by Annabel Fenwick-Elliott, The Telegraph, January 9, 2019
Malta’s fallen Azure Window could be getting a very modern makeover. Plans have surfaced for a structure that mimics the size and shape of the original limestone arch formation on the island of Gozo, which collapsed into the sea after a storm in 2017 and has since become a popular dive site.
The proposed addition wouldn’t just bridge the gap, but would function as a 5,000-square-metre exhibition space laid out over five spiral floors, each representing one thousand years of Maltese history.
It’s the work of Russian architect Svetozar Andreev, who hopes the plans will be approved by authorities after respondents to online polls were found to be mostly in favour of its construction.
“The objective is to create a centre of attraction in Dwejra, a new asset to draw tourists, this time to a new architectural and cultural landmark,” Andreev states. “We are confident that this project represents an outstanding investment for the future of Malta and Gozo.”
The Azure Window was lost to the sea in March 2017 amid heavy storms, sparking widespread grief across the island, which is part of the Maltese archipelago. There followed concerns that the collapse of the arch, also known as Tieqa tad-Dwejra, might hurt tourism on Gozo.
It had appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including Game of Thrones, graced countless travel brochures, and was an essential stop for tours of the island.
Asked about the sustainability of his proposed design, Andreev responded: “I love Malta very much, and I understand that nature is one of the archipelago’s most important treasures. For this reason, we have designed a construction that will evenly distribute its mass along the cliffside.”
He drew on techniques used in ship building and plans to install the ready-built structure onto a stable platform beneath the cliff. Its metallic surface, Andreev says, would protect the structure from “corrosion, fire and distortion” as well as “prevent any negative environmental impact”.
Andreev has dubbed the project the 'Heart of Malta' and said: “I have been to Gozo many times since my first visit in 2008, and have naturally seen and photographed the Azure Window in various states before its collapse.
“The sight of the empty Dwejra Bay inspired us to create a monument that would do more than simply copy the natural relief of the Azure Window, but would rather serve as a memorial to it.”
Andreev has sent his plans to the Maltese authorities, and according to an online poll conducted by Malta Today, 68 per cent responded in favour of it. As well as housing museum space, the architect says he has ideas for a laser show.
Following the disappearance of the arch nearly two years ago, which Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat described as “heartbreaking”, sightseeing buses were initially still stopping at the site, prompting frustrated holidaymakers to leave one-star ratings of the arch on TripAdvisor. But its collapse did make one group of other visitors happy: divers.
“It's a loss to those who live above the surface, but for those who dive it’s one of the best things that has happened to Gozo,” said Scuba diver Brendan O’Brien, who explored the site last year; while Konrad Baar, from Family Diving Gozo, described it as “now more attractive for the divers than before”.
Images taken by some of the first divers to explore the area show massive chunks of rock, cracked, sharp-edged and strewn across the floor of the Mediterranean, with marine life beginning to take over.
Another beneficiary of the Azure Window’s collapse has been Gozo’s “other” arch, the Wied il-Mielah Window, which TripAdvisor reviewers say is “as impressive”. Its review count currently sits at 85, next to the original window’s 2,805.
Writing about Gozo after visiting several months after the collapse of the Azure Window, Telegraph Travel’s Harriet O'Brien said of the island: “It’s about a sixth of the size of the Isle of Wight and is in many ways it’s a mini, Mediterranean alternative with the added benefit of guaranteed summer sunshine, azure waters and octopus on the menu.”
Highlights include Xlendi, a former fishing village prettily positioned around a cliff-sided cove on the south-west coast with its own 17th-century watchtower; the tiny bay of Mgarr ix-Xini, a sparkling backdrop in Angelina Jolie’s dour 2015 drama By the Sea; and the megalithic Ggantija Temples, that pre-date Stonehenge by some 1,000 years.