Triton Fountain (Malta)

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Triton Fountain
Maltese: Il-Funtana tat-Tritoni
Triton Fountain in 2018 02.jpg
Triton Fountain in 2018
Artist Vincent Apap
Victor Anastasi
Completion date16 May 1959 (1959-05-16)
TypePublic fountain
Medium Bronze, concrete and travertine
Movement Modernism
Subject Tritons
ConditionRestored
Location Valletta, Malta
Coordinates 35°53′44.3″N14°30′29.8″E / 35.895639°N 14.508278°E / 35.895639; 14.508278 Coordinates: 35°53′44.3″N14°30′29.8″E / 35.895639°N 14.508278°E / 35.895639; 14.508278

The Triton Fountain (Maltese : Il-Funtana tat-Tritoni) is a fountain located on the periphery of the City Gate of Valletta, Malta. It consists of three bronze Tritons holding up a large basin, balanced on a concentric base built out of concrete and clad in travertine slabs. The fountain is one of Malta's most important Modernist landmarks.

Maltese language Semitic language

Maltese is the national language of Malta and a co-official language of the country alongside English, while also serving as an official language of the European Union, the only Semitic language so distinguished. Maltese is descended from Siculo-Arabic, the extinct variety of Arabic that developed in Sicily and was later introduced to Malta, between the end of the ninth century and the end of the twelfth century.

City Gate (Valletta)

City Gate is a gate located at the entrance of Valletta, Malta. The present gate, which is the fifth one to have stood on the site, was built between 2011 and 2014 to designs of the Italian architect Renzo Piano.

Valletta Local council in South Eastern Region, Malta

Valletta is the capital city of Malta. Located in the south east of the island, between Marsamxett Harbour to the west and the Grand Harbour to the east, its population in 2014 was 6,444, while the metropolitan area around it has a population of 393,938. Valletta is the southernmost capital of Europe.

Contents

Designed and constructed between 1952 and 1959 under no less than three governing bodies, and conceived jointly by eminent sculptor Chevalier Vincent Apap and his collaborator draughtsman Victor Anastasi, the fountain became unofficially operational on Saturday 16 May 1959. The fountain was used as a stage for National Celebrations named 'Mill-Maltin għall-Maltin' and is popularly believed that it might have contributed to the dramatic collapse of the sculptural group on Wednesday 1 March 1978. This statement has been technically proven incorrect since the sculptural group contained no structural armature to bear the weight of the water laden basin, which subsequently collapsed due to metal fatigue and creep.

Vincent Apap was a Maltese sculptor. He is well-known for designing various public monuments and church statues, most notably the Triton Fountain in Valletta. He has been called "one of Malta's foremost sculptors of the Modern Period" by the studio of Renzo Piano.

Victor Anastasi

Victor Anastasi (1913–1992) was a Maltese designer. He worked as a draughtsman with the Public Works Department, and although he never formally studied architecture, he was involved in the design process of numerous buildings. He was an admirer of Italian architecture, and often traveled to Rome where he often met with Maltese artists who were studying there.

The sculptural group was repaired by Malta Drydocks engineers between January 1986 and April 1987. During this intervention a central sculptural addition consisting of three seagulls and seaweed (also the work of Chev. Apap) was introduced within the sculptural group, however this arrangement subsequently diminished the role of the gigantic Triton figures.

The fountain deteriorated in subsequent decades, until the bronze figures were dismantled and restored in 2017. Works were ready by the end of the year, and the fountain and piazza were officially inaugurated on 12 January 2018.

Design

Close-up of the three Tritons Malta - Valletta - Vjal Nelson - Triton Fountain 14 ies.jpg
Close-up of the three Tritons

The fountain consists of three bronze figures of mythological Tritons holding up a platter. Two of the Tritons are sitting, while the third one is kneeling, and they are balanced on a seaweed base. The face of each Triton is visible when viewed from City Gate. Their posture gives a sense of strength as well as spiral movement, which contribute to the monumentality of the fountain. The water jets were also designed in order to convey the sense of movement. [1] The figures of the Tritons represent Malta's links with the sea, and their design was inspired by the Fontana delle Tartarughe in Rome. [2] After the fountain's platter was damaged in the 1980s, a bronze pillar depicting a flight of seagulls was added to the fountain to support its weight. [1] This will not be included once the current restoration is complete. [3]

Triton (mythology) mythological Greek god, messenger of the sea

Triton is a Greek god, the messenger of the sea. He is the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, god and goddess of the sea respectively, and is herald for his father. He is usually represented as a merman which has the upper body of a human and the tail, soft dorsal fin, spiny dorsal fin, anal fin, pelvic fins and caudal fin of a fish, "sea-hued", according to Ovid "his shoulders barnacled with sea-shells".

Fontana delle Tartarughe

The Fontana delle Tartarughe is a fountain of the late Italian Renaissance, located in Piazza Mattei, in the Sant'Angelo district of Rome, Italy. It was built between 1580 and 1588 by the architect Giacomo della Porta and the sculptor Taddeo Landini. The bronze turtles around the upper basin, usually attributed either to Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi, were added in either 1658 or 1659 when the fountain was restored.

