For centuries the coastline of Malta has been dotted with lookout posts or watch towers that were built by the Knights of Malta during the 17th century. These towers were manned nightly to watch the seaward approaches and to raise the alarm in the event of imminent threat. The positioning of these towers was planned as such so that one could see both neighbouring towers, which acted as an early warning system against invaders. As soon as one tower spotted a suspicious event, a fire signal was started which was picked up by the neighbouring towers, in so doing carrying on the message.
A number of coastal towers were built during the reigns of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt (1601 – 1622), Grand Master Paul Lascaris Castellar (1636 – 1657) and Grand Master Martin de Redin (1657 – 1660). The aim was to strengthen Malta’s coastal guarding system.
Hospitaller Coastal Towers
Actually, the Knights of St John were very late in emulating their larger Sicilian neighbour in investing in a network of coastal watch-posts. This was not because the Knights had no faith in the value of coastal lookout posts, after all, they had had already invested in a similar network of coastal towers around Rhodes and the Dodecanese islands throughout the fifteenth century, where they had long learnt to appreciate the usefulness of an early warning system against unannounced corsair incursions and razzie. More than anything else, it was the Order’s lack of financial resources and their commitment to build a new fortress inside the Grand Harbour that had prevented the knights from finding adequate resources with which to establish a coastal defence network.
Indeed, up until the beginning of the 1600s, the shores of the Maltese islands were practically unprotected by any form of defensive structure, and, as a result, the littoral areas remained uninhabited since most of the inhabitants preferred to live within the safety, or in the vicinity, of the main fortified towns. The remote rural and coastal areas were often perilous places vulnerable to corsair incursions.
Right up to the end of the cinquecento, the Hospitaller knights had continued to rely upon the old system of open-air militia watch-posts that had been employed by the Maltese and Gozitans long before the arrival of the Order in Malta in 1530. This defensive scheme comprised a string of ‘mahares’ coastal watch stations, all unfortified, which were manned each night by small detachments of local militia.
It was not until the first decade of the 1600s that Order began to invest in the fortification of many of these coastal areas. The first serious efforts to systemize the defence of the islands’ shores materialized as a result of a resurgence of Turkish naval activities in the western Mediterranean towards the end of the sixteenth century. The general alarm of 1598, caused by the sighting of over 40 enemy vessels off Capo Passero, followed by other emergencies, and the Turkish incursion of 1614, when 60 vessels under the command of Khalil Pasha put ashore 5,000 men in the then still-unguarded St Thomas Bay, ravaging some villages in the south of the island before being compelled to withdraw by a strong militia force sent out to confront them, showed that these fears of attack were not idle.
The first of the dedicated fortified coastal structures to materialize was St Martin Tower, erected on the island of Gozo in 1605, at Mgarr, overlooking the channel between Gozo and Comino. The construction of this tower was made possible by the generosity of Grand Master Martin Garzes (1595–1601) who had left provisions in his will for the financing of such a work. The idea had been conceived some years earlier as part of Giovanni Rinaldini’s (an Italian military engineer from Ancona) original concept for the defence of Gozo. Unfortunately, Garzes Tower, as it was also called, was demolished in the mid-nineteenth century and can only be seen in one rough drawing of the period and a small manuscript plan.
It was the generosity of yet another grand master that enabled the construction of the first set of towers in what was quickly to develop into a chain of coastal strong points. The six towers built by Alof de Wignacourt were erected at St Paul Bay (1609), Marsaxlokk (St Lucian Tower – 1610), St Thomas Bay (1614), Marsalforn (Gozo – 1616; this was paid for by the Order), Comino (St Mary Tower – 1618), and Sta. Maria delle Grazie (1620).
These towers were large squarish structures. With their bastioned turrets, they were more of forts in form and shape rather than simple vedettes and were definitely built to dominate the coastline, mounting batteries of heavy artillery on their roofs, and garrisoned by sizable detachments of troops in times of war.
The characteristic features of these fortini, as they were also called, apart from their massive size, were their corner turrets. These were rudimentary forms of bastions designed to allow a degree of close-in defence by enabling some form of enfilading fire along the towers’ faces.
From the mid-seventeenth century onwards, however, the preference for large garrisoned outposts was discarded in favour of smaller structures which were designed to serve solely as lookout posts. The first six such towers were built by Grand Master Lascaris in the years between 1636 to 1657 at Għajn Tuffieħa, Lippija, Fomm ir-Rih, St George’s Bay, Nadur, and Wied iż-Żurrieq. The design of these watch-towers reflected a marked departure from the massive structures built earlier. This was because, primarily, the new structures were intended solely as watch- posts for the militia coast guard, who, up until then, had performed their night-watch duties either out in the open or from the refuge of small unfortified capanne (rural buildings) or other sentry rooms ‘all’anticha’. The new watch-towers were about 11m high and 36m2 in plan. Internally, each consisted of two single-roomed storeys with external access provided solely to the upper floor, reached either by a wooden ladder or scala di corda (rope ladder).
