Do I need to drag myself, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, or can I stay in my self-enforced state of denial, at odds with planners everywhere? I’m all for progress but I’m also for preserving the past. I detest new developments and yet I have enough sense to know that when my building was built in 1896 it was new to someone, just as the newly built apartment blocks behind me will be old to someone in 100 years (if they last that long). Would I rather see a historic city or town alive or dead? Alive, of course. Would I rather see buildings still in use than abandoned to rats and litter? Of course, I would. So why then is the Fort Chambray development in Gozo coming between me and my sleep?
That building you see in the background is the original barracks built in the mid-eighteenth century Gozo. The two on either side, the ‘tastefully’ designed new development. In its heyday, the original fort housed 250 soldiers and a small hospital. It grew in size during the Crimean War and in its latter years was both a civilian mental hospital and a leprosy unit. All a far cry from this recent development which oozes money; the views alone are worth a king’s ransom.
Outside the actual fort itself, remnants of the old cemetery can still be seen. The remains were removed in 1991 and reburied elsewhere. Yet in the base of the crumbling walls, some of the original headstones shine brightly in the winter sun. We climbed down and waded through thick bush and marshy ground for a closer look. A handful of stones marked each one of the four walls. The inscriptions dated from 1895 and 1898, each one more poignant than the last. Lance Corporals, their wives, and their children, immortalised in stone. Above these walls, inside the Fort, the development nears conclusion. Coffee-tabled balconies, curtained windows, and the occasional car testify that someone was home. But for all this progress, walls have been destroyed. The original entrance gate has been closed off and a new imitation built. One could argue that it has been designed sympathetically. The colours, the shapes, all blend in. But sitting as this new-build does on history, with so much of the original barracks still standing, I have to wonder why there couldn’t have been a little more restoration and a little less renovation.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I simply need to get with the programme. Perhaps if I had a couple of million to spare, I’d be happy to spend my evenings looking out over the Maltese Archipelago, my view unobscured. Maybe I should start looking to the future instead of clinging to the past. Maybe…maybe not.