The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Two Problems complicate approval of the restoration of Fort Manoel’s outer fortifications

Malta Independent Friday, 5 October 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Two problems complicate approval of the restoration of Fort Manoel’s outer fortifications

Noel Grima

The Mepa board yesterday approved an application for the restoration of the outer parts of Fort Manoel.

Phase 2, which was approved yesterday, comes after Phase One which included the restoration of the inner parts of the fort including the vast Piazza d’Armi and St Anthony’s church.

Phase 2 includes the restoration of the glacis, the ravelin and other parts of the fort’s outer defensive works.

The discussion itself, however, met two problems, one which did not raise any objections at the sitting and one which held up the discussion for quite a while.

The first problem regards trees. Recent events have highlighted in the public’s mind the eradication of trees from various parts of the island. Controversy, for instance, has focused on the removal of trees from the Mdina ditch and the proposed removal of trees from the Senglea waterfront.

To be blunt about it, the application that was approved yesterday will lead to the wholescale eradication of trees from the glacis of Fort Manoel.

The rationale behind this is to restore the legibility of the fort’s outerworks. Originally, the purpose of glacis was to provide the fort’s defenders with a clear view over a long area so that any approaching enemy could be seen and stopped.

In fact, photos from the early 19th century were shown with no vegetation on the glacis. Since then, not only shrubs were allowed to grow but also trees. Many, such as acacias and oleanders are invasive and not endemic and they impede the legibility of the fort.

So they will have to go, a mass cull that will be the equivalent of sheep shearing and definitely change the outlook of Manoel Island especially as seen from Sliema. The promise is that the uprooted trees will be transplanted.

My own very personal reflection while this was being discussed was that following the same reasoning all the trees on the glacis at Sa Maison would be removed. Just imagine!

The second problem is even more serious. During World War II, Manoel Island served as a base for the submarine base. In order to service this base, two long (100 m long, were dug under the glacis on the side between the fort and the Lazzaretto. These tunnels were for the storage of fuel and a pipeline connected them to shoreline next to the Lazzaretto to replenish the submarines.

This area, together with a small substation that was also used in the war, has been deliberately excluded from the land passed on to MIDI by the government. MIDI has no access to the tunnels and these may also be dangerous for no one knows if the fuel is still there or not. The government was supposed to clean up the tunnels but nothing so far has been done.

The problem was that Mepa proposed as a condition: “"The fuel tanks are to be emptied of any substances contained therein, prior to the conclusion of works. The method of disposal of the oil or all other matter found within the fuel tanks is being kept as a reserved matter. Within twenty-four (24) months of the issuing of this permit, and prior to the commencement of the extraction of any matter from within the fuel tanks, details of the nature of the substances found and of the proposed method of disposal shall be submitted for the approval of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. No extraction or disposal of matter from the fuel tanks shall take place prior to MEPA's approval."

MIDI objected to this and said it should not be ordered to do things on a site that has not been passed to it. MIDI’s position was strongly supported by Mepa chairman Austin Walker who argued that this is a third-party issue between MIDI and the government and Mepa should not intervene on either side. Nor should Mepa be forced to do something just by focusing on the application. Mepa has enough tools to see into the matter on its own steam.

Accordingly, when the board finally approved the application and amended the proposed condition, the chairman said Mepa will be contacting all the relevant directories from Environment to Enforcement and get them to conduct a study, to be ready within six months, on the issue caused by the fuel tanks.

The fort and its restoration

Interestingly, there were no representations from the public about this application.

Construction on Fort Manoel, which is strategically located on Manoel Island to enable the improved protection of the harbour from the Marsamxett side, started in 1723, under the supervision of the Order of St. John's resident engineer at the times, Charles Francois de Mondion.

It was considered as a model fort, integrating the latest, mainly French-born, techniques for fortification-building.

The fort continued to be used and developed over subsequent years by the Knights and eventually by the British Forces, until their departure. It was handed over to the Maltese government in 1965 and since then its history has been one long history of neglect and worse.

