The site    

Hidden beneath the surface of the islands of Malta and Gozo lie unique remnants of a bygone era: eight underground flour mills, born out of the tensions of the Cold War. Unlike traditional mills, these subterranean structures were crafted with secrecy and foresight, strategically positioned away from potential wartime targets to ensure the sustenance of the Maltese people and the British army stationed in the island.

Originally, eight such mills were erected in the islands, one located in Munxar on the island of Gozo, and the remaining seven scattered across the island of Malta: in Mellieha, San Gwann, at San Paul’s Bay in Mistra, at the unique site of Buskett, which boasted two mills in one location, and at La Palma and San Martin, both located in Mgarr Municipality. The structures were never actually used for their intended purposes; however, they were regularly inspected in case the need for their use would arise. Eventually, with the end of the Cold War, the structures fell into disrepair. 

Yet, the cloak of secrecy that once shrouded these mills has led to their gradual disappearance from public consciousness. Tragically, the mill in Mellieha succumbed to progress, buried beneath the foundation of a hotel, while the mills in Buskett fell victim to vandalism and arson. Meanwhile, the mill in San Gwann suffers under the weight of progress, its entrance blocked, and its ventilation closed by the encroachment of urban development.

The mill in Munxar on Gozo Island was accessible to the public for a while, but visits have been suspended since the COVID-19 pandemic began and has remained closed since.

However, hope flickers for the mills at St. Pauls Bay in Mistra and La Palma in Mgarr, together with Munxar’s mill the last more or less complete survivors of their kind. Yet, without proper documentation and conservation, even these resilient structures face the threat of oblivion.

The undertaking to document the La Palma Mill in Mgarr marks the first step in preserving this unique heritage, aiming to safeguard an important, although hidden piece of Malta's history, ensuring that the legacy of the underground flour mills endures for generations to come.


The training course

The European Heritage Training Course will involve the participants in the task to help preserve and interpret the hidden industrial heritage of Malta. At the heart of this endeavour lies the documentation and interpretation of the La Palma Mill in Mgarr. Despite its enduring presence, this mill stands perilously on the brink of oblivion, its structures weathered by the relentless assault of time and neglect.

In response to this urgent call to action, the training course will commence with a comprehensive architectural documentation and inventory of the mill. Due to the secret nature of the construction, there is no existing documentation. Led by a conservation architect and professor at the University of Malta, the European Heritage Training Course seeks to capture the intricate details of the historic complex, cataloguing its features and assessing its current condition. Through meticulous data collection and photo documentation, the training course aims to create a detailed documentation and inventory that will serve as the base for future conservation efforts.

Simultaneously, the training course will address the pressing need for conservation measures to safeguard the integrity of these structures. The participants will identify the most critical areas requiring urgent maintenance, preliminary stabilisation, and further interventions. From combating humidity to enhancing ventilation systems, the training course will propose tailored solutions to mitigate the ravages of time and preserve the underground flour mill.

Furthermore, the training course will delve into the realm of interpretation, envisioning immersive experiences that could bring the La Palma underground mill to life. Drawing upon the unique heritage of this site, the participants will make proposals for its interpretative signage to guide visitors on a journey of discovery, unravelling the complexities of the La Palma Mill in particular and of Malta's underground mills in general.

Meanwhile measuring, data collection, and photographic documentation will naturally take place at the underground mill, the further facilitation of the documentation, the elaboration of the conservation concept and the development of the interpretation concept will take place at the White Tower, a monument linked with another important era of Malta’s history. Standing sentinel over the coastline, the White Tower was one of six towers which Grand Master Martin de Redin built in 1658 to watch the coastline for attacks and was still in use for naval protection purposes until 1918. The White Tower which had been restored and is managed by Din L’Art Helwa, one of Malta’s most important heritage associations, will be serving as the group’s accommodation and workspace.

The educational programme will be complemented by discussions and guided visits to other underground mills on the island, that will help the participants gaining a contextual understanding of the setting in which these impressive industrial underground constructions were built and exist today. On the weekend, a comprehensive excursion will lead to the historic towns of Mdina and Valetta showcasing the richness of Malta’s history and illustrating the threat for the island’s cultural heritage by mass tourism and an only partly regulated construction boom.


The training course will take place from July 21st to August 03rd, 2024, and is organised by European Heritage Volunteers in cooperation with the University of Malta – Faculty for Built Environment, Department of Conservation and Built Heritage, Din L-Art Helwa Association, and the Mgarr Municipality.

European Heritage Volunteers