The new Mosta square will still allow traffic through but is designed to allow the authorities to make it fully pedestrianised for a day or during the weekend, according to its architect.
Antoine Zammit, who designed the square together with his team at Studjurban, told Times of Malta that with improved infrastructure around the periphery of Mosta, most traffic can be kept away from the square without causing congestions or inconveniences to residents, while returning the area in front of the iconic Rotunda back to the people.
As the square begins to slowly take shape and thousands prepare to hit the streets of Mosta for Santa Marija today, Zammit shared the final computer-generated images which give a clear picture of what the finished square will look like.
The infrastructural project in one of the busiest areas in the heart of the island is being managed by Infrastructure Malta and the Mosta local council. It has been ongoing for months and works in streets leading to the square started in 2020.
The works have frustrated commuters, residents and feast enthusiasts alike, and have been a logistical nightmare for some businesses and hotels, the owners of which have even taken the authorities and the local council to court.
But over the past weeks, workers began to lay the cobblestones on the surface of the square and finish off some pavements, reigniting hopeful spirits in the people of Mosta that the project is really nearing its end and that a magnificent, rejuvenated landmark will soon reveal itself and be worth the wait.
Mayor Chris Grech has promised that work on the square will recommence on August 21 and that the entire project will be completed in time for Christmas this year.
Why not fully pedestrianise the square?
Zammit said he is convinced that most traffic that passes through the square does not stop in Mosta and can therefore be diverted around the periphery. If it were entirely up to him, he would have limited the flow of traffic as much as possible.
“Many residents even insisted we should close it off completely and make it fully pedestrianised,” he said.
“I don’t think that is possible just yet, but I can envision a scenario where infrastructure is improved in the surrounding areas to the point when the square can be permanently closed for traffic without causing confusion and congestion for motorists.”
Zammit said the paved area will be extended nonetheless and the square has been levelled to one flat surface, separating pedestrians from traffic with bollards, planters and spheres, all of which can be removed during feast week and other events, allowing the square to become one big open space for people.
The design allows the local council to close the square for traffic on weekends, or even for one morning or afternoon, and allows pedestrians to roam freely, allowing only public transport through.
Traffic flow will still be restricted as much as possible though, while still facilitating Mosta residents’ routes to their neighbourhoods.
Vehicles coming into the square from Constitution Street will be able to either go left to Basilica Street or right to Main Street.
Eucharistic Congress Street will retain its one-way-traffic flow into the square, from where vehicles will be able to either go left to Main Street or up to Constitution Street. Only public transport will be allowed to go right to Basilica Street.
Vehicles coming into the square from Basilica Street will also be able to either take Main Street or Constitution Street.
No vehicles will be allowed to enter the square through Main Street.
Zammit believes no heavy vehicles, trucks and construction machinery should be allowed to pass through the square, although he acknowledges that the decision is ultimately in the hands of the authorities, and not in his.
Thick stone for heavy vehicles
Most of the square will be layered with fan-shaped porphyry cubes – a mix of volcanic stone and other materials imported from Italy – and it will be used for the areas of the square that are designated for cars as well as the areas for pedestrians.
But Zammit said the cubes being used for the parts that must withstand the weight of vehicles are significantly thicker and are laid in an interlocking manner that allows the road to handle weight distribution more efficiently and be more durable.
The iconic lion monument that used to adorn the roundabout in the middle of the square will be relocated elsewhere in Mosta and there are also plans for an obelisk to be built and installed in front of the church.
The obelisk was part of the original plans for the Rotunda and the local council is arguing that its construction would complete the architect’s vision for the church and the square.
To tree or not to tree
“Trees are always a bit of a bone of contention during consultation meetings because people are often divided on whether there should be more or less of them,” Zammit said.
“I believe you cannot have seating areas without the shading of trees, so that is why we incorporated all the benches with trees. On the other hand, in a square like this one, we were restricted because there is not enough space under the surface to create sufficient soil depths that can sustain large trees.
“We therefore had to limit landscaping to smaller trees and plants.”
Zammit said some people complained that the square will be too bare and that it should be decorated more.
“Sometimes you need to leave space for space’s sake,” he said. “We felt we needed to give that to the people, because urban space has become a luxury nowadays.”