Showdown between cyclists and man claiming to be Simblija hamlet’s owner

Cyclists face off with Noel Ciantar, man who claims he is the owner of the Grade 2 protected 18th century hamlet of Simblija

Noel Ciantar claims he is the proprietor of the 18th century Simblija medieval village
Noel Ciantar claims he is the proprietor of the 18th century Simblija medieval village

A group of cyclists eager to reclaim the right of passage across a scheduled medieval cluster of dwellings, have confronted the man who claims to be the owner of the 18th century hamlet of Simblija.

Three friends confronted the self-proclaimed proprietor of the site, Noel Ciantar, and affixed to a wooden fence photocopies of newspaper reports attesting to the site’s status as a Grade 2 scheduled national monument. Showdown between cyclists and man claiming to be the owner of Is-Simblija #cyclists #malta #foryou #maltatoday #simblija #ramblers #countryside ♬ original sound - MaltaToday

Is-Simblija is a medieval hamlet of rural dwellings on the edge of a cliff, above a fertile valley called Wied Hażrun. Aside from being a national monument the site was the subject of an extensive EU-funded restoration project in 2003.

During the encounter, in which the cyclists challenged Ciantar’s claims to own the area, Ciantar appeared to call the police to request they come to expel the cyclists.

“I had never heard of this old medieval hamlet and wanted to see it for myself. It was as beautiful as I pictured it. I also wanted to see if the stories were true and Noel Ciantar was still turning people away claiming the entire hamlet as his,” the cyclist said.

“Besides trying to block access and not allow us to continue on, the rooms are completely with rubbish. Soom rooms aren't even accessible with the amount of junk hoarded... You’d think he'd have more respect for the surroundings especially since he is the self proclaimed king of Simblija.”

This is not the first time a confrontation between Ciantar and countryside ramblers has been reported.

Ciantar has repeatedly forced people off the site, with allegations of dogs being let loose, obstructions erected and plaques attesting to the historical significance of the hamlet, disappearing, in a bid to discourage people accessing the site.

Ciantar claims that his family has a legal title to the land and that a restoration project was carried out in full respect of his ownership rights, with no intention to grant public access.

In 2018, environment minister José Herrera wrote to the Lands Authority asking that the heritage site and its pathways are removed from the lease.

Other farmers had already made the same request back in 2016, in conjunction with the renegotiation of the lease on the remaining area. Everything was concluded at the end of May 2018, when the heritage site formally became public land, a move intended to ensure access.

According to the footage supplied to MaltaToday, large piles of discarded wooden crates appear to have been piled up and strewn around the historical site.

The Simblija cluster consists of caves and more structures built between 1718 and 1720. The medieval area consists of a derelict church referred to in ecclesiastical documents as Santa Maria ta’ Callus – discovered by Professor Alain Blondy of Sorbonne University – a mill room, and cooking area around a courtyard.

The mill was operated by a Sienja tal-Miexi – rotating wheels driven by a blindfolded beast. The cattle normally resided in an adjacent cave. The mill was still in use up to the early 20th century.

Right of reply by Noel Ciantar

In my recording it is clear that I was the one who was confronted in my property, by four strangers who entered gated property and who knew my name, but who did not want to identify themselves when I asked them; and my instant reaction was to immediately call the police while they were still verbally abusing me, including with foul language.

Now why would I call the police if I was doing something wrong? And why did the group of four “cyclists” flee from my property when I repeatedly asked them to stay until the arrival of the police? 

What better opportunity for them to denounce me could I provide to them? Why did they record and publish part of the exchange for the show, as opposed to calling in the authorities and establish law and order?

The police did arrive some time later, and they tried to chase the “cyclists”, without success, but I do thank your journalist for providing enough information so that now I have the necessary leads about the intruders to provide to the authorities.

Your article fails to show how I am in breach of any law, and I am not sure why you pick on me when there are so many old properties of great historical interest owned by private people all around Malta, including the Diar il-Bniet estate in nearby Dingli, which was once the property of the Castellan of Malta, and where EU funds were granted in 2013-2014 for public access initiatives under a scheme called “Encouraging Tourism Activities.”

I am actually proud to be a farmer and legal owner of the “Simblija” agricultural estate, which comprises a well-documented farmland and an old farm held for centuries by farmers under legal title and which I have always defended in accordance with law and policy, in the same way that I publicly defend the backyards of people in other areas of Malta including those of Pembroke and Marsascala. 

I think that the public agrees with the principle of the preservation of agricultural properties, which is universally accepted.

The Simblija “village” is a figment of the imagination of a few organised groups, including some people high up in politics, who have promoted such a false description in order to deceive the public and to take control of the farm of this property, on which EU-funded conservation works were carried out in full respect of existing private rights as can be seen from paperwork filed in various Maltese courts by the authorities themselves.

Referrinh to the part of your story about Minister Herrera writing to the Lands Authority in 2018 “asking that the heritage site and its pathways are removed from the lease,” I refer you to a court sentence of 2019, in which the court declared that:

“Il-fatt li kien qisu hemm certu ghaggla jista’ jindika li saret pressjoni biex din l-applikazzjoni tigi processata qabel ohrajn u minghajr wisq kunsiderazzjoni” and later said that: “Illi Ghaldaqstant it-Tribunal huwa tal-fehma illi l-Awtorita’ intimata waslet ghad-decizjoni taghha b’mod mghaggel u minghajr ma qieset diversi aspetti tal-ittra mibghuta lilha mill-Ministru Herrera.  Ghaldaqstant it-talba tal-Ministru Herrera ghandha terga’ tigi ezaminata mill-gdid fid-dawl tal-aspetti kollha msemmijin hawn fuq.”

The Minister’s 2018 attempt to terminate rights on the old farm of this property was the subject of two court cases in 2018-2019 which stopped the attempt, with both judgements not appealed by government.  If the matter was of such public interest, the media should have reported on those court decisions, and this would have avoided a recycling of the false statements from other articles.  As far as I am aware, court judgements are public documents.

A further court case is ongoing.