Over the last decades, Malta was warned, with remarkable precision, about how the country’s landscape and culture would change. Jael Micallef and Mark Laurence Zammit dive into letters and poems with these predictions.

In July 1965, then-archbishop Michael Gonzi put pen to paper in a letter warning that “Malta must remain Malta” if it is to be “loved by its citizens and admired by foreigners”.

He was writing at a time when the country was calmer, greener, more rural and less populated but, more than 60 years later, his words seem eerily prophetic.

“These [foreigners] do not come here to find another asphalt jungle because they have enough of them in their own lands. Malta cannot be turned into just another metropolis because there are enough of them elsewhere,” he wrote.

“The exigencies of modern life and of economic needs must be blended with the skyline and the shoreline, the scenery and the size of the islands, so that no disproportion or disharmony come to mar them.”

Gonzi was writing to the founding members of a new environmental NGO, Din l-Art Ħelwa, congratulating them on their efforts and highlighting the values they needed to protect.

Malta cannot be turned into just another metropolis

Despite his concerns, Malta’s skyline did shift rapidly and asphalt did spread further, as has the growing population and its economic needs. 

The excerpt of Gonzi’s speech has been shared recently in WhatsApp chats but he was not the only one to appear to see the future before everyone else – and warn people about it.

‘The concrete miracle’

Almost half a century ago, poet and clergyman Marjanu Vella issued a warning about concrete – which was, at the time, taking the construction world by storm in what he ironically dubbed “the concrete miracle”.

He said it would drastically and permanently change the face of Malta’s iconic, wide and low limestone buildings.

In his 1975 poem Ħitan tas-Sejjieħ (Rubble Walls), he sarcastically mocked traditional Maltese townhouses, comparing them to unattractive fat, plump, short women “with no sense of figure”, as opposed to the modern, tall, skinny buildings which resemble attractive women.

At face value, the poem seems to celebrate concrete technology but the undertones in his descriptions of the construction styles clearly reveal that Vella was criticising modern-day designs, which may seem attractive in the short-term but are no match for the character and identity of the traditional style of old Maltese houses.

Verses from Marjanu Vella&rsquo;s 1975 poem <em>Ħitan tas-Sejjieħ</em> (<em>Rubble Walls</em>).Verses from Marjanu Vella’s 1975 poem Ħitan tas-Sejjieħ (Rubble Walls).

‘A wealthy rubbish dump’

In 2001, singer-songwriter Walter Micallef was somewhat prophetic in a literary work he produced, in which he tried to predict what Malta would look like in 2020.

Elfejn u Għoxrin (Two Thousand Twenty) predicts Maltese people will be far wealthier but the once-sweet land will become “a rubbish dump”.

Nice façades will be concealing what has decayed on the inside, children will be born already struggling to breathe, the rain will be acidic, the sea contaminated and the fish we eat poisoned, he predicted.

And those who ruined the country will flee to more beautiful pastures abroad with their families and friends who helped sow division and hatred. Meanwhile, the rest of the people will be destined to stay at home, hoping for a better future, he wrote.

The Azure Window and Air Malta

On a funnier note, author and university lecturer Michael Spagnol seemed to predict specific events in a comical skit he wrote for his show Kelma Kelma Nota Nota in 2016.

He predicted Gozo’s Azure Window would “open up like Renzo Piano’s” city gate, just seven months before the iconic rock formation completely collapsed into the sea during a winter storm.

He also predicted Comino’s Blue Lagoon would be covered in cement to give operators space to put their deckchairs. Although it was not covered in cement, activists often criticise Blue Lagoon operators for hijacking the area, and the popular tourist spot became the centre of controversy two years ago when environmental activists descended on the island and removed the deckchairs in protest.

Michael Spagnol is former head of the Maltese language department at the University of Malta. Photo: Facebook/Michael SpagnolMichael Spagnol is former head of the Maltese language department at the University of Malta. Photo: Facebook/Michael Spagnol

Spagnol also predicted Air Malta would perhaps not exist anymore, and, though he did not predict the birth of its replacement – KM Malta Airlines – he did say that Ryanair would perhaps become the national airline.

And that’s almost exactly what Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, told Times of Malta in an interview last year – that the Irish airline has become the “unofficial” national airline.

Where they got it wrong

However, even though they saw into the future accurately, not everything they warned about would come to be.

In his letter to Din l-Art Ħelwa, for instance, archbishop Gonzi also warned that Maltese village cores and national monuments could “fall into ruin” and lose their value if not preserved.

“Our villages must not be disembowelled, the semi-oriental touch of many spots must be respected,” he had written in that same letter.

Over the past decades, governments have largely managed – through EU funds, planning policies and financial schemes – to conserve the character of the centres of towns and villages and have invested millions in the preservation and restoration of all sorts of old buildings – from Neolithic temples, to auberges, theatres, churches and even residential townhouses.

Similarly, in 1904, German scholar Theodor Nöldeke had predicted that the “Maltese [language] will probably remain with us for quite a long time, although it is almost certain that one day it will give way to Italian”.

That has not happened. Yet.

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