls for UNESCO – Edward Said 39

Restoration and Conservation Versus Destruction and Construction – Stanley Farrugia Randon 43

A Failure to Respond: The Environment Strategy Misses the Point – Alex Torpiano 46

Restoration Report – Stanley Farrugia Randon 50

Inauguration of Restorations at Sarria Church 52 Short News 54

Dwejra Tower Gets a Facelift 56

From the Din l-Art Ħelwa Archives – George E. Camilleri 57 Vigilo People 58

Vigilo Books 60

Rising Awareness of Malta’s Industrial Heritage: The Din l-Art Ħelwa Awards for Architectural Heritage – May 2022 62

Editor’s Note

The Din l-Art Ħelwa Awards for Architectural Heritage have given recognition and visibility to projects that have made a contribution to Maltese cultural heritage, and to the achievement of architectural excellence in Malta. Through these annual Awards, established in 2005, Din l-Art Ħelwa strives to promote the safeguarding of Malta’s heritage, together with the use of best practice in restoration and conservation. This year, Malta’s industrial heritage was in the spotlight, a field of architectural heritage which is generally underappreciated. In this issue of Vigilo, we are pleased to feature three of this year’s winners of the Awards— the Water Tower in Marsa, the Old Brewery in Hamrun, and the restoration of the Manoel Theatre in Valletta. Two essays present the restoration of artefacts in the Oratory of the Carmelite church in Valletta—the painting of the Immaculate Conception and the ‘Nazzarenu’ statue—while another article describes the British fortifications along the southeast coast of Malta. A group of architecture students visited the gardens of Villa Frere in Pieta, today surrounded by buildings, and they present their reactions in a series of sketches. Two other opinion pieces explain the importance of Malta’s rubble walls, and express disappointment in the new draft environmental strategy. As usual the issue introduces some of our volunteers, takes a look at the archives, and presents news of Din l-Art Ħelwa’s recent activities and a book review.

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Din l-Art Ħelwa thanks all its members for their continued support, in particular those generous sponsors and individuals listed at the back of this issue.

Memberships and donations

u Please remember to renew your subscription to Din l-Art Ħelwa for the coming year.

u Consider upgrading your level of membership to a Life Membership.

u Those of you who have Life Memberships, or are already a Double Life Gold Member, could perhaps consider another generous contribution.

u You can also help by encouraging a member of your family, or a friend, 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


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

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APS        MT02APSB77024000892010892010012 It is very important that your deposit includes name and surname. Or donate directly through our website:
Torri l-Abjad at l-Aħrax, in Mellieħa, by Marika Caruana

Industrial Heritage in Use

The Reinforced Concrete Water Tower Conservation project

The Reinforced Concrete Water Tower conservation project presents a key development in the recovery of industrial heritage in Malta.

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The Reinforced Concrete Water Tower and the Madonna and Child statue after restoration.

This Water Tower was constructed in the 1930s to serve the needs of the Public Abattoir and is the only structure of its type and size in the Maltese Islands.1 The Water Tower consists of a reinforced concrete structure c.15 m high with a c.10 m diameter tank having a capacity of 400 cubic m. The tank consists of a shell structure with a cylindrical drum resting on a truncated conical structure with a dome at the base and ring beams, supported on 12 slender reinforced concrete columns.

The structure continued to serve the needs of the Abattoir for several decades; there were attempts at repair during the 1970s, including the installation of reinforced concrete jackets to the slender columns. The age of the structure, its location in the Grand Harbour, the storage of water with high salinity and other factors, contributed to its degradation, with extensive corrosion of reinforcement and loss of section.

As a result of severe degradation and significant loss of section particularly of the shell structure of the tank, the Water Tower was set for demolition in 2010. The case for the conservation of this unique water tower was presented to the government by the University of Malta, Construction Materials Engineering research group, to reverse plans for its demolition leading to a strategic conservation programme.2

However, due to the extreme degradation of the structure, the project required the development of new materials, technologies, methodologies and engineering solutions in the emerging field of reinforced concrete conservation, which had to be designed specifically for the complex structure. The new technologies had to be designed to respect the original materials and structure, whilst ensuring long term performance of the restored Water Tower.

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The Reinforced Concrete Water Tower before (left) and after (above) restoration.

The project was developed with respect to fundamental principles in conservation

Documentation and detailed appraisal of the structure; Materials authenticity with the development of advanced materials, optimised for application in the water tower structure; Structural optimisation with reference to the original structure and its performance; Reinstatement of original details and form, for the integrity of the structure; Advanced restoration techniques to provide solutions to specific challenges in degradation; Strengthening of the structure using advanced materials: UHPC applied in thin jackets to columns and thin Textile Reinforced Concrete applied to the tank; Re-treatability in view of future interventions, whilst reinstating lost sections and ensuring stability; Legibility of interventions, achieved through the newly developed and optimised materials exploiting innovation in materials engineering, whilst respecting the authenticity of the cement-based materials;

• Structure in service, brought back in operation as an asset, promoting long term use and maintenance;

• Structural health monitoring system supporting longer term performance of the structure.

The complexity of the conservation project and the innovative solutions which had to be developed, required a comprehensive management framework that could ensure the recovery of the industrial heritage monument. The scientific restoration methodology included the investigation of the existing structure through key strategic steps.3 The comprehensive data gathered was required to inform the Water Tower conservation:

• Archival research and documentation of historical records;

• Appraisal of the industrial heritage structure, including the creation of a catalogue of defects and mapping of defects, and the scanning of the structure. The mapping of defects was conducted in four stages to assess the performance over time, between 2009–2019.

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The Water Tower Durability and Structural Health Monitoring System Control Room. The Water Tower filled with water after restoration. Plan and section of the water tower.

The 400 cub.m. water tank consists of thin reinforced concrete cylindrical and conical elements with a dome at the base, resting on twelve slender columns.

Extensive research campaigns were conducted on the materials and structure. These included:

• Non-destructive tests on the structure using advanced techniques. Seventeen different advanced methods were applied, including Ground Penetrating Radar on the structure, ultrasound, eco-impact flaw detection, half-cell corrosion potential, thermal imaging, resistivity;

• Advanced material testing; sampling and extraction of concrete cores and reinforcement and their characterisation. Eleven different advanced methods were applied including compressive strength, depth of carbonation, chloride migration, petrography;

• Testing of steel reinforcement;

• Microtremor investigation before, during, and after restoration, and with the tank empty and full of water.

Numerical structural modelling and scenario testing were exploited to optimise repair and strengthening interventions.4 Finite Element analysis was conducted with respect to the original structure, damaged structure, and the repair and strengthened structure under different actions including wind and seismic action.

The methodologies for restoration were planned depending on specific needs of the structure and its components. New complex techniques for restoration were developed and applied in the restoration project including the reversal of past repair interventions, electrochemical chloride extraction, re-alkalisation of reinforced concrete, epoxy injection and polymer concrete patch repair and the use of corrosion inhibitors, re-integration of the structure using replica materials, strengthening with new ultra-high performance concrete and textile reinforced concrete and improvement of bond between materials using specialist techniques.

The recovery of the structure could only be made possible through specific solutions which had to be developed by the University of Malta, including new advanced materials. Ultrahigh-performance concrete (UHPC) with self-healing and self-compacting properties, based on nano-additives, fibre-reinforced with increased ductility, was developed and tested at the University of Malta.5

The Ultra-high performance concrete was designed with exceptionally high-strength for long term durability performance, based on self-healing additives and nano-additive

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materials (nano-alumina, nano-cellulose and nano-cellulose fibres) through an optimised mix design. The UHPC was then applied and tested on replica columns and eventually applied for the construction of jackets to the columns. Carbon-textile composite reinforced high-performance concrete with self-healing properties was similarly developed and tested on replica tank shell elements for the effective strengthening of the tank.

The research conducted included extensive experimental campaigns in the development and assessment of the mechanical and durability properties of the new materials, their performance with respect to the applications for which these were designed and the assessment of the bond performance when applied onto the existing structure. The new materials and technology developed and optimised in the laboratory, had to be transferred to replica structures and eventually to the water tower structure.

A site production facility was set up, and replica structures were created including columns and shell wall elements to enable the testing of materials and application of technologies on these structures, prior to intervention on the Industrial heritage structure proper.

An advanced sensor network system for monitoring over time was designed, based on durability monitoring including new sensors developed by the University of Malta, structural health monitoring and environmental monitoring.

The advanced system, based on 150 sensors and the monitoring station enables the long-term monitoring of different parts of the structure when in use, ensuring maintenance and timely restoration in the future. The system contributes to conservation, in monitoring the actual restoration interventions and their

effectiveness, whilst serving as an important case for the exploitation of this technology on other heritage structures.

The project presented key challenges in materials engineering and the development of novel ultra-high-performance materials; sensor network systems for advanced structural health monitoring; and advanced restoration technology for degraded concrete industrial heritage structures.

These areas are brought together to address the conservation of the Water Tower, through a new Technology Platform created as a new University of Malta Research and Training Station for the development of advanced materials and sensor systems, structural repair and the conservation of Industrial Heritage structures. To this end, the Government of Malta and the University of Malta entered into a framework agreement for the setting up of the Water Tower Research Centre.

The structure was brought back into operation as industrial heritage in use, following an intense validation exercise through the monitoring of structural behaviour during the filling of the tank. The validation exercise included an analysis of the structural modelling, compared to the actual performance through the monitoring system sensor data during the filling up and emptying operation.

The Water Tower has been reintegrated back in operation as a useful asset within the Public Abattoir facilities for water storage and water management. The project led to improved energy conservation through the use of water with lower consumption of energy in heating and water efficiency.

Embodied energy and carbon have been analysed through a life cycle assessment of ultra-high durability concrete, textile reinforced concrete and the Water Tower restoration. The life cycle inventory is based on primary data and the environmental impact assessment was conducted with respect to impact categories for different life cycle phases.

The Water Tower Conservation project was funded through the ReSHEALience Horizon 2020 project,6 the Public Abattoir, the Government of Malta and the Planning Authority. It was led by Prof. Ruben Paul Borg, Construction Materials Engineering Research Group, Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta.

The Water Tower stands as key representative of the industrial heritage in the Maltese Islands which, until now, has been largely ignored. The structure, which was set

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Validation of the restoration project and structural performance using different monitoring strategies.

for demolition in 2010, has been restored, through advanced engineering solutions, innovation in high-performance materials and sensor systems, with potential for wider applications and interventions in Buildings and Infrastructure in Malta.

The restoration project was recognised at the Malta Architecture and Spatial Planning Awards in 2021. The project was awarded the Prix d’Honneur in Restoration for ‘the outstanding contribution to Maltese Cultural Heritage and the achievement of architectural excellence in Malta’ and also the 2021 Judge Maurice Caruana Curran Award for the best project in all categories, by Din l-Art Ħelwa.

The Sustainable Industrial Heritage Restoration was further awarded the International Energy Globe national award, considered as the most important Awards for Sustainability worldwide, by Energy Globe International in 2022.

The complex restoration led to its Scheduling as a Grade 1 National Monument in 2022, marking a first important step towards a wider appreciation of industrial heritage in the Maltese Islands. n

In the Din l-Art Ħelwa Architectural Awards presented in May 2022, this project received the Prix d’Honneur in Restoration, and the Judge Maurice Caruana Curran Award for the best project in all categories.

Notes: (1) Ruben Paul Borg, 2020, Concrete Heritage: Challenges in Conservation, Symposia Melitensia, Vol. 16, 35–52; Praxis: Applying Theory in Practice, University of Malta Junior College Conference, Malta; (2) Ruben Paul Borg, 2019, Strategy for the restoration of the Reinforced Concrete Water Tower, SBE 19 Malta, Proceedings. International Conference, 21st–22nd November 2019, Proceedings, SBE Malta, ISBN 978-99957-1-612-7, ISBN 978-99957-1-613-4 (ebook); (3) Ruben Paul Borg, 2019, The Appraisal of Reinforced Concrete Heritage Structures, SBE 19 Malta, Proceedings. International Conference, 21st–22nd November 2019, Proceedings, SBE Malta, ISBN 978-99957-1-612-7, ISBN 978-99957-1-613-4 (ebook); (4) Ruben Paul Borg, Liborio Cavaleri, 2019, Structural Assessment of a Reinforced Concrete Water Tower, SBE 19 Malta, Proceedings. International Conference, 21st–22nd November 2019, Proceedings, SBE Malta, ISBN 978-999571-612-7, ISBN 978-99957-1-613-4 (ebook); (5) Ruben Paul Borg, 2019, The Mechanical and Durability Performance of Ultra High Durability Concrete, SBE 19 Malta, Proceedings. International Conference, 21st–22nd November 2019, Proceedings, SBE Malta, ISBN 978-99957-1-612-7, ISBN 978-99957-1-613-4 (ebook); (6) ReSHEALience Horizon 2020 Project Ultra High Durability Concrete,, (accessed 1st March 2022).

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Ruben Paul Borg is associate professor at the Department of Construction and Property Management at the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. The Water tower listed as a Grade 1 national monument, aligned with the nineteenth-century gate at the Abattoir



at the Old Brewery Building in Ħamrun

This building is an old brewery with frontage on Farsons Street and St Cajetan Street in Ħamrun. The workers quarters were located on St Cajetan Street, and the original brewery was located in Farsons Street. The building complex was left in a state of disrepair, abandoned and unsafe, a place where vagrants would enter to engage in anti-social behaviour, with areas where the original structural integrity of the building had been lost and much of the stone had been left untreated and thus had severely deteriorated.

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Parts of the building were missing and many of the original apertures had been closed over the years, thus rendering the original volume distorted and unsymmetrical. Other unsanctioned alterations carried out over the last fifty years, including the formation of new openings besides the closing of the original openings, further served to mutilate the original architectural rhythm of the building. It was an eyesore for the Ħamrun inhabitants and a perilous place to enter.

