4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies
See also chapter 3.2 "Overall description of the system".
The main heritage issues addressed in the late 1990s were related to the difficulties encountered in the conservation and protection of Malta's vast number of sites and other historically valuable buildings, even from acts of vandalism. The country has no less than 2 025 protected cultural and archaeological sites, including a number of megalithic temples declared as world heritage. Heritage policies, since 2000, have laid emphasis on the importance of providing an exhaustive digitalised inventory of Malta's numerous assets in this respect.
A vociferous national debate concerns tourism, an extremely important industry which, in 2005-6 has shown evidence of decline. The decision, in 2006, to introduce low-cost airlines gave rise to debate on whether Malta should continue to receive mass tourists or whether it should diversify the market to cater for niche (cultural) tourists. It appears that Malta needs both categories, but the case for cultural tourism offers immense possibilities for the lean months between October and April, considering Malta's mild climate during that period.
Malta's heritage is always at the top of the country's cultural agenda. The Heritage Act of 2001 split the state-run Museums Department into two structures dealing with regulation on the one hand and operations on the other. The Superintendent for cultural heritage assumes responsibility for regulation while, Heritage Malta operates state-owned cultural sites.
The latest annual report published by Heritage Malta, covering its operations from 1 October 2005 to 30 September 2006, states that HM was involved in 219 activities and managed 24 different sites. A total of 1 076 300 visitors were registered during the year in review. This represents a substantial 10% decrease over the number of visitors registered during the previous year.
The exhibition of the Terracotta Warriors in 2007 attracted 75 000 visitors over a five month period. Heritage Malta's educational policy led to the development of numerous school and family oriented projects.
Private cultural heritage foundation's such as Fondazzjoni Patrimonju and Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna are also assisting in the restoration of heritage sites and curating exhibitions of historical and artistic importance following the governmental policy to transfer a number of neglected properties to such organisations.
The National Cultural Policy states that a forward-looking vision for the heritage sector is needed in order to ensure the adoption of the latest techniques and the most updated knowledge in heritage conservation, while providing a fresh outlook on the past which appeals to all sections of the population, especially children and young people, as well as to international visitors to the Islands. An inventory which catalogues the heritage assets of the country is required for the facilitation of work of scholars, policy-makers and individual members of society. The fundamental cultural, historical and social significance of Malta's intangible heritage, including crafts and gastronomy should be valorised by fostering it within a supportive framework which remains sensitive towards its fragility as well as to its cultural malleability and adaptability. The framework shall also take into account how this intangible heritage has evolved and can still evolve, and how it can reinvent itself. Furthermore, government is committed to continuing its investment in the conservation and management structures of Malta's patrimony. Regulatory structures and technical requirements aimed at fulfilling the obligations of monitoring and enforcing heritage legislation shall be provided with continuous support. Operational structures managing museums and heritage sites are to provide appropriate interpretation and ancillary facilities, centred on the core historical dimension of the asset.
Interpretation should be historically sensitive, but should also take into account 21st century visions for and expectations of presentation and appreciation of heritage. Special attention to the value of these sites in sustaining a dynamic and open discussion on aspects of a historically-rooted national identity shall be given. Particular attention shall be paid to visitor centre layout with the aim of making people's visits more appealing and rewarding. The strength of cultural tourism in Malta has provided our heritage sites with an international audience, whose needs must be catered for. However, this should not detract from the continuous importance these sites have for Maltese people and their identity. It is recognised that the conservation of heritage assets is a long term process which entails the coordination of financial aspects, education and training. Training in heritage conservation and management are important elements for a sector which must constantly balance the conservation needs of sensitive artefacts and sites with the pressures of a demanding national and international audience.
The National Cultural Policy recognises that the function of museums goes beyond that of a tourist attraction; they are essentially a gateway to past ways of life of Malta's people, which should be physically and intellectually accessible to today's public. Museums should diminish the borders of time and space and offer opportunities to individuals to explore each exhibit in a fascinating manner. It is therefore understood that the word "museums" should not be solely synonymous with depositories of the past. The Policy aims at encouraging the exploration of the different and stimulating ways in which museums can become more appealing to the public. It is committed to investing further in order to facilitate contemporary forms of exhibiting which encourage an active involvement of individuals through technology, innovation and imagination.
See chapter 5.1.5 for more information on the above measures.