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Fountain’s removal ‘to restore city’s historic image’

World-renowned architect Renzo Piano had made the recommendation to shift the Tritons Fountain metres away from Valletta’s entrance to restore “the architectural and historical context of the entrance to the fortified city”, the Transport Ministry said yesterday.

The fountain, the work of sculptor Vincent Apap completed in May 1959, did not fall in line with the City Gate project designed to restore the entrance to its original state of fortification, Piano’s studio had said.

“The repositioning of the fountain, while paying tribute to the work of Vincent Apap, one of Malta’s foremost sculptors of the Modern Period, will, together with the removal of the buses, free up the vista of the town walls and return the area to its pre-1950s situation.

“This falls within the general philosophy of the project for the entrance of Valletta which includes the restoration of the 16th century bridge spanning the ditch and the reintroduction of the original skyline of the fortification walls,” the studio said.

The move of “less than 50 metres” was only revealed by Transport Minister Austin Gatt during a press conference on Thursday, provoking a lively debate. However, it was only yesterday afternoon that the ministry published the architect’s recommendations.

The Tritons Fountain will be restored and shifted to the garden by the Air Force monument, next door to the MCP car park and opposite the Phoenicia Hotel.

The area around the bus terminus will receive a €4 million facelift over the next few months. It will be flanked by trees and accessible only to pedestrians.

The ministry said that, before shifting the fountain, studies were needed to establish the best way to treat and restore it to its “original state, reversing the considerable damage” caused over the years by pollution and “the notorious incident when it was unwisely and harmfully used as a performance platform”.

The sculpture had been badly damaged in March 1978 while being used as a performance platform. It became functional again nine years later after a repair job which itself has been criticised for destroying the original harmony of Apap’s work.

The ministry pointed out that the fountain had been installed “to decorate the bus terminus” located at Valletta’s entrance instead of the original fortifications and ramparts that had been removed and replaced by transport infrastructure.

In its recommendations, Piano’s studio pointed out that the fountain was “the final touch” in a series of Colonial period projects, such as the Upper Barrakka lift and the railway, in the gradual modernisation of the island’s transportation and communications technologies.

However, the transport reform, which starts on July 3, “reverses the Modernist obsession with progress at the expense of preservation” and would provide an efficient and comfortable transport system that is “sustainable and as invisible as possible”.

The current transport system took no notice of (Valletta’s) conservation needs and the addition of the fountain could be considered “as the fulcrum of the old terminus with no connection to the authentic and historic image of Valletta entrance”.

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