EM Architects began researching this building in 2005 and, through a new design, the building was rehabilitated and transformed into a mixed-use complex consisting of commercial offices, shops and residential units. It was comprehensively completed in 2021. The commercial aspect of the development is in keeping with the building’s original commercial use, producing revenue, and attracting people to this area in Ħamrun known to locals as ‘TalKanun’. The new residential units, that is the terraced houses constructed, are behind the old brewery building and the original flour mill however their impact on the existing building façades had to be taken into consideration to ensure that the existing historical façades would not be overshadowed.

The history of this building begins in the late nineteenth century when two brothers, Luigi and Paolo Farrugia, purchased the land and then constructed what was originally a flour mill. This flour mill began production in around 1892. The ‘Tal-Kanun’ area of Ħamrun began to recognise the production of this mill and the street was later officially named as ‘Strada Pastificio’. One of the brothers, Paolo, retired in 1913 and the mill then became known as the ‘Roller Flour Mill’. A drawing drafted in 1914, found in the Works Department, shows the location of the original flour mill. Unfortunately, the original flour mill was burnt down in 1919 during the Sette Guigno riots, and the original structure was destroyed due to the work of arsonists.

The descendants of the two brothers did not wish to re-construct the premises as a mill, however Lewis Farrugia, one of the sons of Luigi, decided to instead transform the site into a brewery. Lewis Farrugia was one of the first architects to graduate in Malta in 1925 and he embarked on an enterprising venture to design the new brewery building himself. The building was completed in 1927, and in the following year the first Farsons beer was distributed in Malta, in the location of Qormi.

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Perit Lewis Farrugia

The brewery façade presents an example of Maltese Art Deco architecture, in particular in the geometrical ornamentation around the apertures of the building. Of particular interest is the size of the apertures, as due to the utilisation of steel beams, apertures of increased width could be constructed on the site.

The new brewery grew due to the company’s success, and was built according to the design of Perit Farrugia. During the Second World War the brewery’s production was increased due to the presence of serviceman in Malta. Many offices were shifted to Ħamrun during the war due to the extensive bombing experience within Malta’s capital city, and Ħamrun became a hub of commercial activity. The surrounding roads where then labelled as ‘Triq Farsons’ and ‘Triq il-Birrerija’, a clear example of the importance of this building and its commercial activities. Due to the company’s success and due to the merger between the existing company and Marquis John Scicluna’s Malta Export Brewery, new premises were built in Mriehel, again designed by Perit Farrugia.

As parts of the building were built at different times, the façades are not the same. The part of the elevation to the north, that of the old flour mill façade, presents a less ornamental façade, showing an example of Maltese pragmatic architecture, with simple openings devoid of excessive decoration. This contrasts with the façade of the brewery built later, and the courses between the two façades do not match each other in height. The façade of the brewery was built later, at the beginning of a particularly interesting time of design in Malta, due to the emerging Art Deco phase in the Maltese architectural landscape.

The brewery façade presents an example of Maltese Art Deco architecture, in particular in the geometrical ornamentation around the apertures of the building. Of particular interest is the size of the apertures, as due to the utilisation of steel beams, apertures of

increased width could be constructed on the site. As Perit Farrugia studied in Milan, he may have been influenced by Italian architectural trends of the time, which is why metal roller shutters were placed within the windows of the Brewery building, as were then being used in Italy. The façade and the interesting voids created by the apertures shown clear, bold geometric proportions and in particular the cornices were constructed in a cantilevering fashion so as to cast a thick shadow behind.

The brewery façade was also very interesting for its time due to the construction of a fourstorey vat tower which quickly became a new landmark within the area. However, despite its clear commercial unit, Perit Farrugia added ornamentation around this tower to produce a more homogenous design with the surrounding residential units of the time.

Our design began with analysing the past history as well as the current situation of the area, to ensure that the restoration of such buildings would also accelerate the urban regeneration of the area. The rehabilitation of the building had to serve not only the building’s future users but also the residents of Ħamrun. Within our design, it was important to respect the original maximum height of the building. This is why the additional floors constructed were set back from the original building façade and the completed street façade height is lower than the original four-storey tower. Through EM Architect’s design, the building was brought back to life with a new purpose, to serve the residents of Ħamrun in a different way, by providing both residential and commercial units. We wanted

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not only restore the building but to rehabilitate it. We wanted to accommodate commercial units besides residential units to provide a connection between the original commercial use of the building and its present one.

The main guiding philosophy behind the design decisions and alterations taken was that of harnessing the historical character of the site as the true designer. The industrial nature of the building directly stems from its use and is reflected in its materials and construction method. EM Architects sought to continue with this same sentiment through an implementation of contemporary materials which reflect the technology and construction methods of our time. As shown in our approved plans, the existing four-storey tower was retained on site and restored, and now serves a different commercial use, as offices and ancillary facilities such as meeting rooms. Any divisions within the four-storey tower were done in gypsum to ensure that these were visually distinguishable and also reversable.

The restoration was a long and laborious process as the façades themselves have suffered severe stone deterioration, in particular due to the excessive passing traffic and car fumes, compounded with lack of regular maintenance. Both elevations exhibited severe biological

patina staining especially at the roof boundary wall (opramorta), severe cracking of the existing masonry elements, many non-historic inserts inserted into the building façade and alveolar weathering. Much of the original stone at the very bottom of the pavement, that is closest to the pavement, was severely flaking and the existing stone showed exfoliation, growth of black crust and the application of cement rendering over the years. Oil paint had been applied to the existing stone, especially below the existing first floor apertures and the stone directly underneath the existing stone cantilevering overhang beneath the stone boundary wall (opramorta) showed severe powdering. Some elements were found to be completely eroded.

Prior to the commencement of civil works on site, much thought was given to the construction methodology to ensure that the existing building’s historic fabric was safeguarded. Therefore the new civil works could only be carried out whilst ensuring the preservation of the existing building façade and in particular the tower façade. In fact, many parts of the façade itself showed cracking and movement cracks could be seen in various parts of the old mill façade. Unfortunately, as the building had been abandoned for many years, unauthorised people were entering the building and committing acts of vandalism, including graffiti being sprayed in various parts of the building including on the original building façade. n

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Edwin Mintoff is an architect and civil engineer. He holds a doctorate in the field of architecture and urban design.
as the building had been abandoned for many years, unauthorised people were entering the building and committing acts of vandalism, including graffiti being sprayed in various parts of the building including on the original façade.

The ‘Immaculate Conception’ of the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta, and at Sarria Church in Floriana

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Mark Agius, Valentina Lupo , Maria Grazia Zenzani and Sandro Debono

One of the most important treasures of the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta is the Immaculate Conception by Giuseppe D’Arena.

This was originally on the ceiling (mounted as a sotto in su painting) of the Old Oratory, and originally it was oval shaped. When the Oratory was moved to its present location in 1895, after the elevation of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the status of Minor Basilica,1 the shape of the painting was changed to quadrilateral.

Giuseppe D’Arena (c.1643–1719) was the son of Matteo and Appolonia, and his birth is registered in the archives of the Porto Salvo parish church in Valletta. As a painter he was known as ‘il-Romano’, perhaps because he had spent a lot of time in Rome. He married Olympia, daughter of the painter Silvestro Querio, in 1666 and he had three sons. When Olympia died in 1681, he married Theresa Mancini in 1685.2

For some time D’Arena lived in Old Mint Street (Strada Zekka) in Valletta, opposite the Carmelite church, and during this time he painted the Immaculate Conception for the Oratory of the Confraternity of Our Lady

of Mount Carmel.2 He was the rector of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1712.3 The painting of the Immaculate Conception was not the only painting that he executed for the Oratory. There also were the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ and the ‘Adoration of the Wise Men’, which featured as postage stamps in 1986.4, 5, 6 These two paintings are now on either side of the main altar of the Basilica. D’Arena died in 1719, after a long illness which left him blind, and he was buried in the Carmelite church in Valletta, which he had served so faithfully.2

Giuseppe D’Arena was a pupil of Mattia Preti, and he acquired Preti’s style and techniques.2 This leads us to compare his Immaculate Conception, to Mattia Preti’s Immaculate Conception at Sarria church in Floriana, a beautiful small church containing seven paintings by Preti.7, 8 Mattia Preti was born in 1613 in Calabria. He became a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John in 1660, and remained in Malta until his death in 1699.7, 8 The Sarria church that exists today, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is thought to have been designed by Preti himself, after the 1675 plague epidemic in Malta.7, 8

The Immaculate Conception by Mattia Preti at Sarria church in Floriana, and (left) a detail of the painting.

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The altarpiece at Sarria church depicts the Immaculate Conception with angels sheltering their swords after defeating the plague of 1675. The painting illustrates victory over the plague, and of good over evil. On either side of the Virgin Mary, angels are seen sheathing their swords to show that the plague was over. Malta had lost a third of its population during this plague epidemic, which was considered to be a punishment from Heaven. The Virgin Mary, as the intercessor, stands surrounded by angels over a background of boats ferrying the sick from Lazaretto to Valletta. Above her, God the Father and the Holy Spirit (represented by the white dove) look down at the triumph of good over evil. 7, 8

In the Sarria painting, the Virgin Mary stands on a half-moon as described in the woman of the Apocalypse, and she surmounts the devil painted as a monstrous animal. Similarly, D’Arena’s painting of the Immaculate Conception has the devil represented as a grotesque human being, beneath the moon on

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In 2021, the Archconfraternity decided to embark on a much needed conservation and restoration project for the painting.
Above: The Immaculate Conception by Giuseppe D'Arena at the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta. Before restoration (left) and after restoration (right)

which the Virgin Mary stands. In this painting, God the Father and the Holy Spirit are not shown. The angels are putti and do not carry swords, and they are naked. It is a much more joyful composition than the Sarria version, without the tension of the plague. However the influence of Preti is clearly present in the D’Arena painting, with the teacher’s influence helping the pupil to develop a beautiful painting for his beloved Confraternity.

Conserving the painting at the Oratory

In 2021, the Archconfraternity decided to embark on a much needed conservation and restoration project for the painting, and the established conservation company Atelier del Restauro Ltd was entrusted with the work. The painting was transferred to the company’s laboratory where, as a first step, observations and visual investigations of the painting were carried out in order to evaluate the painting’s manufacturing technique and its state of conservation especially using raking and ultra-violet light.

D’Arena used a reddish preparatory layer typical of the eighteenth century, however it is interesting to note that this layer was left visible and cleverly used by the artist for the midtones. This is seen especially in the tunic of the Virgin. This specialised technique was widely used by important artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Mattia Preti.

While the canvas was found to be in a fairly good state of preservation, superficial deposits, such as atmospheric particles, insect droppings and other substances, were found on the entire surface of the painting. In particular, a drop of wax was observed on the lower side, probably resulting from the candles that were placed under it in the past. This layer, together with the oxidised varnish coating, darkens the general appearance of the painting and obscures the original tonality and aesthetic qualities of the work.

In addition, it was evident that several areas of the painting were repainted during a later intervention, or interventions. Most notable was the Virgin’s tunic, most of which was found to be completely painted. The preparatory layers and the paint film were found to be affected by a network of cracks resulting from mechanical damage, particularly present along the edges of the auxiliary frame and its crossbars.

Abrasion and loss of paint and preparatory layer were also noted during preliminary observations. The original canvas is made of two pieces of canvas sewn together in the middle. Due to its good condition it was decided not to dismantle the painting from the stretcher frame. The varnish darkened over time and changed the aesthetic appearance to a dark one, flattening the three-dimensional volumes of the faces of the Virgin and the angels and the background, and thus completely transforming the legibility of the paint layer.

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Giuseppe D’Arena was a pupil of Mattia Preti, and he acquired Preti’s style and techniques. This leads us to compare his Immaculate Conception, to Mattia Preti’s Immaculate Conception at Sarria church in Floriana, a beautiful small church containing seven paintings by Preti.

The cleaning process was a meticulous and laborious task that included softening and removing the varnish and overpaintings using a solvent-based gel applied for a set amount of time in order to safeguard the original polychromy and the patina of time. Thick coating accumulations including layers of dust and dirt were removed manually using small blades. Thanks to the cleaning done, it was possible to appreciate the original tones, which the artist had used such as the vibrant blue colour of the tunic. For the cleaning intervention, different gels were formulated in our laboratory, which allowed the full control and efficacy of the cleaning treatment. Several layers of different stucco were found that had different compositions. These were the result of various interventions from the past. During their removal it was found that some of these infills were also covering details of the original paint layer. During the cleaning intervention it was very important to respect the original patina of the painting.

The lacunae were then filled using gesso di Bologna. The last phase of the restoration intervention involved the aesthetic reintegration of the painting. The painting was then retouched using varnish colours used specifically for conservation. Finally, the painting was protected with a conservation grade varnish.

All conservation and restoration treatments were carried out according to ethical principles for the protection and preservation of a work of art. The projects required many hours of very detailed work, made entirely to address the artwork not only from an aesthetic but also from a materials point of view.

In a separate project spearheaded by Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Mattia Preti painting at Sarria church was also recently restored. With the restoration of the D’Arena Painting in the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the similarities between the master and the pupil’s work can now both be admired as the painters would have wished. n

Notes: (1) M. Agius, J. Farrugia and C. Pace, ‘The Arch-Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and its Oratory in Valletta’, Vigilo, (Din l-Art Helwa, 2016), pp.46–48; (2) ‘Iconography in Maltese Churches’; (3) G. Bonello, ‘The Confraternity of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel 1622–2014’, Programm talFesta, Festa tal-Madonna tal-Karmnu, Valletta, pp. 27–35; (4) stamp/11548-Epiphany_by_Giuseppe_DArena-Christmas_1986_Paintings_by_Giuseppe_ DArena_1633-1719-Malta; (5); (6) malta-1986-christmas-paintings-by-giuseppe-darena-set--fine-mint-85433-p.asp; (7) https://; (8) Adriana Bishop, ‘An Inside Look at Sarria Church, Floriana’,

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The Immaculate Conception by Giuseppe D’Arena undergoing restoration.


