UNESCO has raised fresh concerns over construction works at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, as large concrete walls, easily seen from St Lucy and Merchants Street, have brought into question the nature and execution of the project and its suitability for the site.
Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site of “outstanding universal value”, and as such, works carried out on sites within it are subject to scrutiny from UNESCO, which, in 2015, voiced concerns over the design and implementation of the project.
According to sources, UNESCO regularly receives “alert reports” from heritage experts and civil society about the ugliness of the works and possible breaches of construction method statements and building permits issued by the Planning Authority in 2015 after consultation with UNESCO.
The sources added that UNESCO – the world’s authority on protecting world heritage sites – has asked the government for an update on the works but has not yet received a response. Malta’s representative to UNESCO, Monsignor Joe Vella Gauci, seems unperturbed by concerns.
UNESCO could be set to meet to discuss the issue and decide whether to send an expert mission to investigate the ongoing works. The exact course of action will depend on whether the government and the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation in charge of the project respond to their queries or send the required update reports.
Concerns that have caught the eye of UNESCO include the impact of the works on the line of sight and streetscape, large concrete walls, and the impact on the oratory’s windows, including blocking the natural light onto Caravaggio’s artwork and digging on the burial site of the Knights of Malta.
Questions sent to Mons Vella Gauci, the Gozitan priest made Ambassador to UNESCO by the Labour Party, were not answered at the time of publication.
A project marred in controversy, delays and unaccounted funds
The Co-Cathedral Museum project has been marred in controversy from day one as it has repeatedly missed its completion date while millions of euros have been spent on experts and consultants, with little accountability or results.
Former CEO of the foundation, Cynthia De Giorgio, announced the €10 million project would open its doors in 2018 when Valletta was the European Capital of Culture.
But as the completion date came and went, the project, which included building a new hall to host a collection of Flemish tapestries gifted to the Cathedral by Grand Master Perellos in 1697, had not even started.
After The Shift reported in 2021 that De Giorgio was being replaced to give a new impetus to the beleaguered project, current foundation Chairman Mons Emmanuel Agius, put in place by Archbishop Scicluna, announced that the museum will open in 2023.
While the year is not over, the current state of the building suggests that it will once again miss the deadline.
The project was initially expected to cost €10 million, but there is no information on the current bill or how much it will cost to complete. The Foundation receives funds from the taxpayer each year, while the EU funds the museum extension.
Those involved in the project, including Tonio Mallia, who replaced DeGiorgio, have declined to indicate when the project will be finished.