The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) board roday approved the extension and renovation of St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum, which would see all 29 Flemish Tapestries displayed.
It had previously stalled on taking a decision after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) expressed its concerns via e-mail, and asked for more consultation meetings to be held before a decision is taken. It was the prestigious International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) within UNESCO who alerted the organisation of its reservations, and requested that a committee of experts be drawn up to assess the application.
MEPA subsequently asked St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation to address the concerns before it could take a decision.
The Foundation had proposed to extend and refurbish the museum, making way for all 29 Flemish Tapestries to be exhibited together. Currently the museum only displays roughly a third of the collection, which happens to be unique across the globe, because it does not have the 700 square metre area required.
The courtyard is proposed to be turned into a lobby, by lowering its level and allowing the ticket sales and book shop to be on 2 levels.
A number of concerns have been raised locally about the proposed extension. Environmental NGO Flimkien Ghal-Ambjent Ahjar has been reported saying that the proposal would mean that the view of the co-cathedral would be blocked from Merchants’ Street. They also expressed their reservations with the plans to dismantle the grave where the heroes of the Great Siege are buried, to replace it with a small monument. The Foundation however said that the small monument would be given prominence, and will be the starting point of the museum tour.
Architect Konrad Buhagiar for the Foundation and the Directorate had explained that at the planning stages, a conservative approach was taken. He added that this was done to preserve the heritage and cultural value of the museum, as well as the surroundings of St John’s Co-Cathedral.
It was reported that the renovation would make the museum wheelchair accessible, by excavating at basement level and thereby building a passage. In addition to this, the facade will be renovated to include a niche. This is an element which is typical of 16th century architecture.
MEPA’s conservation policy dictates that Grade I buildings are to be preserved in their entirety, allowing extension and renovation if they support further use of the building.
In a previous statement made by the Foundation, the preservation of the co-cathedral and its priceless art collections were identified as the main aim of the works.
It added that the project has been designed to meet 3 pertinent challenges: to mitigate church overcrowding and thus reduce conservation pressures on one of the world’s most essential Baroque interiors, to create a hall which is able to exhibit the full set of Flemish tapestries and lastly to install a Caravaggio Centre, which will serve to educate.