In parallel with the project of the Northwest Front, in the last three decades of the nineteenth century the British embarked on another extensive one on the south-east shores all the way from the Grand Harbour to Marsaxlokk Bay. The ever-increasing importance of Malta as a staging post to the East after the opening of the Suez Canal necessitated an improvement in the security of its harbours. The constant improvement in naval artillery for shore bombardment gave rise to the improvement of the existing defences, and the erection of new forts and batteries to deter such attacks from enemy ships lying offshore.

In recent months, in the company of Professor Anthony Bonanno, I visited the whole string of forts in the area, noting their present use and condition and regrettably observing their misuse and degradation since they were abandoned by the military authorities in the second half of the twentieth century.

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The area covered in this article

Fort Ricasoli

Lying astride the entrance to the Grand Harbour, it was evident that the British would give priority to the modernisation of Fort Ricasoli which had been built by the Order of St John in the seventeenth century. The Fort had acquired a measure of notoriety way back in 1807, when a regiment of mercenaries under Colonel Froberg had mutinied and threated to blow up one of its magazines, a threat that they had carried out before being forced to capitulate. The 140-year-old cannon mounted on the seaward and land fronts of the Fort’s bastions and curtains were gradually substituted by heavier muzzle loading guns protected and enclosed by casemates and armour-plated shields, which gave

altered profile in places.

With the development of the more effective and quick-firing breach-loading artillery coming on stream, the older rifled-muzzle loading (RML) guns were substituted

6-inch BL guns. Some of the old guns were dumped into the sea below their erstwhile emplacements and can still be seen today in Heritage Malta’s Underwater Virtual Museum. Later, four 12-pounder quick firing (QF) guns were added. None of these new guns, however, saw any action during the First World War.

I visited the whole string of forts in the area, noting their present use and condition and regrettably observing their misuse and degradation

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the Fort a somewhat by The rebuilt Baroque main gateway at Ricasoli Double-barrelled 6-pounder quickfiring gun Circular concrete emplacement for 6-pounder gun at Fort Ricasoli

Perhaps the Fort’s finest hour was at the crack of dawn on 26th July 1941 when its three doublebarreled 6-pounder QF guns added their fire power against the attacking Italian ‘barchini’ (fast small power boats with an explosive device at the bow) which had attempted to penetrate the harbour to sink the ships of an important convoy which had arrived on the previous day. These modern guns had been installed just before the Second World War to compliment similar ones installed on nearby Fort St Elmo. They were manned by officers and men of the 1st Coast Regiment Royal Malta Artillery, who gave a good account of themselves in repelling the attack.

These guns were installed in circular concrete emplacements housing chambers for ready expense ammunition, and were encased in a protective iron turret. Close by each of these three emplacements for ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ turrets rose a tall concrete fire-control director tower. These still survive today as landmarks on the Fort’s profile although their condition has sadly deteriorated due to exposure to the salty environment. Indeed, most of the seaward ramparts of the Fort are in a state of dilapidation and parts face the risk of collapse into the waters below the crumbling cliff edges.

Lying in a prime target area for over thirty months, the Fort suffered considerable damage from aerial bombardment. Its Baroque main gateway and the Governor’s house behind it were obliterated. The former was rebuilt after the war. The latter was not.

In recent years the Fort was repeatedly used by filming companies and this has also put new pressures on this iconic historical site. Broken props or their remains litter some parts of the Fort and its massive parade ground, and although over the course of the last couple of years restoration works have been undertaken on the casemated battery on No. 1 Curtain, parts of St Dominic Counterguard and St Dominic Demi-bastion, much more needs to be done. Besides, the fact that the ditches and open spaces between the outer ravelins and the main bastions on the land front are still taken up by huge oil tanks servicing the tank-cleaning farm, which was built beside the Fort in the 1960s, apart from the all-pervading pungent smell of oil products, really debases the status of this Fort.

Rinella Battery

By contrast, Rinella Battery, a couple of hundred metres south-east of Fort Ricasoli, is indeed a gem of restoration and valorisation, due to the professional care of the NGO Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, headed by that indomitable conservator Mario Farrugia. This one-gun battery houses the 100-ton Armstrong gun which luckily survived a British Army order to scrap all heavy coastal artillery in the mid-1950s, simply because at the time the site was serving as a depot for the Royal Navy.

But prior to the handing over of the Fort to the Fondazzjoni in the 1990s, the group ‘Teenagers Din l-Art Ħelwa’ in the late 1960s and early seventies used to hold regular summer camps there, led by university history lecturer Roger Vella Bonavita and his wife Judith. I have it from Din l-Art Ħelwa Council Member Ann Gingell Littlejohn, a former treasurer of Teenagers Din l-Art Ħelwa and eventually a group leader, that groups of some twenty youngsters would live in the

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Concrete fire-control director tower under restoration 3D graphic simulation of Fort Rinella (courtesy of Dr Stephen C. Spiteri)

Above: The contraption devised to transport the 100-ton gun from Rinella Bay to the Fort

Above right: The restored 17.72-inch, 100-ton gun

Fort and spend their time cleaning up the gun, the ditch and the area around the Fort. At one stage they even obtained a sponsorship from Malta Film Facilities and managed to have the gun sandblasted by the Drydocks.

The need for the construction of this unique fort came about after Italy had ordered 100-ton guns from Armstrong in Great Britain to mount on their newly built Duilio class of battleships. This constituted a grave threat to the security of Grand Harbour as these naval guns would have completely out-ranged the guns in the existing coastal forts at the time. In 1876 Britain purchased four such guns and two were assigned to the defence of Malta and the other two for Gibraltar. The operation of these huge guns necessitated the construction of a purpose-built complex built around them on either side of the entrance to the harbour , one on the coast near Fort Tigné and the other one at Rinella on the outskirts of Kalkara.

This battery was completed in 1884 and was built around its sole 17.72 inch, 100-ton Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) gun in an open barbette emplacement. The battery was surrounded by a ditch 7 metres wide, which in turn contained three caponiers and a counter-scarp gallery. The Fort’s main entrance was reached through a curved cutting in its landward facing glacis and over a Gutherie rolling bridge which could be withdrawn into the main entrance in case of attack from landward.

The actual transportation of the enormous gun from the Dockyard on barges to Rinella Bay, up the hill to the ridge on the Fort Ricasoli side and then on to its place within the Fort was a massive operation in itself; considering that no modern heavy-lift vehicles and cranes existed at the time. Still the Royal Engineers were not deterred and they excogitated efficient contraptions by which the gun could be lifted and transported to its destination.

The shell weighed 1968 pounds and left the gun at a muzzle velocity of 1,548 feet per second at a rate of fire of one round every four minutes. It had a maximum range of some 6,800 yards. The loading, traversing and elevation of the gun required the application of hydraulic and steam power and a video clip screened for visitors in the Fort’s lecture hall, clearly explains how all these complicated movements were carried out. Efforts are underway by Fondazzjoni to restore part, if not all, of this elaborate hydraulic mechanism. The gun is occasionally fired on the Fort’s open days using a blank charge and once I had the opportunity to press the firing button setting off the electrically operated detonation.

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The orderly and manicured entrance to Fort Rinella

The Fort was also protected against an attack from its landward side by musketry loopholes in the iron shutters of the windows flanking the garrison accommodation quarters as well as from loopholes on the parapet on the roof of these quarters facing the land front. These quarters have now been converted into a walk-through pictorial museum of Victorian arms, accoutrements and memorabilia in well organised display showcases. It is a pleasure to walk through, and one must be prepared to dedicate some time to be able to appreciate all the exhibits and absorb all the information.

Regular re-enactments by soldiers in various kinds of Victorian period uniforms and drill exercises are held. Battle scenes and Cavalry exercises in the open area adjacent to the Fort are held on special open days to the delight of visitors, young and old. Indeed, the professional efforts of this non-governmental organisation to restore, preserve and display this military establishment are indeed laudable and an example to be followed.

Fort St Rocco

The original Fort St Rocco was completed by 1878, six years after works had started on the higher ground to the south-east of Fort Rinella. It had a fan-shaped plan with a detached square keep on its landward side. Three 12.5-inch 38-ton Rifled Muzzle Loading guns constituted its coastal armament. But come 1900 further works were undertaken to build a much larger complex and these were completed by 1905, removing practically all the previous structures, except for part of the enceinte and ditch.

New armament was installed consisting of three 9.2-inch Breach loading, Mark X guns in open barbette concrete mountings each with its underground magazines. On the seaward side, below the gun emplacements, there was a wide ditch which extended to the flanks of the Fort. The landward side was protected by a high wall built with ashlar blocks next to which were built three barrack blocks. A perimeter machine-gun bunker or blockhouse was built on the southern extremity of the site. Other barrack buildings were built on the centre of the enclosure, one of them containing the fire control bunker on the second-storey level accessible from a flight of steps.

According to Dr Stephen Spiteri, author of various books on Malta’s fortifications, before the outbreak of the Second World War the 9.2-inch guns were dismantled and their emplacements concreted in. They were replaced by three 6-inch Mark V breach loading guns in newly constructed emplacements. The Fort was manned by officers and men of the 1st Coast Regiment of the Royal Malta Artillery. During the sea-borne attack of the ‘barchini’ mentioned above, these guns engaged and damaged one of the supporting vessels at a range of some 10,000 metres.

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underground tunnel
to one of the caponiers of the Fort
Aerial view of Fort St Rocco One of the circular gun emplacements at Fort St Rocco
Prior to the handing over of Fort Rinella to the Fondazzjoni in the 1990s, the group ‘Teenagers Din l-Art Ħelwa’ in the late 1960s and early seventies used to hold regular summer camps there

In 1958 the Fort had another change in its armament when, like Fort Benghajsa, it received three 5.25-inch dual role High Angle / Low Angle

coastal defence. These however did not last long in

At present the Fort, which is not easy to access, seems to be used as a sort of store for film facilities as a number of disused cine props lie strewn along its main open space. The concrete emplacements for the guns on elevated higher ground provide a very good vantage point of the sea approaches to the harbours to the northwest. Very close by to the south-east however, there is extensive ground disturbance resulting from excavations connected to the Smart City project and dumping of earth is also taking place between the Fort’s glacis and the seashore, rendering this erstwhile pristine stretch of coastline a veritable eyesore.

Delle Grazie Battery

The next military post along the south-east

coast is to be found on the outskirts of the urban sprawl of Xgħajra located in between Fort St Rocco and Fort Leonardo. It lies about two miles to the east of the Grand Harbour close to the site of the Santa Maria Delle Grazie Tower built by the Order of St John in 1620. This Tower had to be demolished so as not to limit the field of fire of the new guns of the new British Battery.

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guns adaptable both for anti-aircraft fire and situ as the Fort was soon de-commissioned. Steps to Command Post The 5.25-inch dual purpose (coastal & anti-aircraft) gun Caponier at Fort St Rocco The sad state of Fort St Rocco Aerial view of Delle Grazie Battery

Work on this site began in 1888 and was completed by March 1893. It was constructed in the shape of an elongated hexagon with four open barbette emplacements for two 6-inch and two 10-inch breach loading guns mounted on disappearing carriages. The four emplacements each had their underground magazine from which shells and cartridges were hoisted by davits on mechanical trays. The 10-inch guns fired a shell weighing 500 pounds which could penetrate 25.4 inches of armour plate. The 6-inch guns fired a shell weighing 78.44 pounds which could penetrate 10.5 inches of armour.

The Battery is entered from a parking space for the village’s school through an infilled causeway crossing the ditch. This causeway has musketry loopholes in the masonry walls on either side. Past this, one comes to a small building which used to serve as a guardroom and stores and now houses the premises of the Xgħajra Local Council.

The Battery is surrounded by a deep rock-cut dry ditch in which two bulbous shaped caponiers with bomb-proof domed roofs are located at the front right and left corners of the ditch on the seaward side covering that entire length of the front as well as both flanks of the ditch for enfilade fire.

In the early years of the twentieth century all the guns were dismantled and the Battery started being used as a military depot. By the Second World War, the Battery was used to house a searchlight and a sound locator. The searchlight, when not in use during daylight hours, was kept in a garage-like structure. The sound locator was built on the traverse which separates the erstwhile gun positions from the place of arms, and is characterised by a rectangular structure with sloping concave walls intended to deflect wind and external sounds from the sound locator equipment.

Infantry units of the Dorsetshire Regiment, stationed in the vicinity, made use of the Battery for the administration of the various beach posts in the area. After the war, the Battery was used as a depot by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps until it was handed over to the Malta Government in 1965. It then was used as a cattle farm and sustained considerable damage through fires and demolition of structures.

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Armoured gate at entrance to Delle Grazie Battery The loopholed causeway beyond the gate A bulbous domed caponier in the Delle Grazie Battery’s ditch Steps to underground magazine

While most Maltese are somewhat aware and appreciative of the fortifications built during the time of the Order of St John, there is far less concern and attention paid to the extensive fortifications built during the British period

Fortunately, on the initiative of the Xgħajra Local Council, the Battery was taken over with a view to its restoration and part of it started being used as the offices of the Local Council. Volunteers of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna started on a project of cleaning the site and in particular the area of the gun positions. Some work seems to have been undertaken. However, what was intended to serve as an open space for visitors with the active assistance of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, has somewhat degenerated and a lot of discarded material lay dumped in the gun positions and the open spaces behind them as seen during a visit some months ago. Evidently, Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna had long ceased to be involved in the project, which is a great pity.

