Malta Diary. Conspicuous in history, Conspicuous in name – now, a new lease of life for Cospicua
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Given the Latin name Cospicua – but known to the Maltese as Bormla – the city has a glorious past but over the last decades gradually deteriorated into a quasi-shanty town of poor housing and social problems. Yet the City of Cospicua has provided this island nation with former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff as well as the rich legacy of the Mifsud Bonnici family which also includes a former Prime Minister and a Malta President. In fact, Mintoff became the man who was tremendously responsible for boosting the Malta Labour Party while the Mifsud Bonnici family became part of the backbone of the Nationalist Party – Malta’s two main leading political parties.
It is one of the famed Three Cities that in 1565 bore the brunt of the Great Siege by the Ottoman Turk flotilla, together with Senglea and Vittoriosa. It earned its name from being ‘conspicuous’ in Malta’s defence and eventual victory which earned the name Vittoriosa (victorious) for a second city with the third Senglea being named after Grandmaster Le Sengle.
Its valance was retained in more contemporary times as the central pinnacle around which the Malta Dockyard was concentrated on the northern part of the Grand Harbour. The locality had originally been chosen by the Knights of St John as the ideal docking and repair area for their galleons and then adopted by the British for their own Royal Naval repair and docking needs.
The consequences were a heavy burden for the city as it bore a major part of relentless Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing throughout World War II overshadowing the almost instant repair needs of naval ships to maintain them war serviceable.
Overall, the city paid a dire price. The presence of a dockyard gradually rendered it into an industrial area, to put it more bluntly “a working class” area. It also brought mixed ethnicity and a glance through the Cospicua telephone index will reveal a glut of Maltese, British, Italian, French, Greek, Arabic, Balkan and God knows what else family names.
Gradually, pride slipped to poverty. Its housing became alarmingly shambolic, many buildings being allowed to dilapidate, deteriorate and eventually become abandoned – despite the pledges by successive Maltese Government to “revive” the city.
Thankfully, the first slow recovery began with the decline and less importance of dockyard facilities which naturally also created unemployment.
However, the boost has come over the last four years and the present Government’s decision to locate a major part of the American University in Malta in the city. Long abandoned UK Admiralty buildings are being restored for the university’s premises. The area is expected to be host to hundreds of foreign students as well as university staff in the near future.
This has proven to be a spur for entrepreneurs, Sonette Aboud being amongst the foremost. Sonette is South African but some years back decided to relocate to the UK and then decided to relocate again, this time to Malta where her first venture was to open an accommodation complex for tourists in the small village of Ghaxaq – an unusual choice.
Ghaxaq is inland and although an old village it is not on the main tourist track. However, Sonette’s point was that the real Malta does not lie in the hyped-up seaside resorts which according to her “could be anywhere in Spain or Portugal”. The island’s charm lies in its inland villages and historic areas like The Three Cities.
A few years back any kind of investment in a Cospicua property would have been tantamount to being economically suicidal.
However, Sonette Aboud took the plunge and through her Maltese friend Mariella Scerri she decided to purchase two 400-year-old dilapidated and abandoned houses in a Cospicua lane.
Slowly and meticulously these have been converted into one of Cospicua’s new boutique hotels, The Casa Birmula Boutique Hotel opened for business at the beginning of July and its ten rooms are already being used by some of the university staff.
“Right from the beginning I was in love with the Three Cities, I think they are so typically Maltese; this is a magnificent area on the island with lots of history and it is a shame that most Maltese don’t appreciate it because they don’t really value this area which we all absolutely love.”
The decor is artistic, tasteful and the hotel is replete with works of art by Maltese artists besides the refurbished structures so pronounced in splendid Maltese houses of yesterday, a stone spiral staircase, a magnificent entrance, smooth limestone walls and a breath-taking terrace with astounding views of the Grand Harbour and the adjacent cities of Senglea and Vittoriosa.
“This is Malta as far as we are concerned. It is a very up and coming and growing area, as you know we’ve got the American University in full renovation across the road so we already have some of their staff staying with us that is working on the project.
“Over the last five years since we’ve been residents in Malta we could see the amazing improvements that have been done in Valletta and I think that Valletta’s EU Capital City of Culture during 2018 will be a huge success and will attract new people that have never been to Malta.”
Transport facilities between Cospicua and Valletta have also been vastly improved with time-saving direct Grand Harbour ferries, affording enchanting views of the harbour, the Three Cities and most importantly skirting inland traffic congestions.
The wonderful city of Cospicua is showing there is a new lease of life for the old sea dog and much, much greater optimism in the years to come.
Above all, in my sporting book, Cospicua has the distinction of having established the first football club on the island, their team being named “St George’s” distinctly showing it owes its origins to the British sailors that propagated it in the 19th Century. Sadly, the club too has been allowed to deteriorate, but Cospicua boating crews have been very conspicuous in the annual and old-aged 8th September Boat Regatta (commemorating the Great Siege victory of 1565) with the pale-blue clad shirts of its rowers often winning the prestigious shield and medals.
(Pictures courtesy of TV Malta).