Tourism and Culture Minister Francis Zammit Dimech speaks about the Valletta and Cottonera experiences in linking tourism and urban development in a speech delivered to the International Federation of Housing and Planning’s Working Party on ‘Tourism and Urban Development’. Following are extracts from his address
It is my pleasure to welcome participants from the International Federation of Housing and Planning who are in Malta to discuss “Tourism and Urban Development”.
Malta earns a quarter of its living from tourism. With a population of 400,000 – one of the most densely populated countries in the world – Malta is visited by 1.2 million tourists every year. About 200, 000 of these tourists visit our country for its heritage. Our history goes back 7,000 years. Here in Malta we have the oldest free standing temples in the world, older than the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge in England. We have three UNESCO world heritage sites:
• The prehistoric underground Hypogeum at Hal Saflieni;
• The wide range of archaeological sites;
• The entire city of Valletta
For its size Malta is the country with the maximum number of archaeological and historical sites in the world.
Malta also boasts of six walled cities: Valletta, Floriana, Mdina, Birgu, Cospicua and Senglea. Gozo, Malta’s sister island, has its own walled city, the Cittadella. The capital city of Valletta was built following the Great Siege of 1565 to strengthen Malta’s defences in case of another attack from the Ottoman Empire. The City was built on high ground and is defended by lines of fortification dug in solid rock.
The three cities of Cottonera – Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea – withstood the onslaught during the Great Siege of 1565. Following this event the Knights of St John built the Cottonera fortifications. These surround all the three cities and are the longest fortifications of their type in the world.
Surveys conducted by the Malta Tourism Authority indicate that whereas nine out of every ten tourists coming to Malta visit Valletta only one in fifteen tourists to Malta visits Cottonera. In an effort to regenerate the city of Valletta and the three cities, the Malta Government set up the Valletta Rehabilitation Project and the Cottonera Rehabilitation Project. Since they were set up these two organisations invested millions of Maltese liri in the rehabilitation and restoration of historical buildings and fortifications.
In the past 15 years great care was taken to rehabilitate Valletta in such a way that the capital city was given back its dignity as the historical, political and residential centre of our country. Government embarked on a programme of apartment building and the rehabilitation of residential buildings to bring them in line with present day requirements. A programme of restoration and rehabilitation of historical buildings got under way. Over Lm13 million were invested in reconstruction works at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, St James Cavalier, Auberge d’Italie, The Palace, churches, palaces, as well as the Upper and Lower Barakka Gardens.
Government has also agreed with VISET consortium that the Pinto Stores, Caraffa Stores and the Old Power Station on the Valletta Waterfront be rehabilitated and converted into a Cruise Liner Passenger Terminal. These historical buildings are now restored and works are in hand to complete this Lm10 million project within the timeframes agreed.
On the other side of the Grand Harbour a similar strategy to that of Valletta is being adopted for the regeneration of the three cities. This strategy entails the building by Government of dwelling units and social amenities; the rehabilitation and restoration of historical buildings and capital projects by the private sector with an emphasis on restoration and rehabilitation.
Government constructed dwelling units, a modern Old People’s Home, a health centre, a Sports Pavilion, a Family Resource Centre. Essential services as water, electricity and drainage system were strengthened. The Cottonera Rehabilitation Project embarked on a vast programme of rehabilitation and restoration of historical buildings, churches and fortifications. Government signed an agreement with the Cottonera Waterfront Group and Port Cottonera Limited for the rehabilitation and restoration of old palaces and other buildings on the waterfronts of Birgu and Senglea and for the construction a yacht marina and a block of modern apartments. This Lm15 million project is now in a very advanced stage and great care was taken to retain all the old palaces and rehabilitate them for modern use. Upper Fort St Angelo, which was leased to the Order of the Knights of St John is being restored by the same Order. The lower part of Fort St. Angelo is being restored by the one of the two companies involved in the Cottonera project.
Government is planning for the reconstruction of the City Gate area, the rehabilitation of Fort St Elmo in Valletta and the Dock Number 1 area in Cospicua. In the process we are doing our utmost to reconcile the historical and architectural importance of these four cities with modern day requirements especially from a tourism point of view.
The Ministry for Tourism and Culture and the Malta Tourism Authority have agreed on a promotion strategy for Malta. We are promoting our islands as an experience, where in an area of 316 square kilometres a visitor to our islands experiences a 7,000 years old history with a wealth of prehistoric buildings, the walled cities, the era of the Knights of St John which left an indelible mark on our islands and the British era with the lines of fortifications especially the Victoria Lines that span from one side of Malta to the other.
We do not intend to harm our heritage for monetary considerations. On the contrary we want to rehabilitate all that is historic to be appreciated by the Maltese and all those who visit our country. We believe that heritage forms an important and integral part of our tourism product and as such it is a tool towards the betterment of our living standards.