While most Maltese are somewhat aware and appreciative of the fortifications built during the time of the Order of St John, there is far less concern and attention paid to the extensive fortifications built during the British period, even though these were built by our own skilled forefathers with primitive tools and under difficult social and economic conditions and in spite of the fact that these defences stood us in good stead in the hour of danger in the first half of the last century. They certainly deserve better. n

SOURCES: The One Hundred Ton Gun (Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna); Denis Rollo, The Guns and Gunners of Malta (Mondial, 1999); James Quentin Hughes, Fortress: Architecture and Military History in Malta (Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, 1969); James Quentin Hughes, Malta, A Guide to the Fortifications (Said, 1993); Stephen C. Spiteri, The Knights’ Fortifications (1989); Stephen C. Spiteri, The British Fortifications (1991); Stephen C. Spiteri, British Military Architecture in Malta (1996); Stephen C. Spiteri and E. Formica, Fortress Malta 360 (Miranda Publishers, 2007); Stephen C. Spiteri, The Fortifications of Malta (BDL, 2017).

Joseph Galea Debono is a retired judge. He graduated in Modern European and Maltese history from the Royal University of Malta and has a special interest in Maltese military history. He has authored various publications on the subject in local and international media.

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Second World War sound locator Gun emplacement Interior of sound locator


A milestone in the theatre’s history

The rehabilitation of the Manoel Theatre was initiated in the late 1990s by the Manoel Theatre Management Committee and led by AP Valletta up to completion. The master plan focused on improving the theatre facilities and developing and diversifying the cultural activities that it houses, while simultaneously aiming to lend a new public image to the theatre, with a view to increase its external legibility and emphasise its importance, both locally and internationally.

The Manoel Theatre and its annexes are situated in the heart of Valletta. The annexes, which consist of a series of eighteenth-century houses abutting the theatre party walls, were acquired at various stages of its history with the intent to use them to house activities associated with the theatre functions.

In the late 1990s, the theatre embarked on a refurbishment and expansion programme on the basis of the master plan that had been formulated, which added a new bar and foyer fitted into the neighbouring courtyard of

Palazzo Bonici, covered with an innovative retractable roof. The projects also included the creation of a theatre museum, the reallocation and redesign of the ticket booking offices, the creation and fitting out of a specialised book and record shop, as well as the insertion of three studio apartments for visiting artists.

Over the years, AP Valletta was also entrusted with several restoration interventions and, more recently, with the installation of a new climate-control system in the Baroque auditorium, which was itself restored to its

Top photos

Left: Site photo showing the state of the Manoel Theatre's façade prior to intervention

Middle: The restored façade of Teatru Manoel

Right: Detail of the restored capitals.

Photos by Guillaume Dreyfuss

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intervention, completed in 2021, included the restoration of the external façade on Old Theatre Street. The reconstruction was carried out following an indepth study and analysis of the original façade drawings and proportions, as drawn in the Cabreo de Vilhena

original layout, with the seating in the stalls reformed to remove the central aisle and reintroduce the parterre boxes along the sides. This new seating aims at recreating the intimacy typical of the original eighteenth-century Baroque theatre as documented on historical drawings. The project was concluded with the restoration of the façade and main entrance. Currently, the administrative block and ticket office, together with public amenities, a new foyer and VIP room, are being refurbished under the guidance of AP Valletta.

“One of the most fulfilling emotions that comes with intervening on heritage buildings like Teatru Manoel is the sense that history is being created as you work”, said AP’s executive director Konrad Buhagiar. “While the columns were being installed on the façade, for example, my colleagues from the office and I were clearly sharing the same thought: this moment is a milestone for the history of the theatre and we have the privilege of being part of it”, he added.

The theatre has been modified several times to adapt to new performance requirements, as well as to reflect various economic and cultural realities. Yet it has managed to preserve most of its initial qualities, making it one of the oldest surviving Baroque theatres. Today’s project inscribes itself in this historical continuum and strives to maintain the balance between the preservation of the theatre’s rich heritage and its necessary transformation, to reflect contemporary values and uses. The architectural challenge was to ensure the successful cohabitation of the monument with its functions as a live performance space.

“Preliminary in-depth research was crucial for the success of the project” added AP’s director of research Guillaume Dreyfuss. “The positive outcome of the restoration and refurbishment of the theatre is also the outcome of the quality of the work executed, as well as from the aesthetic merit of the project itself and its historical value’.

Left: Prospetto del teatro, Cabreo Vilhena, 1734, National Library of Malta, Valletta (Treasury Series B, 310)

Right: Historical photo of the Manoel Theatre's façade, 1970s

Right: Site photo showing the state of the portico's state of deterioration prior to intervention

Photo - AP Valletta

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To consolidate the documentation of the historical evolution of this building, BIM Technology is being used to record both the transformation of the theatre, as well as to store historical information. The BIM model has been designed to include the different stages of the theatre’s architectural development from 1732 to 2021, incorporating evidence gathered from historical drawings and photographs as well as data gathered during site investigations and restoration works. The 3D dynamic model can be used to highlight any transformation phase or building elements and acts as a link to a database of information gathered by AP Valletta over the years; showing the theatre as it was originally constructed, and how it has been transformed throughout its history. The ability to capture building data and information, and store it in a central database, is crucial to ensure a long-term sustainable approach when dealing with a heritage building such as Teatru Manoel.

In 2017–2018 a climate control system was installed to stabilise the temperature and relative humidity within the theatre, and ensure that fluctuations are controlled, for the constant preservation of the historic fabric. The system was designed for the optimal temperature and relative humidity of the various historical building components, stabilising it to limit the expansion and contraction of such materials, which would otherwise encourage their deterioration. The project also included the redesign of the platea, restoring it to its original layout and reintroducing the parterre boxes, as depicted in the plans found in the Cabreo de Vilhena

Several restoration exercises were carried out within the theatre over the past decades. The latest intervention, completed in 2021, included the restoration of the external façade on Old Theatre Street. The reconstruction was carried out following an in-depth study and

analysis of the original façade drawings and proportions, as drawn in the Cabreo de Vilhena, together with a series of investigations on the physical fabric of the façade and additional analysis of multiple historical documents. The intervention philosophy aimed at reestablishing the visual legibility of the theatre façade with a reconstruction of window mouldings and cornices, together with the ground floor portion of the façade.

The reconstruction was carried out using local stone of double-course heights, cut using CNC technology, making the reconstruction distinguishable to future generations. Furthermore, a new balcony was installed including railing in a threelayered wrought iron system, fragmenting the original balustrade visual as a contemporary reinterpretation. The façade reinstatement was completed with the restoration of existing timber apertures, the creation of new timber works for the re-shaped openings and the installation of new marble thresholds, incorporating the ‘Teatru Manoel’ branding within the main door.

To ensure the preservation of the theatre’s historical fabric and to allow the extension of the performance season to the summer months, a climate control system was designed and installed in 2017–2018, following multiple campaigns of monitoring of the internal environment. The hybrid system uses both low-velocity air vents as well as water-cooled elements and radiant panels. This ensures the stability of the environmental conditions at all levels within the theatre, together with a reduced energy consumption despite the large volumes being controlled. The project was designed to be implemented across the entire theatre, including auditorium, individual boxes, stage, orchestra pit, VIP room and circulation spaces. It required multiple

Above: Architectural elevation drawing showing the Manoel Theatre street context - AP Valletta

Below: Site photo showing a the state of the pilaster pedestal prior to intervention - AP Valletta

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Executive Director: Konrad Buhagiar

Restoration: Guillaume Dreyfuss, Charlene Jo Darmanin, Elena Zammit, Nigel Degaetano

Architecture: Edward Cuschieri, Guglielmo Avallone

Interior Design: Rory Apap Brown, Francesco Gerbaudi, Sarah Jane Bilocca

Structural Engineering: Joseph Calleja, Mario Pace, Jurgen Vassallo

Above: Detail of the restored portico of Teatru Manoel - AP Valletta, Left: Interior view of the restored platea - AP Valletta

elements to answer the specific needs of each space considering the height of the internal volumes as well as their physical configuration and operation and included the insertion of buffer zones to minimise the impact of outdoor conditions and to ensure a holistic approach.

Key lighting elements of the performance spaces including stage lights were replaced with more efficient technology to reduce heat generation and energy consumption. Furthermore, all components installation was mapped out against the historical fabric prior to the start of the works and their location optimised to allow for a careful integration within the heritage building.

Although studied and considered, the introduction of photovoltaic panels was not implemented due to the reduced roof area available and the sensibility of the context, located within Valletta’s Area of High Landscape Value. The hybrid climate-control system is however designed to operate throughout the day and all year round, constantly monitored by a series of environmental sensors strategically located around the theatre, and using digital control based on various occupancy levels and scenarios. The new architectural lighting incorporated was designed to minimise night pollution and solely uses LED technology to ensure low electrical requirements. n

Other participants:

Vaults Co. Ltd - Stonework

Lloyd Darmanin - Balcony railing

Sebastiano Genovese - MTS - Mechanical & Electrical Engineer

Robert Ghirlando - University of Malta - Engineering Consultant

Jonathan Bonett - Camilleri & Cuschieri - Fire Safety Engineer

Filippo Aguzzi - Studio Aguzzi - Climate Control Consultant

Massimiliano Tonelli - Tonelli - Architectural Acoustics

Anne Minors - Sound Space Vision - Theatre Planning

Franck Franjou - Franck Franjou - Architectural Lighting

Alec Massa - Digital Malta - Audio/Video Consultant

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Project Lead: AP Valletta

THE WHITE SCAPULAR OF THE TRINITARIANS The ‘Nazzarenu’ Image in the Oratory of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel, Valletta

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The ‘Nazzarenu’ in the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta – (above) before restoration, and (right) after restoration.

Why is this image called ‘in-Nazzarenu’?

And why is this image, as a bust, or a fulllength statue or a painting, always wearing the white scapular of the Trinitarians, present in a number of churches in Malta?

On the altar of the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta there is a devout image of Christ known as the Nazzarenu—the Nazarene. The Oratory has derived a name from it, as it is locally known as the ‘Oratorju tan-Nazzarenu’, so the image must have been the object of much devotion.

The image is a bust attributed to Carlo Darmanin, who also contributed a bust of Our Lady of Sorrows to the Oratory. Christ is depicted as crowned with thorns, with both hands tied, and wearing the white scapular of the Trinitarian Order. The scapular is white, with a cross on it made of a perpendicular red bar on a transverse blue bar, the symbol of this order.

This raises many questions about this devotion. The Trinitarian Order has never been present in Malta, so why the white scapular? What is the link between this Order and Christ crowned with thorns? Why is this image present in the Oratory of a Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel? Indeed, why is this image called ‘in-Nazzarenu’? And why is this image, as a bust, or a full-length statue or a painting, always wearing the white scapular of the Trinitarians, present in a number of churches in Malta?

The Trinitarians are an Order founded to ransom Christian Slaves from the Moors.

Trinitarian friars would go to North Africa, find Christian slaves, and buy their freedom.1 Then the ransomed persons were given the Trinitarian Scapular to wear around their neck as a safe conduct with which to travel back to Christian lands through the land of the Moors.2, 3

The ‘Nazzarenu’ is based on the Spanish Christ Nazarene of Medinacoeli, the original of which is in the homonymous Basilica in Madrid. Medinacoeli is the area of Madrid where the Basilica is located, named after the noble family who donated the land to build the Basilica in honour of the Nazarene. The image is also known in Spanish as ‘Nuestro Padre Jesús de Medinaceli’, or ‘Jesús Nazareno Rescatado’. It is an image of Jesus of Nazareth that evokes the moment of his Passion when Pilate presents him to the people—the Ecce Homo (John 19:5). The original effigy dates from the first half of the seventeenth century. It may be by Juan de Mesa or Francisco de Ocampo.4, 5

From its name ‘Jesús Nazareno Rescatado’ (Jesus the Nazarene Ransomed), comes the name for all images based or copied from this, be they full statues, busts or paintings—‘The Nazarene’ or ‘in-Nazzarenu’.

The statue was brought by the Capuchins to La  Mamora, a city in Morocco (close to Tangier and a stronghold of Berber pirates14) that was captured by the  Spanish Catholic monarchy in  1614 4 The Capuchins intended the statue to be venerated by soldiers. In April  1681, the city fell into the hands of  Sultan  Moulay Ismail, whose army of over 80,000 soldiers outnumbered the 150 of the Spanish army.9 Moulay Ismail decided to send the statue to Meknes as a sign of victory.

On the express order of Sultan Moulay, the image was dragged through the streets of Meknes as a sign of hatred against the Christian religion and it is said that, as if it were human flesh, it was thrown to the lions to be gnawed.5  A Discalced Trinitarian Father, Fray Pedro de los Ángeles, seeing this happening, decided to speak to the Sultan and request the rescue of the image as if it were a living being.5 He asked for the ransom of seven sacred images in exchange for seven Moors, which the Sultan could choose from among the prisoners captured by the Spaniards,6, 7 together with as much gold as the weight of the image.

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Jesus Nazzareno de Medinaceli in the Basilica of Jesus Nazzareno, Madrid. Credit: Archimadrid/ José Luis Boñano, Wikipedia.

