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A farewell to Is-Suq tal-Belt

These images are probably the last opportunity to see Is-Suq tal-Belt, the old market in Valletta, as it stands now.

The escalator has been blocked and the whole building on Merchants Street cordoned off before it is given a new lease of life after being entrusted to a private company.

At the beginning of the year, Parliament approved the transfer of the building to Arkadia Ltd for 65 years. The company is planning to spend €7 million to redevelop the place by May next year.

The transformed Valletta market will be very different from the original one. An 18th century description says that at the market near the Grand Master’s Palace “all manner of provisions are bought and sold by the country people, in great abundance: such as corn and other grain, fruits and greens of all sorts, wild and tame fowl, hogs, goats, oxen, sheep and other necessaries of life”.

The business was so brisk that activity used to spill onto Merchant Street – where the stalls nowadays sell everything but fruit and vegetables, from the odd flashlight to underwear for all shapes and sizes.

In those days, a permit to operate was required and the place was regulated by the government.

In 1858, when Governor John Gaspard Le Marchant decided it was time to act and enclose the market in a building, Hector Zimelli, then Superintendent of Public Works, was charged with its design. Work started in 1859 and was completed in 1861, with the market including 153 stalls, 65 cellars and a central skylight.

However, less than a century later, the market sustained severe damage on the same day the Royal Opera House was hit during an air raid. Periodic emergency repairs were carried out until it was remodelled as a modern shopping arcade in 1983 but the place, once buzzing with activity and attracting people from all over the island, seems to have died a slow death over the years.

The refurbished place will now feature a lower floor with several stalls preparing and selling food and a ground floor with a number of catering establishments.

A multi-function floor at the top, which will see a cafeteria open throughout the morning, will transform into an entertainment space later in the day.

Photos: Matthew MirabelliPhotos: Matthew Mirabelli

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