The fountain was designed to blend in with Kingsgate (pictured in the 1900s), which was demolished in 1964 Goats at Port Real Wellcome L0045092.jpg
The fountain was designed to blend in with Kingsgate (pictured in the 1900s), which was demolished in 1964

The base of the fountain was originally designed with a quadripartite plan inspired by Rome's Fontana delle Naiadi, but this was later changed to a tripartite concentric plan. The base is constructed out of reinforced concrete, and it consists of four concentric water basins. The exterior is clad with a total of 730 tons of travertine slabs from Rome. The outer slabs of the vasca intermedia are decorated with a relief representing foliage. [2]

Travertine A form of limestone deposited by mineral springs

Travertine is a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs, especially hot springs. Travertine often has a fibrous or concentric appearance and exists in white, tan, cream-colored, and even rusty varieties. It is formed by a process of rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate, often at the mouth of a hot spring or in a limestone cave. In the latter, it can form stalactites, stalagmites, and other speleothems. It is frequently used in Italy and elsewhere as a building material.

Beneath the structure of the fountain, there are a series of passages and chambers which allow for maintenance and inspection and connect the fountain to the water and electrical services. These underground passages and a pump room cover an area of over 140 m2 (1,500 sq ft), and are accessible through a manhole in the pavement near the fountain. [2]

The fountain was designed so as to avoid contrast with the nearby bastions, as well as to blend with the Victorian-era Kingsgate. The gate was demolished five years after the fountain was completed. [4]

Fortifications of Valletta

The fortifications of Valletta are a series of defensive walls and other fortifications which surround the capital city of Valletta, Malta. The first fortification to be built was Fort Saint Elmo in 1552, but the fortifications of the city proper began to be built in 1566 when it was founded by Grand Master Jean de Valette. Modifications were made throughout the following centuries, with the last major addition being Fort Lascaris which was completed in 1856. Most of the fortifications remain largely intact today.

Background and construction

View of the fountain showing the reliefs on the travertine base Malta - Valletta - Vjal Nelson - Triton Fountain 04 ies.jpg
View of the fountain showing the reliefs on the travertine base

The site of the fountain was formerly occupied by St. Madeleine's Lunette,[ clarification needed ] a 17th-century lunette that protected the entrance to Valletta. The lunette was dismantled and its ditch was filled in with rubble in the 19th century, [5] although some parts might have survived beneath the present street level. [6] The area was eventually used as a bus terminus, and in January 1953 the Ministry for Public Works and Reconstruction launched a competition for designing a fountain in this empty space. [2] The competition was open to everyone except for those who worked at the Public Works Department, [4] and the first prize was of £100. [7]

The winning proposal was entitled "Triton", and it was submitted by the sculptor Vincent Apap. It was designed in collaboration with the draughtsman and designer Victor Anastasi, who was not mentioned on the proposal since he was employed by the PWD. Apap worked on the sculpture of three Tritons in stucco at a former dovecote in Palazzo Parisio, which had been made available by his friend, the marquis Joe Scicluna. [8] Meanwhile, Anastasi worked on the technical and architectural elements of the fountain, including the hydraulic systems, and costs and supplies of materials. [4]

Work on the fountain's foundations began in June 1955 by the contractor Carmelo Grech, [8] and construction of the base was complete by mid-1958. The figures of the Tritons were cast in bronze at the Lagana foundry in Naples, and were put in place in 1959. The total cost of construction was around £80,000. [7] The fountain was switched on for the first time on 16 May 1959, but it was never officially inaugurated due to the uneasy political situation at the time, as Malta's government had just resigned and the islands were under direct colonial rule. [2]

Damage and repair

View of the fountain showing the central pillar, added in 1986 and removed in 2017 Malta - Valletta - Vjal Nelson - Triton Fountain 02 ies.jpg
View of the fountain showing the central pillar, added in 1986 and removed in 2017

In the decades after its construction, the fountain became a landmark due to its prominent location in Malta's main bus terminus. It was used for various events, including the Republic Day national festivities which were televised on the programme Mill-Maltin għall-Maltin. A platform was built on the fountain's upper platter to house entertainment acts which included concerts as well as motorcycles climbing on the plate over specially-constructed ramps. [7] [9] This greatly weakened the structure, and together with natural deterioration, it resulted in the tank mounted inside the basin failing to limit the water supported inside. This caused an excessive amount of water to remain in the platter, which strained the bronze Triton figures supporting it. One of the Tritons' arms broke on 1 March 1978, and the platter collapsed resulting in significant damage to two of the three Tritons. [2]

In 1986, the basin and damaged figures were repaired at the Malta Drydocks, and a central pillar was added to support the weight of the platter. Water no longer passed through the Tritons' arms, but through a pipe in this pillar. The fountain was functional on 1 May 1987, [7] and repairs cost around Lm10,000. [10] The central pillar was designed by Apap himself, even though he was against this repair work, [11] and it was cast in bronze in Verona. [7] These interventions have been called "inartistic" [11] and have been widely criticized as destroying the fountain's original harmony. [12]

