One of the main pillars of Malta's built-up physical heritage is its military architecture. The legacy of fortresses, citadels, towers and batteries make the Maltese islands a unique place in terms of fortifications. As architectural monuments, these bastions and ramparts document centuries of development in military architecture and constitute an integral part of the Maltese landscape. Up to and until the post-war boom in urban development, the fortifications represented the largest product of geomorphic activity in places dictating and re-fashioning the topography itself.
The imposing architecture, sculptural qualities, vast internal spaces and rich typological diversity of the fortifications make them an important economic and cultural resource.
Especially in tourism, the fortifications offer a unique attraction that makes them a potential element in the tourism package that Malta has to offer. No other island in the Mediterranean basin has such a huge and varied concentration of fortifications.
Much of this architectural heritage, however, is to be found in a poor state of preservation, and is underutilised. The vast potential inherent in these structures has remained largely untapped, with most of the fortifications having been relegated to secondary roles as venues of unsympathetic activities or else simply left abandoned.
The overall picture that emerges is one of general underutilisation, accompanied by an accelerating deterioration of the architectural fabric, but also of great cultural and tourism potential once these fortifications are repaired and rehabilitated, and put to productive use.
The proposals submitted for EU Structural Funds 2007-2013 in respect of the conservation and rehabilitation of the historical fortifications seek to address the problem of restoration and rehabilitation of the decaying architectural fabric of the fortifications with the aim of their revalorisation as an integral and focal part of Malta's cultural-tourism product. With the help of the European funds, if the proposal is accepted, the government would be in a position to tackle some of the most pressing priorities - namely the restoration of the fortifications of Valletta, Vittoriosa and Mdina, and the citadel of Gozo.
These renowned works of fortification (Valletta has already been declared a World Heritage site) have been selected for their historical/architectural significance; for their tourism potential.
The proposed works will allow large parts of the ramparts to be cleaned, repaired and opened to the public, as places of cultural and leisure activities - tourist information centres, museums, cafeterias and vantage panoramic viewpoints. Both Valletta and Mdina are already popular tourist areas. Valletta hosts about 900,000 tourists a year and Mdina 750,000 (out of about one million tourists a year).
Vittoriosa, on the other hand, is less known and only receives about eight per cent of total visitor arrivals (about 88,000 people).
The desired restoration and rehabilitation works, as outlined in the project proposal, therefore, will serve to give the fortifications greater dignity as historical monuments and allow them to be integrated productively into the overall tourism product by harnessing their economic and cultural potential.
The project is divided into four distinct areas of intervention:
Valletta: The main scope is the restoration of the bastions and masonry revetments and the scarped bedrock of the main bastioned land front of the City together with its outer screen of counterguards and advanced works. The project also seeks to identify and promote the spaces within the fortifications in such a way so as to maximise the cultural and economical potential of the fortifications.
Vittoriosa: The main scope is to restore and rehabilitate the Vittoriosa fortifications in such a manner as to re-establish the physical connections in the Cottonera area between the Vittoriosa seafront, Cospicua and Kalkara seafront, thus creating a complete heritage trail all around Vittoriosa by linking the restoration, rehabilitation and regeneration works being done by the Vittoriosa Waterfront Group and the central government with the Kalkara waterfront.
Mdina: The focus is to consolidate the fragile terrain on which the bastion walls and historic palaces such as the Vilhena Palace at the entrance to the medieval capital city are built upon in order to diminish and possibly stop further settlement and damage of these historic structures.
Cittadella: The main scope here is to restore and repair the ramparts to consolidate the fragile cliff-face and medieval ramparts on the northern part of the enceinte.
Mr Zammit is Minister for Resources and Infrastructure.