The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) has been active in promoting the conservation of our traditional closed wooden balconies. This is being achieved through development control measures, management of Urban Conservation Area (UCA) policies, and through the award of grants for the restoration of closed wooden balconies. The Closed Wooden Balcony Grant Scheme has been one of the most popular initiatives issued by the MEPA.
The traditional closed wooden balcony is a cultural icon that gives us Maltese a sense of identity. It is aesthetically distinctive and it also defines and enhances the streetscape and traditional townscape. The earliest documented evidence of a closed wooden balcony (gallarija) in Malta dates to the late 17th century (Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta). These early balconies were quite expensive since timber was not readily available and thus had to be imported at a significant cost. Thus, these early balconies enlarged the social gap between the elite and the workers. A larger more elaborate balcony indicated the social status of the owner while the workers could not afford such a feature. Eventually, the British made timber more available and affordable. This resulted in the boom of closed wooden balcony construction especially within workers houses that provided a homogenous streetscape. Later on, new but non-traditional materials were introduced and these were preferred since they were cheap and low in maintenance. However, the traditional design, proportions, materials and methods of construction could not be replicated with these materials. This situation resulted in the loss of traditional fabric from the traditional streetscapes of the Urban Conservation Areas.
MEPA’s intention when launching the grant scheme was to arrest this decline and provide an incentive to balcony owners to retain the closed wooden balcony and restore it. In the meantime, MEPA has also undertaken another initiative in order to enlarge its knowledge base regarding this traditional element. During December 2008, MEPA sent an invitation for a meeting to a number of carpenters that were involved in the grant scheme through the provision of their service to applicants. A number of meetings with carpenters and handyman have been carried out and the discussions provided a good first hand experience of the work involved in the construction of a balcony. Moreover, a good working relationship was established and both sides outlined the issues they are facing with a serious intention of tackling these issues.
The latest initiative by MEPA concerns public awareness. MEPA is launching a traveling exhibition that is aimed at informing the public about the various aspects of the closed wooden balcony hoping that appreciation of the feature will lead to better conservation. This exhibition will be exhibited within various local council offices and a short talk will also be provided. The first exhibition is being held at the Balzan Local Council Offices. For further information kindly contact Balzan Local Council or MEPA on 2290 1544.