It is said that the Sultan allowed the Trinitarian father to guard the image until he collected the money for its ransom, threatening that, if he did not do so, he would burn him and the image.5 By order of Carlos II,8 the Father General of the Order sent Fathers Miguel de Jesús, Juan de la Visitación and Martín de la Resurrección to be mediators and they managed to convince Sultan Moulay to agree to the ransom of the image by paying its weight in gold.5 The legend states that the scale was exactly balanced when thirty coins (referencing the thirty pieces which were the price of Christ’s betrayal) were placed on the scales. Over and over again this operation was carried out, with the same result. Thus, its weight was reduced considerably, to the annoyance of the Sultan. Faced with this unexpected prodigy, the enraged Muslims decide to burn the effigy, but a plague that spread through the city as a punishment, forced them to ignore the image with it thus being definitively rescued.8

The purchase was made by the Trinitarians, and as proof that they had bought it, the  scapular of the Holy Trinity was placed around the neck of the image in order to serve as a  safe-conduct to allow the image to pass into Christian lands and signifying that the Trinitarians had paid for it.4 The ransomed image was taken to Tetouan, and from there to Ceuta. From Ceuta the images were sent to Algeciras10 and through Gibraltar, and from there to the Convent of the Discalced Trinitarians in Seville where they remained until the end of July.5, 10 The statue arrived in Madrid in the middle of  1682, with the reputation of being miraculous and where from the start it received great devotion.4

Upon its arrival, a large  procession was organised, and it began to be known as ‘Jesús del Rescate’ (Jesus of the Ransom).4

There has never been a convent of the Trinitarian Order in Malta, however during the time of the Order of St John, the possibility of being captured and taken as a slave was real. However a Confraternity of the Holy Trinity, which was associated with the Trinitarian Order, existed in Senglea, a maritime city. This history of this Confraternity is relevant here.

In 1651, the altar of the Trinity was built in the parish church of Senglea, and on 12th October 1652 the Confraternity of Holy Trinity was

founded on this altar and confirmed by the Holy Apostolic See. This was the first Confraternity in Malta with this title, but at that date it did not yet have any members. The first enrolment of members occurred in 1669, and that year the Confraternity received an Episcopal decree of foundation on 23rd December 1669.11

In 1784, a statue of the Ecce Homo was made by Dun Bert Ellul, the vice parish priest and a member of the Confraternity. It was honoured on the altar of the Blessed Trinity. A devotional feast was held for it, and every Friday a chaplet was said before it, throughout the year.11 Later it was placed in a pilaster between the Rosary chapel and the nave of the church, and today it is on the altar of the

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The first ‘Trinitarian’ Nazzarenu in Malta at the Senglea Basilica.

Karlu Darmanin was strongly influenced by his devotion to the ‘Nazzarenu’ of the Trinitarians in his design of the bust of the Nazarene for the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Rosary.12 Since it was intended for devotion on the altar of the Confraternity of the Trinity, it wears the Trinitarian white scapular, thus referring to the story of the Christo Nazzareno described above, with its links with the Trinitarian Order.13 In 1810, Wenzu Dalli paid for a purple cloak for the Ecce Homo.12 This might explain a tradition that the statue was given by a family from Senglea in thanksgiving for surviving the French Blockade13 (while the statue had been made earlier, in 1784). This seems to be the first statue inspired by the Christ Nazarene of Medinacoeli in Malta.

The link between the ‘Nazzarenu’ in the Oratory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta and the Confraternity of the Trinity in Senglea is very simple: the sculptor of the ‘Nazzarenu’ in the Oratory, Carlo Darmanin, was a member of the Confraternity of the Trinity in Senglea.

The death of Karlu Darmanin on 25th November 1909 is recorded thus in the registers of the Confraternity of the Trinity: ‘Ġie midfun fiċ-ċimiteru ta’ l-Addolorata f’wieħed milloqbra tagħna, li jġib in-numru 67. Kien ilu ħafna fratell, u f’żogħżitu kellu ħegga kbira. Ma kienx jonqos għal-laqgħat, u lill-Fratellanza tagħha kien iħobba hafna’.12 (translation: ‘He was buried at the Addolorata cemetery in one of our graves, bearing the number 67. He had been a brother for a long time, and in his youth he had a great enthusiasm. He did not miss meetings, and loved our Brotherhood very much’).

Karlu Darmanin executed several other works for the Carmelites of Valletta, including the statues of Our Lady of Sorrows and of Beato Franco, and a set of angels which are today set

up in Republic Street in Valletta during the Our Lady of Mount Carmel feast, as well as four Carmelite saints (Papa Telesforo, Papa Dionisio, San Cirillo, San Andrea Corsini) which are usually set up in Piazza Regina during the feast.14 Hence he must have had ongoing dealings with the Carmelites.

Another interesting point about Karlu Darmanin, which links him with the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Senglea, is that he added the Child Jesus statue in papier mâché to the statue of Our Lady of Doctrine, when it was modified to become an Our Lady of Mount Carmel statue in 1888 after the two Confraternities of Doctrine and of Mount Carmel were amalgamated into a stronger Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Senglea in 1838.12 One wonders whether he was a fratell in the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Senglea.

As a fratell of the Confraternity of the Trinity, he would have known about the tradition of the Ecce Homo wearing the Trinitarian Scapular as a sign that He had been redeemed, and he would have experienced the devotion to the Ecce Homo in Senglea. It is to be noted that in his sculpture, the scapular is part of the sculpture, and not just placed on the Christ—it is an integral part of the image.

Thus, it appears that Karlu Darmanin was strongly influenced by his devotion to the ‘Nazzarenu’ of the Trinitarians in his design of the bust of the Nazarene for the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta. As for its date of completion, it is not mentioned in inventories prior to the 1890s. The Confraternity asked for an indulgence to be given to the ‘Nazzarenu’ in c.1898.

Notes: (1) trinitarians; (2); (3) https://www.catholicculture. org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6147, ‘Order of the Most Holy Trinity’ by  Helen Walker Homan; (4); (5) https://jesusmedinaceli.; (6); (7); (8) jesucristo/nazareno_4.html; (9); (10); (11) Alexander Bonnici, L-Isla fi Grajjiet il-Basilika Santwarju Ta’ Marija Bambina, vol. 2: 1635–1786 (1986); (12) Alexander Bonnici, L-Isla fi Grajjiet il-Basilika Santwarju Ta’ Marija Bambina, vol. 3: The Last 200 years (1991); (13) https://; (14) Pietro Paolo Castagna, Lis-Storia Ta Malta bil Gzejer Tahha, vol.1, p. 214.

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architecture students

Humanity is interdependently linked to the environment in which we live. Between October and December 2021, some University of Malta architecture students visited a number of sites which are representative of the various built and natural landscapes present in the Maltese Islands.

One of these visits was to the Villa Frere gardens in Gwardamanġa. This article features some key observations along with a number

of sketches made by final-year Master of Architecture students during this visit. Tucked away near the grounds of St Luke’s Hospital, Villa Frere is a unique green lung within an otherwise heavily-urbanised area.

Established in the nineteenth century by the English diplomat and scholar John Hookham Frere (1769–1846), the villa’s neoclassical terraced garden gradually developed into one of Malta’s most extensive and appealing landscaped places.


The gardens were designed in a terraced style to allow for incremental exploration of the different areas. They were constructed with cisterns, adequate drainage techniques and circulation systems. The sketch shows the context of the gardens with its surrounding buildings in the background, namely the Malta Enterprise offices and St Luke’s Hospital.

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In the background one can see the Tempietto, which was once part of the Villa Frere gardens. It is now surrounded by a parking area and has been completely disconnected from the main gardens.


The blatant arrogance in the construction industry can be observed in the gardens of Villa Frere where the surrounding landscape has been altered beyond repair. Visible from the estate grounds are the numerous unsightly building blocks densely surrounding the site and blocking almost all the vistas it was once designed to have.

t BENCH AND LUSH GARDENS Sketch by Karen Muscat

When we visited, the gardens were quite lush and the air was filled with fragrant scents, showing a wonderful sign of life. Being there, it seems as though you are in another dimension where time slows down.

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t GARDENER’S COTTAGE Sketch by Samuel Ciantar

Predating Villa Frere itself, the cottage adds some vernacular character to the garden, offering a glimpse into what it might have been originally prior to being formalised into a landscaped garden.


Nature has created a romantic patina of time on the overgrown façade leading to the entrance. This façade tells a completely different story from the neighbouring buildings forming part of St Luke’s Hospital. The Japanese gardens that were part of the original garden complex have been replaced by a primary school; apart from diminishing the botanical garden, this also impacted the garden’s primary intention of overlooking the sea, specifically Floriana and the coast of Pietà.


Until the mid-twentieth century this would have been a countryside vista, while today it has been replaced by a sea of apartment blocks and other buildings.

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Monstrous developments have overcrowded the garden’s surroundings, diminishing the relationship between Villa Frere, the surrounding hills and the coastal environment. Becoming completely abandoned from the once lush landscape, the gardens highly contrast with recent developments.


Framed by trees, plants and terraces, neo-classical architectural features such as this gazebo add a sense of monumentality and order to the place.

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The garden has numerous layers; not just the steps and topographical landscape, but also the manner in which vegetation and decoration are combined. Every look one takes is impregnated with numerous details that seem to draw one’s gaze from one to another, and another, exposing the garden’s many intricacies.


An entrance created to experience the water catchment which resulted from a doline which was found during the construction of the vegetable garden. The sketch also shows the main staircase on the left hand side leading to the Royal Gazebo.

Today only a vestige of what was once a much larger garden still survives, and it illustrates people’s changing relation to nature over time. Villa Frere’s gardens bring up a dialogue of the duality between the neglect and maintenance of our country’s heritage, while contemporary proposals which threaten its context illustrate conflicting private and public interests. The progress made by Friends of Villa Frere volunteers in recent years highlights how a place can be revived when wellbeing and heritage values are prioritised. n

Acknowledgement: Thanks to the lecturers of AUD5241 (Landscape and Building), Antoine Gatt, Avertano Role’ and Antonio Mollicone – and to Fernando Mifsud of Friends of Villa Frere.

All sketches and notes were produced for the study unit AUD5241: Landscape and Building, at the University of Malta. All the contributors were second-year Master of Architecture students at the University of Malta in 2021–2022, focusing on Architectural Design, Conservation Studies or Urban Design.

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Malta’s Rubble Walls UNESCO FOR

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Rubble Walls/Field Wall in Tal-Balal, limits of San Gwann.

Back in December 2018, my jaw slowly dropped in astonishment as I read a story carried in the Times of Malta, reporting how various European countries were celebrating their rubble wall legacies being collectively inscribed by UNESCO to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

What stunned me was that Malta was not mentioned—we had missed out, apparently due to lack of nomination by the public or civil society! Surely, even to the most culturally indifferent, our ħitan tas-sejjieħ leap to mind with other ubiquitous Maltese hallmarks like the gallarija tal-injam, the ftira, and colourful old buses?

To be precise, what was given recognition was dry-stone walling as a skill, thus a genre of intangible patrimony. Further research revealed that Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece,

Italy, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland all had movements and platforms through which they are actively fostering awareness about the individual ancient ways of building and keeping their walls.

Arguably, ħitan tas-sejjieħ constitute the most extensive type of man-made limestone structure across the Maltese Islands. How fascinating and useful it would be if the many kilometres of walls some quite possibly dating back to prehistory were to be accurately measured, possibly also deducing the lengths that have been lost from old survey sheets!

As a trade it surely deserves the same status as that of our timeless stonemasonry, indeed we know that such dry walls until not too long ago were often erected by skilled labourers, under the supervision of kapumastri. We are also aware that, out of necessity, farmers and gardeners were apt at this kind of work.

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Finely restored rubble wall at Għajn Barrani Gozo. Ancient rubble walls at San Martin.

It is also safe to say that, despite a post-war decline in demand for rubble-wall building, such practices have far from disappeared. I daresay that for a few years now there has been something of a resurgence due to the growing fashion of private ‘country resorts’ and getaway fields. Extensive roadworks many in rural areas as well as certain State-sponsored schemes to assist the agricultural sector are also characterised by trims having ‘rustic’ boundaries. Street adverts and posts on social media offer sejjieħ building services with many customers engaging them after having the Planning Authority impose permit conditions to this effect.

Such a trend is of course all positive, however the overall quality of the work witnessed visà-vis local traditional techniques is generally, in a word, dubious. Quick-fit substitutes employing hollow concrete or stone block backing-walls, infilled by pouring concrete within skins and as topping are commonplace (albeit illegal in Outside Development Zones and Urban Conservation Areas). Worse still are large ‘jumbo’ concrete blocks ‘imprinted’ with random softstone rubble pieces, a favoured State technique for retaining walls along major thoroughfares and other infrastructural projects. Equally worrying are the direct imports, predominantly the Sicilian ‘ muro a secco’ which although remarkable in its dexterity and almost-perfect jointing patterns, is nothing short of alien to Maltese landscapes. Promotion of these walling services are even being published locally in Italian!

Commendable however, for instance, are the lengths of roadside walls and access to fields recently reconstructed with the aid of EU funding in Gozo in areas such as the north of Gharb and San Lawrenz utilising consistent locally-sourced, graded rocks, having profiles raked and suitably bonded at discontinuities, and of course no cheating with cementitious materials; yes, stonework in our sister isle again being of a superior and more lasting quality.

Most commonplace regrettably are ‘rustic’ walls composed of an assortment of limestone pieces brought directly from some crosscountry demolition site and assembled with whatever comes first-to-hand, often just the common kantun split in halves and quarters. The result is often an incoherent quasiamateurish mishmash, quite incongruous with most surroundings or any of the typologies of Maltese traditional dry walls, the proper sejjieħ, incidentally an appellation with enigmatic origins! Yes, typologies, because indeed there are multiple.

One of the main reasons for the concerns raised above is that even within the tiny confines of our archipelago, as encountered with other aspects of vernacular architecture, rubble walls have significant regional differences, a phenomenon which I am currently researching with the aim of flagging this intriguing, precious and, of course, highly endangered heritage asset to practitioners and authorities. The slatey walls enclosing fields in Delimara could not be more different than the more cubic xulliel type seen in San Gwann

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Dry stone wall and hut in Siggiewi.

or the pointed coralline grey structures at Bingemma.