In the late 1990s, the fountain's water and lighting systems were refurbished by the Malta Desalination Services and the Water Works Division. [11]

Over time, further deterioration to the sculpture occurred, including corrosion and cracks in the figures. [2] In 2017, Minister Joe Mizzi stated that the bronze figures had deteriorated to such an extent that they "would have been lost" if they had not been restored. [13] The travertine slabs in the fountain's base also sustained substantial damage and staining over the years. [14]

Proposed relocation

The garden near the Malta Memorial, where the Triton Fountain would have been relocated according to the 2011 proposal Malta - Floriana - Vjal il-Re Dwardu VII-Vjal Nelson - Malta Memorial 08 ies.jpg
The garden near the Malta Memorial, where the Triton Fountain would have been relocated according to the 2011 proposal

In 2011, works began on a project by Renzo Piano to redesign the entrance of Valletta. This project included rebuilding the City Gate and landscaping the surrounding area, and Piano recommended that the Triton Fountain be shifted some distance away from its location immediately outside Valletta's entrance. The proposed relocation was announced by the Ministry for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications in April 2011, and it was meant to create an open space and restore "the architectural and historical context of the entrance to the fortified city". The approach to the City Gate would be flanked by trees and only accessible to pedestrians, while the fountain was to be restored and shifted to the garden opposite the Hotel Phoenicia, close to the Malta Memorial and the MCP car park. [12] This would have moved the fountain from the limits of Valletta to Floriana. [15]

The proposed relocation was controversial, and although some welcomed the proposal, most people were against moving the landmark fountain. [15] Opponents stated that since the fountain has an underground system of passages, it is impossible to move it without destroying and rebuilding it, and the fountain might not work at all if moved. Concerns were also raised that the Triton figures would be damaged if they were to be moved. [16] In December 2011, Minister Austin Gatt announced that the fountain will not be moved, and after restoration it will serve as the centerpiece of Piano's redesigned entrance to Valletta. [17]

The fountain was scheduled as a Grade 1 property by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on 8 May 2012, [8] as one of the "20th Century Modernist Architecture and Monuments in Valletta and Floriana". [18] On 28 December of the same year, it was included on the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. [1]

Restoration

The Triton figures being dismantled prior to being sent for restoration in February 2017 Triton fountain.jpg
The Triton figures being dismantled prior to being sent for restoration in February 2017

Plans to restore the fountain were first made during the 2011 relocation proposal. After it was announced that the fountain will remain in its original location, it was mentioned that €2 million would be allocated to restore it, removing the alterations done in the 1980s. [17] In January 2015, the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure announced that restoration will begin that year and would be complete by 2017, at a cost of €500,000. [10] However, nothing materialized initially and the Ministry only began the process to restore the fountain in October 2015. [2] A month later, a pre-qualification questionnaire for prospective bidders interested in restoring the fountain was issued. [19] The government made attempts to find a suitable bidder throughout 2016, [20] until the Ministry signed a contract with Sea Fountain One on 12 January 2017 to restore the fountain to its original state by the end of the year. [19] Restoration work, [3] is to cost about €4 million since the damage was worse than expected. [14]

Restoration on the rest of the fountain on site, in June 2017 Triton Fountain during restoration works.jpg
Restoration on the rest of the fountain on site, in June 2017

The Triton figures began to be dismantled on 4 February 2017, [3] and they were later sent to Ferdinando Marinelli Artistic Foundry in Florence to be cleaned. The concrete that was used to fill the brass figures has been removed. A steel structure has been built inside the figures so as to support the weight of the plate, and each figure is now covered in microcrystalline wax for protection and was painted in azurite blue as was their original colour in 1959. [3] The massive base of the fountain was restored by the De Feo Restauri of Rome, a specialized company in restoration of monuments. A new plant room has been constructed, which is connected to the new pump room through a tunnel. The restored Triton figures were sent back to Malta and reinstalled in August 2017, and renovation works of the surrounding square continued until the end of the year. [21]

Re-inauguration

The restored fountain was officially inaugurated on 12 January 2018, by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. The works were completed a week ahead of Valletta taking its position as European Capital of Culture 2018. It was stated that the restoration cost amounted to €4.5 million. [22]

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References

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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "A historical perspective on the Triton Fountain restoration". The Malta Independent . 25 October 2015. Archived from the original on 17 February 2017.
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  6. "Is-sejba ta' swar li kienu 'nqerdu'". iNews Malta (in Maltese). 21 March 2017. Archived from the original on 17 April 2017.
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  19. 1 2 Micallef, Keith (22 January 2017). "Race against time to restore City Gate's Triton Fountain". Times of Malta . Archived from the original on 17 April 2017.
  20. Micallef, Keith (30 October 2016). "New rush to restore the Tritons Fountain". Times of Malta . Archived from the original on 15 April 2017.
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