A reversion to the use of large towers was made in 1649 when Fort St Agatha, or Torre Rossa, was erected in Mellieħa but this was a large and important bay that had to be defended. The Red Tower followed the same pattern as that prescribed for the towers built during the reign of Wignacourt nearly half-a-century earlier. The chain of Lascaris watch-towers were augmented by another 13 towers erected in Malta in 1658/59 at the expense of Grand Master Martin de Redin.
The coastal towers, which were to be manned by the Guardia Torre, a kind of permanent guard that was paid by the Università (the local municipal body) and kept watch all year round, were designed to replace the system of 60 lookout posts manned each night by four peasants, ‘… il caso é che tutta questa isola tiene nella circonferenza delle sue Marine sessanta Guardie in circa più e in ciascheduna delle quali fanno la guardia quattro uomini, che ogni notte sono due cento quaranta; questi sono i più poveri e i più miserabli di detta Isola’. Each tower was given a resident bombardier and three gunners, paid monthly at the rate of some 2.5 and 2 scudi respectively.
Work on the De Redin towers proceeded at a very fast pace so that the first tower to be built at Għajn Ħadid, near Mellieħa, was completed within two months. Structurally, the De Redin towers were sturdier than their flimsy Lascaris predecessors. Still, the prototype of the 13 De Redin Towers was actually the last of the Lascaris towers built at Wied iż-Żurrieq. The main difference between the two types of structures was that the De Redin towers (including the Wied iż-Żurrieq Tower) were built around a barrel vault and thus capable of mounting cannon while the Lascaris-type had roofs resting on wooden beams incapable of supporting any heavy piece of ordnance.
A parallel investment in coastal defences was undertaken in Gozo where a further six towers, built more squattishly and sturdily, (Garzes, Marsalforn , San Blas, Xlendi, Dwejra, and Mgarr-ix-Xini, with another tower in Comino) were erected around the middle of the seventeenth century. By 1792, there were, in all, some 20 towers guarding the shores of the Maltese archipelago.
The Garzes Tower – Gozo
The problem of corsair entering Mgarr Harbour to replenish their vessels with water and to plunder the fields existed from time immemorial. The people petitioned the building of a tower to guard the Gozo – Malta channel as early as 1418. The first tower was however raised on Gozo. In a report of 1599, on Gozo’s defence problems, the military engineer Giovanni Rinaldini emphasized the necessity of a tower to guard the channel. Grand Master Martin Garzes, aware of its urgency, decided to finance the building out of his own purse. He died before the project started but he made a provision in his will for the financing of the work.
Six years after his death, a tower was raised on the promontory flanked by Wied l-Kbir or Mgarr Valley on one side and Wied Biljun on the other. The tower was the first in a series to render Mgarr Harbour and Gozo a safer place to live in. It was situated on the site which was once occupied by l-Mgarr Hotel. The tower had several guns mounted on the roof, for which embrasures set equidistantly from each other, were constructed along each of its four peripheral sides or parapets so that the tower could deal with attacks on any direction. Grand Master Martin Garzes had spent a large sum of money for the construction of this tower. It was the first tower in Gozo which has taken action against the Turks.
The tower included a medieval chapel dedicated to St Martin, which served as the unacknowledged parish church for the people of nearby villages. In fact, the tower was sometimes also known as St Martin Tower
Unfortunately, after 243 years, commanding the approaches to the Comino straits and Mgarr Harbour, in 1848 it was decided to demolish this tower. With its masonry, the arched bridge linking Mgarr to Nadur road was built. It can only be seen in one rough drawing of the period and a small manuscript plan.
The Wignacourt towers are a series of fortifications on the island of Malta built by the Knights of Malta between 1610 and 1649.
The initial towers of this type were built under the auspices of Grand Master Fra Aloph de Wignacourt. A total of seven towers of this type were constructed, and five remain.
Unlike the later Lascaris towers and De Redin towers, the Wignacourt towers were more than simply watchtowers. Instead they formed significant strongpoints intended to protect vulnerable sections of the coast from attack.
The five extant towers built in this style are:
Wignacourt Tower (built 1610)
Saint Lucian Tower (built 1610-1611)
Saint Thomas Tower (built 1614)
Saint Mary’s Tower (built 1618)
Saint Agatha’s Tower (built 1649)
Of these, St. Agatha’s Tower, is not strictly speaking a Wignacourt tower. Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris, Wignacourt’s successor, built the tower in the Wignacourt style.
Two Wignacourt towers have been demolished:
Marsalforn Tower (built 1616, collapsed 1716)
Santa Maria delle Grazie Tower (built 1620, demolished 1888)
Wignacourt Tower is a fortification constructed in 1610 overlooking St Paul’s Bay. It is the oldest of the Wignacourt towers, which are named after the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, who commissioned their building. Grand Master Fra Aloph de Wignacourt also contributed significantly from his personal funds towards the cost of its construction.
It is a precursor to the later Lascaris and de Redin towers.
St Lucian Tower
It was built by the Knights of Malta between 1610 and 1611 and is one of a series of Wignacourt towers.
The British substantially extended it and the original tower now forms the core of a Victorian era fortress. The tower is surrounded by a rock cut ditch, with caponiers, a sunken gate, and a curved entrance ramp.
