The re-gen­er­a­tion of the South-East

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - ■ Noel Grima

The or­ga­ni­za­tion Wirt iż-Że­j­tun last Satur­day held its third sym­po­sium.

In its first two, it had kept rig­or­ously to Że­j­tun – the first as re­gards Ro­man ru­ins and the sec­ond to com­mem­o­rate a bat­tle against Mus­lim in­vaders.

Now, in its third sym­po­sium, it came out of Że­j­tun both phys­i­cally in that the sym­po­sium was held at Villa Santa Anna in Marsas­cala, and the­mat­i­cally in that it has now broad­ened its range of in­ter­est to speak about the re-gen­er­a­tion of the South­East.

It sounds bet­ter in Mal­tese – ixXlokk – but even then the fo­cus was mostly Że­j­tun, Birżeb­buġa, Marsas­cala, Żab­bar and lim­it­edly Għaxaq but that leaves a group of vil­lages – Żur­rieq, Gudja, Qrendi, Mqabba, maybe even Luqa – with no such vis­i­ble link be­tween them.

Nev­er­the­less, the themes iden­ti­fied as re­gards the Xlokk are com­mon and in­ter­linked.

Wirt iż-Że­j­tun pres­i­dent Perit Ruben Abela kicked off with a long list of his­toric prop­er­ties in the area suf­fer­ing from ne­glect – from the De­li­mara Fort where an old gun rests on mounds of demel, to St Paul Bat­tery, to Fort San Anard which houses cat­tle, to in­nu­mer­able sen­try boxes and gun posts which have been taken over by en­croach­ment.

There are how­ever some suc­cess sto­ries – the Fer­retti Bat­tery in Birżeb­buġa which is used as a restau­rant, the Torri ta’ San Tu­mas which was re­stored three times but is cur­rently closed, the Torri Mamo which has been re­stored by Din l-Art Ħelwa and is reg­u­larly opened by the same NGO, and of course the Fort Rinella which is kept open by Fon­daz­zjoni Wirt Artna and is very pop­u­lar.

Perit Abela asked why can­not such his­toric build­ings be handed over to the pri­vate sec­tor and used? As an ex­am­ple he men­tioned fortresses that have been changed to ho­tels in the UK, bar­racks in Ger­many that have be­come res­i­den­tial etc. Here in Malta we can turn gun posts and pill­boxes into a smart res­i­dence.

Michelle Borg from Plan­ning Author­ity un­der­scored Malta’s pop­u­la­tion den­sity: 430,000 res­i­dents amassed in just 315sq km with a den­sity of 1,384 per­sons per square kilo­me­tre when other coun­tries would have a den­sity of 300 or 500.

Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat, who found time to put in a brief ap­pear­ance, en­cour­aged the re­dis­cov­ery of the Xlokk. The area must be­come sus­tain­able, that is able to cre­ate jobs. The Xlokk must find its niche, just as Gozo has found its niche in div­ing. We are not aware of what we have, the PM said, telling of his anger when for­eign­ers tell him things about Malta that are not known by the Mal­tese.

Sharon Sul­tana from the National Mu­seum of Ar­chae­ol­ogy spoke about the con­tents of the ar­chives of the mu­seum with re­gards to the Xlokk. These are ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains that are not on show and also notes re­lat­ing to these mainly dat­ing from 19th and 20th Cen­tury ex­ca­va­tions.

These are stored in boxes that are only now be­ing clas­si­fied. Among these she listed the notes from Temi Zam­mit re­gard­ing his ex­ca­va­tion of Xrobb l-Gha­gin in April 1913 as well as sub­se­quent ex­ca­va­tions by oth­ers, the cat­a­combs very near to where we were meet­ing (now closed up) with its Latin in­scrip­tion hon­our­ing Je­sus Christ from Byzan­tine times, the Mar­nisi re­mains ex­ca­vated by Temi Zam­mit, etc.

An in­trigu­ing de­tail by Ms Sul­tana said that Temi Zam­mit wrote two diaries about his finds. Some of these copy­books had gone miss­ing but were re­dis­cov­ered lately by a uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor who had in­her­ited the room of Pro­fes­sor Evans and found these among other pa­pers.

Dr Na­dia Theuma spoke about the pos­si­bil­i­ties for agro-tourism in the Xlokk. It is an area of 35 sq km with 54,000 res­i­dents, a mixed econ­omy with 106 ac­com­mo­da­tion units with 737 beds, al­though it is not usu­ally thought of as a tourist area. So far, the North-West of Malta and Gozo have moved ahead as re­gards agro-tourism. The Xlokk has been opened up to tourists by the hop-on hop-off buses. There are quite a num­ber of devel­op­ments in the area, re­gard­ing not just apart­ments but also some farm­houses, old houses and houses of char­ac­ter. The De­li­mara light­house has be­come a high-end tourist res­i­dence. The area has two na­ture parks but one has dis­ap­point­ingly few an­i­mals – a lost op­por­tu­nity.

The area is ripe for a clean-up such as has taken place at Wied il-Mielaħ in Gozo and the pro­mo­tion of its food of­fer – olive oil, wine, bak­eries, ricotta and ġbe­jniet. Peo­ple will also be in­ter­ested to learn about the agri­cul­tural tools that used to be han­dled, the breed­ing of an­i­mals and the dif­fer­ent ways of food pro­duc­tion.

Dr Theuma also sug­gested the preser­va­tion of the di­alects of the area, es­pe­cially that of Że­j­tun, and the pro­mo­tion of lit­er­a­ture in di­alect.