Even within the tinier limits of our unfolding and edifying Villa Frere project in Pieta we have noted variants and are meticulously conserving them for posterity. Our intensive work there ultimately drove us to react immediately to the UNESCO shortcoming and nominate Malta’s dry walling heritage earlier this year. The principal reasons being the different techniques, some endemic to specific parts of the country or applied for certain types of structures only. Furthermore, one must not fail to appraise other associated stone works which include a variety of bucolic buildings, formal garden walls and notably the iconic girna; all in all a wealth of architecture (not by architects!) that dates back to time immemorial. Another category worthy of inclusion are the spurs, revetments and other battlements fabricated in dry walling such as those at Fort Manoel and Fort Chambray.

Our request is currently being processed by the Culture Directorate of the Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, with the hope of inscription in the near future. We have emphasised that our scope is to attain international recognition for dry walling construction which is complimentary, to say the least,

to our nation’s famous neolithic heritage, deserved of so much more understanding, protection and emulation. Only with wellinformed, almost scholarly appreciation of this art, and application of patience, practice and passion to restore original fabric or build anew in accordance with the ancient ways, can we hope to ensure its survival and growth, particularly at a time when our built and natural environments face increasing unprecedented degradation. n

Edward Said is a practicing architect specialising in historic building conservation.

He is a founding member of the voluntary organisation Friends of Villa Frere which for almost ten years now has been safeguarding and rehabilitating a historic country estate dating to the early nineteenth century which includes well over an acre of formal gardens. More recently the charity is working in partnership with Heritage Malta in managing the national monument.

Garden wall in Attard, close to San Anton Gardens.

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Coursed rubble wall at Villa Frere, recently restored.


Too much is too much! Over past years we have witnessed an increase in the rate of destruction of houses for the building of characterless apartments. Whole streetscapes have been destroyed for short-term economic gain. Roads have been widened to accommodate even more cars, and acres of agricultural land have been converted into asphalt, only to bring more arable land and its food products closer to polluted roads. The Maltese countryside

and rural environment are under constant threat. Not only have we built up valleys, but we continue to exploit fertile land. We are witnessing an increase in high-rise buildings, which cause more pollution (noise, light and air), and generate more traffic and pressure on infrastructure and services in their immediate surroundings. Yet governments continue to declare that the construction industry is what keeps our economic growth strong.

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The Marfa Battery

So many places are in urgent need of restoration. Defensive posts from the Knights period, such as the Qolla l-Bajda Battery in Qbajjar Gozo, the Marfa Battery in Marfa, the Great Battery of Vendôme in l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa, the Vendôme tour–redoubt and St Lucian Tower in Marsaxlokk, and the Riħana Battery in Marsascala, are in a pitiful state. Most of the British forts, such as Fort Campbell in Mellieħa, Fort Delimara in Delimara, Fort Tas-Silġ and St Paul’s Battery in Marsaxlokk, and Fort Bengħajsa in Birżebbuġa, need saving from great abandon.

Many farmhouses, and vernacular structures, such as rooms used to store agricultural implements scattered in the countryside around our islands, have also been abandoned, as have many houses of character. It is true that a number of these are privately owned, but it is also true that incentives and enforcement orders can be issued to encourage, and even force, the owners to maintain these places, or to at least resolve any

legal issues so these houses could be sold, with a guarantee that they will not be demolished, but conserved. Houses with wooden balconies and doors, which give particular character to many of our streets, and which are so proudly featured in magazines and videos advertising our islands as a tourist destination, should also be protected. If permission for development is granted by the same authority which should be protecting our heritage to even only one of these houses in a street, then a precedent is created. Soon enough, the street is converted into a building site, and the houses replaced by concrete shelves without character.

Important cemeteries built during the British period for soldiers who lost their lives on our islands and their families, have been saved by the War Graves Commission, and by Din l-Art Ħelwa, while the Friends of Ta’ Braxia do so much to keep Ta’ Braxia going. However, many other burial places scattered around our islands, erected for victims of the plague, lie abandoned and their monuments lost.

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San Cir chapel near Rabat Ir-Razzett tax-Xitan at Mellieħa Interior of the abandoned Riħana Battery at St Thomas Bay

The island of Comino is also full of structures which are both architecturally and historically important. The isolation hospital, the cemetery and the bakery are only a few which require urgent restoration. St Paul’s Islands, too, has a farmhouse from the period of the Order of St John, which has collapsed.

Many historical places could be reused for the benefit of the public, since they can be converted into historical showcases, visitors’ centres, and even short-let holiday places— or simply admired for their architectural or historical importance. They could also be used for commercial activities, as long as any required conversion works do not change the characteristics of the place or harm the original fabric.

Restoration and conservation can also contribute to the construction industry, by shifting from a construction to a restoration mentality. Restoration and conservation of buildings generate a lot of money, provide employment and usually do not cause any major negative changes in the immediate environment. It is also greatly satisfying to monitor the process of restoring a building to its former state, and this is why I have been a committee member of Din l-Art Ħelwa for the past thirty years, following the restoration projects with which the organisation gets involved.

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Stanley Farrugia Randon is a medical doctor and a council member of Din l-Art Ħelwa Palazzo Girxija at Burmarrad falling to ruin The farmhouse on St Paul's Islands

A FAILURE TO RESPOND The Environment Strategy Misses the Point

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Balance is the facile mantra of contemporary politics. Following the Comino debacle this past year, the Prime Minister hailed the ‘balance’ reached between the public and private commercial operators, who could not be told to stop. When the issue of the extended hours for live music in Valletta was heating up, a Minister talked about the ‘balance’ between such musical extended hours, and the ‘circumstances of city living’.

Another Minister has talked of the sustainability that comes from the balance between the growth of tourism and the need to preserve the rich heritage of the islands. Yet another Minister has referred to the ‘balance’ between the need to develop and the need to create more green spaces, where families can go.

And the new Planning Authority Chairman was not the first to talk of the balance between development and economic growth, and the environment, or (by another Minister) the need to balance environment and planning (sic) ( - this last phrase betrays the perceived meaning of ‘planning’ as ‘development’!)

‘Balance’ sounds great. The problem is that it does not work without an over-riding vision. King Solomon was the epitome of this type of balance, when he decided that a child claimed by two mothers ought to be divided into two.

Balance without a value-system, which prioritises the issues feeding into these complex issues, is not a basis for equitable governance. If the vision of Comino were, first and foremost, that of a pristine Natura 2000 site, as was first declared in 2007, then other decisions, such as the number of visitors allowed to visit the place, and the permits for ‘commercial operators’ to line the bathing beaches with wall-to-wall deckchairs and umbrellas, would need to be subservient to this overall vision, as the top priority.

Equally, if Valletta had been promoted as an elegant Baroque city, filled with expensive boutique hotels, housed in restored palazzos, for the discerning visitor—that is, if that were the top value— then decisions about late night, outdoors, noisy live music would need to be subservient to this vision. There could also be more important values, which would then have a higher priority, for example the

liveability of the place for its citizens—perhaps to encourage people to return to live in the city.

‘Balance’ without prioritisation, on the basis of values, or of an over-arching, consistent, vision, is just not enough.

And such prioritisation, such vision, is not something that the free market can regulate. It is mistaken to assume that the free market is ‘rational’ enough, as has been stated by the exPrime Minister, to take decisions that always make economic sense, let alone sociallybenefical ones.

This prioritisation of values is what political discourse should be about; and lipservice consultation should be changed into real community involvement in the decisionmaking process.

It is the lack of a brave enough vision, in the draft National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, recently published by the Environment and Resources Authority, that most irked nine eNGOs, including Din l-Art Ħelwa, who got together to present their collective comments. This was the reason why the main message was that Malta needed greater ambition in our vision for the environment, for 2050.

The function of the National Strategy for the Environment was that it would be the ‘overarching framework for Malta’s existing environmental strategies and plans’; by law, it is meant to give ‘strategic policy direction for our environment by setting out longterm Strategic Goals and Objectives’, that also outlined how these objectives and goals were going to be achieved.

It was therefore important that the difficult, controversial, issues that hovered around the national agenda should be addressed within any proposed strategy. In other words, the document ought to have attempted to outline a vision on issues such as, inter alia, land reclamation, and over-abstraction of ground water; and such as demography and the carrying-capacity of the islands.

The document surely should have addressed the issue of Climate Change in a more forceful and significant manner. Climate Change is surely the most important environmental issue that is guaranteed to affect our islands over the coming decades.

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is extracted to then be put into plastic bottles, and sold by private commercial entities, to the general public, as water or as soft drinks—a literal treasure mine, if there ever was one, worth, it seems, 833 million litres in 2019.

Climate Change currently occupies a big component of public discourse, around the world. The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as COP27, has just been concluded in Egypt. There is always a risk that such international meetings merely generate a lot of hot air, however, it was also an opportunity for the scientists to warn that countries are not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis.

It has been stated that global governments are currently way off the mark of achieving the goal of limiting global temperature rise to less than 1.5⁰C. 2015–2019 were recorded as the five warmest years on record. It has been calculated that, with the current levels of carbon dioxide emissions, temperatures could rise by 4.4⁰C by the end of the century, which, it is predicted, would be catastrophic for many countries, if not for all.

People may be hearing this message a bit too often, to the extent that they may actually be turning off the sound. It might also be that people are dispairing of the situation, because of a sense of helplessness.

Perhaps, they might be misled in thinking that, as far as Malta is concerned, we are OK, because we have, bravely, decided to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and replace them by electric vehicles over the next decade. The truth is that even if Malta achieves complete carbon neutrality—that is, it ‘consumes’ carbon dioxide as much as it produces— the changes in the global climate will still impact us.

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by trees and green areas, so the more trees we cut down, and the more green areas we build over, the less carbon dioxide can be absorbed from the atmosphere.

Sea levels are predicted to rise—by as much as 30 cm to 60 cm, although perhaps by a bit less in the Mediterranean basin. But changing rainfall patterns are predicted to bring Malta from the semi-arid to an arid climate—meaning desertification and loss of biodiversity, but also flooding, and other features of extreme climate such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

Drought and desertification is expected to be even worse in the southern hemisphere, not far from our shores, and this will lead to a greater volume of people who seek to move to other climates.

The draft National Strategy for the Environment seems to gloss over all of this; it seems to put its faith completely in the electrification of our vehicular fleet, and refers vaguely to climate resilience, whatever that may mean.

There does not seem to be any strategy which seeks to protect water resources—Malta still extracts water from its sea-level aquifers at a level much higher than replenishment levels. Water is extracted for free, and hence there is barely any control of how much is being extracted.

Water is extracted to then be put into plastic bottles, and sold by private commercial entities, to the general public, as water or as soft drinks—a literal treasure mine, if there ever was one, worth, it seems, 833 million litres in 2019.

Water is extracted for free, by the concrete industry, to the tune, it has been reported, of 95 million litres (in 2019), and 405 million litres (between 2014 and 2021). The published statistics refer to the 3,119 metered boreholes only—it has been estimated that there are probably three times this amount of unmetered boreholes.

The same concrete is used to seal roads and other soil areas which further reduces the potential replenishment of the aquifers from which this water is extracted. The concrete is used to support an economic decision to increase the population of Malta by 100,000 over a decade—an increasing population that places increased demands on water supply. A reduction on the water available from natural sources increases the pressure on water from reverse osmosis production, which demands electricity. A reverse circular economy if there ever was one.

And yet, there is barely a mention, in the draft National Strategy for the Environment, of any of this, and of how the country will cope when the already dire water resource situation becomes worse with Climate Change.

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Then there is agriculture, an important source of food supply for an islands— one would argue that it is a strategic source of food supply for the islands. The situation is already serious enough as it is, with a decreasing number of farmers, an astronomical rise in the cost of agricultural land, and of course, the ubiquitous building development creeping across the so-called ODZ boundaries, into our valleys—now, it is fashionable for prosperous non-farmers to buy agricultural land as an amenity.

Sheep farms and horse stables are the latest craze for enterprising land owners/ developers to encroach into these areas—with the authorities completely oblivious to the negative impact not just on the visual qualities of our countryside, but on the more strategic importance of green areas.

With climate change, and the impact on water resources, and on bio-diversity, how will our agriculture survive unless there is a clear strategy in place—one that goes beyond the electrification of our vehicular fleet. Should it be transitioning to less waterdemanding crops?

The draft National Strategy for the Environment fails to respond to the urgency of the climatic changes that we will have to adapt to. And if our leading Environmental agency is not signalling this emergency, how can we expect the people, and its leaders, to even acknowledge any need to change our economic model?

The draft document does, on the other hand, acknowledge the need for change in our consumption patterns; it also highlights how it is now necessary to go beyond the metric of GDP to assess real growth in our socioeconomic well-being.

It is acknowledged that the economic value of the environment is much more difficult to evaluate than other economic activities;

however, it is known that some countries, including EU countries, are already moving in that direction, and that the EU will shortly be demanding that national budgets record the environmental impact of budget proposals. It would have been appropriate for the National Strategy for the Environment to address this important theme.

For the last half century plus, Din l-Art Ħelwa has militated in favour of the preservation and restoration of abandoned built heritage; it has militated against inappropriate development and the demolition or destruction of existing urban areas; it has worked to preserve and manage areas of environmental interest. It has regularly filed objections with the Planning Authority, against proposals for development which is inappropriate. It has also taken action in the Courts of Malta (and won some notable battles).

All of those concerns for Malta’s ‘beauty’ and ‘sweetness’, for which Din l-Art Ħelwa has worked, are, in one way or the other, impacted by Climate Change. It has therefore felt the need to set up a small group, working under the name of ‘Din l-Art Ħelwa Code Red’, to raise awareness of the problems with the general public, and to highlight the need for politicians to take effective action.

