Walled Cities and Fortified lines
Mdina, Città Vecchia, or Città Notabile, (Phoenician: Melita, Ancient Greek: Melitte, Μελίττη) is the old capital of Malta.
Mdina is a medieval walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the island. Punic remains uncovered beyond the city’s walls suggest the importance of the general region to Malta’s Phoenician settlers. Mdina is commonly called the “Silent City” by natives and visitors.
The town is still confined within its walls, and has a population of just over three hundred, but it is contiguous with the village of Rabat, which takes its name from the Arabic word for suburb, and has a population of over 11,000.
Evidence of settlements in Mdina goes back to over 4000 BC. It was possibly first fortified by the Phoenicians around 700 BC, because of its strategic location on one of the highest points on the island and as far from the sea as possible but owes its present architecture to the Arab period, from 870 until the Normans conquered Malta in 1091. They surrounded the city with thick defensive fortifications and a wide moat, separating it from its nearest town Rabat. When Malta had been under the control of the Roman Empire, the Roman Governor built his palace there. Legend has it that it was here, in around 60 CE, that the Apostle St. Paul lived after his (historical) shipwreck on the islands.
Mdina just before the 1693 earthquake.
A strong earthquake in 1693 destroyed a large number of buildings in Mdina including the cathedral (see diagram). After the earthquake the cathedral was rebuilt on the designs of the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa and Baroque elements were introduced to the cityscape.
Today, no cars (other than a limited number of residents, emergency vehicles, wedding cars and hearses) are allowed in Mdina, partly why it has earned the nickname ‘the Silent City’. The city displays an unusual mix of Norman and Baroque architecture, including several palaces, most of which serve as private homes. The impressive cathedral is fronted by a large square.
The Citadella (also called The Citadel) which lies in the heart of Victoria, Gozo, Malta, is an historic fortified city or castle. The Citadella is on Malta’s tentative list of future World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, who describe it as a small fortified town.
The area is known to have been first fortified during the Bronze Age c. 1500 BC. It was later developed by the Phoenicians and continued development until, by Roman times, it had become a complex Acropolis. Up until the 18th Century it was the only fortified refuge against attack for the inhabitants of the island.
The northern side of the Citadel dates back to the period of the Crown of Aragon, while the southern flank, overlooking Victoria, was re-constructed between 1599 and 1603 by the Knights of St. John. The massive defensive stone walls of the fortifications which rise above the town and were built by the Knights to protect the village communities from foraging corsairs attempting to take slaves and threatening invasion of Moslem forces fighting Christendom. In July 1551 a small Turkish force under Dragut attacked the Citadel, which succumbed with little resistance. Those taking refuge within its walls were taken as slaves and the castle reduced to ruins.
Within its walls lies a fine 17th century baroque Cathedral designed by Lorenzo Gafà, the Maltese architect who also built the Cathedral of Mdina. It is said that it lies on the site where a Roman temple dedicated to Juno once stood. It is most famous for the remarkable trompe l’oeil painting on its ceiling, which depicts the interior of a dome that was never built.
Old Prison is located within the citadel, as are the Courts of Justice.
Città Vittoriosa or Birgu is an ancient city in Malta. It played a vital role in the Siege of Malta in 1565. Its population stood at 2,758 in March 2011.
Birgu is a very old locality on the south side of the Grand Harbour in Malta, with its origins reaching back to medieval times. The city occupies a promontory of land with Fort St Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base. Birgu is ideally situated for safe anchorage, and over time it has developed a very long history with maritime, mercantile and military activities. Prior to the establishment of Valletta as capital and main city of Malta, military powers that wanted to rule the Maltese islands would need to obtain control of Birgu due to its significant position in the Grand Harbour.
Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, the Angevines, the Aragonese and the Order of the Knights of St. John all contributed to the development of Malta. Being driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire, the Knights were granted Malta as their new home. When the Knights arrived in 1530, they made Birgu their seat of Administration and Convent since the capital, Mdina, was inland and did not suit their naval requirements.
The city was fortified in 1551 and strengthened in 1554 in preparation for an attack by the Ottoman Empire. This included the strenthening of the Castle of St Angelo, a large fortification separated from the city by a narrow channel. The castle was connected to the city by means of a drawbridge and in 1530 was the only fortified place besides Mdina.
Birgu was the site of a major battle between the Knights and the Ottoman Empire during the Siege of Malta in 1565. After four months of successful defence by the Knights, the city was almost captured by the Ottoman army in August 1565, but was successfully defended by the Knights under the leadership of Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette. Fresh forces (the Gran Soccorso) arrived a month later, and the siege was abandoned by the Ottomans. After this, a new capital city was built on Mount Sceberras, bearing the name Valletta. In 1571, the Knights transferred their convent and seat to the new capital and Birgu lost much of its importance. After the Siege, Birgu was given the title Città Vittoriosa, Italian for “victorious city”.
In recent years, due to an agreement made by the Maltese Government with Sovereign Military Order of Malta, this Catholic Order of Knighthood has returned to the Island. This agreement, which has a duration of 99 years, grants the Knights of Malta the exclusive use of Upper Fort St Angelo in Birgu.
After the taking of Malta by Napoleon in 1798 and his eviction by the Maltese, the British were invited to Malta and the British Navy made Birgu its base in the Mediterranean, and remained there until 1979.
The parish church is dedicated to St. Lawrence. The saint’s day is celebrated on August 10. The feast starts on 31 July and continues till 10 August. St Lawrence feast is very popular for the decorations in the local streets. Also in Birgu is the Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation run by the Dominican Order. This church is also known as St. Dominic’s Church. The feast of Saint Dominic is held every last Sunday of August.
Birgu is the location of several tourist attractions. The historic Vittoriosa Waterfront includes the former Palace of the General of the Galleys and the Order of St John’s treasury. The area was refurbished in the early 2000s, and both buildings are used for other activities: the former is now a casino, while the latter is home to the Malta Maritime Museum. A second museum, the Vittoriosa 1565 Museum, is also located in the town and is dedicated to the siege and the battle in the town in 1565.
St. Lawrence’s Church, one of several churches in the parish, was once the Conventual Church of the Order of St John. Other churches in Birgu include the Monastery of St. Scholastica and the Our Lady of Annunciation Church, also known as St. Dominic’s Church. The Freedom Monument commemorates the departure of British forces from the island in 1979. Birgu also contains the Auberges of the Knights, including the Auberge d’Angleterre, for some time the home of the Knights of St John on the island, which now contains a public library.
At the centre of the Grand Harbour, the 16th-century fortification tower Fort St Angelo still stands. The central piazza in Birgu was badly damaged by bombing during World War II, but one 19th-century palace thought to have been designed by Giuseppe Bonavia survives, and is used as the headquarters of the St Lawrence Band Club.
In 1901, Birgu had a population of 6,093 people. After falling slightly over the following 20 years, this figure had increased to 6,673 in 1931. However, in 1948 the population stood at just 3,816, although it had increased slightly by 1957. The city’s population fell in the following four censuses, and in 2005 was recorded as 2,701. By 2011 the estimated value had risen slightly to 2,758.
Senglea (Maltese: L-Isla) is a fortified city in the east of Malta, mainly in the Grand Harbour area. It is one of the Three Cities in the east of Malta, the other two being Cospicua and Vittoriosa, and has a population of slightly below three thousand people. The city is also called Civitas Invicta, because it managed to resist the Ottoman invasion at the Great Siege of 1565. The proper name is Senglea since the grandmaster who built it, Claude De La Sengle, gave this city a part of his name.
The island on which Senglea lies was joined by a land bridge to Cospicua during the time of the Knights of St. John and as a result, it became peninsular in shape. During the time of the Knights of St. John, Senglea was also used as a hunting area, and was known as L’Isola di San Giuliano.
In 1311 St. Julian’s church or chapel was founded in Isola. This was the first building to be constructed on what later became Senglea. The foundation stone of Fort St.Michael was laid on 8 May 1552. Work on the fort, which was designed by Architect Pedro Pardo, was completed in 1553. Construction of the walled town Senglea took place during the following decade. The area, which had until the 1550s been known as Isola di San Giuliano or Isola di San Michele, was given city status by Grand Master Claude De La Sengle and was named after him.
Senglea played an important role in the Siege of Malta in 1565 and remained unconquered. The city was given the title Civitas Invicta (meaning “Unconquered City”) by Grand Master Jean Parisot De La Vallette. In 1581 Senglea became a Parish dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. The donation of the statue of Our Lady, popularly known as “Il-Bambina”, is estimated to have occurred in 1618. Many inhabitants of the city were killed in an outbreak of plague which affected Malta in 1676.
In 1798 Senglea was involved in the blockade against French forces, who were ousted from Malta in 1800. The city narrowly escaped being hit by another plague in 1813; a statue of Our Lady was erected in the city’s centre as a sign of gratitude.
The Parish Church was bestowed with the title of Basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. Senglean-born Ignazio Panzavecchia was elected as the first Prime Minister of Malta in the first Self Government Constitution in the same year. Because of his ecclesiastical status he decided not to take up the position. Following Panzavecchia’s refusal Joseph Howard was appointed as Prime Minister.
During the Second World War Senglea suffered heavy bombardments which devastated most of the city and killed many of its citizens. On 16 January 1941 a blitz by the Luftwaffe on HMS Illustrious, docked at the nearby Corradino, caused 21 fatalities and destroyed most of the city’s buildings including the Basilica. King George VI visited the devastated city on 20 June 1943.
The newly built Basilica was consecrated by Archbishop Sir Michael Gonzi on 24 August 1957. The following day the Basilica resumed its normal functions after almost 16 years and the statue of Marija Bambina was placed inside its new “temple” amongst huge celebrations.
Pope John Paul II visited Senglea in May 1990. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Luftwaffe bombing of the city, a monument which honours the local victims of both World Wars was unveiled besides the Basilica on 5 September 1991. The first Local Council of Senglea was formed after an election on 3 March 1994. The first mayor of city was Stephen Perici.
The Italian city of Cassino became a twin city with Senglea in 2003. In 2010 Senglea won a European Destinations of Excellence award for aquatic tourism.
Senglea is particularly famous for the statue of Jesus Christ The Redeemer (Ir-Redentur ta` l-Isla), located in the oratory of the basilica which is dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary (Marija Bambina).
The local band club is currently named “Socjeta’ Filarmonika La Vincitrice”. The city’s semi-professional football team Senglea Athletic was formed in 1934 to replace the defunct Senglea United side.
With an area of just over half a square mile, Senglea is Malta’s smallest locality. It is also its most densely populated. A March 2011 estimate put its population at 2,964. Around the start of the 20th century, Senglea had more than 8200 people, making it the most densely populated town in Europe. At the time, Senglea, as well as Cospicua, were the centre of Malta’s elite and intelligentsia. The Second World War rapidly altered its social structure as many left to take refuge in outlying towns and villages, never to return. In recent years, rehabilitation of the Cottonera Waterfront as a yacht marina has spurred a lot of interest from foreign expatriates and businessmen.
Valletta is the capital of Malta, colloquially known as Il-Belt (English: The City) in Maltese. It is located in the central-eastern portion of the island of Malta, and the historical city has a population of 6,966. Valletta is the second southernmost capital of the EU member states after Nicosia.
Valletta contains buildings from the 16th century onwards, built during the rule of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as Knights Hospitaller. The city is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture in selected areas, though World War II left major scars on the city. The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.
The city was named after Jean Parisot de Valette, who succeeded in defending the island from an Ottoman invasion in 1565. The official name given by the Order of Saint John was Humilissima Civitas Valletta — The Most Humble City of Valletta, or Città Umilissima in Italian. The bastions, curtains and ravelins along with the beauty of its Baroque palaces, gardens and churches, led the ruling houses of Europe to give the city its nickname Superbissima — Most Proud.