On the seaward side the tower has been extended to form a low battery, with three large casemates facing out across Marsaxlokk bay towards Fort Delimara.
St Lucian forms part of a ring of Victorian fortresses that protected Marsaxlokk bay, a ring that that also included Fort Delimara, Fort Tas-Silg and Fort Benghisa.
The fort is now the base of The Malta Centre For Fisheries Sciences.
It is generally in good repair, though the ditch is somewhat overgrown. The casemates are empty, the guns long gone.
St Thomas Tower
St Thomas Tower is a fortification standing above the shore on the seaward face of the headland of Il-Hamriga. The tower was built by the Knights of Malta in 1614 during the reign of Grand Master Fra Alof de Wignacourt, and is one of the set of Wignacourt towers.
It is a substantial fortification intended to prevent the landing of troops in the sheltered anchorages of Marsascala Creek and St Thomas Bay. It was subsequently reinforced during the later tenure of the Knights of Malta by the addition of a battery on the seaward face.
It has recently been substantially repaired. The battery has also been repaired, though in a somewhat strange style. Modern masonry has replaced the eroded stones of the battery, but only the still existent masonry has been replaced, turning the logical and very pragmatic layout of the battery’s fortifications into a strange and arbitrary piece of abstract modern art. Thankfully the tower itself has been faithfully restored and is now in fine condition.
The village of Marsaskala has expanded in recent years, entirely surrounding the tower with modern buildings. The tower now forms the centerpiece of an attractive plaza around the shoreward face of the tower. Unfortunately a large and modern hotel built on the headland seaward of the tower and battery is far less sympathetic to the tower environs, substantially screening the tower to seaward
St. Mary’s Tower
St. Mary’s Tower or Santa Maria Tower, (Maltese: it-Torri ta’ Santa Marija) is a fortification on the island of Comino. One can see it easily from the ferry that crosses from Malta to Gozo.
In 1618 the military engineer Vittorio Cassar designed the tower for Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt of the Knights of Malta. Funds for its construction were raised primarily by means of the sale of Comino brushwood. Located roughly in the centre of the southern coast of the island, it formed part of a chain of defensive towers – the Wignacourt, Lascaris, and De Redin towers – installed at vantage points along the coastline of the Maltese Islands. St. Mary’s Tower greatly improved communications between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The tower also stopped Turkish corsairs from using the island’s creeks as a base from which to harry boats from Gozo. Batteries on the coast of Comino had a garrison of 130 men and housed eight 32-pounder and ten 24-pounder cannons, which dominated the North and South Comino Channels.
The tower is a large, square building with four corner turrets, and is located about 80 metres above sea level. The Tower itself is about 12 metres tall, with walls that are approximately 6 metres thick, and is raised on a platform and plinth that are approximately 8 metres high. During times of crisis its garrison numbered up to 60 soldiers. By 1791, its armament included two 12-pound iron cannon, one 10-pound bronze cannon, one 4-pound bronze cannon, and two 3-pound bronze cannon.
In the 17th century, Comino served as a place of imprisonment or exile for errant knights. Knights who were convicted of minor crimes were occasionally sentenced to the lonely and dangerous task of manning St. Mary’s Tower.
During the French Blockade (1798–1800), St. Mary’s Tower served as a prison for suspected spies. In the 1799 insurrection against the French, the insurgents transferred the tower’s cannons to Malta to bombard the French positions inside Valletta.
In 1829 the British Military abandoned the tower. For several decades it was deemed to be property of the local civil authorities, and may have been used as an isolation hospital, or even as a wintering pen for farm animals. The tower again saw active service during both World War I and World War II. Since 1982, the tower has been the property of the Armed Forces of Malta. It now serves as a lookout and staging post to guard against contraband and the illegal hunting of migratory birds at sea.
St. Mary’s Tower underwent extensive restoration between 2002 and 2004. Today, it remains the most notable structure on Comino, and provides a destination for tourists walking around the island.
The 2002 film, The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel, used St Mary’s Tower to represent the prison Château d’If.
St. Agatha’s Tower
St. Agatha’s Tower in Malta is similar in style to the Wignacourt towers, though it was completed in 1649 during the Grand Mastership of Giovanni Paolo Lascaris to a design by Antonio Garsin. It is also known as the Red Tower due to the colour it is painted.
The original structure is a square tower with four square corner towers with cannon ports in the towers giving interlocking fields of fire commanding the base of the walls and the gateway, with large cannon ports in the faces of the main tower. The outer walls are approximately four meters thick at the base and the interior of the tower is enclosed by a barrel vaulted roof. The corner towers are surmounted by very characteristic fish tail crenelations.
The Tower is situated in a commanding position on the crest of Marfa Ridge at the north west end of Malta, overlooking the natural harbour and obvious landing site of Mellieħa Bay with clear views over to Comino and Gozo, and also eastward to the line of watchtowers along the north shore of Malta that linked it with the Knights headquarters in Valletta. It was the Knights’ primary stronghold in the west of Malta, and was manned by a garrison of 30 men, with ammunition and supplies to withstand a siege of 40 days.