Climate change will probably impact the younger generations much more than the older generations, because it will impact their future. Din l-Art Ħelwa Code Red will seek to catalyse different groups and organisations of young people, for them to articulate the steps that are really necessary to protect our islands, and their future. Any assistance from our supporters is therefore welcome. n

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Alex Torpiano is an architect, and Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. He is Executive President of Din l-Art Ħelwa.
The draft National Strategy for the Environment seems to gloss over all of this; it seems to put its faith completely in the electrification of our vehicular fleet, and refers vaguely to climate resilience, whatever that may mean.

Restoration Report

The Restoration Committee of Din l-Art Ħelwa is currently composed of Maria Grazia Cassar and myself. Josie Ellul Mercer is no longer involved but the committee would like to thank him for his help and voluntary involvement over the past years. Without the hard work of other committee members and our office manager Rosanne Zerafa, Din l-Art Ħelwa would be unable to obtain the necessary funds to restore heritage sites. The wardens and volunteers of the sites are also of invaluable help during restoration projects.

u The White Tower Mellieha

Thanks to funds obtained from the PostPandemic Support Scheme for Cultural Heritage, issued by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, as well as funds from the Malta Tourism Authority, Din l-Art Ħelwa recently completed the drainage system and electricity required to install three bathrooms at the White Tower. Two dormitories with beds and cupboards, apertures and other commodities to accommodate people in the Tower were also installed. The White Tower was used as a hydrophone station school soon after the First World War and it then accommodated students. On the roof, security railings were fitted to make the place safer for visitors. Din l-Art Ħelwa has also applied for 3-phase electricity for it to be possible to hold receptions.

u The chapel of St Roque


At present the bell of this chapel is being restored. Every attempt is being made to keep all the original elements of the bell and the surrounding stones. The bell, striker, headstock and clappers all need urgent attention.

u Comino Tower

The isolation of Comino Tower from the mainland makes the restoration of this tower very problematic. Volunteers often do handyman jobs themselves but at times the works require professional help. Some stones will eventually need replacement or consolidation using carbon-fibre rods. Pointing gets eroded easily and will be needed in different areas.

u Torri Mamo


Unfortunately this summer Torri Mamo required a lot of maintenance. Water was seeping in from the roof and there were leakages in the plumbing system on the ground floor. The interior walls required pointing in some places, and part of the dry stone ditch wall collapsed. All needed urgent attention.

Din l-Art Ħelwa has applied for the restoration of Qalet Marku Tower and permits are in hand. Following the successful restoration of the Ghallis Tower with Gal Majjistral funds, Din l-Art Ħelwa will be restoring Qalet Marku Tower after again applying for more funds. The last time that this tower was restored was between 1995 and 1998. Since then most of the pointing between the stones has weathered away, and some stones will have to be replaced as they have deteriorated beyond repair. Apertures have been kept in a good operating condition by Din l-Art Ħelwa, although the door on the ground floor has often been vandalised.

u Dwejra Tower Gozo

Thanks to European funds obtained by the Malta Tourism Authority, the restoration of the Dwejra Tower in Gozo is nearing completion. The south wall is presently being restored and this elevation required most attention as a number of stones needed replacement. The south walls of buildings in Malta are affected by weathering due to the effect that the sun has on the wet-dry cycle of salt crystals, which contributes to the accelerated deterioration of the stone. This is not necessarily the elevation which is closest to the sea.

u Qalet Marku Tower (Torri Marku, Torri tal-Qrejten) Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq


On 12th July, His Eminence Mario Cardinal Grech presided over the inauguration of the restoration of the seven paintings by the great seventeenth-century Calabrian painter Mattia Preti, which are located at Sarria Church in Floriana. This has been a flagship Din l-Art Ħelwa project over the last twelve years, coordinated by volunteers Maria Grazia Cassar, Patricia Salomone and Simone Mizzi. The event was attended by His Excellency Dr Fabrizio Romano, Italian Ambassador, Professor Alfred Vella, Rector of the University of Malta, Fr Michael Bugeja, Delegate of the Jesuit Province, Kurt Farrugia, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, Vincent Borg, Mayor of Floriana, and other distinguished guests and friends of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

The restoration was led by Dr Giuseppe Mantella, with the collaboration of art historian Professor Sante Guido, and with the diagnostic assistance of Dr Sebastiano D’Amico from the Department of Geosciences of the University of Malta.

Sarria Church was rebuilt by the Order of St John on the site of an older, smaller chapel, as a thanksgiving for the end of the plague of 1675–76 that had killed thousands of people. The new and bigger church was reputedly built to Mattia Preti’s design, which makes it the only known architectural work by Mattia Preti. The chapel was built to accommodate seven paintings by Mattia Preti, commissioned by Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner, dedicated to saints associated with protection from the plague.

The inauguration event was addressed by Fr Lino Scerri, Rector of Sarria Church, and was concluded with a blessing from Cardinal Grech. Dr Giuseppe Mantella made a presentation outlining the story of the restoration project, which was launched in 2010 when, during the restoration of the St Sebastian painting, it was noticed that the titular painting dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was suffering from delamination of its layers of paint.

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The restored titular painting of the Immaculate Conception with St Sebastian (left) and St Roque (right).

Dr Mantella explained that the paintings had been previously restored on various occasions, but had suffered most damage when, as a precaution during the Second World War, they were rolled up and stored for safe-keeping. The rolling and eventual unrolling had caused severe damage to the paint layers of most of the paintings. New diagnostic technologies were used to carefully map the paintings with the worst damage.

Professor Alex Torpiano, Executive President of Din l-Art Ħelwa, highlighted the fact that the restored paintings were being inaugurated at the end of another pandemic, and a couple of days after the 57th anniversary of the foundation of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

He thanked the sponsors that had supported the project, namely, the Malta International Airport Foundation which sponsored the restoration of the painting of St Sebastian, Shireburn Software Ltd, for the titular painting of the Immaculate Conception, MAPFRE’ MSV Life for the painting of St Roque, the Rotary Clubs of Palermo and of Malta, who sponsored the restoration of St Rosalia, Sparkasse Bank Malta Ltd which sponsored the restoration of St Nicholas of Bari and of the lunette depicting the Archangel Michael, and an anonymous sponsor who supported the restoration of the Apotheosis of the Order of St John. Vassallo Builders assisted with the scaffolding and restoration of the dome of the church. Professor Torpiano thanked everyone who helped and contributed to this project and reiterated Din l-Art Ħelwa’s commitment to continue to work in favour of the protection of the cultural heritage of Malta and Gozo. n

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Left: Fr Lino Scerri presents Cardinal Grech with a souvenir. Above: Lunette representing the Apotheosis of the Order of St John and the painting of St Nicholas of Bari. Below: The restored paintings of St Rosalia and St Michael the Archangel. Above: Professor Alex Torpiano, Executive President of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

Clean Up at Comino Battery

Din l-Art Ħelwa volunteers held a clean-up at the Comino Battery.

Din l-Art Ħelwa at MCAST Freshers Week

Volunteers manned a Din l-Art Ħelwa stand during Freshers Week at MCAST, both at the main campus in Paola and at the Mosta campus. Thanks are due to volunteers Christine and Nathan, and to James Camilleri of MCAST.

Three Cities


Notte Bianca

Our Lady of Victory Church in Valletta was open for Notte Bianca this year. Volunteers Patricia Salomone, Simone Mizzi, and Gracie, Manuel and Krissie Zammit greeted the thousands of persons who visited the church, many of whom had never seen it before.

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Din l-Art Ħelwa volunteer and MTA tour guide Neville Ebejer organised a ‘Birgu Sieges’ tour at the Three Cities.

Evenings at the White Tower

A beautiful setting at an event held at the White Tower.

GERMAN President Steinmeier visits Our Lady of Victory Church

On 7th October 2022, Our Lady of Victory Church hosted HE Frank Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, accompanied by HE Ambassador Walter Hassmann. President Steinmeier was in Malta for the Arraiolos meeting of Heads of State held in Malta on 6th October. Fascinated by Valletta’s history, he was interested in visiting its first church. He was greeted by Din l-Art Ħelwa President Perit Alex Torpiano, Executive Secretary Simone Mizzi, Past President Maria Grazia Cassar and volunteer Patricia Salomone. President Steinmeier signed the visitor’s book and on leaving the church he was cheered by a group of young German tourists with whom he posed for some selfies in De Valette Square.

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Dwejra Tower, held in guardianship by Din l-Art Ħelwa, has been the focus of a restoration initiative as part of the ‘Northern Coastal Watch’ project, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund Operational Programme 2014–2020 and the Malta Tourism Authority.

Below: works in progress

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Colour photos by Simon Wallace Let’s take look back: (above) Dwejra Tower in 1933, 1946 and 1962. Photos courtesy of the National Archives, Gozo.

The First Bir Miftuħ Music Festival Concert



The success of the first major Din l-Art Ħelwa restoration effort at the medieval church of Ħal Millieri in Zurrieq, had encouraged the Council of Din l-Art Ħelwa to cast their eyes upon another medieval chapel, Santa Marija ta’ Bir Miftuħ.

Tentative approaches in March 1968 resulted in positive responses from both the Gudja Parish priest and the Kumitat Civiku Gudja through Anthony Mangion, their secretary, later to become the Din l-Art Ħelwa warden of the chapel for many years.

This was the start of a long saga which evolved into a complex restoration project involving a wide range of people. The pioneering cleaning activities by the group ‘Teenagers Din l-Art Ħelwa’, led by Mario Buhagiar and George Serracino Inglott, spearheaded the actions of international and local experts on the building and paintings, and particularly on the unique frescoes. This took a number of years and specific inauguration events.

The Din l-Art Ħelwa Council decided, on a major occasion, to commemorate the formal restoration of the chapel at Bir Miftuħ and to acknowledge the generous support of Malta International Airport. This was organised in the nature of three music concerts held at the chapel. A special painting for the programme was painted and donated by Kenneth Zammit Tabona. The highly successful first concert was held on Saturday 31st May 1997, and given by Madelene Mitchell (Violin), a Professor at the Royal College of Music and now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and Joanna MacGregor, CBE (Piano), Professor at the University of London. The British Council had supported their visit.

The second exhilarating concert was by the young star Italian pianist Maurizio Baglini, sponsored by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, whilst the final concert sponsored by the Alliance Française was by various Maltaconnected artists who played French pieces. The lovely music, impeccably played in idyllic surroundings, were the ingredients for the initial Bir Miftuħ music concert which was to be the first of the highly successful Bir Miftuh Music Festival Concert series which still continues today. n

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


DOWN Memory Lane…

(Left to right) Roger Vella Bonavita (later Dr), Fr George Serracino Inglott SJ, Judith Woods (later Vella Bonavita), Mario Buhagiar (later Professor), Fr Norbert Ellul Vincenti OFM, Victor Darmenia.

Below: Ann Gingell Littlejohn

The launch of Teenagers’ Din l-Art Ħelwa on 27th May 1967 in a lecture room at the Royal University of Malta in Valletta. Photo provided by Ann Gingell Littlejohn (who was present on the launch day in 1967 and was co-opted on the first Teenagers’ Din l-Art Ħelwa council at the time - and who is still an active Din l-Art Ħelwa Council member today). Photo courtesy of Mario Buhagiar.

For the story of Teenagers’ Din l-Art Ħelwa, by Professor Mario Buhagiar, see Vigilo Issue 51, pp. 37–40.

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‘Teenagers’ Din l-Art Ħelwa’ was set up in 1967, as the youth branch of Din l-Art Ħelwa.


I was a Din l-Art Ħelwa Council member, but other commitments caused me to withdraw from Council at the end of 2017. I have, however, remained a volunteer— ‘once a volunteer, always a volunteer when it is done with the heart’. I honestly do not remember how it all began, in around 2010, when important projects were on their way—the restoration of Our Lady of Victory Church and the Mattia Preti paintings in Sarria church.

When I was a little girl, a great-aunt said that I was a ‘Jack of all trades’. This is quite true, I enjoy a variety of activities and have brought this ‘talent’ into my volunteering at Din l-Art Ħelwa, taking on various roles. I enjoy connecting with people, and here are some examples: (a) Finding the right people for the right cause—I have been active in finding sponsors especially for the Preti paintings; (b) Finding the right person to deliver the right job—I have found people to do small odd jobs at Din l-Art Ħelwa sites; (c) Sourcing musicians for our concerts; (d) Helping in the organisation of events—concerts at Victory church, assisting Cettina Caruana Curran with the Bir Miftuh concerts, helping to set up gala dinners, and actively helping in the organisation of the 50th anniversary of the organisation.

I believe that my most important contribution has been assisting Simone Mizzi with giving new life to Our Lady of Victory church. The Victory Church Museum is crying out for completion. I intend to help Simone to achieve this.



Back in 1988, I was a volunteer at Din l-Art Ħelwa in the role of PRO. It was a privilege to be involved with Din l-Art Ħelwa under the presidency of Judge Caruana Curran and to get to know many of the members who have been so important to conservation in Malta. I would meet several of them again when I left the committee to study and later work at the University of Malta.

In the years that followed, I kept in touch through Din l-Art Ħelwa’s lecture programmes and activities. As President of The Archaeological Society Malta, I can say that the two organisations have much in common and indeed have always shared information and collaboration. In recent years, I was invited to sit on Din l-Art Ħelwa’s Heritage and Environment Protection committee, and the Archaeological Society has joined Din l-Art Ħelwa in its efforts to highlight the many disastrous Planning Authority permit applications. It is tough work and ASM is always pleased and ready to offer assistance, especially, but not only, regarding permits concerning areas of archaeological interest.

