Threat to Ġgantija: object now

Dawn Adrienne Saliba: We need to send a message to the Planning Authority that their task is to protect this nation’s land and ancestral heritage—not facilitate those who would destroy it

The Ġgantija Temples, originating circa 3,600-3,200 BCE, are among the oldest and most majestic freestanding buildings in the world. They are beautiful in scope, sublime in stature, and form a focal icon of Malta’s archaeological and artistic heritage.

It is beyond shocking that any developer would have the audacity to put forth a proposal to build 31 flats and 20 underground garages near the ancient temple. Such a monstrosity threatens both visitors’ enjoyment of the prehistoric area and obstructs archaeological research into the civilisation that erected these magnificent edifices.

Although the land managed by Heritage Malta itself may remain untouched, its archaeology extends well beyond those boundaries. Ill-conceived construction threatens valuable archaeological data contained within the ground and would severely alter the skyscape around the temples. Important information regarding Ġgantija’s larger archaeological context would also be much reduced, as would the opportunity to discover new knowledge about Neolithic settlements. Therefore, the implementation of a protected buffer zone around the site is critical.

As Professor Caroline Malone, the leader of the FRAGSUS project that investigated Late Neolithic archaeological data in Xagħra warns: “This narrow lane is wholly unsuitable for largescale development; road access is already compromised and dangerous. No amount of archaeological recording or intervention can mitigate the loss”.

Other experts concur. In her objection letter to the Planning Authority, Dr Isabelle Vella Gregory notes that this project has an impact on the wider archaeological landscape, extending beyond the immediate temple and into the threatened area. In his letter to the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and other Ministries, photographer of Malta’s prehistoric sites, Daniel Cilia, emphasises that FRAGSUS’s geophysical surveys indicate unexcavated megalithic structures beneath the olive grove near the proposed development.

It is not merely that this site, like all archaeological sites in Malta, should be protected by law – it already is. In 1992, the European Convention of the Protection of Archaeological Heritage was signed in Valletta, and that year saw the creation of the Planning Authority, whose mission, along with the Cultural Superintendence, is to safeguard Malta’s heritage.

Later, Article 4(2) of the Cultural Heritage Act of 2002 was passed: “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 or irreplaceable spiritual, cultural, social and economic value, and its protection and promotion are indispensable for a balanced and complete life... Every generation shall have the duty to protect this heritage and to make it accessible for future generations and for all mankind.”

These words need to be more than pretty sentiments upon the page. They need to be understood, taken seriously, and enforced by the existing governmental structures. As Professor Nicholas Vella, archaeologist and Director of the University of Malta’s Doctoral School asserts: “It beggars belief how so-called developers wish to try their luck with such applications, right on the doorstep of Malta's most iconic of cultural heritage sites, when the proposal runs contrary to those very values that ensured the inscription on UNESCO's list of world heritage sites of Malta’s prehistoric megalithic temples. This application should be rejected outright and no compromise whatsoever sought.”

We need to send a message to the Planning Authority that their task is to protect this nation’s land and ancestral heritage—not facilitate those who would destroy it. All must be held responsible for their actions. We simply cannot allow this temple’s environment, one which has been preserved for over 5,500 years, to be destroyed in a matter of seconds with a stroke of a callous pen.

MALTA-ARCH urges everyone with a conscience to file an objection with the Planning Authority as soon as possible. Please send objection letters to [email protected] with PA/00570/21 in the subject line by Friday, 5 March.

Dr Dawn Adrienne Saliba
President, Malta-Arch