Heritage and environment NGO Din l-Art Helwa is taking a phased approach to the restoration of Torri l-Abjad (The White Tower) in Mellieha, which will require €300,000 over three years, the NGO’s Executive President Maria Grazia Cassar told this news portal. “We have secured funding from various sources; our principle lead sponsor is HSBC Malta Foundation, and Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd is our corporate sponsor.”
“Other grants were obtained from the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation, Social Fund 2016, the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties Malta, Voluntary Organisations Project Scheme 2016, The Ministry for Finance, National Lotteries Good Causes Fund 2016, the Ministry for Sustainable Development, and the Environment and Climate Change, Environmental Funding Support Scheme for Voluntary Organisations 2016.”
It-Torri l-Abjad - also known as it-Torri tal-Ahrax - and its dilapidated state came to the attention of Din l-Art Helwa following an expression of interest advertised in a local paper. “This was a call from the Mellieha Local Council to NGOs and other entities to make a proposal related to the restoration and future management of the tower,” Ms Cassar says. “We immediately went as a group of council members to have a look, and decided to put together a proposal. There was another proposal by another NGO, but ours was chosen. This was followed by many meetings to draft the management agreement, under the title of loan for use to Din l-Art Ħelwa. The tower is Central Government property but was devolved to the Mellieha Local Council in virtue of the Local Councils Act of 1993.”
It-Torri l-Abjad was built in 1658 as the sixth of the towers built by Grandmaster Martin de Redin. An artillery battery was built around it in 1715. In the 19th century, the British used the tower as a naval station and they added several rooms to the tower's structure. At a point it served as the Governor's summer residence and a British coat of arms replaced De Redin's personal arms. After World War II the tower was privately owned but it was eventually abandoned. “The older part of the tower from the time of the Knights is in a structurally sound condition, however the British period extension on the upper floors is not. There were some illegally built additions from the 80s which we removed, and there is also considerable work in the battery and ditch which surrounds the tower, including a large room. All services need to be installed, as well as apertures and furniture and furnishings. This restoration and conservation is expected to take approximately three years to complete,” Ms Cassar says.
Once the scheduled restoration works are complete, Din l-Art Helwa has devised some interesting plans for the Tower’s future use. “The ground floor will be dedicated to interactive, educational displays about the historical coastal defences, the marine environment, as well as the flora and fauna of the area. There will be a video room where visitors may relax and watch an interesting video about the tower and the marine coastal environment. This dynamic, multi-media, interactive approach to learning will also enable Din l-Art Helwa to organise various educational programmes as well as daylong activities held at the tower, which will be offered to school groups, and also disadvantaged children who might not usually have access to cultural heritage sites,” Ms Cassar explains. “Din l-Art Helwa will also be providing two dormitories and a classroom to host overnight stays for student groups as well as special interest visitors who might want to organise an activity at the tower. We hope that this will fill the gap for this much-needed type of accommodation.”
In the meantime, the NGO has its hands full with other projects which are coming to a close, including the restoration of Torri ta’ Xutu in Wied iz-Zurrieq, which was funded by the Malta Airport Foundation, and will include the restoration of the landscape around the tower. “We are also starting on the final phase of the restoration of Our Lady of Victory Church which will see the façade, belfry and bells restored in time for Valletta 2018,” Ms Cassar concluded.