The Conservation works on the emblematic heritage fortifications of Southport Gates will ensure the wall does not weaken or become destabilised so that it continues to be protected for future generations.
Marcello Sanguinetti from the Department of Heritage explained how some plants were removed to protect the walls. However, the removal itself was not a simple task and in addition some of these plants also needed to be protected to a degree.
Giving an example, he pointed out a tree that had been growing alongside the wall and found its roots inbetween both the Southport and Referendum Gates, which had been there for decades and which was also home to some birds. All these factors had to be taken into account at the time of preservation.
“These are some of the problems encountered and shows just how deeply infiltrated everything is.
“These are living organisms and they spread everywhere,” he adds.
“Our [Heritage] Minister is Dr John Cortes and he wants to protect all the trees but also the heritage. It is a balancing act but at the end of the day what we cannot have is the wall coming down.”
The issue was not just the removal of a tree but also the complete root system.
As the Southport Gates is a main artery into the town the condition and protection of the wall is not the only concern. The implications on what could happen if the wall ever became unstable is also a further concern.
This is why conservation work is imperative on such projects.
The wall as it stands today has many smaller trees and plants growing into it or from it.
“If you look everywhere along the wall there are roots,” Mr Sanguinetti pointed out.
“There was a need for all these roots to come out to stop the wall from cracking. The plants would have kept on reproducing and kept getting worse and it could have led to the destabilising the whole wall,” he said.
Some parts of the wall too were being pushed out due to the roots.
The trees and plants have had to be treated with a chemical in order for it to penetrate right through to the root causing it to die.
Regarding the construction methods used to erect the wall years ago and in the periods since, “construction methods when these were built in either the Moorish times, Spanish or British times, the builders were were not thinking ‘oh let’s make something for 200, 300 or 400 years’. They were thinking of the moment and that ‘we need to stop the pirates’,” he added.
“Most of the battlements that we have are against bows and arrows, also the Islamic or Spanish period weapons, so they were not made to withstand canon shots like the King’s Bastion. So the build is not that great.”
In facts parts of the wall were constructed with rubble and even old head stones, possibly from the old graveyard that was once adjacent to the wall. There is also a lot of glass embedded into the wall.
“Seeing this is great and it puts it all into perspective, these guys were living the Great Siege and they had huge problems. But they still built this,” he said.
The length of time the project was undetermined, because matter of dismantling and getting to the root of the problem and then the reconstruction of the wall.
The works have seen the careful dismantling of sections and re-construction using original methods but in a slightly different colour so there is an obvious difference between the original and the newly re-constructed sections.
The expert working on the project provided training to local contractors who when called up will be able to carry out future works with more experience and knowledge.
The cost of the works being carried out has been impossible to price until it is completed, “because you do not know what you are going to find, so you have to do it in piece meal. When they come they get paid and that is the only way to do it,” said Mr Sanguinetti.
Pics by Johnny Bugeja