Recently I had an opportunity to visit a place which in my younger days used to be called the ‘Biagio Steps Examination Centre’ in Valletta, and later still I used to visit together with my colleagues of the then ‘Chorus Melitensis’ for rehearsal sessions with the then Manoel Theatre Orchestra. At the time the place used to be stacked with broken school furniture and its first floor lined with rows of dusty school desktops, awaiting nervous youngsters ready to face their next exam hurdle.
Never in my wildest imagination could I picture the transformation I was to find at ‘Biagio Steps’. Gone were the broken steps, crumbling ceilings and dusty walls of the shabby halls, the roofless, gutted upper floor with its missing window frames and a general ambience of neglect. In its place I found a complex of six large halls on three levels, fully restored to their original architectural splendour; modernised to include lifts, ramps and easy flow access ways in consonance with modern day exhibition space requirements.
I was told that this transformation is the brainchild of George Pullicino, Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs and benefitted from the dedication and expertise of Stephen Spiteri, research co-ordinator at the ministry’s Restoration Unit. It took four years to be completed and was helped by funds from the European Regional Development Fund.
The Fortifications Interpretation Centre at ‘Biagio Steps’, at the end of the Marsamxett side of Melita Street, will be officially opened by the Prime Minister on February 16. It brings together under one roof audio-visual presentations, detailed scale-models, colourful informative charts and avant-guard digital touch screen information technology.
The centre has its own conference facility and library where historic text, maps and publications, as well as modern day research works and current scientific field restoration analysis will be found under one roof.
Topics covered at the centre include the prehistoric Borg in-Nadur fortified village concept, Punic/Roman remains at Mdina and elsewhere, the Middle Ages Castel a Maris architecture, the vast and complex fortifications of the Order of St. John, early British military forts along the Victoria Lines and the defence facilities of World War Two.
Well done to all those involved. I urge everyone with an interest in Malta to visit this new worthwhile experience.