The Requisition of Ghar Gerduf by Lino DeBono
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“It was in June 1906 when the villagers of Kercem were quarrying stones to build their church, that the ruins of ancient building came to light, it was almost identical to houses from the 15th century BC, similar to a Phoenician house and consisting of several rooms.
Some Historians had since the 1870s been writing about Ghar Gerduf. Then a certain Fr. Manuel Magri, who in 1892 was nominated as the “Prefect of Studies” at the Gozo Seminary, insisted and obtained a restraining order, begging the Government to buy the site from the owner – Francesco Vella nicknamed “Ta’ Karlozz.” The site area was about 265 sq. yards and was valued at £10. The owner wanted £110 for it and wouldn’t budge from what was considered an exorbitant price.
As no agreement was reached, the owner took it upon himself to deliberately destroy the remains declaring that it was his property and therefore he could do whatever he wanted with it. Thus, through ignorance and lack of knowledge, a priceless monument of history was almost completely destroyed for all future generations.
12th Nov 1906 – Legal Resolution on Preservation of Antiques.
Due to this wanton destruction the Committee of Museum Management, on the 12th of November 1906, passed a resolution that immediate steps should be taken for the preservation of the antiquities and monuments of our islands. It is indeed sad that it had to be this wanton destruction that urged the authorities into issuing such legislation for the preservation of antiquities in our islands.
This legislation is also part of our local history and it started on Gozo, because of Ghar Gerduf.Ghar Gerduf.
Ghar Gerduf looking down the picturesque valley of Lunzjata, was the only Phoenician – Carthaginian – Roman site listed in Gozo. It has been recorded at that time by experts that the cave consisted on the eastern section of two monochrome views which resembled tomb structures – central flight of steps – arcosolia or barrel-vaulted recesses at the centre top – a damaged arcosolium at the bottom left, a rectangular cupboard at the centre right, another two arcosolia to the upper right and left. Sadly many of these tomb structures were wiped away before the 50s.
Ghar Gerduf is said to have had 3 outlets leading in or out of the cave. This cave differs from the usual scenario in Malta due to the sheer number of burial-troughs contained in 8 out of a total of 11 arcasolia aligning the corridor walls.
The largest in Malta, which is St Paul’s Catacombs, has 7 burial-troughs. Sadly Ghar Gerduf is now a shadow of its former grandeur, but what still remains is a unique part of our island’s history which had for so many long years lacked someone with enough insight, knowledge and capabilities, to take the matter into account and accomplish what so many others hadn’t
Ghar Gerduf was private property and many had applied to construct buildings on this site, thus destroying one of the most important heritage sites in our islands.
Each time a public outcry was made and these building applications were somehow stopped. Still the fact remained that it was private property and as such the owner could apply for a building permit.
Gozo Heritage Sites.
Few people know of the richness that Gozo enjoys in regards to heritage sites and monuments. Mostly visitors, both local and foreign, are aware of only two places. These are the Citadel in Victoria and Ggantija in Xaghra. The Dwejra Arch was nature made and as nature made it – nature also took it away.
But Gozo has so many more historical heritage sites that it is unbelievable that even local people are not aware of them. Yes, notes in books and marked on maps are listed, but no one really notices the richness of the historical sites and places that we do still enjoy in Gozo.
One such example which I personally always insist on is the excavations needed at the Citadel, which used to house some 2000 – 2600 people in it. During recent restoration works many new discoveries were made, marked but reburied once again. Why I ask? Is it for some reason that if stones are uncovered they will denigrate by exposure?
I question this reasoning by asking “What good are they if they still remain buried?” We find them but we rebury them once again? These were lost but found – only to lose them once again. Even if they last for say 50 years at least the population can enjoy them for these 50 years. Till then new systems – new materials can be found and discovered to preserve these walls – buildings and artefacts.
Gozo Minister the Hon Justyne Caruana.
It had to be the present Minister, Dr Justyne Caruana, that had the guts – vision and ability to recently submit and obtain the funds required for the requisition of the land at Ghar Gerduf. From vain talk – to positive action. She did this discreetly by her sheer determination and conviction to persuade the Government to go for this requisition.
Payment was not that of £110 Pounds but now thousands of Euros worth. But what is the purpose of having a surplus in finances if not for the general benefit of our islands and its people?
Who would have believed that any Gozitan Minister would have been able to achieve this?
I do believe and always state that to preserve Gozo’s sites and heritage, the authority must be passed from the Planning Authorities in Malta to one that is in Gozo. I simply cannot bear that the Citadel is being invaded by a building with which as a project I agree with – but definitely not to have 2 windows and a door opening on to the Citadel ditch. How has this permit (in this regard only) been granted by the planning authority without the approval of the Victoria Council – the Lands Department?
Also the height will restrict the visibility of the Citadel Clock which has always been a prime feature of the local landscape.
Koli Yeast Vats at the beginning of Mons Luigi Vella Street on the road leading to St Ursula Street, have has been said, sadly destroyed. The old yeast vats which I always used to see Koli working at when I used to go for bread. One of the few unique aspects of how local life used to be in yesteryears.
Also caves discovered when excavating a building site in Xaghra were allowed to be buried before examining them. The mind boggles as to what we are missing and destroying. Who is in charge of site inspections? What were the conditions in the issuing of the permission? Who actually is responsible?
These are questions that many honest people are asking. These questions have to be answered.
We still have some time left to control building permits and preserve our cultural heritage here in Gozo. I do believe that more authority in this regard has to be passed to the Gozo Ministry. Not just for the sake of passing the buck to another – but because I strongly believe that a local person can most certainly be in a better position to look after local affairs.
Personally, I want to finish with once again praising the progressive steps already taken by the Hon Minister for Gozo, as at long last we have a person with vision, courage and honesty, who is taking positive action where needed.”
Photographs provided by the author