The first phase of Malta's tallest building Mercury Towers opens its doors to the public for the first time on Friday with a three-level shopping mall and piazza.

The previously walled-in Mercury House on St George’s Road in Paceville is now opened up with a paved walkway leading up to the shopping mall, as the hulking 33-floor glass tower - designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid - looms above it.

On Thursday evening, workers were still scrambling to assemble the finishing touches. Amidst the flurry of activity, controversial developer Joseph Portelli - the brains behind the project - was overseeing the final preparations before opening. 

The project was approved in 2018 and was met with criticism about the scale of the high-rise tower and whether it was appropriate for the area. 

Developer Joseph Portelli leads a behind-the-scenes tour on Thursday, ahead of the opening of the first phase of Mercury Towers. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

Objectors expressed frustration at its permanent spot now etched in Malta’s skyline. 

When plans for the adjacent hotel were first approved, former St Julian’s mayor and PN MP Albert Buttigieg highlighted several issues raised by constituents, including that the project will increase traffic congestion and noise.

But Portelli still maintains that the project is special and will pave the way for improving development standards in the country.

"All the world's biggest projects and icons were always met with criticism," he says. "Whether it's New York, Dubai, London, they are criticised but then end up being landmarks of the country". 

Mercury House, with Malta's tallest building, Mercury Towers looming overhead. Photo: Karl Andrew MicallefMercury House, with Malta's tallest building, Mercury Towers looming overhead. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

Portelli walked through the piazza, which is set on two levels, one on street level starting from Mercury House and continuing up a flight of stairs to the mall’s main entrance. 

Just off the front of the doorway, workers were unwrapping a large and round bronze statue from its bindings. This is Mercury, a cartoon personification of the smallest planet in the solar system, one of five mascots for the project designed by illustrator Zack Ritchie. 

The newly opened shopping district houses over 80 brands, from familiar high-street outlets to designer fashion labels, as well as a selection of cafes and restaurants. 

Underground the complex also houses a 700-space car park.

Inside the shopping mall. Photo: Karl Andrew MicallefInside the shopping mall. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef

The interior of the mall is finished with glass panels installed in the floors of the walkway, through which shoppers can see a track below them. These are the foundations of an indoor go-kart rink, part of an entertainment area called Planet Play, which is set to open in March. This area will also feature an ice skating rink, a rope course and romp around and AR simulator games. 

Other features set to open in March include Odyssey - an audiovisual experience that recounts the history of Malta, a special effects simulator called Flying Theater and a Museum of Illusions. 

The complex is also planning to welcome a Ferrari store, which will feature simulators and space for e-sports and two food outlets developed by celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo. 

Some 700 workers have been involved in the construction of the project, with the next phase due to open in March.

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