While limestone is becoming more scarce and the use of this stone in construction has gone downhill, the International Union for Geological Sciences has just recognised this Maltese stone as one of the 15 geological formations around the world which deserves recognition as a world heritage resource. This news was music to the ears of Mikiel Buttigieg from Zebbuġ who has spent his life working with Maltese limestone.
Mikiel Buttigieg has been working with limestone for the last 40 years and to this day, although he is 70 years old, he still makes balustrades.
“This is such a beautiful stone and is so lovely to work with, you can do what you like with it, in fact, if you notice our temples and churches, they are masterpieces of construction. It is a very strong stone, a good Maltese product because we have a lot of limestone and our buildings are very well-built with their beams, slabs and arches”.
Mikiel said you rarely find houses being built with limestone these days and the stone is now mostly used for aesthetic reasons such as balustrades.
“You do not really find a lot of stonemasons any more, because this is backbreaking work,” he says.
The work at the quarries has also gone down but at the same time, the value of the Maltese stone has achieved international acclaim. Limestone is recognised as a cultural icon because it has been used for thousands of years and because of what can be made from it. With the help of a department at the University of Malta, the Maltese limestone has now obtained official recognition as an important geological resource.
For Mikiel Buttigieg this does not make much of a difference because he has always appreciated limestone which has provided a livelihood for him and his family. He is worried, however, about the future of this stone.
“I think there will come a time when we will say, ‘look at that block of limestone’, or ‘we haven’t seen a stonemason building with this stone in a long time’. This might happen in the future but for now, you still find people who love and appreciate the Maltese stone.”
The few limestone quarries which still exist signify part of our Maltese patrimony for Mikiel, while geologically, the limestone was always considerd one of the natural resources of our island. Today, however, we are all aware that this resource might be depleted.