The Plant Biotechnology Centre is situated in the historical and peaceful village of Lija and has a history ranging from the year 1625 up to present times.
Malta and the Knights of the Order of St. John
The Plant Biotechnology Centre started to exist in the year 1625 when Grand Master Fra Antoine De Paule, acquired a plot of land in Casal Gadir el Bordi, to be used in part to construct reservoirs for the supply of water to his beloved San Anton Gardens which are situated nearby. The Grand Master’s Coat of Arms, can still be seen now a days engraved in marble and affixed to a centuries old stone wall that encloses an area having three large underground reservoirs.
Rainwater, so precious to the dry climate of Malta, was made to flow down from Rabat, a hilltop village to the North West of the Island, through underground channels and collected in these reservoirs. Having a capacity of 20 million cubic litres, these reservoirs were an ample supply of water to fill the fountains and to water the trees of the beautiful Gardens which De Paule called after his Patron Saint – Fra Antoine.
At San Anton Gardens, a flight of impressive semi-circular stone steps lead up to the Palace, similar steps, though on a smaller scale can also be found at the Plant Biotechnology Center having two decorative pillars on either side. These lead up to a plot on a higher ground level.
During the British Era
When Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, Commander-in-Chief of the British Fleet, finally defeated the fleet of Napoleon Bonaparte, off Cape Trafalgar in the year 1805, the island of Malta and Gozo sighed with relief. The Order of the Knights of St. John had deteriorated and they were made to leave the islands by Napoleon who, in his turn, treated the Maltese and their Island very badly. As a result, the Maltese asked Nelson for protection against Napoleon and he eventually sent Sir Alexander Ball to be Malta’s first Governor.
The gallant gentleman administered and ruled the islands efficiently, gaining the inhabitants’ love and admiration. Malta’s first British Civil Commissioner’s residence was the Palace of San Anton. Sir Alexander Ball later picked up other localities in many villages for lieutenant to reside in. The lieutenant in charge of each particular village had to enforce law and order in everyday life. These were known as ‘Il-Luogotenente del Casale’, known to the village people as ‘Il-Kutnent’. The residing place of these ‘Il-Luogotenente del Casale’ became known as ‘Tal-Kmand’ by the locals.
The Plant Biotechnology Centre was formerly a residence for the Lieutenant of Hal Lija. Due to its importance, Sir Alexander Ball improved the area for the existence of water reservoirs. Stone arches of the Neo Greek Doric style were erected above a flagstone passage which lies in the middle of this plot of land. One of these magnificent arches still stands and boasts the cultured heritage enjoyed by this plot of land.
Designed by G. Pullicino 1808
In the year 1967 it was seen fit that this land, which is less than a hectare in size, be turned into a carob tree nursery. A marble commemorative plaque with inscriptions on it still commemorates this event. Later on, the ‘Tal-Kmand’ became an Agricultural Nursery where young students, eager to learn, used to plant and grow plenty of edible ornamental plants.
Click here for images
Back to Plant Biotechnology Centre
Pace G. (1997). ‘Flora in Franka’. Micropropagation Research Centre, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Government of Malta.