Pro­fes­sor George Cas­sar spoke about the re­li­gious her­itage of the area, be­gin­ning with the 4th Cen­tury Byzan­tine cat­a­combs al­ready men­tioned just two blocks from the area where we were meet­ing, mov­ing on to the me­dieval chapels in the area es­pe­cially the old St Cather­ine church in Że­j­tun which is more known as San Gir­gor, which is in a good state pre­cisely be­cause it has al­ways been used ex­cept for a few months in 1614 when the Mus­lims at­tacked and the priest was un­able to func­tion from 6 July, the date of the at­tack, to 11 Septem­ber.

In Birżeb­buġa there is the St George chapel which ex­isted al­ready be­fore the Great Siege as can be seen from Mat­teo Perez d’Alec­cio’s fres­coes. In­ter­est­ingly, the chapel was later en­cir­cled by a fortress.

Re­li­gious tourism is a niche mar­ket and can­not be con­sid­ered as a mass event. There is scope for this not just dur­ing the festa sea­son but more in the shoul­der months: it of­fers the au­then­tic char­ac­ter of the Mal­tese, which mass tourists rarely get. One idea for this is es­tab­lish cul­tural routes in­side a vil­lage or be­tween neigh­bour­ing vil­lages.

In ques­tion time, Marsas­cala mayor Mario Calleja said that when Torri San Tu­mas was turned into a pizze­ria many were up­set but at least that build­ing re­mained in use. The lo­cal coun­cil has been ask­ing for the French re­doubt in St Thomas Bay for seven long years with no re­sult so far.

The af­ter­noon ses­sion had three in­ter­est­ing pre­sen­ta­tions about ideas how the Xkokk may be de­vel­oped but un­for­tu­nately the least in­ter­est­ing one is the one that is on the verge of be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

This was the one ex­plained by Alex Mus­cat from OPM who ex­plained what will be hap­pen­ing to the re­cently an­nounced Park tan-Nwadar, that is the park sur­round­ing the land given to the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Malta. A legal no­tice in this re­gard will shortly be pub­lished. The area is

900 tu­muli in ex­ten­sion and a plan has been ex­ist­ing for the area, at least on pa­per, since 2006. It is one of Malta’s most ne­glected area and even today dump­ing still takes place. It has much agri­cul­tural land which has been aban­doned.

There are also a lot of cul­tural her­itage sites mostly Bri­tish her­itage such as pill boxes, fortresses and so on. How­ever, the most dif­fi­cult task ahead is how to draw up and put in prac­tice a man­age­ment plan through stop­ping dump­ing, re­triev­ing pill boxes from il­le­gal own­er­ship, and en­sur­ing the area is given back to the Mal­tese pop­u­la­tion for en­joy­ment.

Two per­iti, Daphne Fenech and Katya Sam­mut, spoke about the po­ten­tial for an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park around Għar Dalam, Ta’ Kaċċatura and the sur­round­ing ar­eas. The area has two val­leys, Wied Żnu­ber and Wied Dalam. The area has the re­mains of Borġ in-Nadur, cart ruts and tombs.

Ta’ Kaċċatura is a Ro­man villa with an un­der­ground cis­tern on col­umns. Casa Ip­polito is a 17th cen­tury Mal­tese farm­house which is in dan­ger of col­laps­ing.

Per­haps for­tu­nately given our ten­dency to de­stroy and pil­lage, the whole area is very in­ac­ces­si­ble, with dif­fi­cult to find path­ways.

But per­haps the most ex­cit­ing pre­sen­ta­tion was that read out by a medical doc­tor, Dr Jason Bon­nici (in con­junc­tion with Ruben Abela) on the pos­si­bil­ity of a national park from Munxar to De­li­mara.

This area may be called the area that fash­ioned the Mal­tese iden­tity – enough to list the dif­fer­ent peo­ples who passed through it, from the Ro­mans to the French, the Por­tuguese, and the Bri­tish. The Turk­ish ar­mada landed in Marsaxlokk Bay in 1565. The area is the first line of de­fence of Md­ina, then the first line of de­fence of St An­gelo, which is why the Knights for­ti­fied the area with so many tow­ers.

Dr Bon­nici listed the var­i­ous ar­eas in the sec­tion cho­sen and de­scribed the at­trac­tions in each. The area of­fers many pic­turesque ar­eas such as St Thomas Bay, the white cliffs, Ro­man baths and tombs, at least two men­hirs, two chapels such as St Gae­tano, and at least two pill­boxes.

The Munxar area has Pu­nic and Ro­man tombs where agri­cul­tural tools have been found, and the Munxar Reef. There was a his­to­rian who spec­u­lated that St Paul ac­tu­ally ship­wrecked on the Munxar Reef.

The fish farms in the area at­tract dol­phins and the Hurds Bank some dis­tance away on a nor­mal day has many ships in the area.

Xrobb l-Għa­gin has ItTaqtiegħa, a rock that fell into the sea, a Ne­olithic tem­ple dis­cov­ered by Temi Zam­mit and a chapel ded­i­cated to St Paul Ship­wrecked.

De­li­mara has many rocky beaches, es­pe­cially Il-Ħofra lKbira and Il-Ħofra ż-Żghira, cliffs, gun posts, the AFM Radar sta­tion, and Fort De­li­mara.

Tas-Silġ has the en­chant­ing church.

Such a national park would com­ple­ment the Park tal-In­wadar and the other pro­posed park around Għar Dalam and Ħas-Sap­tan.

The last speaker at the sym­po­sium was Malta Tourism Author­ity chair­man Gavin Gu­lia who out­lined what MTA is do­ing and of­fered all col­lab­o­ra­tion to Wirt iż-Że­j­tun in its fu­ture ac­tiv­i­ties.

The De­li­mara light­house

St Cather­ine Church in Że­j­tun

Torri San Tu­mas

Fer­retti Bat­tery in Birzeb­buga

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