In Malta, the park walks you... the unsympathetic rules keeping people off the grass

To arms! But keep off the grass, please… Medieval revivalists bemoan restricted battleground in Mdina’s moat, where people are not allowed to walk on its gorgeous lawn

Breaking the law: sitting on the Mdina moat’s lawn
Breaking the law: sitting on the Mdina moat’s lawn

The walled city of Mdina has lent itself exceptionally to the historical demands of Medieval Mdina, a festival of re-enactors who perform archery, falconry and the odd melee from the days when the plague ran riot with Europe’s populations.

Yet this year’s organisers found themselves unable to lay siege to the Hospitallers’ old capital city, after the local council relocated the festival to the Mdina moat – a pleasant walking spot conspicuous by its unsympathetic law: ‘Do not walk on the turf’.

And that’s why the 2019 Medieval Mdina last week was forced to take place on the narrow pathways that flank the inviting green lawns, which were out of bounds for re-enactors and stalls.

“We wanted to camp and conduct battles on the turf at first but we were told by the Mdina local council that this was disallowed,” a disappointed Robert Grima, leader of the re-enactment group Show of Arms, told MaltaToday.

Medieval combatants on their best behaviour
Medieval combatants on their best behaviour

It is a disappointment shared not just by Grima’s band of marauding fighters. The public is denied the chance to stretch their legs on the Mdina moat’s lawn in what is now considered a Maltese peculiarity: public lawns that are out of bounds to the public.

Instead, urban ‘parks’ in Malta are formalised by strict pathways, where instead of having people enjoying the freedom of the outdoors, it is the park that is ‘walking’ the people…

While the tourism authority promoted the relocation as one that would “offer a larger space and access to a wider audience,” Grima told MaltaToday nothing could have been further from the truth. His re-enactors were not allowed to step on the grass, and the space in the moat they could utilise was minimal. “There were times when I was forced to step on the grass because there were too many people,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Mdina local council told MaltaToday the reason Medieval Mdina was relocated to the ditch was to protect the Silent City’s residents from noise, insisting that the moat “is more conducive to battle scenes.”

According to Grima, the Mdina local council also requested that marshals and wardens be present at the event to make sure no activities would take place on the turf. Grima understands that the council had to pay €6,000 for the marshals, but the council’s spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied this was the case.

Instead, the council directed MaltaToday to the Restoration Directorate (RD), which is the government agency that is responsible for the restoration and upkeep of the Mdina ditch.

A €2 million wedding... money talks
A €2 million wedding... money talks

But the RD said any restrictions and agreements on the use of the ditch were agreed upon between the re-enactors and the local council, and that it was unaware of wardens being called to monitor the event.

“The grass in the ditch is not made for heavy traffic. Along the years, people wanted to rent the area for events,” RD director Norbert Grima, an architect, said.

“Of course, there are cases where the use of grass is allowed, subject to specific conditions, the introduction of protective layers on the turf, and usually against payment of certain fees,” he said.

For example, a highly-publicised Indian-Pakistani wedding that reportedly cost €2 million took place in the Mdina ditch, with the bride and groom dancing on the grass, as well as carpets and coffee tables placed on the turf.

The irony does not go unnoticed by Grima, who says events such as a lavish wedding or even Mdina’s International Food Festival are allowed to use the green area, while the medieval festival is not even accorded the option to pay for the use of the lawn. “I’m not even sure if I saw any marshals or wardens present after all. It’s likely that they were there but I can’t be certain. I didn’t spot any uniforms.”

The responsibility for the Mdina ditch changed hands multiple times in a space of a few years. Under a PN administration, the ditch fell within the remit of former resources and works minister George Pullicino, then was transferred to the transport ministry under a Labour government and is now within the remit of the ministry for local government.