Throwing away our heritage

March 30, 2015

by Maria Grazia Cassar

What a pity, what a shame! Another old building is about to be demolished. It will be gone forever, the irreplaceable loss of the historic urban fabric of the important Naxxar village core.

Such news makes one feel impotent in the face of the destructive onslaught of greed, where developers will stop at nothing to make a fast buck.

One also feels impotent in a country where the planning authority will not even acknowledge the suggestions of its own cultural heritage advisory committee. What is it there for if its professional and well-informed advice is not taken? How, in the face of such decisions, can one have faith in the boards acting on behalf of all the citizens of Malta?

Awareness of the importance and value of historic sites has resulted in huge efforts by both the government and the private sector in the conservation of the architectural landscape. However, it is not only the important landmarks and historic sites that must be preserved.

Humble, unassuming buildings, also have their story to tell and lend their beauty to the streetscape. Theirs is the integrity of authenticity, which no attempt at reproduction or nod to their memory can replicate. It is what attracts residents to our old villages and why tourism is reaching out to tap the resources of these unique places.

In the vision for Malta’s future, a lot has been said about the need to take the tourism product ‘to the next level’ and attract quality tourists. This is the niche where Malta can excel, providing the services, hospitality and cultural activities that would bring quality tourism to our shores.

It is not only the important sites that must be preserved

The traditional built environment is one of the key elements in the provision of this cultural experience; one that extends from the well-known Valletta, Mdina and the Three Cities area to encompass all other historic towns and villages. What better setting for a beautiful baroque church, boasting art treasures worthy of world-class museums, than a well-preserved village core?

What better setting for our traditional festa than the winding streets with houses loved and looked after by generations of inhabitants?

Incentives to encourage conservation of the historic fabric would go a long way towards ensuring its preservation. The success of the wooden gallarija scheme, some years back, not only saved hundreds of traditional wooden balconies from extinction but also went a long way towards reviving the craft and skill required to build them.

A lot is to be reaped from the preservation of an old town or village. Certainly the view must be in the longer term but the value of property in historic town centres is most definitely one that would appreciate if proper protection were afforded to it.

Would Taormina be the exclusive resort it is today if the vernacular buildings it encompasses in its narrow streets were demolished to make way for modern flats and shops? The old village core of St Julian’s, for example, would have been an ideal retreat from the busy seafront, for tourists to explore and discover, had it enjoyed the protection Taormina has.

Instead, the lovely village houses are being systematically demolished and replaced with flats that crowd the narrow streets and make life unbearable. What a wasted opportunity. There is much left to preserve and conserve; let us treasure the resource that constitutes our old buildings, however humble or neglected. Once they are gone, they will be gone forever and hardly ever are they replaced by something better, or more beautiful.

Let us stop the destruction before it is too late.

The urban core areas are so small, sometimes consisting of just a couple of streets, that it is unthinkable to also give these up for development and add to the mass of architectural mediocrity of the newer village outskirts.

Instead, we must ensure that they will survive for the benefit of our children and for posterity.

Our traditional village architecture must be preserved. It is a resource to be treasured and valued. It is what defines the character of our urban cores and speaks to us of the experience and intelligence of our forefathers.

Most of all it is our heritage. An appeal is hereby made to the government to intervene.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150319/opinion/Throwing-away-our-heritage.560497

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