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Lesser spotted heritage

Allan Mulcahy

One couple’s love of Malta has led them to catalogue its unsung architectural heritage

Rapid development seems to be threatening the distinctiveness of the Malta that I and my wife Jane remember from many years visiting. So the ‘Buildings of Malta’ project that we’ve instigated aims to record the essence that makes the built environment there Maltese. Our interest in the country prompted this (unpaid) work and we have had discussions with Malta’s planning authority to try and ensure that our efforts add to rather than duplicate their resources.

I was born in Malta: my mother was Maltese and my father was stationed in Malta during the war. I met Jane at university in the 1960s, and after raising our family she joined my small architectural practice in Nottingham’s Lace Market, which dealt mainly with existing buildings and conservation work. The idea for this project developed from a similar recording exercise carried out in the Nottingham Park Estate before I retired.

It seems to us that many of Malta’s prominent historical and architectural features – including temples, fortifications, religious and military buildings etc – are well documented. Our open-ended project sets out to identify numerous lesser known and unrecorded buildings of interest together with the urban spaces formed by them, many of which sit in town and village centres. It involves walking the roads, streets, alleys and lanes taking photos and making brief notes. The record is planned as the basis for establishing a wide ranging inventory of noteworthy buildings, places and features, old and new, with the aim of adding to or, if necessary, correcting, information – in other words, creating an evolving information resource. 

Our project sets out to identify the numerous lesser known buildings of interest together with the urban spaces formed by them

Being experimental, the process will be adjusted as the record develops. We started in 2010 with a pilot study in the Cottonera area, a maritime settlement of three small towns, which we plan to complete in 2015. By then our experiences and enhanced recording techniques should better prepare us for surveys elsewhere.

We completed work in Bormla, the first of the three habitable areas, in 2013 and are now studying Senglea. This will be followed by Vittoriosa to complete the Cottonera area. Each unlisted building, place or feature of architectural or townscape interest we note will be recorded and classified on a simple data sheet and can be added to later. Simple townscape appraisals will briefly portray the built character of the area as it is today. Even though the Cottonera is a distinct habitable unit encircled by its own fortifications, these appraisals will reveal the contrasting characteristics of each of the three settlements.


The data sheet is set out to be as simple and concise as possible, providing enough information to enable a preliminary assessment of the subject. Each one is given a unique reference number and each building, place or feature is ‘classified’ by a colour code to denote varying levels of significance.

We cannot predict how extensive our record will become – we shall do as much as we can and hope our contribution will support those interested parties already trying to establish means by which the unique character of Malta’s built heritage can be recognised, preserved and enhanced.


1693 Messina earthquake and destruction of many pre-Baroque houses

446,000 population

313km2 area

$20,852 gdp per capita

10,761 buildings destroyed or extensively damaged during WWII