Like many of the Knights’ early defensive structures, during the 18th century it was strengthened by the addition of a much lower profile battery around its flanks. It continued to have a military function throughout the British period, and was manned during both World Wars. From the British period it continued its military function being used as a radar station by the Armed Forces of Malta.
By the close of the 20th century the tower was in poor repair with one turret completely missing and another turret severely damaged. The Tower was the substantially restored by Din l-Art Helwa starting in 1999, with restoration being completed in 2001, assisted by substantial industrial sponsorship. As part of the restoration work the damaged towers were replaced, the walls and were roof rebuilt and eroded stone facing replaced, the interior walls scraped and painted, the original floor uncovered, and the interior staircase to the roof rebuilt. Due to the extreme unevenness of the floor, this was recently covered by a wooden surface with glass apertures through which one can view the original slabs. The Tower is now in the care of Din l-Art Helwa and is open to the public.
Marsalforn Tower or Ix-Xaghra Tower was built in 1616 while Fra Alof de Wignacourt was Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, and thus is one of the Wignacourt towers. The tower’s design is attributed to the military engineer Giovanni Rinaldini. To the west the tower commanded Marsalforn Bay and to the east it commanded ir-Ramla Bay, thus guarding the northern approach to Gozo. Unfortunately, having been built on the edge of a cliff, it collapsed in 1716.
In 1720, Fra Ramon Perellos y Roccaful, 64th Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta had a second Marsalforn Tower, also known as the Perellos Tower, built in the center of the tal-Qortin plateau. The architect was the military engineer Charles François de Mondion, who gave it the form of a redoubt, mounting several cannon. It was demolished in 1915, but reportedly one can still see some of its foundations.
Santa Maria delle Grazie Tower
Santa Maria delle Grazie Tower was a fortification on the island of Malta. It stood above the shore to the east of Grand Harbour, close to the present day town of Xghajra. The tower was built by the Knights of Malta in 1620 during the reign of Grand Master Fra Alof de Wignacourt, and the last of the Wignacourt towers to be built.
The tower was demolished to clear the field of fire of the nearby Della Grazie Battery, construction of which began in 1888, by the British. Nothing of the original tower remains.
The Lascaris towers are a series of towers built as military fortifications on the island of Malta.
Commissioning and construction
Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Juan de Lascaris-Castellar, commissioned five towers for the Maltese coast. The military architect Vincenzo Maculani, who had been sent to Malta by Pope Innocent X, was responsible for their design and construction, which took place between 1637 and 1640.
Modern day locals often refer to both the five Lascaris towers and the thirteen later de Redin towers collectively as “de Redin towers”. The Wignacourt towers are the predecessors to the de Lascaris towers.
Many of the towers still exist in good condition today and most are accessible to the public.
Ta’ Lippija Tower
Ghajn Tuffieha Tower
Qawra Tower – also known as Ta’ Fra Ben tower
Sciuta (Ta’ Xuta) Tower
In addition, de Lascaris constructed St. Agatha’s Tower.
In 1650, during the tenure of Grandmaster Lascaris, a tower was built to guard the mouth of Xlendi Bay in Gozo. The Xlendi Tower, whose design is similar to that of the Lascaris towers on Malta, is still standing. The British Army made use of the tower but since then it was long-abandoned until recently. Since 2010, responsibility for the tower has devolved to the local council and Din L’Art Helwa.
The Lippija Tower overlooks Ġnejna Bay and was built in 1637 to protect the bay by Grandmaster Juan Baptiste de Lascaris de Castellar.
Lascaris, together with Grandmasters Alof de Wignacourt (1601-1622) and Martin de Redin (1657-1660), built an intricate coastal defence network of watch towers which were positioned so that they could communicate with one another.
The Lippija tower is two storeys high with a flat roof and parapet built some 100 metres above sea level; it was paid for by Grandmaster Lascaris personally.
Għajn Tuffieħa Tower
Ghajn Tuffieha Tower is a fortification that stands on the cliffs overlooking the shore at Ghajn Tuffieha Bay on the north west coast of Malta. It is one of five Lascaris towers that Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris of the Knights of Malta ordered be built. A watchtower, it was originally armed with a half pounder gun and garrisoned by four men.
The tower was renovated in early 2000 with the support of the Director of Public Projects and the philanthropic organisation Din l-Art Helwa.
Nadur Tower is a fortification that stands at Binġemma Gap in the Victoria Lines, Malta. There is also a Nadur Tower on the Island of Gozo. The Malta Nadur Tower is one of the Lascaris towers and not a de Redin tower.
This is sometimes classified as a ‘coastal’ tower, but it is relatively far from the coast. Although the sea and stretches of the coast are clearly visible from Nadur its main function was probably as a ‘relay’ station so that signals from towers on the coast like Ghajn Tuffieha and Lippija could then be relayed to Mdina – since it clearly has a good line of sight with all of these (while many coastal towers on the North do not have a direct line of sight to Mdina).
Qawra Tower is a watchtower built by the Knights of Malta in 1637. It is also known locally as Fra Ben Tower. To the west it commands the entrance to St. Paul’s Bay, to the east Salina Bay along with Għallis Tower.
