Revamped Valletta market set to open Wednesday

Mid-December target missed due to 'teething problems'

The market in Merchants Street missed its Christmas deadline. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The market in Merchants Street missed its Christmas deadline. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The revamped Valletta market is finally expected to open its doors on Wednesday, having missed a mid-December target due to “teething problems”, this newspaper is informed.

The iconic market, is-Suq tal-Belt in Maltese and now run by the Arkadia Group, which was granted a 65-year-long lease, will open as Valletta becomes a European Capital of Culture for 2018.

The January 3 opening was confirmed by Arkadia chief operating officer Maria Micallef.

Retail industry sources who spoke to this newspaper said an unofficial deadline to complete the works by October had repeatedly been pushed forward. The original plan, they said, was for the place to be up and running in time for the Christmas season.

Read: As Valletta's Is-Suq nears completion, residents fear a commercial takeover

Ms Micallef denied, however, that such a deadline had been set, adding that there had been plans to open the market on December 18.

She attributed the delay to “minor teething problems”, which, she remarked, were to be expected when carrying out works in Valletta during the Christmas period and considering this was a multimillion-euro project.

The refurbishment of the mid-1800s building will see the space transformed into a food market in the basement, with an area for the sale of fresh produce, herbs, spices, oils and wine.

The ground floor will be dedicated to stalls preparing culinary specialities, while the upper level will feature an open space where functions and events can be hosted.

READ: A farewell to Is-Suq Tal-Belt

According to 18th-century documents, there was once an open-air market near the Grand Master’s Palace and business was so brisk it used to spill into Merchants Street. Then, in 1858, Governor John Gaspard Le Marchant decided to enclose the market, and Hector Zimelli, the superintendent of public works, was tasked with drawing up the designs.

Work on the Valletta market started in 1859 and was completed in 1861. It had 153 stalls, 65 cellars and a central skylight.

Less than 100 years later, during World War II, the market was badly damaged on the day the Royal Opera House was hit during an air raid. Emergency repairs were carried out, and the site was remodelled as a modern shopping arcade in 1983. However, is-Suq tal-Belt, once buzzing with activity and attracting custom from all over the island, died a slow death over the years – before this latest renovation.

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