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NGOs request protection of historic Victoria farmhouse

Heritage NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa and its sister organisation Din l-Art Ħelwa Għawdex have asked for a conservation and protection order to be placed on the historic Razzett ta’ San Ġużepp in Victoria, against the threat of partial demolition.

In a submission to the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the two NGOs also asked the entity to ensure the long-term protection and preservation of the site by including it as a scheduled property.

The planning control application, PC/00050/17, is proposing the construction of a new road through one of the last remaining green lungs in Victoria.

Objectors – among them the local council – fear this will lead to the development of a cluster of apartments as well as the destruction of the historic farmhouse.

The vernacular structure in Triq il-Belliegħa would have to be partially demolished in order to achieve these plans for the area. This would mean destroying the central room and courtyard of the farmhouse complex as well partially demolishing two rooms that still contain vernacular features.

Much of the farmhouse is still largely intact.Much of the farmhouse is still largely intact.

The NGOs say the application puts the farmhouse in “imminent danger” and that an immediate granting of a conservation and protection order is “warranted and necessary” to ensure its protection.

Residents and activists who are fighting against the application say that much of the farmhouse is still largely intact and there are many features within it that are worth preserving, hence the need for heritage protection.

Architect Prof. Conrad Thake, an urban planner and architectural historian, describes farmhouse as a “fine example” of traditional vernacular architecture in Gozo.

It still contains a complex of interconnecting rooms with underlying cellars as well as other features such as roofs supported by a series of diaphragm arches spanned with stone slabs (xorok), stone mangers and pens, and an impressive barumbara (dovecote) that overlooks an enclosed back yard, all of which are typical of a traditional farmhouse.

The dovecote or 'barumbara'The dovecote or 'barumbara'

“The proposed demolition of the central part of the façade to create a new access road would spell the death knell of this historic building. If approved, this barbaric intervention would compromise and irretrievably destroy the farmhouse as an integral historic entity,” Thake said.

Barbaric intervention would destroy the farmhouse as an integral historic entity

With such farmhouses becoming a rarity, and the building itself being structurally sound and easy to restore, he said the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage Malta, the Planning Authority and the Ministry of Gozo “have both the duty and an obligation to society” to safeguard the building from destruction.

“The building should be immediately protected with an emergency conservation order and scheduled. Following which, it should be restored and rehabilitated to a compatible use for the benefit of the local community.”

Din l-Art Ħelwa Għawdex activist Daniel Cilia said objectors were made to believe the property was a crumbling ruin before they got an opportunity to look inside. Now that they’ve had a closer look at the actual state of the building, they argue that the construction of a new access road for further development in the area should not come at the cost of its destruction.

Such farmhouses are rapidly becoming a rarity.Such farmhouses are rapidly becoming a rarity.

“The whole farmhouse with its century-old niche of St Joseph should be retained as a whole. The central part of the farmhouse, the part through which the road would pass through, looks older than the auxiliary living quarters of the house where the niche and beautiful barumbara are situated. We know that the farmhouse was used as such and for animal husbandry up to some 20 to 30 years ago,” he said.

“It is unbelievable that this government property is allowed to be destroyed so that a number of private individuals can speculate on their agricultural fields,” Cilia added.

“The area is within scheme so it can be built, yet there is another opening to the east onto Triq Francesco Masini. There is no need to destroy the central part of the centuries-old farmhouse.”

The application, which has been recommended for approval by the PA’s case officer, is set to be decided on October 10.