It was built during the reign of Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris and stands near the tip of Ras il-Qawra (Qawra Point). It is one of five Lascaris towers that he ordered be built. In 1715 the Knights further strengthened the point by adding a gun battery seaward of the tower.
The battery is now a restaurant and swimming pool, however it is slightly dilapidated, having been plastered with cement at some time, which is now flaking away, and with water tanks and rough additional brickwork added to its roof.
In 1659, the construction of Ghallis Tower linked Qawra Tower into the chain of de Redin towers that allowed communication from Gozo to Valletta
Ta’ Sciuta (Xuta) Tower – Wied iz-Zurrieq
Ta’ Sciuta Tower at Wied iż-Żurrieq was built at the time of Grand Master Jean Paul Lascaris de Castellar (1635 – 1657) in 1640. It was one the last towers to be built under this Grand Master. It still has an original Knights period cannon on its roof.
It served as a coastal look-out post right up till the late nineteenth century. Until 2002 the tower served as a police station.
In March 2013 Din l-Art Ħelwa has been entrusted by the Government with the management, care and conservation of this tower. The Guardianship Deed is for a period of 10 years.
Xlendi Tower was built in 1650 on Gozo during the reign of Grand Master of the Knights of Malta Juan de Lascaris-Castellar. It is now the oldest free-standing coastal watchtower on Gozo proper, two earlier towers having collapsed or been demolished. The tower’s purpose was to give warning of pirates. Currently, the Munxar Council and Din l-Art Helwa (National Trust of Malta) are restoring the tower, while sharing the expenses equally. Recently, ten interpretation panels were prepared for installation within the tower. There are salt pans below the tower.
Baliff Baldassare de Demandolx proposed the tower in 1649, and it was completed by June 1650, with the University of Gozo paying for its construction. The tower is rectangual, 35 feet square at its base, and unsurprisingly, its design is similar to that of the earlier Lascaris towers on Malta. Unlike the Lascaris towers, Xlendi Tower has an additional platform with a batter (slope) to its base on the seaward side. Like the Lascaris towers, it has a flat roof, where guns were mounted. Initially it held two 6-pounder guns; later two 4-pounder guns replaced them. Entrance to the tower is via an external flight of stairs that connects to the only doorway, which is situated on the second floor. Originally, the tower was under the command of a Capo Mastro, assisted by a bombardier (gunner), and an Aggiutante, all of whose salaries the University paid. At night, three men manned the tower.
By 1681 it was already in poor condition, needing restoration. During the British era the tower became the responsibility of the Royal Malta Fencible Regiment (1815–1861), which became the Royal Malta Fencible Artillery (1861–81). When the Fencible Artillery was relieved of its coastal watch duties in 1873, the tower was abandoned.
During World War II, the Coast Police manned the tower as an observation post. In 1954 the tower was leased to private persons but eventually it was abandoned.
Dwejra Tower is situated just off the road leading to the small enclosed bay at Dwejra in Gozo, known as the ‘inland sea’. It was completed in 1652 and periodically used by British forces up to the second World War when it was used as an observation post.
It was completed in 1652 during the time of Grand Master Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar and funded by the Universita’ of Gozo. A Capo Mastro or Castellano was in charge of the Tower and raised money to cover expenses by producing salt from the salt pans in front of the Tower. In 1744 Grand Master Pinto had the sides of nearby Fungus Rock, home of the fabled fungus that had special medicinal powers, smoothed over to make access more difficult.
The Tower was still in use during the eighteenth century when it was equipped with three 6-pounder guns. It was manned by the Royal Malta Fencible Artillery between 1839 and 1873 but then abandoned. During the summer of 1914 Maltese troops from the King’s Own Malta Regiment and the Royal Malta Artillery were dispatched to the coastal watch towers and Dwejra Tower was manned by No 3 Company with two, later four, 12-pounder guns. During the Second World War the Tower was used as an Observation Post. One recorded incident was the rescue of a Royal Air Force pilot, whose Spitfire had crashed in Dwejra Bay in 1942, by Captain Frank Debono and Carmelo Zahra of Victoria.
In 1956 the Tower was leased to Gerald de Trafford for a period of fifty years. It was passed on loan to Din l-Art Helwa who commenced restoration work in 1997, which was completed two years later. A considerable amount of stonework had to be replaced on the outside and flagstones laid inside.
San Gorg Tower
St. George’s Tower is one from a series of coastal watch-towers financed by Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar and its structure is very identical to the Madliena Tower. It is located in the former Pembroke Cantonments on the western tip of the entrance into St. George’s Bay.
The British authorities retained the tower as a guard post overlooking St. George’s Bay but when Fort Pembroke and later Pembroke Battery were built, it was converted into a Fire Control Station.
During the Second World War the tower served as a radio communication post linking various parts of Malta’s defences and later to indicate a warning to civilian vessels that live firing is taking place on the Pembroke Ranges and to steer well beyond the safety limits. In 1997, the Fire Control Tower added by the British was removed and the tower incorporated within the grounds of a hotel.
