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Four-storey block and showroom approved on Mosta archaeological site

Development approved because Superintendence of Cultural Heritage did not object to proposal

james
James Debono
14 August 2017, 6:06pm
The Planning Directorate described the proposed design as “an interesting landmark building”
The Planning Directorate described the proposed design as “an interesting landmark building”
The Planning Authority has approved a four-storey block consisting of a showroom, five maisonettes, seven apartments, four penthouses and 18 basement garages over three floors in an archaeologically sensitive area known as Tal-Qares in Mosta, close to MCAST and the Lidl supermarket. 

The area was added to development boundaries in the 2006 rationalisation but is still designated as an ‘Area of Archaeological Importance’ in view of the numerous discoveries made there, including large ashlar blocks and vine trenches, which are protected as Class B remains.

But this designation does not preclude development in their vicinity. 

However, the case officer’s report reveals that the area was proposed to be re-scheduled as being of Class A importance – a designation which would have precluded major development in the area but which was never approved.

Recently the Planning Authority board voted unanimously to revoke a permit in Ghar Gherduf in Kercem, in the vicinity of paleochristian catacombs, after it emerged that the archaeological classification of the site had been wrongly stated when the application was being processed. The area had been classified as being Class B instead of Class A.

The proposed showroom - the area was added to development boundaries in the 2006 rationalisation but is still designated as an ‘Area of Archaeological Importance’ in view of the numerous discoveries made there, including large ashlar blocks and vine trenches, which are protected as Class B remains
The proposed showroom - the area was added to development boundaries in the 2006 rationalisation but is still designated as an ‘Area of Archaeological Importance’ in view of the numerous discoveries made there, including large ashlar blocks and vine trenches, which are protected as Class B remains
Although a bank guarantee of €2,888.58 was imposed to ensure that the street is properly restored in accordance with the Environmental Management Construction Site Regulations, no bank guarantee has been imposed to ensure that no damage is done to the archaeological remains in Mosta.

The development was approved because the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has not objected to the proposed development, since the site has already been investigated way back in 2013 in connection with a planning control application determining the planning parameters for the site. 

While noting that the development involves “vast underground excavations” and “all the necessary precautions need to be taken so as not to create any negative impact on the nearby archaeological remains”, the Superintendence had no objection to the development except to impose monitoring conditions.

Moreover a rubble wall towards the southern extents of the site, which incorporates large ashlar blocks, will be retained and safeguarded. 

The Planning Directorate described the proposed design as “an interesting landmark building”, which respects the surrounding context, which includes residences, a supermarket and the 1950s civil defence depot. 

Experts had warned that the area may yield further findings, possibly a hypogeum in depressions under the rocks found in the vicinity of the site. 

The “sizable boulders” in the rubble wall at the periphery of the site are a rare testimony to reports of megalithic remains in and around the Mosta fort, the Archaeological Society of Malta confirmed in submissions sent to the Planning Authority. 

The society called for the “preservation of this feature and any archaeological feature present within the site and the surrounding area”.  

Anthropologist Michael Deguara had also presented a detailed report on the area’s archaeological value in which he called for “further studies” before any decision on development in the area is taken. Such studies should include laser monitoring or a geophysical survey of the area to complement the work already carried out by the Superintendence in 2014.

This should ensure that if there are “any important underground remains on the site, these are at least documented before any further development takes place”.

Mosta megaliths 

The field in which the development is being proposed forms part of an area known as Tal-Qares and Misrah Ghonoq, which receives mention by E.B. Vella in his “Storja tal-Mosta”. Vella refers to megaliths dating to the Neolithic period in the area of Misrah Ghonoq. Vella also makes reference to earlier descriptions of the area by Grognet, as well as folkloric references, which suggest the presence of more complex megalithic structures in the area. 

The site is also referenced in Dr Anton Bugeja’s paper “Archaeological sites around tal-Bistra”. In this paper, Bugeja refers to “the megaliths found or documented at the northern part of Mosta between Tal-Qares and Misrah Ghonoq”. One of the most intriguing features in the area is an opening in the rock which prompted the concern  of Prof. Kathryn Rountree, anthropology professor at Massey University in  New Zealand, who specialises in neo-paganism.

“I do not know the extent of the archaeological investigation of this site to date, but from observation alone there is evidence of megalithic stones, some of which are included in a curved wall (similar to structures on well-known temple sites), numerous potsherds scattered over the ground, and a mysterious opening in the rock in-filled with topsoil. It seems not impossible that this is an opening to a cavity, perhaps a chamber, in the rock”.

The plot of the approved development forms part of a larger site on which the PA had already approved a planning control application approved in May 2013.  

This means that although conserved the rubble wall which contains the ashlar blocks will practically be engulfed by surrounding development.

[email protected]

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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