Not many of us may perhaps be aware of the existence of thermal baths in Malta. Structures found at the tip of Bighi Bay, below the Ċentru Esplora, re evidence of the presence of these baths which had been in use by the British for patients needing thermal cures. Over time these structures were abandoned, and the elements destroyed parts of them. The remaining structures are at risk of being lost forever and need to be restored as soon as possible.
These structures at the tip of Bight in Kalkara were part of the naval hospital, which had started to be built in 1827 and which today houses the Ċentru Esplora. The structures, round rooms along the shore, were built later in the 19th century and served as baths from which the hospital offered thermal cures for British fleet patients afflicted with joint and muscle pains, as well as other related illnesses.
The baths used to be filled with cold or warm seawater, which used to be heated in the pumping room after being drawn up from the sea, before passing back into the baths. Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna President Mario Farrugia explained that even back then, it was considered that seawater, which is rich in minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium, offered a cure for inflammation and protected the skin.
“These baths were abandoned over time. Regrettably, because of their siting as well as because no form of maintenance was ever carried out, one of the baths has been totally lost, another is in the process of going the same way, and the others look like they might not last.”
Mr Farrugia added that as these baths are an important industrial heritage, they formed part of the Grand Harbour panorama. The FWA President added that the baths are included in paintings and engravings of Grand Harbour scenes of the 19th and even the 20th century. Mr Farrugia stressed that this heritage should be restored and put to use, and maintenance of the structures should continue to be carried out.
“The work should be carried out immediately in a practical way by having the baths treated, restored and put to use. Something which is not used will fall into decay and rot.”
Mr Farrugia appealed to the authorities to take the necessary steps to at least save the remaining structures, adding that the very fact they are in a picturesque location will result in a demand for them. Mr Farrugia added that the necessary intervention does not call for a major expense, but can greatly impact on Malta’s national heritage and on the conservation of the typical landscape of this location.