While parts of the fort were later used for recreational or industrial purposes it is now in need of restoration works, some of which have already commenced as part of separate applications.

The Fort forms part of the Manoel Island and Tigne’ Point development brief, which was approved by the Planning Authority in December, 1992. This Development Brief aimed to redevelop Manoel Island and Tigne’ Point primarily for tourist, yachting and commercial purposes.

Following the approval of the Development Brief, an Outline Development Application was submitted by a private consortium (MIDI) that entered into a Lease Agreement with the Government, for the development of the areas identified under the Brief. An Environmental Impact Study and Traffic Impact Statement were carried out during the application stage and an Outline Development Permission was granted by the Planning Authority on 7th October 1999.

The Outline Development Permission required the submission of separate full development applications for each phase of the development six months prior to the commencement of work on site.

In view of this, an application was submitted for the restoration of the Fort’s outer works, their surroundings and all structures related to the fort except for the buildings within the fort’s enceinte, which was tackled in a separate application (PA 5046/01). The enceinte’s outer walls do however form a part of this application.

The Enceinte

The walls of the enceinte are described by the developers as being hybrids of excavated rock and constructed masonry, as clearly demonstrated. Different types of erosion can be observed on both parts of the walls.

The masonry has been eroded through widespread scaling, alveolar and powdering deterioration, as well as through the opening of joints and subsequent growth of vegetation. Decay was furthered by gradual water ingress which led to back-weathering, which in turn has led to the collapse of parts of the wall. Other parts of the wall are at risk of imminent collapse.

The rock-cut parts of the wall are also afflicted with widespread vegetation growth and severe back-weathering, revealing the natural stratification of the Globigerina limestone bedrock in some areas. The natural fissures and cavities in the bedrock have in places deteriorated seriously, further weakening the structural integrity of the fabric in some parts.

The proposed interventions on the enceinte are:

• Removal of vegetation using appropriate methods, including approved herbicides, and careful removal of the root ball, without damage to the surrounding fabric;

• Removal of any cement-based renders;

• Replacement of heavily deteriorated or missing masonry elements;

• Consolidation of dislodged rock-faces as well as securing of all fissures by a combination of non-ferrous pinning materials/techniques, lime-based grouting and pointing;

• Reinstatement of any missing capping stones in disused service trenches.

The Ravelin

The Ravelin’s walls are afflicted by similar deterioration to that experienced by the Enceinte’s walls, including minor collapses and damage incurred due to vegetal growth. A mound of rubble which had been placed atop the Ravelin when it was used as a Torpedo magazine has now been dispersed while the subterranean vault indicates damage from a fire at some point in history, but no extensive damage.

The following interventions are being proposed for the conservation of the ravelin:

• Removal of vegetation using appropriate methods, including approved herbicides and the careful removal of the root balls, without damage to the adjacent fabric;

• Reconstruction of collapsed masonry, where possible using original fallen stone blocks;

• Replacement of heavily deteriorated or missing masonry elements;

• Careful consolidation of dislodged rock-faces as well as securing all fissures by adequate grouting and pointing;

• Archaeological investigation of strewn rubble on platform;

• Remodelling of the mound by reconstructing retaining wall around its perimeter;

• Re-establishment of disfigured banquette platforms;

• Opening up of blocked ventilation shaft;

• Installation of a safety grill/ aperture over shaft;

• Installation of steel gates at the three entrances of the Ravelin.

The Tenaille

Since the tenaille is entirely rock cut it, is in relatively good condition, but it has nevertheless been subjected to back-weathering as a result of rising damp around the base. Some vegetation growth has occurred within the open fissures on the superior slope and on the soil which has accumulated on the platform and banquette.

The RMS states that a section of the superior slope is completely missing, probably after the rock gave way due to a natural fissure.

The proposed interventions on the tenaille are:

• Removal of vegetation using appropriate methods including approved herbicides;

• Consolidation of the damaged rock-faces and its securing by a combination of non-ferrous pinning materials/techniques, lime-based grouting and pointing;

• Removal of any corroding metal fittings and concrete anchors.

