Triton Fountain (Malta)

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Triton Fountain
Triton fountain Valletta.jpg
Artist Vincent Apap
Year 1959 (1959)
Type Public fountain
Material Bronze
Location Floriana
Coordinates 35°53′44.36″N 14°30′29.89″E / 35.8956556°N 14.5083028°E / 35.8956556; 14.5083028

The Triton Fountain is the central feature before the City Gate , at the limits of Floriana, subborge of the capital city of the Mediterranean island of Malta, Valletta. This square also serves as the island's central bus terminus. The fountain was sculpted by local sculptor Vincent Apap in 1959.[1] To the southside of the fountain is the Malta Memorial, a commemorative monument for the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives in the various Second World War air battles and engagements around the Mediterranean, and who were left unburied.[2][3]


The fountain is part of the central axis that extends from the glacis outside St James Bastion, its spur and garden in Floriana, through the Mall and Independence monument, Christ the King monument and embellishment, the Triton Fountain, City Gate and Bridge, Republic Street and down to the Spur at St Elmo; the concept on which the Renaissance-Baroque capital was built.

The Triton Fountain was first installed in its present location to decorate the bus terminus that is located at the entrance to the city, in place of the original fortifications and ramparts that were removed to make way for transport infrastructure. In 1978, the plate on top of the fountain was damaged, after music festivals were organized on top of the fountain. The same fountain was left in a dilapidated state until 1987.

Relocation controversy[edit]

On April 30, 2011, without any consultation with the public, the arts community and NGOs, the Government of Malta announced that it was moving the fountain from its present location in front of the entrance to the capital city Valletta. The Minister for Transport Dr. Austin Gatt declared that the fountain had to be moved a few metres in order to create an open space that will complement the new city gate project designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano. Piano had made the recommendation to shift the Triton Fountain away from Valletta’s entrance to restore “the architectural and historical context of the entrance to the fortified city”. [4]

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Communications is also publishing a commentary by the architect’s studio about the recommendation to move the fountain by less than 50 meters as part of the effort to restore the architectural and historical context of the entrance to the fortified city. The following is a commentary by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop:

“The Tritons’ fountain in front of City Gate can be considered the final touch in a series of Colonial period projects aimed at improving accessibility to and mobility in and around Valletta. These projects, which included the construction of a lift at the Upper Barrakka and the operation of a railway that linked the town with the centre of the island, continued to be maintained and upgraded all throughout the twentieth century. In fact, these are the years that saw the gradual modernization of the islands especially in terms of transportation and communications technologies, an evolution which was an imperative especially in view of the role that Malta played as a military base. The military justification for these improvements was accompanied with advancements in transport and communication systems that were put in place for the enjoyment of the civilian population. The introduction of the tramway and, eventually, the bus system, was accompanied by the increased use of the private car and the construction of roads became one of the topmost priorities of several successive governments. The creation of the plaza in front of City Gate, which entailed the burial and partial annihilation of the outer works of the landward fortification system, belongs to this period which also saw the great ‘sventramenti’ of the old village cores which irrevocably destroyed the authentic context of several of our parish churches. The present project for the re-organization of the transport system reverses the Modernist obsession with progress at the expense of preservation. It aims at providing an efficient and comfortable transport system that is sustainable, as invisible as possible, and one that minimizes the deleterious effects of pollution. To this end, the plaza in front of City Gate is being liberated from the scores of buses which hitherto constituted the first impression of Valletta for anyone visiting the town. Needless to say, the superimposition of the Terminus in the early twentieth century took no notice of the conservation needs of the town, and the addition of the Tritons’ fountain can be considered, because of its scale and positioning, as the fulcrum of the old Terminus with no connection to the authentic and historic image of the entrance to Valletta. Today, the evolution of conservation philosophy and legislation on Malta as well as Valletta’s status of World Heritage Site, provide an imperative for the conservation element in the design of the new entrance. One needs to take into account however that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) failed to schedule the fountain as a historical monument worth preserving. It had started the process but for some reason the process was stalled. The repositioning of the Fountain, while paying tribute to the work of Vincent Apap, one of Malta’s foremost sculptors of the Modern Period, will, together with the removal of the buses, free up the vista of the town walls and return the area to its pre-1950s situation. This falls within the general philosophy of the project for the entrance of Valletta which includes the restoration of the sixteenth century bridge spanning the ditch and the reintroduction of the original skyline of the fortification walls.[citation needed]

The proposal was controversial in that the Triton Fountain is considered an iconic Maltese monument and is symbolic of the era where Maltese statehood emerged from colonial domination. The fountain was to be moved some fifty metres to the back, sandwiched between two other monuments, that of the iconic Christ the King by renowned Maltese artist Antonio Sciortino and the Malta Memorial. The move was considered controversial in that it is seen as a snub to Maltese visual art, particularly to Apap.

Local experts such as Robert Cassar, curator of the Palace Armoury in Valletta, had also voiced their concern regarding the proposed move insisting that if moved the bronze monument will be damaged. Cassar highlighted that the fountain was connected to a series of concrete channels, tunnels and reservoirs, indicating that technical considerations might have been overlooked in the proposal. The relocation meant that the fountain would not have been able to function as a fountain anymore and that it would lose some of the present structures attached to it. Cassar also believed the fountain's relocation would aesthetically downgrade the two other monuments already in place at the intended relocation site. [5]

Close-up on the tritons

Before placing the Tritons in this new location, studies will be conducted on the best way to treat and restore the fountain to its original condition, reversing the considerable damage it has suffered over time as a result of pollution as well as when the fountain was used as a performance platform. Considering that this is a sensitive cultural issue, this apparent lack of regard for the collective conscious has not been received positively.[6][7] Rather than a civic exercise as Piano described it, many are perceiving this project more as Piano's imposition than a consultation with the citizens of the Maltese islands.

The Ministry responsible is at present appearing to issue conflicting messages, on the one hand declaring that Apap's fountain has great value as a public art work which will be retained in spite of its repositioning very close to its original location and on the other hand it wants to place it in a garden connected to the new park of pine trees where its green backdrop the ministry insists, will complement the watery fantasy of these "telamonic sea creatures, part man part fish.” The artistic community fear that the Italian pines will in reality shield the fountain from view, in effect hiding it.

The Mayor of Floriana, Nigel Holland has also expressed his dismay at the proposed move, contesting the reasons given by the Dr. Austin Gatt.[citation needed] Other sections of the arts community are inclined to think that the relocation of the fountain is being undertaken in order to placate carnival organisers who were evicted from St. Elmo in 2010. The Piano plans for the Parliament building have robbed the Carnival of Malta organisers of a space in which to hold the Carnival defile. The float makers have in effect been evicted from Valletta, a city which has always had a strong Carnival tradition since it foundation. Nonetheless, the Government is now keen to appease the float makers at the expense of Malta's cultural heritage and collective conscience. The local arts community is viewing this as another example of 'off the cuff' cultural planning which deliberately targets and demeans Maltese cultural icons.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Vincent Apap". Maltamedia. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  2. ^ "CWGC in Malta". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  3. ^ "Malta Memorial, Malta". Veterans Affairs, Canada. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  4. ^ "Fountain’s removal ‘to restore city’s historic image’". Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  5. ^ "Triton Fountain and approach to Valletta". Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  6. ^ "Leave the fountain alone". Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  7. ^ "Updated: PL raises questions on Tritons fountain removal". Retrieved 2012-12-25.