In the framework of UNDP's Action Plan for the Mediterranean, the Programme Coordinator for "100 Historical Sites of the Mediterranean" carried out a mission to Malta at the request of the World Heritage Centre.
Deterioration of the building stone in the city actively continues due to two main factors: the nature and the behaviour, even under normal atmospheric conditions, of the globigerina limestone of which the entire city is constructed, and the noxious and decolorizing fumes produced by modern means of transportation. The exterior sculptures and the facades of the buildings generally undergo the worst damage.
The monuments of Valetta are protected under the Antiquities Law of 1925. Technically, financing for the preservation and conservation of public properties is ensured by the Departments of Museums and Public Works through funds voted annually by the Parliament.
The religious authorities ensure the preservation and restoration of the churches and other properties which belong to them. Individuals finance work concerning their own buildings, upon approval by the public officials.
Building developments in Valetta are strictly regulated by public works legislation which governs all matters pertaining to structure, hygiene, aesthetics, as well as all requests for repair work or renovation affecting the structure or an aspect of a building; these proposals are examined by an official body.
Special attention is given to buildings considered as having architectural and/or historical value. In order to improve traffic circulation in Valetta and avoid congestion in the centre, a ring road has been built.
The Valetta Rehabilitation Project began with the Urban Renovation Project of Valetta in 1986-1987; it was launched officially in August 1987. The first projects began at the end of 1988.
The Valetta Rehabilitation Project functioned as a separate unit within the Department of Public Works, in collaboration with the Antiquities Department. Following departmental reform in 19921993, it became a unit of the Department of Engineering and Architecture. The architects, the administrative personnel and the workmen are all staff of the Division of Works, except for the Executive Coordinator. The number of administrative personnel remained low. Today, the team is composed of an administrator, two architects, two designers, two technicians and a few workmen.
The Valetta Rehabilitation Project is responsible for restoration and environmental projects. Since local structures were set up in 1993, certain environmental projects are carried out by the local Board in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Project. The use of natural materials remains at the core of proposals. The guiding principle as concerns restoration is one of minimal intervention, taking into account the lack of financial and human resources, professionals and restoration technicians.
Thus, several projects have already been carried out or are underway, but which only concern buildings treated separately, due to the absence of a local development plan taking account of the historical and monumental aspects of the city.
In addition to the projects and actions that still remain to be taken, it is indispensable to set up a juridical and legal framework which will ensure the safeguard of Valetta. The last bill for an Environmental Protection law (Law No. 5 of 1991) concerning the conservation of Valetta was not ratified and cannot serve as a legal framework for the protection of the monumental heritage of the city.
To date, there is still no safeguarding plan, and the Ministry of Culture is unable to exercise any control over interior transformations of the buildings.
The lack of infrastructures for the restoration work also includes a lack of specialists. Thus it is necessary to create a Works Division in the framework of the Valetta Rehabilitation Project. This Division would make it possible to set up and train a small group of specialized craftsmen, controllers and technicians in conservation techniques. These persons would be able to take charge of the specialized work and oversee and train other non-specialized workmen in conservation, restoration, consolidation, repair, protection, cleaning, etc., as well as in the replacement of materials.
Faced with accelerated degradation affecting the historical buildings of Valetta, the mission recommended the authorities of Malta to take appropriate urgent measures so that:
- the team of the Valetta Rehabilitation Project acquires legal recognition and may call upon a Works Division for the maintenance and restoration of the historical buildings of Valetta;
- the Bill on the protection of Valetta can be finalized as soon as possible in an appropriate form, in keeping with the obligations for inscription on the World Heritage List;
- a regulation on the signs, billboards and commercial storefronts can be better formulated and applied by the competent authorities, in order to preserve the characteristics of the historical buildings of Valetta.