The European Walled Towns symposium held between the 13th and the 15th September, in Valletta, Malta produced very interesting presentations of common interest to Walled Towns. Such presentations were followed by discussion, which those present actively participated in. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who attended the symposium, as well as all the speakers for their interesting presentations.
Opening Speech by Joe Spiteri, President European Walled Towns
Mr. Mayor, Hon. Parliamentary Secretary, Hon. Opposition Spokeswoman, Distinguished guests, Colleagues and Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to welcome you at the European Walled Towns Conference, being held here in my Home Country, Malta and my Hometown, Valletta the European Capital of Culture 2018.
I thank you all for being here with us today and tomorrow. I especially thank the Mayor of Valletta, Profs. Alexiei Dingli, The Parliamentary Secretary for Valletta 2018 and Consumer Affairs, the Hon. Dr. Deo Debattista, and the Opposition Spokeswoman for the Media, Culture and National Identity, the Hon. Dr. Therese Comodini Cachia for accepting our invitation and honouring us with their presence.
During these two days, we will have the opportunity to discuss different aspects related to the Walled Towns authenticity and valorisation and other aspects of common interest to all of us here. Culture, Tourism, Heritage, and local Communities who are the soul of every Walled Town.
The European Walled Towns Association founded in 1989, believes that Walled Towns are unique inheritances from times long past and should be treasured, maintained and safeguarded from neglect, damage and distraction and passed on as irreplaceable Timestones of History, as we declare in the Piran Declaration.
No doubt, Walled Towns have a huge historical, cultural, economical and social value. We should all therefore, strive to maintain their authenticity for the benefit of our respective Countries and local Communities by striking the right balance in their environmental context and today’s challenges.
These aspects will be dealt with in the presentations by the speakers, both today and tomorrow, which I am sure you will find interesting.
We will also have the opportunity to experience the beauty and cultural heritage of Valletta, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.
To conclude, I want to thank Dr. Marie Avellino Stewart, Director of the Institute of Tourism, Travel and Culture at the University of Malta for supporting the conference. Mr. Vince Zammit, lecturer History and Cultural Consultant and Dr. John Ebejer, Lecturer at the Institute of Tourism, Travel and Culture at the University of Malta for their valuable assistance and collaboration.
For our friends and colleagues from other countries, I wish them a pleasant stay in Malta.
Speech by Hon. Therese Comodini Cachia
Let me start by thanking you as members of the European Walled Towns Association for your work. The challenges that walled towns and cities have are often as profound as the sense of awe that the fortification surrounding walled towns often evoke. Each of these towns is a gem in its own right; each representing a part of history and each having had its influence, its place and its role within a country’s history. Each of these towns has travelled its own path making these towns particular and often singular in their own status. Consequently, the European Walled Towns Association plays a very important role in encouraging the exchange of knowledge, in developing common strategies for proper methods of planning and conservation and in supporting walled towns in present day life.
I also wish to thank the Institute for Tourism, Travel and Culture of the University of Malta for its work. I am certain that the speakers who will be addressing this Symposium will stimulate debate and provoke many thoughts on the authenticity and valorisation of walled towns. I am certain that my knowledge on our very own beautiful walled towns is poor compared to the researched presentations that you will receive in this symposium and I look forward to listening to some of those presentations.
We are in Malta fortunate to enjoy even today the experience of a number of very authentic walled towns or cities; Valletta, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, Mdina and Cittadella. Each of these towns or cities is authentic; each evokes its own reflection on the past and its present, and each of these towns influencing its inhabitants and visitors. Some like Valletta as bustling with people and sound that reflects the life people live in Valletta, whether they are inhabitants or only visitors or work in the city. Mdina subdues everyone to silence and reflection. Cittadella embraces you within the folds of its walls. And Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua to me still manages to interweave the life of its inhabitants with the historical (political, social, economic) paths that these three cities have sustained over the years. Each of these cities is authentic – they may all have started as vantage sites of defence but their political, social, economic development has taken each of them down pathways that are authentic and this has marked these cities and their inhabitants in very different ways.
The challenges that walled cities pose to its inhabitants, to the local administration, and to the central administration are numerous. How does one retain and sustain economic activity and growth in walled cities without pushing out residents? How does one inject life in walled cities that due to lack of adaptability to today’s life have seen the numbers of its inhabitants dwindle? The walls encapsulating these towns and cities are often enticing for tourists, but how enticing do they remain for inhabitants along the passage of time and especially with change in living standards? The walls surrounding these cities evoke in tourists a sense of the passing of time. But certainly its inhabitants, be they residents, or workers or commercial entities want to enjoy the beauty that history has bestowed on these cities but they also need access to amenities, access to accommodation that meets today’s needs, access to public spaces, and so much more. How far do we take the commercialisation of the historical beauty of these cities? Allow me to say, how far can we afford to abuse it without frustrating its inhabitants?
