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Future Europe features a podcast episode from each of the EU’s 28 Member States. Each episode tells the story of a project that illuminates the way Europeans will live in the future. All the stories are told through the voices of people like Chis Paris —people involved in the projects.
In the early morning sunlight, a military band prepares for the ceremonial changing of the guards outside Malta’s new parliament building, just inside the city gates of the capital city, Valletta. The soldiers are smartly turned out in khaki uniforms and pith helmets – and the pith helmets are not the only reminder of the island’s colonial past.
The British military left in 1979 – leaving Valletta city centre in dire need of rehabilitation. The city had already suffered extensive damage by German bombing in the Second World War, and was ready for regeneration.
“Valletta is surrounded by two harbors,” explains Chris Paris, until recently the chief executive of Malta’s Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation. “The main activity was services for the Royal Navy.”
After the Royal Navy was gone, the area needed to find new “main activities” – but was neglected for decades. Until very recently.
The city embarked on an ambitious programme funded by the Maltese government and the EIB. At the heart of this €80 million project were three interrelated projects:
- Construction of a new parliament building.
- Replacement of Valletta’s ‘city gate’ – built in the 1960’s as part of a never completed project.
- Reconstruction of Valetta’s old opera house destroyed during the Second World War.
Modern architecture for an ancient city
The renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the Shard building in London, was asked to draw up plans for the city center regeneration.
Valletta is a UNESCO world heritage site, but instead of aping the baroque style of the old city, the architect decided to take a modern and innovative approach.
“The genius of Renzo Piano is that he understood the character of Valletta and its people,” says Chris Paris. “He decided to use local limestone but in an entirely new way, and making use of new technology”.
The new Parliament House appears to be two blocks of solid stone floating in mid-air, over a ground floor of glass, for example.
“The building is unique in its design – it is all transparent. People can walk under it and see into it,” says Anġlu Farrugiato the speaker of the Maltese Parliament.
Close to the parliament is the site of the Opera House. Instead of rebuilding it, the remnants of the old structure have been incorporated into a state-of the-art open air theatre called the Pjazza Teatru Rjal. Christopher Muscat, the theater’s director says it has been a boon for the arts in Malta.
“An open air performance creates a particular feeling and ambience. Having an open-air theater right in the heart of the capital city is an asset for the local cultural scene,” he says.
A paradigm shift
The regeneration of Valetta attracted the attention of the EIB as a potentially significant development. Lourdes Llorens Abando, a senior EIB economist working on Malta, says the project is significant not only for what it did, but for what it can also do going forward.
“This project will probably promote further restoration. Once you have something so good it is a driving force for the regeneration of the whole area,” she says.
Kenneth Farrugia, chairman of Malta Investments, set up by the government of Malta to manage the financing of the regeneration project, would agree. He believes that Valletta’s facelift represents a shift from post-colonial decline to a more optimistic present – and potentially prosperous future. So hold on to your hats (or pith helmets)!