‘Originally known as the North West Front and sometimes unofficially known as theGreat Wall of Malta…a complex network of linear fortifications known collectively as the Victoria Lines‘
What a revelation… to find so much nature, and tranquility, particularly after having read recently the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta equated with the word: ‘cementation’‘. And, in some areas, justifiably so. Where we live, for example, we are surrounded by deconstruction, reconstruction, new construction, behemoth cranes, and all the constant racket (and dust!) one can expect from the aforementioned.
From our starting point in a small village near to Mgarr,on the west coast of Malta, we walked along the Victoria Lines, across the country – with views (largely) unimpeded by towering metal structures – clambering up and down steep man-made steps, down into rocky ravines, clambering over lush countryside (yet another, much welcomed, revelation), with ‘distant sea views’ (much used by island estate agents), all the way to Medlienna on the east coast. Although officially 12km distance, we managed to cover a total of 22km, mainly due to the Victoria Lines wall no longer being there, in places, causing us to go (albeit pleasantly) off-piste a couple of times!
It’s official, I have joined the ranks of the walking masses!
Not that I haven’t always been a walker (Florio and I once walked around an entire West African country – albeit tiny, but 930km is by no means a stroll along the beach – oh, hang on, actually we’ve done that too!), but the point is I have never been one to gravitate towards what the masses do – right from my young punk rock self, back in the day in the UK, drawn towards a scene where we were then considered ‘outcasts of society‘ (that’s the polite way of putting it – you really don’t want to know the shocking names we got called, or what we got thrown at us, as we strutted past a bunch of market traders on a weekend, cockily showing off our newest Crazy Color barnet (fair/hair, get it?) de jour – red, blue, pink… .).
“Och aye, Helen Jane, you’ll grow out of it“
as our old lovely Dad was apt to say – rather wistfully. Somehow, though, thankfully I never did. Ok, not that I sport a different tropical-bird-coloured hairdo every week (he was right about that part), these days, but I do still tend to steer away from what the masses do, preferring to go down the route less travelled, which could mean making the very easy choice of Kinshasa, DR Congo over, say, a nice pre-planned itinerary holiday on a Greek island, to going out of my way to find a less-trampled country pathway, where I feel sure there will be little chance of bumping into anyone else.
However, after spending the last week heading out of the door just before the sun comes up, iPhone in hand, walking purposefully down towards the sea, only to find dozens and dozens of other people who gravitate to the seafront early every morning too, running or power-walking along the promenade, I can certainly see the attraction, can’t you?
Mind you, I do veer off the promenade as soon as possible, for an – almost – solitary walk over the rocks, bar the occasional dog walker or a lone guy practising Tai Chi, away from the masses. Just how I like it.
Abandoned, derelict, buildings have always held a fascination for me…
This particular one, a big house named ’Savoy’, is at the top of Savoy Hill, Gzira, Malta. It’s been derelict for the last three years, at least. Who knows how long prior to that. I’ve tried to find some information on it and the most I can come up with, thus far, is that it may have been a guest house.
Walking by the other day, Florio noticed that the front doors were open – they are usually padlocked with a big old rusty lock. Maybe there were workmen in there, at last, beginning a renovation project? ‘Hello, anybody home?’. No answer. What harm could it do, to take a quick peek? I’ve wanted to see inside this place since the first time we walked past it, three years ago.
Entering into the cool interior of what must have once been an impressive foyer, a beautifully ornate, wrought iron stairway, gracefully curves its way up to the first floor. Beneath our feet, and years of dust, beautiful old Maltese tiles, still very much intact in many places, line the floor. Could this have been a reception area? Several low-slung easy, art-deco style, armchairs, piled into one corner. And, judging by wooden bed frames, stacked up high, one on top of the other, in another room, and numerous old wardrobes (in one of the rooms, they were mysteriously lined up, barricade-like, against panoramic floor to ceiling windows, as if to obstruct the light or, perhaps, to keep something, or someone, out? Derelict buildings always arouse my vivid imagination!) suggests that it could very well have been a guest house or small hotel.
The marble stairs still looked solid enough, so we carefully made our way up the first curving flight, onto the first-floor landing. Treading with caution, hoping that the potholed, rubble-strewn floor would hold our weight, we edged our way through a labyrinth of hallways, poking our heads into room after room, sunlight pouring in from the many broken windows, lighting our way (I’m not sure I’d have been so brave to explore if there hadn’t been any natural light. LIke I said, vivid imagination). From the outside – despite its present state of dilapidation – one could imagine that the building was once a house that would have stood out, regally, amongst its neighbours. And, from what we could see, that would have been reflected in the interior, too.
I need to do some more digging, there must surely be photos somewhere, that depicts the house in it’s grander days, inside and out? Next time we pass by, and if we are lucky, and we find the front door is unlocked and open wide again, maybe we’ll venture up to the 2nd floor and onwards.
When we first arrived on the island, three years ago, from living and working in West Africa, the contrast was stark. All I could see was what appeared to be concrete and glass multi-story structures (Sliema was our first home and for those who know the town, they will almost surely understand my first (mis)impressions). I seriously wondered what would inspire me to get my camera out – in West Africa, it was hardly ever not pointed at something or other. Yet, thankfully, within those first few days, I discovered ‘the doors‘.
Florio was off on the assignment that brought us to the island, on an NGO vessel in the Mediterranean, documenting migrant and refugee rescues. So, I had some time to find my bearings and walking is just about the best way I can think of, to get to know any place I’ve ever lived in or travelled to.
Leaving the vast concrete and glass apartment complex, where we were staying at the time, I turned down one narrow side-street – off the main drag of Sliema – after another and the true architectural beauty of Malta began to reveal itself. And so it was, during those first days on the island, my unintentional ‘Disappearing Malta‘ series began and I’ve been photographing doors and facades on the island ever since. Hence, my camera doesn’t have to collect dust between our assignments after all, as I’m still finding more to photograph each and every time I take a walk.
‘I often wonder if anyone still lives in this building or is it just the cats…’
I’ve always been captivated by imperfections, the wabi-sabi,of things – drawn to the echoes of places that once were. Spaces and places that no longer exist; or at least not in their original form. And, I’m particularly drawn to architecture. I now have a growing obsession to capture the decaying beauty of the abandoned Maltese houses of character, before they disappear completely.
”Paces Press’ – Yet another early days discovery and one of my absolute favourites. I’m still pleasantly surprised to see it’s still there, whenever I pass by’
Furthermore, I want to see what is behind the doors…
Who lived in a house like this? I’m always peeking through letterboxes or broken windows (one of these days, someone will look right back at me, from the shadows of the interior of some decrepit building, and scare the hell out of me! Shades of all the horror movies I grew up watching!). Regretfully, since beginning this unintentional photo series, many of the doors that I have photographed – and the houses that surround them – have already disappeared, and their history with it. In many cases, to be replaced by yet another characterless, generic concrete structure – for rental purposes – clearly made with very little love. Either that or the doors are chained or boarded shut, locked up with ancient rusty padlocks, the keys to which have irrevocably long been lost.