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Fort Chambray far from abandoned - architect

The Fort Chambray project developers have defended restoration works despite worrying cracks around the historic fort. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

The Fort Chambray project developers have defended restoration works despite worrying cracks around the historic fort. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

A leading architect has defended restoration works at Fort Chambray, which have come under fire from a reader who complained the historic fortification was in a state of abandon.

Alex Torpiano, who is carrying out restoration works on the fort for Gozitan developer Michael Caruana, insisted the site was far from abandoned.

Prof. Torpiano said Fort Chambray had been neglected over the years but restoration finally got underway after Mr Caruana bought the site in 2005. He insisted that some of the problems were very serious and required complex structural work.

Moreover, the conservation, including some "emergency work", has been held back by planning bureaucracy.

"We are monitoring everything. There is no imminent danger of collapse, but the intervention needs to be done. Hopefully, the go-ahead for the major intervention will be given soon," Prof. Torpiano said.

Pictures of the fortifications taken yesterday show the sorry state of the fort in some places and confirm the comments made by a reader in The Times last Thursday who wrote to complain about the "disgusting" state of the site.

Part of the bastion by the main gate was plastered with what looks like cement, while there are various cracks, some very deep, snaking along some of the walls.

Stonework is missing in various spots and some tombstones, from the military cemetery previously in the ditch, lay along a road next to rubble.

However, Prof. Torpiano pointed out that the "patch of cement render" was actually an emergency repair measure. There was a major collapse of weathered rock on that side of the bastion which was first reported to the authorities in March 2008.

"Unfortunately, it took a whole year, and further collapses in January 2009, before we were authorised to carry out emergency repairs," Prof. Torpiano said. The full restoration will require a further permit.

He also acknowledged the cracks in the walls mentioned by the reader, adding that there are more fissures which were not highlighted.

"The cracks in the unique elliptical Polverista' on the Guardian Angel Bastion at Fort Chambray are not limited to this location, but run parallel to the west curtain wall up to St Anthony's Bastion, and the Dar tat-Tabib."

However, he said the cracks had not been caused by neglect but by the geology of the site.

They were similar to those present at the edges of Mdina and the Citadel in Victoria, for instance, and needed very complex engineering interventions.

In fact, Prof. Torpiano said that after being commissioned for the project in 2006, he submitted a plan of how his team planned to intervene, on similar lines as he had dealt with a project at Mdina bastions.

"When all the necessary and related approvals are obtained, these works will be carried out."

Ultimately, Prof. Torpiano insisted that much restoration work has already been carried out on some 620 metres of bastion perimeter and the money spent already exceeds the obligations of the lease contract.

"The public may not be aware of all the issues and problems, and all the sources of delay; but, frankly, expressions of disgust are uncalled for," he said.

Built during the reign of Grand Master Pinto, the recent history of the 18th century fort was mired in controversy. Two projects, one proposed in the early 1990s, and the other in 2003 with Italian entrepreneur Roberto Memmo, failed miserably and hardly any restoration work was done, even though some apartments were built on the site.

Eventually, in 2005, Dr Caruana took over the fort and bought out the government and two Gozitan families who had shareholding in the project.

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