Water ingress from the Upper Barrakka gardens, in Valletta has caused thousands of euros in damages to the Lascaris War Rooms, according Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna CEO Mario Farrugia.
The picturesque gardens were thrust into the spotlight last week when photos of the parched lawn in the Saluting Battery were uploaded onto social media by former environment minister George Pullicino. People expressed shock at seeing the lawn left in such a bad condition in peak tourist season.
However, Mr Farrugia insisted many were ignorant about the destruction the lawn and the garden were causing to the heritage site, estimated so far at €300,000.
“I am all for trees and gardens but in places where it makes sense to have them. This obsession with putting gardens on bastions, a legacy of the British, causes immense damage to our heritage.
“In 2011, the authorities decided it would be nice to install a lawn in the Saluting Battery, despite our objections. I can tell you that it immediately caused huge problems,” he said.
The water from the irrigation sprinklers began to seep into the rock and flood the Lascaris War rooms beneath, causing FWA to have to close the area for around three years, according to Mr Farrugia.
Six months ago, the Environmental Landscapes Consortium was authorised by the government to stop watering the lawn. There has been talk of replacing it with an artificial turf but no official decision has been made yet, he pointed out.
The irrigation sprinklers at the iconic Upper Barrakka gardens, which tourists flocked to, were also causing saturation of the rock strata above the subterranean chambers, with water causing mould and other major problems.
Water seeping in had caused the ducting to collapse and the floors ended up being soaked
“Oddly enough, this tends to occur more in summer than in winter due to the fact that more irrigation water is used in the hot months.
“There were occasions in winter when heavy rains occurred and no water got through, which further proves the point that the water ingress was being caused by water irrigation through saturation of the rock face,” Mr Farrugia pointed out.
The gardeners recently shifted to watering the garden manually, which has lessened the water damage, but did not stop it completely.
Worse still, Mr Farrugia remarked, water seeping in had caused the ducting in rooms considered to have great historical value to collapse and the floors ended up being soaked.
The rooms, which Times of Malta witnessed in a very poor state due to the water ingress, were used as offices and for communication purposes during World War II.
The source of the problem was thought to be a leak in the cistern used to store water for the garden, which the Water Services Corporation was now investigating, according to Mr Farrugia.
What are the Lascaris War Rooms?
The Lascaris War Rooms, named after Grandmaster Giovanni Paolo Lascaris and located under the Upper Barrakka, are a complex web of tunnels and chambers that housed the war HQ.
The subterranean chambers were most notably used to direct the Anglo-American invasion of Sicily in 1943, one of history’s largest amphibious operations ever attempted and a decisive battle in the Allied victory.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his supreme commanders directed the campaign, codenamed Operation Husky, from within the underground rooms.
In the post-war years, the War Rooms became the headquarters of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet.
Later, in the late 1960s, it was taken over by Nato to be used as a strategic communication centre.