The Barrakka Lift

Barrakka Lift

Messrs. Joseph Richmond and Co. Limited of 30 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, London, constructed and erected the Upper Barrakka Gardens lift for Macartney, McElroy & Co. Ltd.  The lift was opened in September 1905.  Macartney, McElroy & Co. Ltd. was an engineering company specializing in electric tramway systems.

In fact Macartney, McElroy & Co. Ltd. had laid down tramlines in Malta in 1904. The tramlines linked the Three Cities and Rabat to Valletta, via Floriana, Hamrun, Birkirkara, Attard and Zebbug.

imageJohn Francis Macartney, died 15th February 1913, aged 44 years. He had been the principal shareholder and managing director of Macartney, McElroy & Co. Ltd. This company designed and constructed the Malta Electric Tramway system in 1904, followed by the commissioning of the Barrakka Electric Lift. Upon his death management of the company passed to his son J.F. Macartney. Apart from Malta, the company ran tramways in more than twenty British cities, as well as North and South America and South Africa.

Opened to the public in September 1905 at a cost of £5,000 the Barrakka lift connected Lascaris Wharf (Old Customs House) with Upper Barrakka Gardens offering a shorter and quicker route.

The lift incorporated two cabins each capable of carrying 12 passengers. It rose through 75tons of steelwork vertically 167feet 7inches, with the winding gear housed in a turret even higher at 197feet (60m), to a lateral bridge, extending some 23feet out from the bastion gardens.




Other than a shutdown from october 1917 to June 1919 due to unavailability of spares and coal to generate electricity, the lift would see daily use until 9pm on 2 February 1973. However, following the privatisation of the dockyard in 1958 along with the withdrawal of British servicemen in the 1960s, its main source of income, revenue, was insufficient to meet the wages of the six employees and the closure became inevitable.


Efforts by the Government to find a company to run yet another Maltese unique and historic transport system were unsuccessful and after lying idle for ten years the lift was dismantled in August 1983. In 2006, then Roads Minister Jesmond Mugliett announced the €3.5 million vertical connection project for a city completely interlinked by funicular trains, lifts and escalators, and devoid of traffic turmoil, by mid-2008.

That tender was won by a consortium made up of the Gasan Group, Tumas Group and KDM Group.

new-barrakka-liftIn January 2008, Mr Mugliett presented a motion in Parliament, which would have transferred the sites to the Transport Authority that would then have allocated them to the Valletta Connections Consortium for the rebuilding of the Barrakka lift. However, the motion was not debated because it came too late in the legislature.

In 2009, Transport Minister Austin Gatt announced the lift project as part of the Renzo Piano plans for Valletta that included the rebuilding of City Gate, the Royal Opera House and a new Parliament building.

In March 2009 the government submitted a planning application for the construction of the lift. The full development permit was granted in September 2010. A month later, the government issued a tender for the design and build of the lift, which was awarded to a consortium made up of Mekanika Ltd, Polidano Group and JS Dimech Ltd.

The Barrakka Lift Project was designed by Messrs. Architecture Project, who were also responsible for obtaining the Planning Permit on behalf of the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation. The whole undertaking was financed through the European Regional Development Fund and given the deisgnation ERDF 183. The project was commissioned by Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation who were also the Project Managers.

The €2.5 million project, mostly funded by the EU, brings back a century-old link between Valletta and Grand Harbour.

The 58m high lift has two passenger cabins with a total capcity of 21 passengers and is able to carry up to 800 people per hour. Its concrete structure is covered with a honey-coloured aluminium mesh to blend in with the fortifications which have been restored.

In order to safeguard the newly-restored bastions, the lift is freestanding so as not to damage the fortifications.

Once the foundations were completed the next phase included the installation of reinforced concrete columns that support the lift.

The freestanding lift is built on foundations that contain 25 tonnes of metal buried 1.5 metres into the ground, said architect Stephen Grech who from May 2011 was overseeing the structural works.

lift foundations

On 12 August 2011 over 100 cubic metres of concrete were poured into the foundations of the panoramic lift that connects Lascaris ditch to Valletta’s Upper Barrakka planned to be ready by the end of 2012. The concrete structure was completed by late October 2012.


In March 2012 the core of the new Barrakka lift had risen more than half way up from Lascaris Ditch to the Upper Barrakka. In October 2012 the concrete structure was ready.



The new Barrakka lift was inaugurated by the prime minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, on Saturday 15 December 2012 at 1800 hrs..

The ceremony was held in Lascaris ditch, which was floodlit in different colours.

The whole lift structure was lit up when the lift was inaugurated by Dr Gonzi, who was accompanied by Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt.




It was the second landmark structure in Valletta to be inaugurated within a few months, the other being the breakwater bridge. The €2.5m project was carried out by the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation within the Infrastructure Ministry.

Work on the 58-metre high lift started in August 2011. The lift can carry a total of 800 people per hour, each of its two cabins taking up to 21 passengers. The lift is formed of a concrete structure covered by an aluminium mesh. The lifts are equipped with an automatic cut off safety device which is triggered during gale force winds.

It has been built on the same site as the lift which operated between 1905 and 1973. That lift carried 12 passengers in each of two cabins.

Users pay €1 each to use the lift, which reaches the top in a matter of seconds, offering breathless views of Grand Harbour along the way. The lift also connects the centre of Valletta with the Three Cities thanks to the new ferry service which began operating early December 2012. Ferry users are entitled to free same-day use of the lift.


1905   The original Barrakka Lift linking Grand Harbour with the city was inaugurated and operated by the same company that operated the tram service.
1973   The lift is closed down.
1883   Disused lift is dismantled.
2010   Planning authority gives go-ahead for new lift.
2012   New lift is inaugurated









The Barrakka Lift on Youtube


12 thoughts on “The Barrakka Lift”

  1. Great reference site for persons with a passion for Maltese history. You deserve an A+++

  2. Does anyone know of the incident which happened in 1940 where a young boy aged under 7 by the name of Joseph ‘Joey’ Vassallo died of injuries he sustained when his leg became caught in the Upper Barraka Garden lift. This story was told to me by an old cousin of my mother who lived in Hamrun Malta…I also have a photo of this young boy with his family..

  3. Thanks for the interesting article which I have an interest in.

    Please note that the original 1905 lift wasn’t constructed by the owners, Macartney, McElroy & Co. Ltd, but by Messrs. Joseph Richmond and Co. Limited of 30 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, London.

    Evidence for this can be found on page 612 of the publication ‘The Engineer’ June 15 1906.



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