The Malta Independent 18 September 2021, Saturday

Sanctuary advertised on Visit Gozo site but owner of land where temple stands has 'reservations'

Duncan Barry Monday, 25 May 2015, 10:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

Remains fast deteriorating but Gozo ministry assures it will take action to preserve site

Gozitan John Michael Mizzi was summoned to the Victoria Police Station last week and warned that if he visited the Ras il-Wardija Punic Sanctuary, which is advertised as a place of interest to visit in Gozo on the official Visit Gozo website, he would be charged with trespassing.

This, he said, happened after the owner of the land where the Punic Temple stands - George Spiteri - lodged a report that he (Mizzi) is planning to organise a visit to the temple.

"The owner of the land has laid bird traps on the site of the temple and on top of the temple," Mr Mizzi said, questioning why these actions had gone unnoticed.

Mr Mizzi also highlighted that the temple is being left to deteriorate and questioned whether the government really has Gozo's heritage at heart

The European Commission is also looking into allegations that hunting and trapping is taking place in the surrounding areas due to the fact that it is a Natura 2000 site.


Owner of land tells his side of the story

Mr Spiteri - the owner of the land - claimed that certain groups of people who come to the site many times drop litter in the area and fail to clean up afterwards.

He said that the issue between him and Mr Mizzi ensued when his (Mr Spiteri's) daughter stumbled on a Facebook post promoting a walk to the temple in question. The event was titled 'Temple Walk in Gozo' and those who were interested to join this group to the temple would be guided by Mr Mizzi, who would reply to any of their questions regarding the site's history.

Mr Spiteri claimed that Mr Mizzi was making a business out of this. But this was denied by Mr Mizzi who said he does not organise any visits against payment and that the event is a regular one in which he and a group of friends visit Gozo's temples and other related sites dating back to antiquity.

Mr Spiteri also says that he frequently receives requests from the Gozo Museum to bring groups of tourists to the site and he has always agreed and never had any problems. However, he said that it is unacceptable for certain visitors to set up camp on his land, leave litter in the area and, at times, vandalise it.

Mr Spiteri also said that once a Black Mass was held by a group of some 200 youths (he emphasised that Mr Mizzi has nothing to do with this sort of activity). He said that a number of signs with red arrows were set up every 100 metres - starting from Rabat - to help guide these individuals to the site. The event was held on a night when there was a full moon, he continued.

Asked about the bird traps which were set up on his land and on the temples, Mr Spiteri said that the bird traps were set up some 80 years ago by his father but that there are no traps near the historic remains.

"I was literally brought up on this land. I was approached by the owner who asked if I would like to purchase it, which I did some 24 years ago. I have documents to prove I am the owner of this property," he said. He also provided us with the contract of sale number, which is 236/94.

Mr Spiteri said he has always done his best to preserve the temple. "I had built a rubble wall after I was granted approval by Mepa to do so. The work was also funded by the EU.

"Initially, when I started to build the rubble wall back in 1996, I was slapped with an enforcement notice. But when I applied through the normal channels, Mepa granted me the permit," he explained.

Mr Spiteri also said that he had donated a sculpture of the Punic goddess Tanit to the Gozo Museum. The sculpture, he said, had been carved out from the temple and stolen but was recovered by the authorities, despite him being told by the Maltese authorities at the time that he could keep it as long as he preserved it. The sculpture is understood to have gone missing after a French crew had gone to the area in the 1990s to film the temple.

The disappearance of this ancient graffito was a loss not only for Gozo but also for the world, and especially for scholars of Phoenician-Punic archaeology.

The graffito was recovered after some 20 years.


Temple had been well preserved until excavations work was conducted

The temple was well preserved until it was excavated by Italian archaeologists in the 1960s, but once they finished their work they left the temple site to deteriorate.

This newsroom asked the Ministry for Gozo whether it would be conserving the temple, which is fast deteriorating.

The ministry said it would look into the issue with a view to preserving Gozo's unique heritage. 


Mepa confirms land is not government-owned

This newsroom also verified with Mepa whether the land in question belongs to Mr Spiteri.

While stating that a recent site inspection confirmed that illegalities carried out on site pertaining to ECF345/13, which included the levelling of land to form bird trapping and construction of a structure with franka stones and wood, were removed, the Authority said that after it consulted with the Lands Department it also confirmed that the site is not government-owned.

Mepa also confirmed with this newsroom that enforcement action was initiated on 2 January 1998 as per ECF178/98 in view of illegal construction of rubble walls but planning permission was issued pertaining to application number PA1378/98 to sanction the reconstruction of a partly demolished rubble walls with a  maximum height of 1.2 metres.

  • don't miss