During the past 10 years I have visited Malta more than 20 times.
In these 10 years I noticed a number of changes all over the island, especially in Valletta. Streets have been paved, a parking system has been installed, the new inviting St George’s Square in front of the Grand Master’s Palace erased the endless area of parked cars, façades of public buildings have been cleaned.
I also noticed that old town houses are being restored, with their façades being conserved in the old architectural styles. All these works and improvements in this old and beautiful city are being done with respect for the city’s flair and in pride of Valletta as a World Heritage City.
In all my countless visits to Valletta I felt happy and enjoyed the old city because its characteristics are in many ways different from those of other cities in Europe.
Now I have to admit that when, during my recent visit to Valletta, I saw the construction site for the new Parliament building on Freedom Square, I found myself in a state of shock and huge disappointment.
How could it be that a massive modern building is allowed to be built inside the walls of Valletta, right after one enters the (future) city gate?
Didn’t the world famous architect Renzo Piano have the artistic sensibility to understand the historic value of Valletta or what the architectural parameters of this city are?
I talked to a number of my Maltese friends of different ages and I have been in contact with foreigners: they all had the same questions I have. In addition, no one could rationalise how the government and the planning authority could have approved this building, so close to all the historic buildings like Our Lady of Victories church (the first church built in Valletta), St Catherine’s church and St James Cavalier, just to mention the closest monumental buildings.
I was told that during the period of consultation of this project, there were quite a number of open protests by locals and high-ranking people, not members of Parliament, who were fiercely against this modern building and also against the “open-air” theatre, based on the ruins of the old opera house.
I have to say that all the people I talked to seriously doubt there will ever be a theatre, opera or concert performance. Simply because of weather adversities, dust and external noise. I refer to fireworks, which are even heard during performances inside the Manoel Theatre.
This area of the “open-air” theatre is absolutely wasted. The ruins are ruins and nothing else; they should have been removed if they were not going to be preserved.
As a German national I am not at ease, knowing that the opera house was destroyed by a German bomb. I met witnesses of the time, telling me that the German government offered help to rebuild the opera house. What kind of help? Why has this help been refused? I could not get any conclusive answer.
The government – and not the Maltese people – has been won over by Mr Piano and his project to cover Freedom Square with a modern Parliament building and to use the opera house ruins as the base for an open air theatre. The situation has to be called grotesque. On the one hand, historic and monumental buildings close to Freedom Square have been restored or are still under restoration. On the other hand, there exists that strange ambition to place a modern building amid historic buildings, which are part of Valletta’s world heritage.
I tend to call this a mutilation of the city of Valletta, which, in 1980, was granted the Unesco title Valletta World Heritage City.
In 2012, the government intends to put Valletta forward as a candidate for the European Capital City of Culture 2018. A pre-selection by experts will take place in 2013. One could assume that with the new Parliament building inside the Valletta bastions both titles could be questioned and taken away.
With the construction of the Parliament building and the useless open-air theatre, Valletta and its Freedom Square cannot be considered part of the basic idea of keeping Valletta World Heritage City alive.
I know very well that, as a foreigner, I am not entitled to criticise internal matters in Malta. But as a European I felt free to criticise this unpleasant transformation of Freedom Square. A large number of Maltese and a large number of tourists certainly agree with me.
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