The Ditch:

Evidence of several relatively recent interventions on the ditch includes the presence of concrete platforms which previously accommodated tennis courts at the Northern end of the ditch and foundations of post-war buildings which were recently demolished near to the Lazzaretto. Another recent modification is the narrowing of the space between the counterscarps and the caponiers for the provision of vehicular access.

It is stated that the condition of the ditch floor can only be fully assessed once the debris vegetation, soil and rubble are cleared and that tree growth is evident in the ditch, especially around St. Helen’s Curtain and the ravelin.

The proposed interventions on the ditch are:

• Careful removal of all superfluous debris which includes construction waste, soil and dumped refuse. Vegetation and trees will be removed in the process.

• Establishment of original surface finishes, which are expected to be rock. Any areas of flagstones discovered will be preserved. Concrete platforms will be studied in further detail for their historic significance, but the current proposal is that of their removal, to an extent which does not deface the underlying rock.

• Repairs, including the construction of consolidating masonry walls, will be carried out only where necessary to ensure safety and clear reading of the original edges and profiles of the ditch. Such interventions will be specifically directed to staircases and ramps;

• Installation of lighting.

The Counterscarps:

The counterscarps are afflicted by the same causes of deterioration as the Enceinte, but it is stated that the vegetation overgrowth problem is more acute for the counterscarps.

The proposed interventions on the ditch are:

• Removal of vegetation using appropriate methods, including approved herbicides;

• Stone replacement of heavily deteriorated or missing masonry elements;

• Consolidation of the damaged rock-faces and its securing by a combination of non-ferrous pinning materials/techniques, lime-based grouting and pointing;

• Reinstatement of capping stones of any disused service trenches.

The Countermines:

It is stated that an assessment of the countermines is difficult in view of accessibility issues, since many of the entrances are blocked off and that further assessment is needed once access is improved.

The accessible countermines are found to have been penetrated by roots from the vegetation growing in the covert way and on the glacis above causing damage which has been pejorated through the recent spread of trees in the said glacis. Aerosol damage was also discovered in one countermine together with damage to a number of masonry walls within the galleries.

The proposed interventions on the countermines are:

• Careful removal of all superfluous debris which includes construction waste, soil and dumped refuse. Any vegetation and trees will be removed in the process;

• Removal of aerosol graffiti using approved methods;

• Structural consolidation of any masonry structures within the countermines;

• Installation of gates at the mouths of the countermines;

• Cleaning and opening up of ventilation shafts;

• Installation of a safety steel protective cover over the shaft.

The Places of Arms, Traverses and the Covertway

Five of the original places of arms are still in existence, the other two having been destroyed to accommodate facilities and access to the fort. These places of arms, together with the covert way and traverses that connect them, are said to be exhibiting various forms of deterioration mainly through loss of material by erosion. This deterioration has affected the masonry walls, as well as the elements of the said outer works which have been carved out of the rock.

The proposed interventions on the places of arms, the traverses and the covert way are:

• Extensive removal and carting away of superfluous debris from walls, earthworks and platforms to carefully re-establish original levels, finishes and alignments;

• Removal of all vegetation on and around the structures;

• Reconstruction of missing or damaged sections of masonry retaining walls to match existing fabric;

• Recovery of stone elements lying around, documentation and possible reinstatement through anastylosis exercise;

• Raking of any eroded or disfigured earthworks in accordance with their original design. (Where possible, any war-time damage or interventions will be retained).

Spurs

The issues concerning the three spurs (Notre Dame Curtain Spur, St., John’s Bastion Spur and St. John’s Curtain Spur) are alveolar and back-weathering as well as vegetal growth. The report notes that St John’s Curtain Spur is particularly deteriorated and is at times barely discernable on site.

All three spurs have been modified over the years, with some of these modifications having been carried out quite recently.

