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Environmental monitoring to begin at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples

Heritage Malta is launching an intensive programme of environmental monitoring at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples, in another important step in the race against time to protect these sites from the elements.

This project is being fully funded by the European Union, in preparation for an extensive project for the conservation and interpretation of these two World Heritage Sites. The whole project will cost €3.5 million, and will also benefit from EU funding through the European Regional Development Fund. The target is to complete the project to shelter the sites by autumn 2007, before the onset of the rainy season.

The environmental monitoring of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra will involve monitoring and recording of factors such as temperature, humidity, rainfall and wind speed, which all contribute to the sites' deterioration.

Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples had been buried for thousands of years prior to their excavation in 1839-40. On excavation these sites were suddenly exposed to harsh environmental conditions which have caused their rapid deterioration leading to the loss of certain features, and in some cases, to the collapse of parts of the structures.

To address this disquieting situation a Scientific Committee for the Conservation of the Megalithic Temples was appointed in 2000 to examine ways to slow down the deterioration of the sites. The committee concluded that the best way to protect the sites at present is to install temporary and reversible lightweight shelters. In August 2000 the proposal for sheltering these prehistoric monuments was approved by Cabinet.

The information gathered during the environmental monitoring will be essential for the monitoring of the performance of the protective shelters. The design of these shelters was part of an international competition launched by the Ministry for Youth and the Arts in 2003. The competition included the design of a visitors' centre and interpretation facilities for Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.

The winner of this competition, Swiss architect Walter Hunziker, has now been commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture as the architect for the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra project and is working in collaboration with the local partnership AoM.

The project will ensure that the sites are understood, appreciated and valued by both local and foreign visitors, while being preserved for future generations. It shall cater both for the conservation needs of the archaeological sites as well as for the accessibility and interpretation of the sites to the public. The project not only involves the installation of shelters for the two prehistoric monuments, but also the construction of a visitors' centre, and installation of on-site interpretation facilities.

Information meetings will be organised shortly in collaboration with local councils of localities close to the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Archaeological Park to provide the public with first-hand information about the proposed project, and to give the public the opportunity to air their views and expectations regarding the future of this unique yet fragile part of our heritage.

Meanwhile, Heritage Malta is inviting interested parties and individuals who would like to learn more about this project to consult the Project Description Statement available online at: www.heritagemalta.org/hagarqim.html

Comments and feedback may be sent by e-mail to: [email protected].

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