The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

Abandoned Palazz l-Ahmar worth ‘many millions’

Michael Carabott Monday, 5 January 2015, 15:12 Last update: about 5 years ago

The government owned Palazz l-Ahmar in Marfa overlooking Comino, has been left to deteriorate and at the last estimate, it was thought that it would cost some €1.2 million to render it safe.

The building is owned by the government, but if it was bought up by someone in the private sector, it would fetch a price of "many millions", a real estate agent told this newspaper.

The industry source said that estate agents would clamour to secure the sale of the building as it would be worth so much, if the government decided to sell it. While there have been attempts to issue expressions of interest, these have been for commercial or administrative premises, and not private ownership as a residence. One estate agent believed that the building could fetch as much as €10m if sold as a private house.

The issue at stake here, is that of concessions. It is understood that a concession had been given by the government for the site for 100 years. It is believed that the concession was given out either under the Borg Olivier administration or by Lorry Sant, when Minister under a Labour government. At times, the building was used by religious institutions and as a retreat house and even as a police station.

Abuse stories

But it also has a tainted past, the property is also understood to have been used as a summer 'holiday home' by the St Joseph's Institute. In August 22, 2011, Godwin Scerri and Carmelo Pulis were found that they had sexually abused underage boys that were under their custody while resident at St Joseph Home in Santa Venera years before. One of the priests was found guilty of corrupting a minor while giving him 'swimming lessons' in Marfa.

Historical value

While the location of the building is deemed to be prime real estate, the actual building itself - on the surface - has no historical or architectural value. It does, however, conceal a secret. The foundations on which the building is built sit on top of the remains of a coastal redoubt (fort) that dates back to the time of the Knights of St John. It was not used to house artillery, but it contained a coastal garrison of infantry troops.

Squatters

As the building fell into disuse in the early 1990s, squatters began to move in. Some even passed water pipes and electricity cables into parts of the building they used as stores, garages, workshops, or even to have a shower after a swim. Some parts of the building were even freshly tiled as people tried to make it look a bit more attractive. The government swooped in and removed squatters sometime around 2005 after a fire broke out in part of the premises and consumed a curious piece of Maltese folklore - a terramaxka - which used to chime out tunes once wound up.

Mellieha local council

Following the removal of the squatters, the Mellieha local council  applied to be given part of the building to use it for administrative purposes. That proposal never materialised. Under the previous administration, a call for expressions of interest had been issued. Some of the proposals which were put forward included a Malta Film Museum, to showcase Malta's film industry. That was to include a restaurant and cafeteria. Another proposal was to turn it into a wedding reception hall, but that was also turned down.

Present state

The Malta Independent gained access to the property and it is clearly in need of some shoring up. While the structural integrity of the building seems to be holding up, it would clearly need extensive work to make sure that all parts of it are safe and can bear ceiling loads as it is a three storey building. Given that it faces the open sea, it is constantly battered by sea water, sea spray and winds that have pitted the sea-facing facade. It is clear that it would take a great deal of work - possibly more than the €1.2 million figure mentioned.

Remarkably, the place is still dry, and although all furniture has been removed or destroyed, it is still something of a time-capsule and is quite eerie inside. Time seems to have stood still as children's clothes lie in piles in corners and common urinals and bathrooms are still in one piece - albeit very grimy and dusty. It is very clearly a case where something should be done about it - the building already stands where it does, the government might as well sell it and make some money out of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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