De Redin Towers
The De Redin Towers are a series of thirteen small fortified watch towers that Grand Master Martin de Redin of the Knights of Malta built on the island of Malta between the year 1658 and 1659. The towers are in sight of each other, and provided a communication link between Gozo and Grand Harbour, in addition to functioning as watchtowers against attack by Corsairs.
The design is based on the design of the last of the five Lascaris towers, the Sciuta (Xuta) tower (1640) at Wied iz-Zurrieq, that Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris, de Redin’s predecessor, had built. The locals refer to both the five Lascaris towers and the thirteen de Redin towers as “de Redin towers”.
Many of the towers still exist in good condition today and most are accessible to the public.
List of the towers
1. Aħrax (White) Tower
2. Għajn Ħadid Tower
3. Għallis Tower
4. St. Mark’s Tower
5. Madliena Tower
6. St.Julians Tower
7. Triq Il-Wisgħa Tower
8. Żonqor Tower
9. Xrob l-Għaġin Tower
10. Delimara Tower
11. Bengħisa Tower
12. Wardija Tower
13. Ħamrija Tower
These are the de Redin towers in chronological order of construction.
1.Għajn Ħadid Tower, Selmun, Mellieħa (2)
2.Għallis Tower, Salina, Naxxar (3)
3.St. Mark’s Tower or Qalet Marku Tower (4)
4.Madliena Tower, Madliena, Swieqi (5)
5.St.Julians Tower, Sliema (6)
6.Aħrax (White) Tower, L-Aħrax, Mellieħa (1)
7.Bengħisa Tower, Ħal Far (11)
8.Triq Il-Wisgha Tower (7)
9.Xrob l-Għaġin Tower, Xrob l-Għaġin, Marsaxlokk (9)
10.Delimara Tower, Delimara, Marsaxlokk (10)
11.Żonqor Tower, Żonqor, Marsaskala (8)
12.Ħamrija Tower (13)
13.Wardija Tower (12)
The White Tower was erected in 1658 and the total cost was 589 scudi, 5 tari and 15 gramm, which was quite a large sum for that period.
It has a square shape and consists of two rooms on each other and a little one on the roof. In the past years a number of alterations were made. It was used as a place to store a number of muskets for the Naxxar country militia which had the responsibility for defending the northern most part of Malta.
The militia was paid by the Universita’ of Imdina. L-Ahrax Tower was manned, like the other de Redin towers, by four men, who were paid 8 scudi and six tari a month. In the early 18th century, in 1715-16, Knight Commander Mongontier donated some 1323 scudi excluding the 544 scudi needed for the construction of a coastal battery. When the tower was finished an inscription was fixed above the door saying:
FR.D.MARTINVS DE REDIN MAGNO S.R.H. MAGISTRO
SEXTAM SPEULAM. PRO GARINARVM. AC INCOLARVM TUTIORI
STATIONE, ERIGENTI, MELITEN S. POPVLVS PRINCIPI SVO CLEMENT
PRO. VT IN CORDE. SIC IN L…RIDE GRATES
DEBITAS REDDEBAT AN. 1658.
Ghajn Hadid Tower
Ghajn Hadid Tower is a fortification built in 1658 by the Knights of Malta under the auspices of Grand Master Fra. Martino De Redin. A watchtower, it stands on high ground on the cliffs known as Ghajn Hadid Cliffs, facing directly the stretch of coast known as “L-Ahrax tal-Mellieha” on the north shore of Malta.
It is one of a chain of de Redin towers towers that permitted communication between Gozo and the Knights headquarters in Valletta.
The Ghajn Hadid Tower was severely damaged in 1856 due to an earthquake that hit the Maltese islands. The blockhouse situated nearby survived the earthquake.
The typical commemorative plaque is missing; however it is on public display in the nearby town of Mellieha at the “tas-salib” garden together with the 6-pound cannon that was installed in the tower till the 1856 disaster.
Għallis Tower is a small coastal fortification that the Knights of Malta built on the island of Malta. It was originally primarily a watchtower with a garrison consisting of a bombardier and three gunners, who manned a three-pounder iron cannon.
Construction took place during 1658 and 1659. The tower formed part of the chain of thirteen de Redin towers constructed during the reign of Grand Master Martin de Redin to allow communication from Gozo to the Knights’ base at Grand Harbour. It stands above the shore just east of Ras il-Ghallis (Ghallis Point). Together with Qawra Tower, one of the Lascaris towers, it commands Salina Bay.
The tower has been recently renovated and is now under the control of Din l-Art Helwa
Qalet Marku Tower
St. Mark’s Tower or Qalet Marku is a small watchtower built by the Knights of Malta standing on Qrejten Point on the north shore of Malta. St. Mark’s Tower has sight of Għallis Tower to the west, and Madliena tower to the east. The tower still stands and appears to be in reasonable condition.
Madliena Tower is a watchtower. It stands on high ground above the shore west of Ras l-Irqiqa on the north shore of Malta.
It is one of a chain of de Redin towers towers that permitted communication between Gozo and the Knights headquarters in Valletta. To the west the tower has sight of St Mark’s Tower (also known as Qalet Marku), and to the east St George’s Tower.