The RMS states that “Since a good proportion of the outworks are still present, it is being proposed that, where possible, they are restored to an extent that Mondion’s original design is once again made legible.“

The proposed interventions on the spurs are:

• Extensive removal and carting away of superfluous debris from spur walls and earthworks;

• Removal of all vegetation on and around the structures;

• Reconstruction of missing or damaged sections of masonry retaining walls to match existing fabric. Attention to the construction type will be given, since a particular form of rubble wall technique was originally used;, this construction methodology will be replicated;

• Re-alignment and reconstruction will also be required on certain revetments dividing the spurs from the places-of-arms;

• Recovery of stone elements lying around, documentation and possible reinstatement through anastylosis exercise;

• The earthworks capping the spurs will be raked in accordance with their original design. Where possible, any war-time damage or interventions will be retained.

The Glacis

The Glacis, which were previously composed of a garigue landscape or low lying vegetation, have recently (since the 1960s) been allowed to become overgrown with trees, a number of which are invasive, namely Eucalyptus and Acacia trees. It is suggested that such trees can have a negative impact on the bedrock forming part of the glacis and on the underground structures forming part of the fort.

The following recommendations are intended to restore views to the fort and enable the legibility of its outer works:

• Removal of superfluous debris (mainly construction waste) and vegetation in order to enable reinstatement of St. John’s curtain spur and place-of-arms;

• All evidence of trapping equipment be removed from the site;

• Selective removal of trees (invasive species and trees damaging the built structures) and over-grown vegetation at the north-east portion of the glacis in front of the spur facing Valletta and the portion towards the foreshore;

• Levelling of the glacis (via the removal of debris), to achieve the desired slopes by removing accumulated debris;

• Landscaping/compensatory afforestation of the glacis, as per proposed landscaping plan;

• Restoration of pathways. Particularly for maintenance access.

The Eastern Coast

The fort’s seaward (i.e. the main) entrance, which incorporates a landing place leading to a staircase up to the Couvre Port which protects the gate, is located on the Eastern coast of Manoel Island. A series of constructions have also been built on this coast over time, namely a long wall along the coast, rock hewn bollards, man made channels, rooms, staircases, concrete platforms and walkways as well as shallow pools dug into the rock. A series of metal poles have also been driven in the rock for reasons which are unclear to the author of the RMS. These poles are now corroded and are staining the rock into which they are driven. Furthermore, a number of masonry and concrete structures are in a bad state of repair (some have even collapsed) while much of the paving has been removed. Elements which were dug into the rock (such as the pools and the berthing dock) are intact, but have been filled with debris.

The following interventions are proposed for the Eastern Coast:

• The cleaning up of a number of loose stones, and concrete platforms, which have been destroyed, and which are in a bad/dangerous state, and therefore retrieving as much as possible of the natural shore, as well as rendering it safe for access;

• Careful removal of debris and dismantling of the brick wall blocking off the berthing inlet;

• Removal of any metal fixtures inserted into the rock which may prove dangerous to the public;

• Cleaning and concrete repairs of the shallow pools;

• Repairs and consolidation of the foreshore glacis boundary wall;

• Clearing of debris, removal of vegetation consolidation of existing (remains of) wall and reinstatement of walkway via the construction of a concrete retaining wall, as indicated on the proposed drawings;

• Realignment of the upper portion of the glacis at the foot of the Bastion walls and formation of edge kerb to accommodate light fittings.

6-pr QF gun emplacement on St. John’s place-of arms

Two “6 pounder Quick Firing” guns were installed on the place-of-arms opposite St. John’s curtain, but were subsequently removed, leaving only the platforms that held them in place. These platforms are said to still be in a good state of repair save for a few dislodged sections of concrete, some chipped edges, and vegetal growth through cracks in the concrete.

The masonry walls and earthen works built around the platforms are however said to be experiencing decay, but their exact condition cannot be verified prior to the clearing of vegetation which is hindering access to them.

The proposed intervention on the gun emplacements on St. John’s place-of-arms are:

• Cleaning and removal of dumped debris such as construction waste and metal;

• Removal of all undergrowth and superior plants;

• Repair of dislodged concrete elements;

• Consolidation of concrete elements using proprietary grouting of the open joints and cracks;

• General repair of all metal features such as the davit hoist, and reinstatement of expense magazine apertures.

