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Government urged to protect historic building facing collapse

The government has been urged to act immediately to save a unique piece of architectural heritage before it is lost forever.

Id-Dar tal-Barunessa (known in old maps as San Leonardo Convent), in the outskirts of Żabbar, is a small country estate in the form of an unusual ensemble of buildings including a tower-like residence overlooking the ruins of what was until fairly recently a beautiful garden.

Attached to the house is a small chapel dedicated to St Leonard dating back to the middle of the 17th century although there is evidence to suggest that it may be considerably older.

Reader Edward Said, of Sliema, said in a letter to The Times today that since its abandonment, the estate has fallen victim to trophy hunters, vandals and squatters. It is said that there are complicated disputes with regard to its ownership.

The new sewage treatment plant only a stone’s throw away from the site  compromised the estate’s setting.

"I have been visiting the site for almost a decade now and it is to say the least distressing when comparing photographs taken along the years.

"However, it was during my last visit in January that I noticed an ominous development. A fresh movement crack has snaked up the side of the chapel wall and consequently the façade is now inclining forward. Given the rapidity with which this has happened imminent collapse is expected."

Mr Said said action must be taken before this unique Grade II-listed site suffers the same fate as the historic Naxxar building, also abandoned, that partially collapsed last December after heavy rains.

"While the least that could be done is to put up a retaining scaffold to prevent further movement of the chapel facade, the most the government can do is make funds available to expropriate this site just as it did to widen the nearby road leading to the sewage treatment plant and one would think the land on which to build the said plant. The estate can then be safeguarded and conserved for posterity."

Id-Dar tal-Barunessa falls into a category of historic sites of high national significance just as the Casa Ippolita, Birżebbuġa; Ir-Razzett Tax-Xitan, Mellieħa and the aforementioned Naxxar house among others. "Their value is in their age, associated history and unique architecture, thus clearly warranting salvation from neglect and irreversible decay, even if it entails expropriation," Mr Said said.

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