Gzira resident comes forward with Roman remains from Manoel Island canal

Independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola says archaeological finds means PA cannot green-light MIDI's request to dredge and dig canal

Remains collected by a Gzira resident from the seabed
Remains collected by a Gzira resident from the seabed

The independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola has said there was clear evidence of Roman remains beneath Manoel Island, that would warrant a stop to any dredging plans by MIDI plc.

Prof. Cassola said he had been contacted by a Gzira resident who confirmed that items of archaeological interest were often dislodged from the sea in a storm.

“I have seen the items myself, and I have informed the Superintendence for Culture Heritage of them. So I ask, is it possible that MIDI could persists in its request to carry out dredging and digging in this canal? To me the answer is clear. The Planning Authority has to turn down this request and ask the Superintendence to immediately start a study in this zone.”

Roman pottery was also discovered around the Gzira shoreline during various surveys, including those carried out by the Royal Navy’s fleet clearance team in the 1950s.

Archaeologist Reuben Grima with Arnold Cassola (right)
Archaeologist Reuben Grima with Arnold Cassola (right)

[WATCH] Roman remains face destruction if Manoel Island project goes through, archaeologist warns

Prof. Cassola said that the Roman remains, dating back two millennia, face destruction if the Manoel Island project goes through as planned.

Submerged rectangular cuttings in the rocks on the island dating back to the Roman epoch could be the oldest human remains in the area, archaeologist Reuben Grima said.

The remains are submerged due to years of climate change, which created a rise in the sea-level, in turn immersing the site, he explained. They can be found along the promenade facing Gzira, with some going further than that.

Grima said that the site, which is of historical and scientific importance, is helping archaeologists acquire more knowledge in the field. “The site helps us in understanding the human activity in the area at the time, while also aiding us in gathering important information on the effects of sea-level rise due to climate change,” Grima said. 

“These features evidently merit scheduling, and for all intents and purposes of the planning process, should be safeguarded as such,” Cassola said. 

A study on the site was conducted in 2013 by Stefano Forlani, but the paper was not included in the assessment of the permit issue for the project. Cassola said that the plans to build a new bridge extending from the Gzira promenade to Manoel Island would be effectively destroying the remains. The plans to widen the canal between the two areas also spell doom for the historical sites as strategies include a three metre extraction into the sea-bed. 

Cassola also said that he has lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman regarding the way the Planning Authority had considered an amendment of the original outline development permit PA 2135/94, issued in 1999, which had expired in 2004.  

“The Planning Authority considers the permit as still valid, as it was included in the 2006 North Harbour Plan, and so the current application needs an amendment and should not proceed according to the normal procedure,” he added. 

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