Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Heritage Malta, the government agency responsible for the management of museums and cultural attractions, are refusing to explain why one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Valletta has been left closed for months on end.
Inaugurated in 2013 following a €1.7 million investment comprised mostly of European Union funding, The Fortress Builders – a modern interpretation centre on the history of Malta’s fortifications – has had its doors closed for more than a year.
While hundreds of tourists, particularly those crossing by ferry from Sliema, make the centre their first stop in Valletta, they are now being greeted with a small sign informing them that the centre is “temporarily closed”.
Asked by The Shift to explain why such a modern tourist attraction has been kept closed for months on end, neither Minister Owen Bonnici nor his spokesperson, Bernice Farrugia, attempted an explanation. Neither were any replies forthcoming when asked about any future plans for the centre or when it is expected to be reopened.
The Shift is informed that the centre, originally managed by the Restoration Unit within the Culture Ministry, ceased functioning when it was assigned to Heritage Malta a few months ago.
Although no reason for its abrupt closure was given to employees, many suspect it was another cost-cutting exercise as Heritage Malta has been haemorrhaging financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the mismanagement plaguing the agency.
Concerns are also being raised at EU level since the restoration of the late 16th-century building next to St Andrew’s Bastion and its conversion into a modern multi-media interpretation facility was funded through a significant injection of EU funds, which are now not being used for their intended purpose.
Asked in parliament earlier this year to explain the situation at the centre, Minister Bonnici gave only a vague explanation, stating that Heritage Malta is working to convert it into a museum about Valletta. However, no tangible plans are in place and the minister refused to commit to a re-opening deadline.
Sources close to the centre told The Shift that thousands of visitors used to visit the building every week and were impressed by its modern facilities and detailed explanations of Malta’s breathtaking bastions. In 2015 the centre was awarded a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence.