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I-Land Observatory and Interpretation Centre
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The Institute of Earth Systems, the HSBC Malta Foundation and the Mġarr Local Council have joined forces to set up Malta’s first centre for integrated natural and cultural heritage management, the I-Land Observatory and Interpretation Centre – discover  Earth  Systems. The project was officially launched on Thursday 9th February 2012 at a press event attended by the Chairperson of the HSBC Malta Foundation Mrs Catherine Gonzi, the Minister for Fair Competition, Small Business and Consumers Dr Jason Azzopardi, University of Malta Rector Professor Juanito Camilleri, IES Director Dr Louis F. Cassar, HSBC Malta’s CEO Mr Mark Watkinson, and Mġarr Mayor Paul Vella, amongst other distinguished guests.

The project aims to develop a public space within the Maltese Islands for social-ecological purposes, to meet multiple objectives, including (i) nature conservation and ecological restoration, (ii) the provision of a recreational area for the general public and ancillary facilities, and (iii) education and interpretation relating to Maltese heritage.

The selected site is the Kuniċizzjoni ta’ Calumia Barracks and Searchlight Emplacement in the Ta’ l-Għasfura area, Mġarr (Plate 1).


Plate 1: Location of the Kuniċizzjoni ta’ Calumia Barracks and Searchlight Emplacement


Site description

The Ta’ l-Għasfura site is located in the north-western region of Malta in the environs of Mġarr and Manikata. The site lies on a ridge system forming part of Malta’s horst and graben system, and is located on an Upper Coraline Limestone plateau, which is bounded by a well-marked escarpment overlooking the down-thrown Mġarr plain. The site offers expansive views of both land and sea (Plate 2), which extend onto Mġarr, Għajn Tuffieħa, Qammieħ and as far as the Ta’ Ċenċ cliff system in Gozo.


Plate 2: Expansive views of the Fomm ir-Riħ promontory, Għajn Tuffieħa and associated inlets

The location includes expanses of karst colonized by garrigue and steppic assemblages and is bound by various land uses including actively cultivated agricultural land. Several areas have been modified through human intervention, the location providing insights into the process and relevance of maintaining natural environments and habitats within proximity of Malta’s mostly urban context, whilst at the same time affording insights into Malta’s cultural heritage and providing exposure to rural agricultural practices.

The ridge has been remodelled through military strategic interventions and includes a segment of the extensive Victoria Lines built alongside the Great Fault. These military interventions were conducted during the last phase of the Victoria Lines development, at the end of the 19th century (Spiteri  1996).

Advances in gun technology around 1870 and onward provided the principal impetus to the development of new concepts and designs in fortifications. An infantry redoubt was built at the western extremity of the front at Fomm ir-Riħ, equipped with emplacements for Maxim machine-guns, together with the strongly fortified Kunċizzjoni emplacement, mainly used to house the engine-room for a Defense Electric Light post – essentially, a searchlight battery (Farrugia 1996). The emplacement was further equipped with an electric light directing station (Plate 3), magazines and stores, a barracks block with armoured fenestrations, with fitted loopholes and a gallery with thirty-three loopholes for rifles facing potential enemy approaches from Fomm ir-Riħ (Spiteri 1996). 


Plate 3: Current status of the electric light directing station


Project Concept

The project will comprise four key components:

  1. Ecological restoration of degraded tracts of land and the creation of a Thermo-Mediterranean scrub assemblage, using indigenous species;
  2. Provision of space for public recreation;
  3. Restoration and rehabilitation of the current dilapitated military and rural structures; and,
  4. Development of interpretation, observation and recreational facilities through adaptive re-use of existing structures, including the restored Victorian military structures. These will house a lecture/outreach area, minima (audio-visual centre), exhibition hall and refreshments area.


Project Status

October and November 2011 - volunteers from the Institute of Earth Systems and the HSBC Malta Foundation cleared the disused barracks of accumulated waste.

February 2012 - the project was officially launched at a press event hosted by the Local Council of Mġarr.

September 2012 – an in-situ ecological survey was carried out by the Institute of Earth Systems (Plate 4).


Plate 4: Ecological survey at the Ta’ l-Għasfura area carried out by the Institute of Earth Systems and attended by HSBC Malta and Nature Trust representatives



Farrugia, M., 1996. The Guns. In: Cachia Zammit, R, ed.1996. The Victoria Lines. Valletta: Progress Press Co Ltd, pp. 34-43.

Spiteri, S., 2006. British military architecture in Malta. Valletta: Print Services Ltd.

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Last Updated: 22 January 2013

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