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Roman remains in San Gwann

I'm surprised there's been no outcry about Pierre Mallia's contribution, The Unearthing Of Roman Remains (June 10). It seems that he is more than justified in his complaint since no heritage authority reacted either way to his assertions of lack of interest in the recent discovery of Roman harbour remains near the Menqa in Marsa.

The same can be said of a unique, archaeologically rich area at San Gwann, close to Mr Mallia's residence, which possesses the richest surviving collection of archaeological sites in the whole harbour area. The importance of this location since antiquity is explained by the presence of a little known Roman cistern at Triq il-Baruza, the remains of Ta' Cieda Punico-Roman tower some 50 metres east of the cistern and a couple of courses built of typical Classical masonry nearby.

Numerous pot shreds mostly dating to the Classical period and even to Saracenic times have been found in the fields adjacent to this wall. To top it all, this area includes the well-kept cart ruts and the old wayside chapel known as Ta' San Gwann ta' l-Ghorghar.

A number of Punico-Roman tombs were also discovered in the immediate vicinity. All this indicates that this location must have been of great importance since ancient times.

The most exciting part of this cultural heritage is the rectangular 3.5-metre wide and four-metre deep cistern. Its ceiling is covered by large stone slabs supported by a series of massive flat wedge-shaped stone arches. It was noted that in recent times the cistern was still in use as it was rendered with cement. Its archaeological value lies not only because of its antiquity but also for its construction techniques especially in the use of large masonry.

In 1996 the Planning Authority issued an Emergency Conservation Order to protect this cistern, the wall and the other finds. The San Gwann local council asked the PA to have them scheduled and the Federazzjoni Wirt Artna intended to survey the interior when it is dry.

But since then nothing has happened except to have the entrance to the cistern blocked by concrete to prevent any accidents.

As councillor and later mayor of San Gwann, I wrote a number of times about the neglected and completely forsaken state of this natural and historical heritage. Other people like Joseph Magro Conti of FWA, André Borg of Birkirkara, N. Brincat of Lija and others joined me in expressing their fear of losing all this once and for all. The Museums Department and the PA were approached only to be told that a total plan for the area was being considered. The Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna were more than willing to give a hand to the local council to clean, protect and somehow make the area accessible to the public. We hoped to include all this incredible history in the Heritage Walk we had been working on. However, we were forbidden from taking any action.

The Emergency Conservation Order prohibits any parking of vehicles in the area of the cistern. Yet it is regularly occupied by a number of heavy vehicles and nothing is done about it. Can we ever hope a serious survey is carried out by Heritage Malta or the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in view of eventually having this 2,000-year-old partrimony enjoyed by us and our posterity? Or are they waiting for speculators to have the whole area developed to the detriment of such a wonderful relic of the past?

The only good thing that is coming out of this is that the San Gwann local council is naming the square opposite the said chapel Misrah ic-Cisterna Rumana. I sincerely hope the name will not be the only relic left of this Roman cistern.

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