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Barrakka lift to be rebuilt

The government yesterday said it will be issuing a call for tenders to build the Barrakka lift again. The lift, completed in 1905, had stopped being used in 1973 due to lack of custom and was dismantled 10 years later. This pre-war picture, from Hadrian Wood`s postcard collection, shows the lift in its heyday.

The government yesterday said it will be issuing a call for tenders to build the Barrakka lift again. The lift, completed in 1905, had stopped being used in 1973 due to lack of custom and was dismantled 10 years later. This pre-war picture, from Hadrian Wood`s postcard collection, shows the lift in its heyday.

The government intends to rebuild the Barrakka lift which used to link the Valletta marina, opposite Customs House, to the Upper Barrakka close to the city centre.

The idea is to construct the lift where it used to stand before it stopped operating in 1973 and was dismantled 10 years later.

Tourism Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said the government had decided to issue a call for tenders for the work.

Speaking at a news conference, he said the development of a cruise liner passenger terminal made it necessary to create better access between the port and the centre of Valletta.

Cruise liner tourists now got into Valletta by taxi or up the steep walk up Crucifix Hill, followed by nearly 100 steps and a further uphill walk along Glormu Cassar Avenue. Hardly any of them opted to enter the city through the picturesque route via Victoria Gate, he said.

The lift would generate more business from tourists arriving on cruise liners, Dr Zammit Dimech said.

The government intended to complement the lift with a ferry service between Valletta Customs and the Three Cities. However, it was considering the lift project to be a priority and the chosen tenderer would be bound by established timeframes.

The contract for the original Barrakka Lift was signed during the last days of 1903. It had granted Messrs Macartney Elroy a 99-year concession for the construction and operation of an electric lift from the Valletta Marina to the Upper Barrakka Garden. A substantial part of the patronage of the lift had consisted of visiting servicemen and sailors.

The Knights of St John had originally planned to dig a deep moat at the foot of the Valletta fortifications linking the Grand Harbour side of the city to Marsamxetto. This ambitious plan was eventually abandoned but the already excavated area was used as a slipway for galley construction.

Towards the end of the 19th century a tunnel was dug behind Customs House leading to a series of zigzag footways still visible today and linking City Gate with the Valletta waterfront.

The lift project was carried out in the open space between the tunnel and the footways and was completed in late 1905 at a cost of around £5,000. The first passengers were carried in mid-December of that year.

Social and political circumstances in Malta in post-World War II had a significant effect on the operations of the lift and its success as a commercial enterprise. But a marked decrease in stopovers by navy and merchant marine vessels following the rundown of the military bases resulted in the depletion of the largest customer base.

The discontinuation of the cross-harbour water-ferries and heavier reliance on buses and personal vehicles also resulted in a sharp decline of civilian passengers.

Messrs Macartney Elroy therefore informed the government in early 1973 that the lift was no longer a sustainable enterprise and instructions were given to terminate operations.

The government refused an offer to purchase the lift but waived the accumulating daily penalty on condition that it was surrendered without compensation. As a result, the lift reverted to the government at the beginning of 1974.

In 1983, the General Construction and Engineering Company was set up by the government for the express purpose of dismantling the lift. Operations were carried out between June and August of that year.

It had originally been intended to utilise the salvaged steel for the reconstruction of the breakwater bridge across the Grand Harbour, a structure destroyed by enemy action in World War II. The project, however, never came to fruition and the remains of the dismantled lift were eventually abandoned to deteriorate at a site not far from the grain silo in Corradino.

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