Times of Malta, 22nd November 2008, by Lisa Gwen Baldacchino

Restoration works on a medieval church in Siggiewi, which had been abandoned for about 300 years, have been commended by Din l-Art Helwa.

The government’s Restoration Unit, which did 10 months of painstaking work to save the village’s first parish church from further decay, yesterday was presented with the Silver Medal Trophy and Prix d’Honneur for restoration and conservation.

President Emeritus Guido de Marco, who presided over the award ceremony, urged architects to design structures that respected the outstanding tradition of built heritage stretching back thousands of years.

The medieval church has remained abandoned, falling into disrepair, since the late 17th century when the congregation moved to the “new” parish church.

Din l-Art Helwa felt that “What was so striking about this building, and what attracted the judges’ attention, was the notion of restoring a ruin which would then be showcased as a ruin itself.” Vice-president Martin Scicluna felt the work on the old parish church of Siggiewi, as it is still referred to, exemplified all the NGO was striving to achieve with the award scheme.

By ensuring the survival of such an important medieval site, the Restoration Unit had made an outstanding and significant contribution to the conservation and enhancement of Malta’s cultural heritage, Mr Scicluna said.

Architect Norbert Gatt, who led the restoration job, said the project had been a great challenge for the unit. The team’s goal had been to maintain the nature of the ruins while making the site adequate for visiting. When the old church had first opened its doors while works were underway, the entire village had thronged to the site to view the project.

This was the fourth edition of the DLH awards, which this year included three categories: category A – major regeneration projects; category B – rehabilitation and reuse of a building; and category C – restoration and conservation projects.

There were no entries for the first category, so just the two awards in categories B and C were handed out.

The Prix d’Honneur for rehabilitation and re-use was awarded to Joanna Spiteri Staines, from Architecture Project (AP), for the rehabilitation and re-use of Villa Cagliares in Zejtun, a 400-year-old Baroque country residence.

This conservation project lifted the villa from its dreadful state of dilapidation from the days it was used as a farm. Retaining the authenticity of the building was of paramount importance, so nothing was discarded to ensure the building was restored to its original state.

Ms Spiteri Staines commended the AP team who contributed to the project’s success. She stressed that the project could not have been possible without the expertise of master masons Lawrence Buhagiar and George Borg, who were “a dying breed”.

A third project, The Our Lady of Lilies Band Club, Mqabba, received special mention during the award ceremony for the restoration and renovation of the post-war classical façade of the building.