Stop Hotel Excelsior extension ‘madness’, NGO urges UNESCO

An extension has been proposed to the Excelsior Hotel.

A heritage NGO has written to UNESCO about the impact the Excelsior Hotel’s proposed extension could have on the skyline of the Valletta World Heritage Site, asking it to “stop this madness”.

The Planning Authority was due to decide on the proposal – which has been recommended for approval – on Wednesday. However, the hearing was put off pending clarifications over property boundaries, objectors were told.

The proposed development would see an additional wing with 77 guest rooms connected to the hotel, the refurbishment of an outdoor area, including pool and bar, and bastion restoration works.

Several NGOs, including Friends of the Earth Malta, Friends of Villa Frere, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Moviment Graffitti and the Archaeological Society of Malta had objected to the proposed extension. Friends of Villa Frere, like others, believe the proposed extension will impact the skyline of Valletta and Floriana and the vistas to and from both localities.

Apart from filing an objection, Friends of Villa Frere have separately written to the UN cultural organisation: “I am sure you are aware (and agree) that the mere presence of this hotel, which was first constructed in the 1960s and more recently reconstructed, is nothing but a blight on the World Heritage Site,” it told the UNESCO.

Friends of Villa Frere argued that the vision should be for the total removal of the hotel and to extend it. It appealed to UNESCO “to stop this madness”.

“The planning process is quite advanced and indeed I am surprised you have not been consulted on the matter. As you will see from the online planning documents, numerous heritage and environmental NGOs have also strongly objected to this obscenity,” the letter read.

Meanwhile, Din l-Art Ħelwa – which had objected to construction of the original hotel in the 1960s – is insisting that apart from the “unacceptable visual impact on the Grade 1 scheduled historic bastions”, the extension directly impinges on the integrity of the Area of High Landscape Value of the harbour fortifications.

Executive president Alex Torpiano told Times of Malta the building of the hotel itself was one of the original drivers behind the setting up of the NGO.

“It has been argued that this most recent extension does not cover the bastions but no one seems to be talking about the important relationship between the bastions and the sea. Could you picture Mdina without the surrounding hill and fields? Could you imagine some building erected in front of the rock outcrops below the Cittadella bastions?

“Valletta is a fortified city rising from the sea. This vista has already been partially ruined by the road built on the outside of the bastions but this cannot be used as a justification for continuing the damage.”
Torpiano questioned the need to extend the hotel at a time when the tourism industry was experiencing an oversupply of hotel beds, especially if this came at a cultural cost.

“We need to look at what we are building and why. In this case, we are potentially damaging the image of the World Heritage fortifications to gain more beds that the industry does not really need.”

As per Times of Malta, 26 August 2022.