I first visited the tiny Mediterranean country of Malta in the early 50s.
I stayed for 5 magnificent years. It was where I found my passion for things archaeological. I was Associated Press’s stringer on the island (amongst other things) when I was invited to join Cambridge University’s archaeological team under the direction of Dr. David Trump, to record artifacts and excavations at the catacombs of St. Agatha’s in Rabat, adjoining the ancient capital of M’dina.
Prior to this I had been assigned the task of recording (photographically) many of the artifacts currently displayed in the churches that abound on this small catholic island and many of which dated back to the historic Knights of Malta. (1530-1798). My assignment at that time came from the then Central Office of Information, now replaced by the Department of Tourism and Heritage Malta.
Six years ago I returned to my beloved Malta for the first time in some 50 odd years. (‘Odd’ being the operative word here!) The only item I excavated on this occasion however was my lovely wife Rosaria. I stayed for another 4 years and left I must admit a broken hearted man. The heart I should add that I had bequeathed to my beloved Malta.
Although the country was moving ahead by leaps and bounds since severing its ties with Great Britton and now becoming one of the newest members of the European Union (EU), it had lost or perhaps better described, was losing, its focus on the one element that truly held its passport to greatness in the future, the archaeological and historic past that is surely unequaled anywhere in the world.
Across the island magnificent remains of this glorious past stood unattended and uncared for, the public even in government controlled sites like St. Paul’s Catacombs were allowed to wander unescorted, allowing them to add graffiti and untold damage to this magnificent site. By contrast across the street the magnificent catacombs of St. Agatha’s with its amazing original fresco’s remained intact only because the site is owned and maintained by the Sacred Order of the Society of St. Peter amp; St. Paul, whose monastery and school is located above this remarkable crypt and catacomb complex.
Fr. Victor Camilleri whose side I was privileged to work at during the 50’s, still to this day (although his sight is almost gone) continues to safeguard some of Malta’s most sacred and amazing treasures.
Over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to again re visit with Victor and once again explore some of my old haunts. Certainly there have now been changes. It appears that the preservation on many of the ancient sites are under the care of private contractors though it was my impression that the government still retains an active involvement. Protective covers have been placed over some of the more spectacular archaeological sites to provide a modicum of weather protection, though somewhat taking from their previous visual splendor.
I discovered a new and very pleasant visitor’s center at the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra site. However sites like “Clapham Junction” with the remarkable and unexplained ‘cart ruts’, sit unsupervised and unprotected!
I took the time to re visit the Palace State Rooms and the Armory which by the way contains a collection unequaled of weaponry used by the Knights in the fortification of their home for several hundred years.
Though as remarkable as it is, it lacks attention to detail and the atmosphere brings no excitement to what should in this archaeologist’s opinion be a lifelong memorable experience. The same could be said of the Palace Staterooms with their magnificent paintings and memorabilia.
Mother nature has done her part in the preservation of much that remains on the Island but the time has come for the government to step up and preserve the remarkable wealth that history has placed in their hands. I recall a conversation with a fellow archaeologist in Egypt some years ago when he described the Pyramids as being Egypt’s Oil Well! Meaning of course that the countries ancient treasures would be its source of wealth for as long as they were maintained and treasured.