After the British gained control of Malta, this tower continued to serve as a military installation. In the 19th century, it was modified to mount a 64 pound rifled muzzle loading (RML) gun on the roof.
The tower still stands and appears to be in a very worrying neglected condition. Its historical value is usurped by makeshift modifications and adjacent illegal structures.
On the south end there are very visible makeshift alterations to the structure. The original door at the second level has been filled in and is no longer visible, the Grand Master’s commemorative plaque is missing too and has been replaced by a slab of limestone. A steel door in the new access defaces the historical value of the tower. There is also obvious damages to the south side of the structure.
Situated nearby, are what appear to be remains of a World War 2 military installation.
St Julian’s Tower
The St Julian’s Tower is one of thirteen towers that Grand Master Martin de Redin of the Knights of Malta had built along the coasts of Malta.
This tower was constructed and finished in 1658.
Presently its grounds are used as an open air restaurant.
Triq il-Wisgha Tower
Triq Il-Wisgħa Tower was built by Grand Master de Redin in 1658. It has been refurbished.
The Wardija Tower is one of thirteen towers that Grand Master Martin de Redin of the Knights of Malta had built along the coasts of Malta. The tower is between Zurrieq and Hal Far; the nearest tower to it is the Hamrija Tower to the south-east.
The Wardija Tower was constructed and finished by June 1659 and was the last tower built. It is smaller than the other de Redin towers although it was armed with 2 cannon and 2 mortars.
The tower’s actual name was Torre della Guardia di Giorno.
Ħamrija Tower is a watchtower (recently restored), that the Knights of Malta built on the island of Malta. It is one of 13 such towers that Grand Master Martin de Redin ordered built. The tower was constructed in 1659 as the 12th tower in the series of de Redin towers and the last on Malta’s southwestern Coast. The nearest tower in the chain is the Wardija Tower to the south-east. The tower was originally armed with an 3-pounder gun and a ½-pounder gun, both too small to be of much use except to signal.
The tower is located a few hundred meters from two Neolithic temple sites, Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim. It stands on a cliff and has an excellent view of the island of Filfla. The tower is between Għar Lapsi, in the district of Siggiewi, and Wied iz-Zurrieq, in the district of Qrendi.
Mgarr ix-Xini Tower, Gozo
Dr Stephen Spiteri
The largest of the handful of coastal watch-towers erected by the Hospitaller knights of St John in the island of Gozo is that to be found still guarding the entrance to the small bay of Mgarr ix-Xini, situated on the island’s south-west shoreline.
This tower was expertly restored by the Wirt Ghawdex, a heritage NGO, over the past few years, and was recently opened to the public as a cultural and touristic attraction.
Although, at first glance, it appears similar to the other coastal towers built around the shores of Malta and Gozo by the Order of St John in the course of the seventeenth century, Mgarr ix-Xini Tower has various unique features that distinguish it from its sister structures. Mgarr ix-Xini tower is documented as having been built in 1661, a year after Grand Master Martin de Redin’s death. Although there are no escutcheons or inscriptions on the tower itself to link the structure to this Grand Master, who it must be remembered, had erected the network of thirteen coastal towers in Malta (1658-9), the Mgarr ix-Xini tower follows the same typology of De Redin’s other watch-towers closely enough to imply that it was designed by the same hand. Mederico Blondel, the Order’s new French resident engineer during the period 1659-98, is known to have been involved in its construction and, as such, is considered by most historians as the architect responsible for its design and construction, possibly also of those built in Malta. Still, this does not in itself fully explain the fact why this tower, like all Hospitaller watch-towers, was very heavily influenced by the towers built along the Sicilian littoral in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indeed the earlier Lascaris watch-towers, which pre-date Blondel’s involvement by a good 20 years already reflect this heavy Sicilian influence. The Sicilian connection in Hospitaller coastal tower design, therefore, had already been established well before the arrival of this French engineer. Blondel’s original contribution in the design and layout of this tower, therefore, seems to have been conditioned by Sicilian ideas. Indeed, Blondel may well have been implementing, perhaps modifying, an existing design. Unfortunately, however, nothing is known about the architects of Grand Master Lascaris’ earlier coastal towers and how the design of these Sicilian-style towers came to be imported to Malta. This is an area of study that still requires more detailed research and investigation.
Structural Features of Mgarr ix-Xini Tower
In concept, the Mgarr ix-Xini tower is basically similar to the rest of the knights’ coastal towers in that it is a relatively simple two storey structure, with a basic rectangular plan and sloping lower half. Where it differs, however, is in its details and scale. Blondel, in his report, states that the erection of the tower had been proposed on several occasions before he was commissioned to build it, thereby indirectly attesting to the participation of other military engineers in the design of the tower prior to his involvement. It is not yet clear if he adopted an existing design (as was very often the practice with resident engineers) or if he designed the structure anew. What is clear, however, is that various features incorporated into its design were copied, or influenced, by the coastal towers found in Sicily and southern Italy. French seventeenth century coastal towers, of the type with which Blondel would have been more familiar, as a Frenchman, follow a very different typology from those found in Malta and Sicily. The Mgarr ix-Xini tower, as shown in the accompanying photographs of some examples of Sicilian and South-Italian towers, has many features that reveal it to have been designed by an architect who was heavily influenced and very familiar with coastal tower construction in the Regno delle Due Sicilie.
