Friday, 23 November 2007

Gardens & Fortifications Walk 14Nov07

Ramble with a difference

Usual rambles organised by the Ramblers Association seek the quiet open spaces and scenic spots out in the countryside. Not on Wednesday 14th November when RAM showed its members that even urban Valletta and suburban Floriana have so much to offer in quiet open surrounds with scenes that are spectacular and unique. With some surprise many members got to visit for the first time some sites on the fortifications flanking Valletta on the landward side which offer that peace and tranquillity unexpected in hustle and bustle that are Valletta and Floriana.

Starting with the Hastings Gardens ramblers greeted the scenic views of Marsamxetto harbour but their awareness was raised of the frail stone bridges that span the ditch just below at frequent intervals and half-way up the high walls. The purpose and make up of these bridges were explained and the intricate tunnel system that connects all of them under the bastions was described. It was a pity that today all the hard work and ingenuity behind such a marvellous tunnel and bridge system was left to crumble when it potentially constituted a means of upgrading and balancing the tourist product of Valletta. For visitors whose interest in baroque may wane in favour of other interests like military architecture, sightseeing and open areas, the whole bastions complex is bewildering in itself and leads to lovely gardens and open high spaces with magnificent views of both harbours and typical Maltese landscapes.

At the Garden of Repose on the Floriana bastions facing Msida all marvelled at how well the place is maintained after having been vandalised and pilfered savagely immediately after the British left Malta. The stone marking the place where Mikiel Anton Vassalli is reputed to be buried, next to the monument of Hookham Frere, shows the importance that the British gave to the father of the Maltese language. The splendid views over Msida creek and Manoel Island are enhanced by the peace of the place and the bright sunshine.

The delightful Argotti gardens treated the ramblers to more scenic charms and the visit here unfortunately could not take in the botanical purpose to which the University of Malta is today devoting to the place. Instead it was a quick romp to remind all of the tranquillity that reigns supreme in that place. Once back at the gate the ramblers could admire the baroque exterior of the Sarria church and the Wignacourt Water trough and the adjacent Gothic style Robert Sammut Hall, formerly the Methodist church, designed by Maltese architect Caruana Galizia.

The unexpected St Philip Gardens, which many members hardly knew about let alone visited, came as a pleasant surprise in such proximity to the Argotti. The ramparts there offered an unusual overview of the major traffic thoroughfare of Portes-des-Bombes, the Pinetum and the Maltese landscapes beyond. The stone fountain which Grandmaster Wignacourt had erected in front the Palace in Valletta to commemorate the arrival of running water in the city, today stands there in its lonely majesty

At the next garden of Sa Maison (commonly known as Tal-Milorda), the various carvings on the walls and other free standing stone works left by the various regiments stationed in Malta drew admiration. But the main attention fell on the crumbling state of the marvellous arch that spans the outer fortifications of Floriana, at the far end of the garden. This is no ordinary arch as its ceiling slopes dramatically and its sides veer diagonally. A hidden master-piece is in grave danger of being lost through neglect and disrespect. The valley it spans, if cleared from overgrowth and other waste, will extend the lovely garden to, and make it easily accessible from, the Ospizio at Floriana, below the Police HQ. The area is crying out for rehabilitation and yet remains another potential gem waiting to be recovered. Ironically an iron gate and a gate-keeper today stand guard indiscernable of the derelict ramshackle surrounds of the Ospizio and beyond.

At Ta’ Braxia cemetery the Caruana Galizia chapel dominates the restful grounds of many expatriates who served militarily or administratively in Malta during the last two centuries, remembered by inscriptions on their lofty or humble tombstones or forgotten by the erosion of time. The cemetry has come under the administration of the Maltese authorities after the Commonwealth War Graves Commission spent long years caring for the place, and it is a pleasure to witness that the place is being very well maintained.
The ramblers paid special admiration to the elaborate monument to the memory of shipping magnate Olaf Gollcher.

The longest part of the walk took ramblers up the hill to the Grand Harbour side of Floriana and to the gardens and open spaces flanking the bastions overlooking the new Valletta Waterfront (ex Pinto Stores), past the Ruzar Briffa Hospital and into the King George V gardens with its lovely views of St Angelo and the Three Cities. The St Peter Counterguard was toured and its sights endorsed from the lonely Gardjola there before the last lap was taken to the Bus Terminus through the tunnels on the outer ramparts which today house the Central Bank annexe.

It took five solid hours well spent on walking, sightseeing and cultural reflection on those other elements of the cultural heritage of Valletta and its environs which carry so much leisure potential yet are sorely underutilized and direly crying for attention.

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