The Cultural Heritage Act says that: “every citizen of Malta, as well as every person present in Malta, shall have the duty of protecting the cultural heritage as well as the right to benefit from this cultural heritage through learning and enjoyment. The cultural heritage is an asset of irreplaceable spiritual, cultural, social and economic value, and its protection and promotion are indispensable for a balanced and complete life”. Unfortunately, ignorance in Malta destroys heritage all the time.
On Friday 26th April, a historic wooden arch dating back to 1899 used to celebrate the feast of Floriana’s patron saint, St Publius, was burnt to the ground. The arch had been used between 1899 and 1939, it had survived the bombings of World Ward II, but had been left to rot in long-term storage for decades. After a major restoration project in 1999, it had returned to being used during the yearly feast.
In just 90 minutes the fierce blaze destroyed this work of art and piece of national heritage. News reports say that initial indications were that this was a case of arson. If this was truly a case of intentional damage, then one hopes that the perpetrators of this criminal act are quickly apprehended and brought to justice. What they have destroyed is not only a part of Floriana’s traditions and heritage but a part of the collective national heritage.
The only consolation is that the original plans and lots of photographic documentation exist which will allow the reconstruction of a full-size replica. It was reassuring to see that just as he did when tragedy hit Notre Dame two weeks ago, the Archbishop of Malta Mons. Scicluna was the first to pledge support and financial help to rebuild what was lost. I sincerely hope that the national pride and unity expressed by the French people when their monuments got damaged and destroyed is reflected in the same way and vigor by Maltese citizens. Unfortunately, our sense of civic pride and love for our heritage as a reflection of our real identity leave much to be desired.
Heritage sites both built and natural ones are regularly vandalized. Just yesterday Torri Vincenti, on the outskirts of Mqabba, which was built in 1726 was defaced with what appears to be black tar.
In Malta ignorance destroys heritage all the time, building in archeological sites, lack of preservation of traditional streetscapes and village cores, vandalism and neglect are unfortunately all too common, making most of us desensitized to the need of heritage preservation and conservation. Let’s wake up before it is too late.