Digging a hole
In 2008, controversy was rife in Malta over the application by the St John’s Foundation to extend the cathedral museum by digging a huge hole outside the cathedral to house the priceless Gobelin tapestries.
Development application PA 00167/08 dealt with an extension at St John's Co-Cathedral Museum in Valletta.
The proposed project was to include the construction of a three-storey high building on the courtyard along Merchants Street to provide additional space and a canteen at roof level.
According to the development application, the façade of the co-cathedral along Merchants Street will be altered by the proposed structure that will stand above the graves of the Knights of the Order.
A second application, PA 00168/08, proposed to extend St John's Co-Cathedral Museum by excavating chambers below St John's Street, connecting them to existing underground water reservoirs, and constructing a vertical lift through all the floors, apart from alterations.
The two water cisterns there are among the earliest in Valletta, thought to have been built on the insistence of Francesco Laparelli evidence
of the advanced engineering techniques and the foresight of the Order in assuring Valletta's water supply.
All Malta rose in horror. Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar led the charge. “This underground exhibition space is intended to house the Gobelins tapestries. However, in addition to the problems of creating access, this would require a considerable air and humidity control installation, which will cause further damage to the vaulted cisterns.
“It is felt that the potential risks posed by exhibiting priceless tapestries in underground chambers, as well as the inevitable damage to part of the most important monument that Malta possesses, are totally unacceptable,” the NGO said.
“Furthermore, excavations at St John's Square to provide more chambers might not only affect the cathedral's foundations but also destroy the remains of previous knights' period structures,” it added.
The FAA insisted that such a historical and long-established urban environment that has long been enjoyed by Valletta residents and visitors should not be destroyed, disrupting the community by depriving it of trees that are essential for shade and help to remove pollutants from the air.
At the end, after the application seemed about to be taken and discussed in Parliament, then Archbishop Cremona ordered the Foundation to desist.
On Saturday, with a lot of advance publicity, Projects Malta announced a competition for a 350-car parking development next to the Mosta Dome.
This time, the (Nationalist) local council is on board and the church, now under a new archpriest, has been consulted and will be appointing a member to the technical monitoring board, which would have access to all the impact studies. There has been, so far no whimper from FAA or from any other environmental or heritage NGO.
This is being pointed out to highlight the vast discrepancy between St John’s 2008 and Mosta Dome 2016. The Mosta excavation will actually be nearer the church than the St John’s cisterns are. And will probably be deeper to accommodate all those cars.