Yet the challenges of walled cities are also faced in their conservation. The rehabilitation of Valletta has been no easy feat. Indeed, parts of it have also been controversial. But what we would all agree on is that rehabilitation of historical structures in Valletta and in other towns such as Cittadella have been very costly. Access to EU funds has facilitated the implementation of this political vision but rehabilitation of a towned city almost physically encapsulated in time is an ongoing process that requires sustained financing and continued dedication. Rehabilitation of cities like Valletta is also not only about restoring its historical buildings and its history, but it is also about fuelling today’s culture and the history of today.
I am certain that you will enjoy your walks in Valletta, Mdina, Cittadella and our three cities in Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea. I augur you fruitful debate, and stronger friendship amongst you as members of this network. A friendship that will stimulate better planning and conservation of historical towns and their environmental context.
Speech by Prof Alexie Dingli
Parliamentary secretary dr Debattista
Honorable Comodini Cachia
Ladies and Gentlem
It is my pleasure and honor to be here today.
May I first of all welcome you, the European Walled Towns association. In particular, I’d like to thank the President and my old friend Joe Spiteri for his work and dedication. Not just, as part of the European Walled Towns but also when he was a Local Councillor of Valletta. I’m sure that Valletta still needs him and his work.
Valletta is a 450-year-old Walled City built by the Knights of Malta to protect Europe from the Ottoman invasions. A city rich in art, such as the the world famous Caravaggio and in architecture such as the Renzo Piano Parliament building. Today, it is the smallest Capital City in Europe, a gem of baroque architecture and wholly declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The city is less than a KM squared but boasts no less than 320 monuments. It has a population of 6000 inhabitants but every year, it hosts more than 8 million visitors, both local and foreigners. In the past years, It hosted the CHOGM (the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting), the Presidency of the European Union and this year, Valletta is the European Capital of Culture.
In this last decade, the city changed, from buzzing centre at night which morphed into a desert in the evening, to a lively city from morning till late at night. The economic effects of such a transformation are obvious. However sometimes, this happened at the expense of the residents. The spectre of gentrification has been slowly engulfing the city. The commercial community is slowly invading over the residential areas. And as a result, the price of properties is increasing, way beyond what normal citizens of Valletta can afford. The citizens who still live in the city struggle to live a comfortable life. Commuters and government departments hog the few parking spaces which remain. They have to suffer through the numerous activities which happen around the city and in some cases, they have to put up with inconsiderate bar owners who think that they own a divine right to flood the city with music (even though they are not licensed to do so).
Valletta may have become the inn place for entertainment, but has also become the out place for its residents.
I don’t want to sound like a prophet of doom and gloom, because I’m not. But I’m stating this because we have to recognise our challenges, if we want to face them. And I believe this to be the right forum because you’re all sensitive to the livabilities of historic cities.
Whereas we recognise that living in a historic city has its challenges, we as city administrators have to do our utmost to address them in a way which help us retain our citizens. Let’s not forget that the residents of the city are the soul of the city. We do not want Valletta to turn into an open air museum, neither do we want it to become a shopping centre. I believe that we have to achieve a balance.
We have to look at new and innovative transport which brings people to Valletta in a fast and effective way but not with their car. In fact, in the coming months we will see an increase in sea transport to the city. Not just from the adjacent cities of Sliema and Birgu but also from towns and cities far away like Bugibba which is located on the northest tip of the Island. We should also aim to restrict further the parking of cars in the city, thus freeing more space for the residents and for those that really need to park in the city. After all, let’s not forget that parking in Valletta is the most valuable in the Maltese Islands.
We have to seriously consider enforcement measures which automatically penalise those who abuse. In fact, we’re in discussions with entertainment venues to installed sound meters which are calibrated based upon the standards of the world health organisation and which guarantee the residents of the area a good night sleep. Furthermore, if shop owners abuse, their electricity is suspended automatically.
We have to work more on the social dimension. We have to banish the spectre of loneliness which is afflicting our elderly. We have to free, those people who are prisons in their homes due to architectonic barriers. We have to support our youth and make them employable. We have to nurture our children into become good citizens of our society. We plan to do this through the setting of the Valletta Community Network, a network of organisations who have an interest in the social dimension of the city. The idea is to pool our limited resources and in so doing, achieving much more than we can on our own.
Obviously we have many other initiatives going on which is impossible for me to relate over here (otherwise I’ll take up all of the symposium).
But my message today is the following. I know the challenges are big, but so is our determination to overcome them. Let’s be ambitious and dream of where we want to go. A dream which will catapult our towns and cities in the future for the benefit of our residents, business communities and visitors. Thank you.
List of Presentations:
Inside and outside the old walls by Dr Marie Avellino
Malta's fortified towns and their role in Malta's tourism strategy by Leslie Vella
The role of public places in historic towns by Dr John Ebejer
The goose that lays the golden egg? by Brian Smith
Giving new life to historic towns by Norbert Gatt
The City Walls Project by Anne Scicluna
Experiencing Walled Towns: A heritage interpreter's gaze by Prof. George Cassar