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Network News • 19-10-2023

Protecting sacred burial ground in Tal-Wej Mosta

Author: George Mangion -Senior Partner at PKF Malta
Published on Malta Business Weekly: 19th October 2023

Din l-Art Helwa has called for the intervention of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and for the Planning Authority concerning an application by some developers to remove the top soil on a three tumoli site in Tal-Wej, Mosta – a hallowed ground hosting bronze age remains.

The site is located outside development zone in the outskirts of San Pawl Tat-Targa and the archaeological investigation is being proposed by the owners of the land. In the past, Mosta residents gave a sigh of relief that after so many years of protest the tomb area at Tal-Wej, currently lying in ruins, was finally scheduled by the PA.

Thanks for the environmentalists who lobbied unsung and unaided for years they succeeded to protect this sacred burial ground in Mosta from the ravages of demolition and building works. Not so much protection was granted as a development permit was issued by the PA for a massive building project of showrooms, flats and basement garages in an area known as il-Wesgha tal-Gganti, in the road adjacent to the Mosta’s Lidl supermarket. The Superintendent of Cultural Heritage proclaimed that the site itself had low archaeological value and said that he cannot afford to protect all areas within the approved development plan as this will be tantamount to classify the entire spatial plan as “fossil” Malta. But, residents disagree saying that if we ignore precautions and send in excavators to dig up ancestor tombs, dolmens and catacombs, we wantonly destroy our heritage and all this will eventually turn the island into a jungle of glass and concrete structures – a soulless city.

This Mosta land is listed as sacred in the book Storja tal-Mosta, written by famous historian E. B. Vella who points out to the discovery of megaliths dating to the Neolithic period. Vella also makes reference to earlier descriptions of the area by Grognet, as well as folkloric references, which suggest the presence of more complex megalithic structures.

This saga begs the question – what is the cost of protecting our heritage from overzealous developers and can the benefits of commercial exploitation of such land ever outweigh the loss of our patrimony? Who cares about Bronze Age patrimony when so many millions can be reaped from construction? Islanders claim they cannot live on reciting Hail Marys as debt to GDP is escalating towards the Maastricht border limit. Is the public expected to yield to pressure from developers owning such plots?

Landowners bought such derelict land at a discount, so now they want to monetize it. Why should tombs, fauna and garrigue forfeit them millions? The dilemma often tests the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage when asked to decide to veto development permits issued on certain sites. We are sacrificing a rich legacy from our ancestors bequeathing us with sites showing traces of rare archaeological remains particularly from the Bronze Age period consisting of catacombs, shallow tombs dug in rock and sometimes the presence of complex megalithic structures which form an opulent archaeological marvel.

With hindsight, one regretfully recalls how George Pullicino from the PN party, in Parliament, sanctioned a substantial extension of the national development plan inclusive of ODZ land. Such a land parcel had treasure rich artifacts. It is obvious that owners of such land endowed with archaeological remains are faced with a veto from the Superintendence of Heritage mandating that the land cannot be developed.

As the argument goes – we cannot halt progress and building activity considering the fact that the island is so dotted with artifacts that developers may feel disenfranchised should regulators brand it as a “fossil” island. After years of protesting, sanity prevailed and a bid by landowners to overturn an official decision designating a zone between Naxxar and Mosta as a Natura 2000 protected site, has been recently dismissed by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal.

As stated above, the Environment and Resources Authority had, in 2019, designated Tal-Wej, an area of 203,484 square metres, as a protected site and a Special Area of Conservation in view of its temporary freshwater rockpools that form in outcrops of the Lower Coralline Limestone. The pools host flora such as the Maltese Waterwort, the Maltese Horned Pondweed and fauna such as the Tadpole Shrimp and the Painted Frog. Additionally, the area also hosts garrigue and grassland habitats. This decision is a triumph.

It slows the daily destruction of Natura 2000 ecological sites. The obvious question to follow is why Minister Aaron Farrugia seldom finds funds to erect protecting walls at Tal-Wej eventually to attract visitors like Imnajdra? Can his ministry clean up the rubbish in sunken Bronze Age tombs? As a caveat, remember Aesop who warns us to be careful what we wish for.

Author: George Mangion -Senior Partner at PKF Malta
Published on Malta Business Weekly: 19th October 2023


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