6-pdr QF emplacement near Landing Place

Three guns were accommodated in three emplacements within a battery set behind a retaining wall which already existed along most of the foreshore.

The guns have since been removed, and the remaining emplacements are stated to be in good condition, especially when taking into consideration their proximity to the sea. The conversion of the platforms into planters (40 years ago) did however expose these platforms to wet soil and salts while other damage has apparently been caused to the side escarpments and small areas of the inner retaining walls and the roofing system of a small associated chamber.

The proposed interventions on the QF emplacement are:

• Removal of planters including hollow concrete block masonry and topsoil;

• Removal of all undergrowth;

• Exposure of historical levels, finishes and features (e.g. expense magazines);

• Repair of dislodged or missing softstone masonry elements;

• Consolidation using proprietary grouting of the open joints and cracks;

• General repairs of any metal elements;

• Raking out and pointing of all masonry construction.

Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun Positions:

Four heavy anti-aircraft gun emplacements are found at the Fort but only three remain, since one (referred to as position 2) was destroyed by enemy fire during the Second World War. The other three were abandoned after the war. A shed-like structure was built in Gun Position 1, while a section of the pen blast walls of Gun Position 3 was demolished and the chambers of Gun Position 4 were

previously inhabited by squatters. The three remaining gun positions are however said to be in a good state of repair, save for some concrete spalling and vegetation growth, as well as vandalism.

The proposed interventions on the gun positions are:

• Removal of all undergrowth and superior plants;

• Exposure of historical levels, finishes and features (e.g. expense magazines) including opening up of blocked apertures;

• Repair of dislodged or missing softstone masonry elements;

• Consolidation using proprietary grouting of the open joints, cracks and spalled concrete;

• General repair of all metal features such as metal holdfasts and expense magazine apertures;

• Consolidation of reinforced concrete structures, preserving any damage caused by war action;

• Raking out and pointing of all masonry construction;

• All associated pathways will be cleaned and where possible the original finish will be exposed and repaired;

• All associated rooms will be repaired according to the methodologies outlined in the • Restoration Methodology’ Section following individual condition assessments (once they are properly accessible);

• Reinstatement of the former Gun Crew quarters apertures.

North Shore Gun Emplacement

A gun emplacement comprising one small and three large gun emplacements is located on the North Shore of Manoel Island. These emplacements are under threat due to dumping and elevated road levels. It is unclear whether one of the emplacements is simply buried, or whether it was demolished.

The proposed interventions on the emplacement are:

• Removal of superficial debris, topsoil and vegetation;

• Excavation to expose ‘missing’ gun platform. (If it is not found no attempt shall be made to rebuild);

• Repair and consolidation using proprietary grouting of the cracks, voids and gaps in the concrete platforms;

• Creation of an adequate buffer zone around the emplacement to maximise legibility.

Cyclorama building

Only the outer walls of the cyclorama building, which was a mechanically operated structure built for training purposes, remain since the building has been abandoned for many years and is thought to have caught fire at some point. Parts of the cyclorama’s mechanism and roof structure can still be found inside the building.

A one-storey extension beside the cyclorama still stands with its roof intact but both buildings have been subjected to neglect and vandalism. Several underground passages leading to the cyclorama are flooded or filled with debris.

The proposed interventions on the cyclorama are:

• Removal of recent debris and vegetation. Any superior plants and trees in very close proximity to the building will also be removed;

• Careful excavation, cataloguing and storage of any relevant debris. Such works will also be carried out in the subterranean passages;

• Partial anastylosis of walls using any masonry blocks lying around the site and subsequent consolidation of the walls in order to prevent water penetration that could result in further decay;

• Consolidation of the interior ruins, ensuring that the site is generally safe with all manholes identified and any dangerously located metal elements repositioned;

• Introduction of a discreetly designed roofing (see drawings 57B and 7A) consisting of a lightweight steel structure clad in insulated panels and glazing to protect the metal Cyclorama mechanism from further deterioration.

• Provision of apertures to enclose the outbuilding of the Cyclorama.

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