Thursday, June 02, 2005


Heritage authorities call for revision of Marsa works


The Times
By Herman Grech
May 27, 2005

The large blocks with which the Romans built
warehouses in Marsa that were unearthed during
recent excavations for a rainwater relief project.
Picture: Timmy Gambin

Designs for the storm water channel in Marsa will have to be revised after it was established that workers have stumbled upon "one of the most important" historical discoveries ever made.

Anthony Pace, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, warned that the proposed anti-flooding development would destroy a heritage goldmine if it goes ahead.

Considerable archaeological remains extend over most of the footprint of the proposed storm water channel project near Jetties Wharf, Marsa.

Officials from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have for the past three weeks been monitoring earth clearance at the site in question after the workers accidentally unearthed the Roman remains.

Individuals wrote to The Times recently, expressing their rage at what they described as the wanton destruction of history after mechanical shovels damaged a section of the site in question.

But both Dr Pace and a spokesman for the Resources and Infrastructure Ministry said yesterday the damage to the remains was minimal.

The area consists of a stretch of circa 125 metres along the northern half of the water channel, which may be dated from the ceramics recovered from site to the Roman and Early Medieval periods.

Dr Pace met up with Resources and Infrastructure Minister Ninu Zammit and the Works' Division director on Wednesday to explain that works had to stop and plans revised.

He said any canal would have to be constructed above the site in question and would have to be reversible. He was not yet convinced that any alternative proposal would not damage the remains.

The Works' Division is however in a quandary as the canal in question is considered to provide the necessary reprieve for Marsa, which bears the brunt of the rainwater coming in from the Rabat uplands and running through the entire Qormi area.

For the second phase of the project, the waterway between the main road and the sea is being widened to about 15 metres alongside a building that had served as a boys' government school. Once the canal is dug, it will be lined with 138 blocks made up of a resistant concrete mixture over which a limestone retaining wall will be built. The works were meant to have been completed by the end of September.

A spokesman for the ministry said all efforts would be made to ensure a solution acceptable to all.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority concurs with the views of the heritage authorities that plans have to change to ensure no damage to history.

A spokesman for the authority said it was essential for works on site to proceed cautiously and that any works carried out to be "reversible".

The data so far indicates that the area over which the canal is projected to pass contains major archaeological remains belonging to an ancient harbour.

"Such archaeological remains are of national importance and should be conserved and protected at all costs," Dr Pace said.

He said that the site holds considerable scientific and cultural value which is of benefit to researchers and which will significantly increase knowledge of one of Malta's most important historical periods.

"This area needs to be scheduled and preserved for future generations. This discovery is not only important for us but for the entire Mediterranean. It's now in the government's hands," he said.

The discovery of ancient harbours is not a usual occurrence and such sites are of inestimable importance for the maritime history of the Mediterranean. The remains spotted today are likely to be the same as those documented in the Museums Department's annual reports of the 1940s and 1950s.

Timmy Gambin, a specialist in ports from the ancient period to the Middle Ages, has described Marsa as an extremely important Roman port in days gone by.

A large Roman town existed in the environs of Marsa, a town that housed people associated with maritime related services including merchants, shipwrights, stevedores and rope makers.

Discoveries add fuel to this theory. In the 1760s, a huge Roman warehouse complex was discovered in Jesuits Hill under the power station. In the 1950s another complex was found near Racecourse Street while in 1956 yet another large complex came to light under the Marsa school where the current excavations are taking place.

The Romans built these harbours as part of a network of havens for the transport of grain, Mr Gambin had said.

The remains strongly suggest that the port at Marsa not only served local needs but also those of Roman ships and traders operating throughout the Mediterranean when Malta was very much part of the connectivity in the Roman world.


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