Public response to the new shelters at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra has been "very positive", according to Heritage Malta's senior curator for prehistoric sites.

Reuben Grima, who gathered feedback from all walks of life and claims to have a good feel of the situation, said even those who arrived on site with a critical mindset, apprehensive of the shelters' visual impact on the temples, changed their views after the visit.

He said the "overwhelming majority" commented favourably. "And I can confidently say that, apart from material conservation benefits, the shelters have also changed the visitor's experience, considerably improving the reading of the site."

The simple fact that visitors are now in the shade and protected from the elements too is among the spill-over benefits of the shelters, Dr Grima said.

"It was hard to spend more than 15 minutes in Ħaġar Qim without the shelters. Now, simply being shaded and comfortable has increased the length of stay and the enjoyment of the sites."

Moreover, the "respect" with which the megalithic monuments are approached has also changed, according to Dr Grima, who has spent much time chatting with visitors.

"Now, they have the sensation that they have arrived at something important, even if they do not know much about the temples. I have heard visitors comment it is like entering a cathedral and they actually lower their voices, also because the acoustics have changed.

"People are shouting less and even tourist guides have said they need to raise their voices less than in the past as they are being helped by the acoustics."

The shelters have also left their positive impact on the astronomical alignments at Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim. Apart from being designed not to obstruct them, they have resulted in less light spillage, allowing for a more distinct contrast between the areas lit up by the sun and those in the shade during the astronomical phenomena observed on the first day of each season.

The uniform, diffused light, as opposed to the usual glare, is now ideal to read the details, Dr Grima said.

The shelters were completed in June, bar minor finishing touches and some pipe work for rainwater run-offs.

Both sites were open to the public, following closure that was limited to the minimum time necessary and never at both temples simultaneously, Dr Grima said.

The shelter project was completed about six months after the deadline but no EU funding was lost despite the fact that it was a condition to be eligible for it.

Dr Grima said "100 per cent of the structural funds allocated to the project have been absorbed".

He maintained it was "more important to get it right and done safely for the site, the workers and the public than to stick to a deadline and put any of these at risk".

The completion of the visitors' centre, located in the car park and originally scheduled for the end of 2008, has also been delayed, but was in the final stages and should be ready before the end of the year, Dr Grima said.

The landscape surrounding the centre was also considered to be delicate and delays were related to the investigation of the area to ensure no archaeological remains would be impacted and to redesign issues.

But mostly they were caused by the building contractor, who made good for them by paying penalties that ran into tens of thousands of euro.

Again, Dr Grima said, it was more important to "get it right" and balance the various constraints rather than stick to a deadline.

The decision to install the shelters goes back to 2000 following an intensive study on the problems that threatened the monuments.

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