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Breathing life

Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)

Restoration is all about breathing new life in our heritage. It is particularly so when that piece of our cultural patrimony would have stayed abandoned or badly utilised for whole generations until it is finally restored to its former glory.

Project after project we are giving back to the people various aspects of our tangible heritage and we are doing that sustainably.

A significant part of the built-up heritage of the Maltese islands is defined by its military architecture. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that a vast number of projects which have been or are being carried out by the Restoration Directorate aim toward restoring and maintaining the historic fortifications.

Currently, the main focus of this field of restoration works is directed towards the rehabilitation of the monumental system of fortifications enveloping the Grand Harbour, namely the Cottonera and Santa Margherita (Firenzuola) forts, Fort Ricasoli and Floriana. Together with these, however, we are also investing in the restoration of the Victoria Lines and other works of coastal fortification.

Undeniably, the Cottonera forts constitute the largest and most ambitious work of fortification undertaken by the Knights of St John to protect the eastern side of the Grand Harbour and the cities of Bormla, Birgu, and Senglea.

Begun in 1670, this monumental work of fortification, with a perimeter spanning over 3 km in length and ocomprised initially semi-circular trace of 8 bastions and two demi-bastions linked together by casemated curtains though which opened impressive Baroque gateways, has survived largely intact except for some elements which were cleared away in the 19th century.

The first phase of restoration works undertaken by the Directorate has focused on St. John Bastion, St. John Curtain, and St. John Gate. The works on St John Bastion were recently completed; they involved the cleaning and repair of the faces and flanks of the bastion, its parapets and embrasures, paved walkways, gun platfo and banquettes, and ventilation shafts. The works on St John Curtain, on the other hand, which are underway, involve the restoration of the façade of the rampart and its monumental Baroque gateway - St. John Gate.

The Restoration Directorate is currently undertaking preparations for the restoration of St. Nicholas Bastion and Notre Dame Bastion, two other essential bulwarks making up the Cottonera enceinte.

Notre Dame bastion, in particular, comprises one of the most heavily fortified bastions of the Cottonera enceinte, rich with various British 19th-century additions and alterations, including an internal entrenchment with a barrack-redoubt, as well as various expense magazines and gun emplacements.

Some months back, the Directorate had also finished the restoration works on St John Almoner Bastion and its corresponding section of the counterscarp, an essential feature of the Sta Margherita (Firenzuola) Lines.

The Directorate is also investing in restoring parts of the Floriana fort, a vastly complex network of fortifications protecting the approaches to Valletta and its harbours.

Currently, the Directorate is undertaking restoration works in the areas around the Ritirata of San Salvatore Counterguard in connection with the setting up of the Malta International Contemporary Art Space (MICAS). Still, other interventions were also completed in the past year or so at St. Francis Lunette (one of four polygonal outworks which were originally designed for the defence of the faussebraye) and at the musketry spur overlooking Marsa - a casemated gallery in the form of a redan pierced by loopholes for musketry fire.

Further to the north of the Island, restoration is underway of the Victoria Lines: an infantry wall some 12 km in length, built by the British military to cut across the width of the island to provide a physical barrier against enemy landings in the northern part of Malta in the late 19th century. Over the years, this unique defensive work suffered various forms of degradation, involving the theft of its masonry, where significant stretches of the wall were dismantled or vandalised.

Aso, at Mdina, work is currently undertaking the restoration of the ’Mina tal-Gharreqin.’ This ‘advance gate’ of Mdina’s land front fortifications, cutting through the glacis and crowned by a stone effigy of St. Paul, was built by the French military engineer Charles François de Mondion in 1724 and was intended to provide access to Greeks’ Gate via the main ditch of the city.

The restoration of Wardija Tower in Zurrieq (also known as the Torre del Guardia del Giorno) has also been completed. This is the last of the thirteen watch towers built by Grand Master De Redin in 1659.

The interventions carried out were focused primarily on restoring the facades and consolidating the roofing structure and masonry walls of the tower. The main concern was the structural stability of the stairway shaft at roof level, where various stone sections had been dislodged and were on the verge of collapse. This necessitated dismantling the unstable elements and their reconstruction with as much of the original materials where possible.

The interventions also involved the replacement of fractured stone roofing slabs (xorok), which were causing water infiltration and the re-leveling of the torba covering, and the installation of new timber elements. New timber apertures. Before this, the Directorate had also completed the restoration of St. George’s Redoubt in Birzebbuga, one of the coastal works of fortification built by the Knights in 1715.

I would like to thank the staff of the Restoration Directorate for their hard work towards our built heritage. Such projects demonstrate the Government's commitment to the cultural heritage in various localities.

Restoring historic buildings and our tangible cultural heritage is essential for a better tomorrow.


When Toni Attard told me about his upcoming play which he was directed “Pożittivi” I immediately knew that it was going to be something extraordinary, as in “out of the ordinary”.

I know how good Toni is in whatever he does and I really wanted to watch the play. So that is exactly what I did.

On paper the play tackles the societal stigma surrounding people who have HIV in Malta. But it does so much more than that. The way it approaches the theme is fantastic and I really would love to see something like this being showcased abroad because it is such a good play.

It is superbly written by Simon Bartolo. What’s fantastic and extra-ordinary is the fact that “Pożittivi” is, contrary to what you might expect, essentially a comedy. It is funny from start to finish. It makes you laugh so much.

Formally, the message which it portrays is that people with HIV, if receiving the proper medication, can lead a normal life. But on top of that, there are other layers of messages. There is a whole introspective analysis of Malta today, seen from the eyes of a pro-LGBTIQ approach. I particularly loved the frankness with which the author described the almost brotherly relationship between two young gay men who, in the play, have been best friends since forever. The diction which they use is hilarious and it is used which such skill that it feels totally real.

Clare Agius, Stephen Mintoff, Benjamin Abela and Chris Vincent were extraordinary in their roles. Ray Calleja and Josette Ciappara were in a class of their own, constructing and weaving throughout the play the perfect backdrop for the most unexpected of endings.

After the play, some of the actors and other HIV activists put up a short discussion with the audience about the need of raising awareness about the challenges which people having HIV face in contemporary Malta. I heard with interest what a young man who was declared HIV positive a number of months ago had to say and what the reality is on the ground for people suffering from HIV.

I had never before listened with such clarity of thought people speaking so directly about HIV in Malta. Thank you Simon, Toni and all the artists and crew involved in the show for doing this.


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