Experts have already started seeing the first signs that the protective tents erected over Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples are slowing down the weathering of that ancient stonework, the chairman of Heritage Malta, Joseph Said, announced this evening.

He made his comment during the inauguration of the protective structures and a visitors centre, formally concluding a €4.7 million project partly funded by the EU.

The inauguration was made by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who said that the project was aimed at giving a future to Malta's past.

Mr Said said the two megalithic temples, built some 3,500 years before Christ and recognised as the oldest free standing structures in the world, were the most important treasure entrusted to Heritage Malta, along with the other temples such as Ggantija and Tarxien. Heritage Malta, he said, had a duty to protect them and to help the people to better appreciate them - twin aims which were achieved by this project.

The protective shelters were erected last year following an international competition to establish the best reversible means to protect the temples particularly from the sun, the wind, the rain and sharp temperature changes. Studies had shown a marked deterioration of the giant stones since the temples were excavated some 150 years ago.

This evening's ceremony was held in the open against the backdrop of Hagar Qim, which was lit with coloured flood lights.

Dr Gonzi said such projects helped the nation to better appreciate its heritage in stone.

Hagar Qim and the other historical treasures gave the Maltese people their identity and dignity. Malta, he noted, had a rich architectural history, which from these temples extended to the catacombs, the bastions, the churches, the squares and the houses of the Maltese.

He noted the various restoration projects currently in hand, notably at Cottonera, Valletta, Mdina and the Cittadella, costing in excess of €36 million, and said these represented the responsibility which the current generation was showing to the generations of the future.

Dr Gozni said the government wanted to see more Maltese and tourists visit Malta's unique cultural sites. Between January and August this year 700,000 toured the sites and museums administered by Heritage Malta, up by 6% over the same eight months last year.

Those present for the ceremony included Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco, who is responsible for culture and tourism. He underscored the importance of the temples for Malta and for the Maltese tourism product.

The two-storey visitors' centre is the first of its kind for Malta. It features exhibitions related to various aspects of the temples as well as interactive presentations on how the temples are thought to have been built and how they must have looked in their heyday.

The group Tribali took part in the inauguration ceremony as did a number of schoolchildren.


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