The Malta Independent 17 July 2019, Wednesday

Monte Di Pieta’ building again damaged due to excavation work below

Malta Independent Sunday, 24 August 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

The 16th century Monte di Pieta’ building in Merchants Street, Valletta, the national public pawnbrokers, has again been damaged extensively due to excavation work carried out on the site occupied by a confectionary, C. Camilleri & Sons, The Malta Independent on Sunday has learnt.

This newspaper was not granted permission to take photos of the structural damage caused, due to certain “security features” in the building, according to a spokesman from the Finance Ministry, responsible for the Monte di Pieta’, which forms part of the Inland Revenue Department.

Employees who showed us around the building said they were concerned about their own safety and security, however. And they certainly have reason to be concerned, as some of the cracks in the building’s walls are a scary sight.

One of the doorways above the site owned by C. Camilleri & Sons had to be supported by metal poles due to cracks in the wall, and a bad crack in another room was about half a centimetre wide.

The Monte di Pieta’ was established in 1597 to lend moneys to the distressed at a reasonable interest rate on the security of property given in pawn such as gold and silver items.

The Monte di Pieta’ still provides this service today. Precious items are accepted as security against a loan at a five per cent interest rate.

Last month, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) issued an enforcement notice against C. Camilleri & Sons after it was found that the work being carried out on site was not according to the approved plans.

The Finance Ministry confirmed to The Malta Independent on Sunday that the Monte di Pieta’ had already been damaged towards the end of last year, when structural work was carried out on the business premises of C. Camilleri & Sons.

“Messrs Camilleri agreed to carry out all the maintenance work and pay for the related damage. A government engineer and a second engineer commissioned by C. Camilleri and Sons ensured that there was no structural danger, and as such staff need not worry for their safety,” according to a ministry spokesman.

This was in October last year, when the main safe at the Monte di Pieta’ could not be closed due to structural damage caused to the building.

Excavation work on the site re-commenced last month, causing additional damage, the spokesman added.

He said remedial action is being taken and personnel from the Health and Safety Department have carried out an inspection of the premises.

However, the ministry has not yet said what the outcome of the inspection actually is.

According to the Mepa case details, C. Camilleri & Sons, known to many as Camilleri tal-Helu, was granted permission to extend the existing basement store, change the shop’s façade and the internal part of the shop.

This could certainly act as an excellent case study for the proposed plan to extend the St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum, which has been the subject of controversy over the past few weeks.

One option is for the construction of a three-storey building in the courtyard running along Merchants Street to provide additional space, including a canteen, at roof level.

The second option – which St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation has clearly said is the preferred option – is to extend the co-cathedral’s museum by excavating chambers in St John’s Street.

The foundation explained that these would then be connected to existing subterranean water reservoirs.

But this proposal has come under fire by a number of NGOs who argued that excavation work could cause structural damage to the co-cathedral.

NGOs Friends of the Earth and Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar made it clear that they preferred the first option and proposed that the foundation could purchase and restore a palazzo close to St John’s Co-Cathedral as a possible solution to the lack of museum space.

The foundation rebutted the argument, saying that the palazzo mentioned by the organisations as a possible venue for the extended museum is not adequate because it is not linked to the complex of premises of St John’s and is not large enough to exhibit the priceless historical collection of tapestries, which are being professionally restored.

It stressed that a critical success factor of the proposed extension is for it to be located within, or adjacent to the premises of the co-cathedral. The extension is urgently needed to better manage the influx of visitors, which is approaching 450,000 each year, the foundation said.

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