Updated at 10am
A historic arch used to celebrate the feast of St Publius was burnt down to the ground early on Saturday morning, in a fire that raged for 90 minutes and extensively damaged four cars parked nearby.
The wooden arch, which dated back to 1899, was completely destroyed in the fire, just one week before the town’s yearly feast for its patron saint.
“It’s like a part of the church has fallen,” parish priest Charles Cini told Times of Malta. “It’s an immense loss”.
The fire on Triq San Tumas was reported at 1.30am. Firefighters finally managed to put out the flames at 3am.
Indications fire was intentional
Police told Times of Malta that a magisterial inquiry led by magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is under way. Although officers were reluctant to attribute the fire to arson, initial indications suggest that the fire was intentional.
Fr Charles said that it looked like the fire had risen up through the arch’s right column, which contains a door and access shaft.
Florianites took to Facebook to express their shock at the sudden loss.
“We wake up to sad news,” one wrote.
“We lost a monument and a piece of art,” feast organisers wrote on Facebook.
Valletta's Għaqda Pawlini also expressed dismay, offering Floriana's feast organisers their condolences and sympathy.
The feast of St Publius will go ahead despite the loss, and Fr Charles said that he would like to have the arch rebuilt.
“We have the original plans, and we have the will to do so,” he said. “Hopefully we will get the financial aid needed to make that possible”.
Built in 1899, the arch was used regularly until 1939, when the outbreak of World War II forced organisers to put it into long-term storage.
It gradually deteriorated and was left to rot for several decades, until a thorough restoration project was undertaken and the arch was brought back out in 1999. It had been in use ever since.