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Appeal to preserve San Ġwann’s neglected historical heritage

The prehistoric cart ruts in the area are among the best preserved in Malta but are in need of rehabilitation and embellishment.The prehistoric cart ruts in the area are among the best preserved in Malta but are in need of rehabilitation and embellishment.

Wirt San Ġwann is an official non-governmental organisation founded in June 2013 to promote the town’s cultural heritage and to encourage the better appreciation and protection of the locality’s cultural and historical heritage. Over the years, the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage has maintained that of all the towns and villages around the harbour area, San Ġwann has the richest surviving collection of archaelogical sites, comprising Punic, Roman, Saracen and medieval remains.

But lack of interest and enthusiasm about this heritage seems ingrained in local authorities and people in general. No serious surveys have been carried out and hardly anything done to preserve and protect these precious relics. Most of the scheduled sites are suffering from unauthorised intervention, deterioration or neglect.

In my time as mayor, I had approached the Museum De­part­ment and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in 1996, only to be told that a total plan for the area was being considered. But since then, nothing has happened and the historical sites keep deteriorating.

The Ta’ Ċieda Roman tower, which in 1915 Thomas Ashby had assigned to the Phoenician period, is in a pitiful forsaken state. Bureaucracy hindered the local council from rehabilitating the site. Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna had tried to help and even submitted an initial plan for the maintenance and rehabilitation of the tower but they had no response from the authorities.

We have been told that the tower “may have served as a centre point around which one of Malta’s more important mediaeval settlements had developed out of late Roman economic activity in the area”.

Despite strong representations, the area was extensively developed to the detriment of “one of Malta’s more important sites which bridged Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” according to the Superintendent. Nearby, the rectangular Roman cistern has great archaelogical value not only because of its uniqueness and antiquity but also for its construction technique.

Of all the towns and villages around the harbour area, San Ġwann has the richest surviving collection of archaelogical sites

According to the Museum De­partment and the Antiquities Committee this hidden gem should have been defended by a protective buffer zone. An acknowledged Roman ma­son­ry wall is still buried in the field near the cistern. Yet we are aware of speculators who are keen to develop this delicate area to the detriment of our wonderful past history.

For years the local council has clamoured for the rehabilitation and embellishment of the prehistoric cart ruts, which are among the best preserved in Malta. Eventually they were pass­ed on to the council, but devolution is certainly not enough.

Many plans have been drawn up for this spot, which often attracts German tourists and students. But finances have been seriously lacking and the site is still surrounded by chicken wire, not to mention the imprudent encroachment of a particular neighbour in the area.

The very ancient chapel of San Ġwann tal-Għargħar has been crying out for restoration, conservation and management. The chapel not only has given its name to our locality but used to be used regularly by the locals before the present parish church was built. Its history goes back to 1615 but today it has been completely ruined by recent modern accretions built attached to it.

The Superintendent maintains that he is keeping as close an eye as possible on the heritage assets of San Ġwann. But this is not enough.

The Wirt San Ġwann committee appeals to the Superindendent, who has the duty and powers to protect our national heritage according to law, to take the necessary urgent action to protect the precious San Ġwann heritage sites and preserve their safely for future generations. Any omission or inaction in this regard may be considered to be a dereliction of duty to the detriment of this heritage which the Superintendent is charged to protect.

Any San Ġwann resident interested in the town’s heritage can join the committee or become an ordinary member by writing to Mr Cutajar at 11, Triq San Ġwann SGN 1370, or calling him on 2138 1233 or e-mailing tcutajar36@gmail.com.

Tony Cutajar is secretary of Wirt San Ġwann.

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