There is significance in the fact that Italians refer to Malta with the name of the capital city, La Valletta. Indeed this reference makes me think that for a vast majority of Europeans, Malta is considered as a City State – one of the remaining City States in the modern world. This country made gigantic strides forward considering that with a population of slightly over 400,000, we are an independent state and members of the European Union. The anthropology and the yearnings of this people are still to be thoroughly studied.
Around five years ago I was invited to address a seminar organised by the Valletta Alive Foundation on “Valletta – Malta’s Rome in the National Economy”. The main thrust of my presentation was that Valletta is crying out for a new renaissance as a capital city of the state of Malta. The City was neglected in the nineteen seventies and eighties and it was the late Nationalist administrations that tried to give a new life to the Capital. Any City however should naturally reflect both the virtuosity and viciousness of the nation’s communities. Valletta does not do this. It is a City without a soul, unanimated, and deprived of vibrancy and creativity. An economic viewpoint to this statement lies in getting new activities to the City – these being of both a cultural and commercial nature. Human activity creates a ripple effect and activity brings new activity.
The proposals in my paper of 2008 still hold firmly today. Valletta can be transformed in so many ways by getting academia back to the City – the Humanities and Law faculties of the University returning to our University building in St Paul Street. We can have sections of the Capital luring back commercial offices – with financial institutions joining the law firms in the palaces and grand houses of Valletta. (It was under my Chairmanship that the Head Office of Bank of Valletta returned to the Capital City in 2001). We need to boost residences for young couples in the City. Valletta will remain the centre for Government’s administration. The presence of students, employees, residents in the City will sustain and attract more retail outlets, restaurants, cafes, and places for entertainment. The City will also regain its status as a cultural centre – with more active theatres, galleries, music halls, museums, street theatre and cultural events.
How can this be done? First and foremost, do not touch the Piano masterpiece in the entrance of Valletta. Let us not be provincial in our thinking and dictate to an artist what to do. If I were the Architect Piano, I would just abandon my work if put under such pressure. Enough has been said and done about this project which is in itself a cultural tourist attraction.
So concentrate on designing a concept for the restoration of Auberge de Baviere, Fort St Elmo, the old covered Market in Merchant Street (take it back to a fresh food market please!), the Valletta underground tunnels and the rehabilitation of Strait Street and its environs. (The Fondazzjoni Strada Stretta has done a great deal in this direction – in fact, my advice is support and empower more NGOS who usually do a much better job than Government).
The State comes in with establishing tax concessions for commercial outlets (including boutique hotels) and restoration of residences and apartments within the walls of the City. The State can also give concessions to private contractors for parking garages in the centre and the lower end of Valletta. The City can be adorned with more art galleries and antique shops if areas are specifically allocated for clusters of such activity. Inheritance laws need to be reviewed to unlock the stalemate on inherited properties in the centre of Valletta which are falling apart. Why not attract department stores to the old Gieves establishment in Old Bakery Street and the Gio Batta Delia property in Santa Lucia Street?
Valletta can regain its past glory, a true centre to the City State of La Valletta... we need to establish tasks, deadlines and empower the private sector to do the job.
Joseph FX Zahra