Din l-Art Ħelwa must be one of the most trusted institutions in Malta and deservedly so. It has always been led by people who had Malta’s environment and cultural assets truly at heart. I am very proud to be associated with such a positive example of volunteer work in favour of Malta’s unique heritage.

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John Azzopardi and Thomas Freller, Rabat

In this work, two scholars have brought together a life-time of study in their two distinct but overlapping areas of expertise.

Firstly, the late Monsignor John Azzopardi (1937–2021)—better known as Dun Gwann to his friends and colleagues—who carried out seminal work on the study of the Pauline cult in Malta, especially in Rabat. He began writing about this topic in the 1960s, publishing numerous essays and books on St Paul and the Pauline cult in Malta during the course of his life.

Besides the religious, ecclesiastical, artistic and historical aspects of this cult, he also approached it through the lens of Maltese national identity. He was especially interested in the Andalusian hermit and promoter of St Paul’s shrines in Rabat in the early 1600s, Juan de Venegas.

Secondly, Dr Thomas Freller, who has written extensively on travellers to Malta and their travelogues, from classical times until the nineteenth century, with particular focus on the Grand Tour in the early modern period.

This book thus combines two areas of interest. On the one hand, as suggested by its title, it outlines the religious features of the town of Rabat. Yet it enters the subject, not as a straightforward history, but through the eyes of European travellers who visited the town over the centuries. It describes and analyses how they recorded the architectural and ecclesiastical features of ‘sacred Rabat’—Rabat Sacrum

The book positions Rabat, as a travel destination, on both a national and an international level, taking a wide perspective. Yet it also delves into a close-up exploration of small corners of Rabat Sacrum, as experienced by foreign visitors over the centuries. Many of them tended to repeat the same details in their travel accounts and diaries, over and over again. However as the accounts accumulate across the pages of the book, a persistent interest in the ‘other’ Malta, that of the Maltese, and beyond the Order of St John, emerges through this chorus of voices.

According to the authors, these numerous descriptions of Rabat by visitors ‘show that there

Sacrum: A Maltese Town in a European Perspective (Rabat: Rabat Local Council, 2022)

Photography and Design by Daniel Cilia 368 pp

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Grotto Chapels

was an awareness of Malta which went beyond the ‘official’ picture of the island of the Knights of St John’. The interest in the ecclesiastical and monastic character of Rabat mainly centred around St Paul’s Grotto, but it also extended to its Christian catacombs and to its friaries and churches.

While the patron saint of the Order was St John, Rabat’s shrines manifested the devotion to St Paul among the Maltese population, together with other shrines and churches devoted to St Agatha, to the Marian cult of the Blessed Virgin of the Grotto, or to the Madonna tal-Virtu and others, together presenting a nucleus of Maltese identity and character.

The authors note that the Order of St John understood the importance of this, and ‘worked hard to absorb the extraordinary devotion to St Paul into its hemisphere.’ In the early seventeenth century, the enthusiastic Knight of Obedience Juan de Venegas helped to expand and encourage international devotion to the Grotto, and the Order of St John was granted possession of it. Grand Master Aloph de Wignacourt built a collegio for its rector and chaplains (today the Wignacourt Museum). The book also chronicles the interest in the Grotto’s stone, highly prized and widely sold as a powder for the medicinal properties that it was held to possess.

Besides the Grotto, the catacombs in Rabat fascinated foreign visitors. At the turn of the seventeenth century, the Malteseborn Antonio Bosio was at the avant-garde of the study of the catacombs in Rome. This

interest in subterranean sites also developed in Malta, understood to be the dwellings and places of devotion of the first Christians on the island. However besides the interest in early Christianity, these sites also offered rich pickings for treasure hunters.

Most visitors did not lodge in Rabat, but in Valletta or Birgu near the harbour. In the early modern period, they were mainly accompanied to Rabat by knights and clerics of the Order of St John, who served as their ciceroni, or guides. Not all kept notes of their experiences, as travel journals ‘were mainly a privilege of the scholars, aristocrats, or men of the church, who were well trained in language and writing and were informed about the cultural aspects of the places they visited from their reading, preparation and contacts’.

This volume presents Rabat as the birthplace of Maltese Christianity. It ends with a brief survey of Rabat today, noting that in 1902, for pastoral reasons, the Rabat parish church ‘shelved its ties with the Cathedral Chapter which went back to 1580, and opted for a separate parish status’. St Paul’s Grotto, which had been handed over the Order of St John in 1626, was given to St Paul’s parish church on 17 April 1961, together with the Church of St Publius above the Grotto and the Wignacourt collegio. The following year, on 24 November 1962 Pope John XXIII elevated the church to a collegiate church. And, quite recently, on 4 April 2020 the collegiate church of St Paul was raised to the dignity of a minor basilica.

The text by Freller and Azzopardi is well presented and embellished by the accomplished photographer Daniel Cilia, who provides a visually attractive and well-researched set of illustrations, which enrich and enhance the pages throughout.

The book is published by the Rabat Local Council and contains a foreword by Rabat mayor Sandro Kraus. He augurs that this publication should be an inspiration for the contemporary visitor to Rabat. He is surely correct on this, however the book’s reach will extend much further, based as it is on the vast research of Azzopardi and Freller, surely the leading experts on both Rabat Sacrum and early modern travel writing in Malta.

As aptly noted by Judge Giovanni Bonello in his preface, ‘when the paths of two heavyweights in the historical research world cross, the results of that cooperation promise to be impressive’. It is a book which any scholar interested in the ecclesiastical history of Malta, the cult of St Paul, and the history of Rabat, should not do without. n

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Grand Master Fra Matthew Festing at St Paul's Grotto in 2015



Since 2005, the Din l-Art Ħelwa Awards for Architectural Heritage have given recognition and visibility to projects which have made a contribution to Maltese cultural heritage, and to the achievement of architectural excellence in Malta. Through these annual Awards, Din l-Art Ħelwa strives to promote the safeguarding of Malta’s heritage, together with the use of best practice in restoration and conservation.

Din l-Art Ħelwa has seen standards rising every year, through restoration and conservation projects executed with accomplished best practice methods.

This year the panel was particularly glad to note a growing awareness of the importance and significance of Malta’s industrial heritage; a whole new field of architectural heritage which is still being discovered and valorised.

The diploma for a Major Regeneration Project (Category A) went to a project that is contributing to the regeneration of towns and villages throughout the island— the Restoration Works Scheme for Local Communities, by the Restoration Directorate. This provides a structured platform for members of the public (through their Local Council) to submit proposals for the restoration of buildings and monuments which are of value to their community. Community members assist the Restoration Directorate team in compiling historic information and documentation, encouraging them to feel

ownership of the project. After restoration the building or monument is handed back for it to be maintained by the locality. The group of projects which were entered with this submission, and which were completed this year, were the Chapel of St Catherine in Mqabba, Christ the Saviour church in Zejtun, the St Michael Archangel street shrine in Qrendi, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel street shrine in Ghaxaq, and St James church in Naxxar.

Below: The winners of the awards together with Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi (centre), Din l-Art Ħelwa executive president Alex Torpiano (fifth from right), and the chair of the judging panel Maria Grazia Cassar (fourth from right).

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This year the panel was particularly glad to note a growing awareness of the importance and significance of Malta’s industrial heritage; a whole new field of architectural heritage which is still being discovered and valorised.

The Prix d’Honneur in Category A was awarded to the Il-Biccerija Valletta Design Cluster by the Restoration Directorate. This project converted a dilapidated complex of former bakeries, commercial and industrial spaces as well as residential units, into coworking and studio-based facilities, including meeting rooms and workshops, lab facilities and supporting ancillary facilities and services for the development of cultural and creative industies, particularly of start-ups and SMEs in design. With an eye on the regeneration of the surrounding spaces, it also upgraded adjacent public areas and created a landscaped public area on the roof, connected by a lift accessible to the public.

The diploma for the Rehabilitation and Re-Use of Buildings (Category B) was awarded to the Old Brewery in Farsons Street, Hamrun, by EM Architects. This project saw the restoration of the original façade of the well-known former brewery and flour mill, developing the space behind it into a mixeduse complex with commercial offices, shops and residential units. While not wanting to promote façadism as a solution to protect historical buildings, it was appreciated that this magnificent example of art deco architecture applied to an industrial building has been saved. The four-storey vat tower which forms such a distinctive part of the main façade, was also restored and the new subdivisions within were made in a reversible

manner so as to preserve its integrity (see article in this issue of Vigilo).

Also in Category B, the Prix d’Honneur was awarded to the Teatru Manoel Façade Restoration, by AP Valletta. This was a truly challenging project on one of Valletta’s most significant buildings. The judging panel appreciated the approach to this restoration which was the fruit of historical archival research, much study, and the archaeological interpretation of the existing fabric, leading to the uncovering of ghost-patterns of the original mouldings, and the presence of previous structural interventions. This contributed to the process of giving back the legibility of the façade through the reversal of recent alterations, and the reinstatement of lost architectural details, such as the Roman Doric columns framing the main entrance. Where information was lacking, such as in the case of the balcony balustrade, a contemporary design was created, based on iron sections that were prevalent in the eighteenth century which, when seen from a certain angle, recreates the form of a baluster. This whimsical ephemeral touch is very much in keeping with the baroque idea of theatricality and music, and a fitting contemporary element in the theatre façade (see article in this issue of Vigilo).

The diploma for a Restoration and Conservation Project (Category C), was awarded to the Historic Reinforced Concrete Water Tower Conservation Project. This

ViGiLO - Din l-Art Ħelwa ISSUE 58 • NOVEMBER 2022 63
The Il-Biċċerija Valletta Design Cluster by the Restoration Directorate. The Old Brewery in Farsons Street, Hamrun, by EM Architects.

project was led by the University of Malta, and funded through the Public Abbatoir, the Planning Authority and the Research Project ReSHEALience in Ultra High Durability Concrete at the University of Malta (supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation programme). The intervention was conducted on the basis of scientific restoration methodology, based on a number of research campaigns in the assessment of the materials and the structure itself, as well as in the analysis, development and application of new materials with monitoring in the laboratory and on site. The project required the development of specific methodologies for intervention in a relatively new field, that is, reinforced concrete and on a complex structure consisting of the thin shell elements and slender columns of the water tower. Constructed in the 1930s to serve the needs of the Abbatoir, it is the only structure of its type and size in the Maltese Islands and is therefore considered to be an important industrial heritage monument. This project has saved it from demolition, and brought back its original appearance and structural integrity, giving it new life within its original context (see article in this issue of Vigilo).

The Judge Maurice Caruana Curran Prize is awarded to the project which in the panel’s view was the best in all categories. The winner of this prize this year was the Historic Reinforced

Concrete Water Tower Conservation Project.

As in past years, this competition was conducted by Din l-Art Ħelwa with the support of the Kamra tal-Periti, who nominated Prof. Conrad Thake on the judging panel. Maria Grazia Cassar was chair of the panel, and the other judges were Prof Antonio Mollicone and perit Joanna Spiteri Staines. n

Above left: The restored Manoel Theatre façade.

Above right: The Restoration Work Scheme for Local Communities, by the Restoration Directorate.

Left: The Reinforced Concrete Water Tower Conservation Project.

ViGiLO - Din l-Art Ħelwa ISSUE 58 • NOVEMBER 2022 64
Through these annual Awards, Din l-Art Ħelwa strives to promote the safeguarding of Malta’s heritage, together with the use of best practice in restoration and conservation.


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

Collinson Grant

Curmi and Partners Ltd

Cyberspace Solutions Ltd

Deloitte Malta

Dingli and Dingli Law Firm


Eden Leisure Group

EY Malta

Farrugia Investments Ltd

Farsons Foundation

Fenlex Corporate Services Ltd

FIMbank plc


Frendo Advisory

Ganado Advocates

GasanMamo Insurance Ltd

GO plc

Horizon 2020 Project GEO4CIVHIC

HSBC Malta Foundation

IIG Bank (Malta) Ltd


Izola Bank plc

J Ripard & Sons

JZT Holdings Ltd

KPMG Malta

Lombard Bank Malta plc

Majjistral Action Group Foundation

Malta Airport Foundation

Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation

Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector

Malta Development Bank

Malta Stock Exchange

Malta Tourism Authority

MAPFRE Middlesea plc

Mapfre MSV Life plc

Medserv plc

Melita Foundation

Ministry of Education and Employment

Ministry of Finance Good Causes Lottery Fund

Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government


MJE Solutions Ltd

P Cutajar Foundation

Parliamentary Secretariat for Sports, Recreation and Voluntary Organisations

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

Strickland Foundation

Sullivan Shipping Agencies Ltd

The Tanner Trust

TOLY Group

Tug Malta Ltd

Vassallo Builders Group Ltd

Vodafone Malta Foundation

Voluntary Organisations Projects Scheme

VJ Salomone Marketing Ltd

Xlokk Local Action Group Foundation LEGACIES

Karmen Micallef Buhagiar Marjorie
Major Nestor
Gita Furber
BENEFACTORS Anne and John Cachia Zoe and the late Pierre Chomarat Heribert Grünert Anthony Guillaumier Albert Mamo Peter Mamo and family Chevalier Joseph Micallef Matthew Mizzi Dr John Vassallo and Dr Marianne Noll Dr Ingrid Vella Robert von Brockdorff
de Wolff Anne Crosthwait
Jacono - The Agapi Trust
de la Fuente
ViGiLO - Din l-Art Ħelwa ISSUE 58 • NOVEMBER 2022 4 VIGILO DIN L-ART ĦELWA The National Trust of Malta Din l-Art Ħelwa 133 Melita Street, Valletta VLT 1123 T: +356 21225952 E: WWW.DINLARTHELWA.ORG Like our Facebook page and join the group Follow us on Twitter
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