Mgarr ix-Xini’s most distinguishing feature is its profile, fashioned largely by the extended range of rooms which crown the whole landward side of the roof, consisting of a guardroom and powder store. Apart from giving the tower distinctive side and rear profiles, the rooms also served to shelter the terrace platform (which mounted the tower’s artillery pieces) from the overlooking high ground to the rear of the tower, a feature common to many towers overlooked by high ground, such as employed in Torre Mpiso, at Capo San Vito, and Torre Svevo, in Sicily. The roof level rooms at Mgarr ix-Xini were used to house the sleeping quarters of the guardian and his aiutante , a small powder magazine, or Santa Barbara, as well as the shaft (Maltese tromba) of the spiral staircase leasing up to the roof terrace battery.
Another unique feature, which gave the tower a particular profile when compared to the other Maltese coastal towers, were the two gallery machicolations which project from the two corners of the land ward side elevation. Again, this manner of equipping towers with corner machicolation strongly echoes that found on many towers along the Sicilian coast line such as at Capomulino, Scolpello, Trapani, and at Torre di Manfria, Gela.
None of these piombatoi, or their supporting corbels, have survived at Mgarr ix-Xini Tower, but a close study of the masonry can still reveal the location where the protruding corbels were attached to the walls. Each machicoulis was supported on seven corbels. Blondel’s report also mentions ‘una guardiola’ (echaugette) but it is not clear if this was ever constructed. The Garzes Tower, for example had two such vedettes, so again, it is a feature which Blondel seems to have picked up from an existing tower.
Owing to the high screen wall, the rear facade of the tower, which faces landwards, has a higher elevation than the other three faces. A central feature of this façade is a wide masonry panel which was intended to be fashioned into a panoply with coat of arms and inscription below, both of which were never transformed into their intended design and remained in smooth ashlar finish, possibly owing to the death of Grand Master De Redin long before the tower was completed.
Access to the interior of the tower was provided through a main door on the first floor of the tower, approached by a detached flight of steps, a feature usually reserved for only the large coastal towers in Malta but which, in Gozo, was fitted to all the towers – this was served by a wooden drawbridge. The drawbridge mechanism is recorded as having been of the ‘fuso con tamburo’ type, such as can still be seen in sally-ports at Fort St. Angelo and Fort Ricasoli. This type of mechanism was often employed for the small sally-ports and gates of fortifications since it was easy to handle and ideal for raising and lowering relatively light ‘tavolature’.
Up until the construction of the Mgarr ix-Xini Tower, the bay and its adjoining stretches of coastline had been watched over by two small lookout posts all’anticha, both of which were both unfortified and unequipped with any kind of defensive ordnance to resist any form of incursion into the bay. The construction of the strong bombproof tower, however, now provided a solid platform for mounting guns, which, as Blondel advised, could easily mount three guns – two mansfelde and a demi-culverine. The parapet enveloping the terrace battery was to have 8 ‘cannoniere,(embrasures) come si puol vedere nella pianta’. The Order would eventually provide the tower with two 6-pdr iron cannon although these fail to appear in any of the detailed artillery inventories that were compiled throughout the course of the eighteenth century.
State of Repair
The Mgarr ix-Xini tower fared relatively well over the centuries, and apart from the damage which was inflicted by vandals in relatively modern times, has survived practically intact with nearly all its features. Its close proximity to the sea and salty sea air was bound to create problems of deterioration of its masonry fabric over time. A routine inspection of the tower on 17 May 1681 by the knight Fra Ugo de Vauvilliers found the tower in ‘ottimo stato’ except for the drawbridge, which was badly consumed and needed to be changed . An inspection following the earthquake f 1693 by Blondel in his capacity as resident engineer found it to have been unaffected by tremor but the stonework on lower sea-facing side of the structure had suffered considerably from erosion since the last inspection of 1681. Blondel’s cure, on this occasion, was to recommend that the consumed and eroded stonework be plugged in with stone chippings heavily pointed with a lime and sand mortar. The tower had been built from a relatively hard stone, with some 110 cubic canes of masonry having been consumed in its construction, the whole work estimated by Blondel, prior to the works, at 957 scudi. The Order’s records shed very little light on the state of the tower and its armament after 1693.
San Blas Tower – Nadur, Gozo
The San Blas Tower is known locally as both Torre Nuova and it-Torri ta’ Isopu.
Built in 1667, during the reign of Grand Master Nicholas Cottoner, the local government was responsible for maintaining the tower and paying for its garrison. The Order of St. John supplied the artillery.
In 1792, the Congregation of War ordered that it be armed with four six-pounder guns. The tower is square in design with thick walls.
Internally, spiral staircase provided access to the upper floors. The roof has a parapet on three sides. Four escutcheons once displayed coats of arms.
Restoration work was completed after three years in August 2006. The painstaking project – which came in time to save the dilapidated site – was carried out with the full collaboration of Din l-Art Helwa. The tower was restored to its former glory and finishing touches included plastering and cleaning the exterior.