Advert

Valletta’s colonial gem set to receive a total makeover

The Old Market in its present state. The Victorian-era cast iron structure is rare in Malta. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

The Old Market in its present state. The Victorian-era cast iron structure is rare in Malta. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

One of Malta’s few remaining specimens of Victorian-era cast iron structures, which has been neglected for decades at Valletta’s Old Market, will be saved from extinction if Mepa approves a restoration project.

Dating from the period of British colonial rule, the structure is part of what is popularly known as Is-suq tal-Belt – an iconic building in the heart of the capital that has seen better days.

The planning authority is today expected to give the go-ahead for a €7 million project in which supermarket chain Arkadia Co. Ltd will rehabilitate the site and restore its remaining parts.

A view of the Valletta Market as designed by Hector Zimelli under the direction of Emanuele Luigi Galizia. The roof lost its elegant symmetry when repair works were carried out after the war.A view of the Valletta Market as designed by Hector Zimelli under the direction of Emanuele Luigi Galizia. The roof lost its elegant symmetry when repair works were carried out after the war.

The investor has been granted a 65-year lease by the government and will lease out commercial space to retail outlets and catering establishments.

The mid-19th century building was severely damaged during World War II when a third of it was destroyed by enemy action on April 7, 1942.

Repair works focused solely on the structural aspects, compromising the aesthetic qualities of the building, whose roof lost its elegant symmetry.

The project will involve the manual dismantling of various accretions of no historical value dating back to 1980s. The cast iron pillars supporting the structure will be restored.

Part of the building which was destroyed by enemy action on April 7, 1942. (Historical photos taken from the Method Restoration statement submitted to the planning authority)Part of the building which was destroyed by enemy action on April 7, 1942. (Historical photos taken from the Method Restoration statement submitted to the planning authority)

It is also being proposed to dismantle the existing timber roof structure to verify if part of the original decking still exists.

Works will also include the restoration of the original frame structure, including the reproduction of new identical fixtures where necessary, the roof and the facade. Aluminium apertures in front of wooden louvres will be removed.

In his report, the planning authority’s case officer noted that this dilapidated building, strategically located behind the Grandmaster’s Palace, has a lot of untapped potential.

He added that the project would encourage the rehabilitation of the area and recommended that the planning authority approve the project on a number of conditions.

These include a ban on any visible air conditioning units on the facade and the prohibition of any objects that might encroach on the public pavement.

History of the Suq tal-Belt

Built between 1859 and 1861, the building is nowadays considered a gem of British colonial construction, but for many years its architectural importance was underestimated.

Once completed, the market included 153 stalls and 65 cellars, according to the restoration method statement submitted to the planning authority.

In those days it was so highly regarded that its design was considered as a model for similar projects in other parts of the British Empire such as Calcutta.

Repairs were carried out following the bomb damage sustained during the war but a 1952 proposal to rebuild the original structure was shelved.

Periodic emergency repairs were carried out on the roof until a major overhaul in1966, by which time the neglect had begun to take its toll, with the market no longer meeting modern hygiene standards.

Following this project the market was revived and until the mid-1970s was still thriving, with fishmongers, butchers, vegetable sellers and groceries occupying its stalls. Amid strong smells and loud yells, the place was bustling with activity.

The place was dealt a fatal blow in 1982 when the food market was transferred to the now Education Department in Floriana. The move proved to be widely unpopular.

A year later the Valletta market was remodelled as a modern shopping arcade and rebranded as Ixtri Malti (buy Maltese) with the aim of promoting locally made products. The project was doomed to failure due to the inferior quality merchandise on sale and the market went into rapid decline.

Although in 1989 the food market was returned to Valletta, it never reached its previous heights and has been crying out for a revamp. In 2008 the structure was given maximum protection by the planning authority, which declared it a Schedule 1 building.

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus  
Advert
Advert