Immediately after the end of the Siege of Malta in 1565, the Order decided to found a new city on the Xiberras peninsula to fortify the Order’s position in Malta and bind the Knights to the island. The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by the Grandmaster of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette on 28 March 1566. De Valette placed the first stone in Our Lady of Victories Church.
In his book Dell’Istoria della Sacra Religione et Illustrissima Militia di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano (English: The History of the Sacred Religion and Illustrious Militia of St John of Jerusalem), written between 1594 and 1602, Giacomo Bosio writes that when the cornerstone of Valletta was placed, a group of Maltese elders said: “Iegi zimen en fel wardia col sceber raba iesue uquie” (Which in modern Maltese reads, “Jiġi żmien li fil-Wardija [l-Għolja Sciberras] kull xiber raba’ jiswa uqija”, and in English, “There will come a time when every piece of land on Sciberras Hill will be worth its weight in gold”).
Grand Master de Valette died on 21 August 1568 at age 74 and never saw the completion of his city. Originally interred in the church of Our Lady of the Victories, his remains now rest in St. John’s Co-Cathedral among the tombs of other Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta. Francesco Laparelli was the city’s principal designer and his plan departed from medieval Maltese architecture, which exhibited irregular winding streets and alleys. He designed the new city on a rectangular grid, and without any collacchio (an area restricted for important buildings). The streets were designed to be wide and straight, beginning centrally from the City Gate and ending at Fort Saint Elmo overlooking the Mediterranean; certain bastions were built 153 feet (47 m) tall. The Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar was responsible for a number of the buildings. After the Knights’ departure and the brief French occupation, building projects in Valletta resumed under British rule. These projects included widening gates, demolishing and rebuilding structures, widening newer houses over the years, and installing civic projects. Nazi and Fascist air raids throughout World War II caused much destruction. The Royal Opera House, constructed at the city entrance in the 19th century, was one of the buildings lost to the raids. In 1980, the 24th Chess Olympiad took place in Valletta.
The Valletta peninsula has two natural harbours, Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour. The Grand Harbour is Malta’s major port, with unloading quays at Marsa. A cruise-liner terminal is located along the old seawall of the Valletta Waterfront that Grandmaster Manuel Pinto de Fonseca built.
Valletta’s streets and piazzas contain architecture ranging from early 16th century Baroque to Modernism. The city serves as the island’s principal cultural centre and its unique collection of churches, palaces and museums attract visitors from around the world. When Benjamin Disraeli, future British Prime Minister, visited the city in 1830, he described it as “a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen,” and remarked that “Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe,” and in other letters called it “comparable to Venice and Cádiz” and “full of palaces worthy of Palladio.”
Buildings of historic importance include St John’s Co-Cathedral, formerly the Conventual Church of the Knights of Malta. It has the only signed work and largest painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The Auberge de Castille et Leon, formerly the official seat of the Knights of Malta of the Langue of Castille, Léon and Portugal, is now the office of the Prime Minister of Malta. The Magisterial Palace, built between 1571 and 1574 and formerly the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, now houses the Maltese Parliament and offices of the President of Malta.
The National Museum of Fine Arts is a Rococo palace dating back to the late 1570s, which served as the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet during the British era from 1789 onwards. The Manoel Theatre (Maltese: Teatru Manwel) was constructed in just ten months in 1731, by order of Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena, and is one of the oldest working theatres in Europe. The Mediterranean Conference Centre was formerly the Sacra Infermeria. Built in 1574, it was one of Europe’s most renowned hospitals during the Renaissance. The fortifications of the port, built by the Knights as a magnificent series of bastions, demi-bastions, ravelins and curtains, approximately 100 metres (330 ft) high, all contribute to the unique architectural quality of the city.
Public housing is located within Valletta’s walls. Originally the Order planned to construct for its navy a man-made anchorage in the area known as Manderaggio (Maltese: il-Mandraġġ), but never completed this plan. Instead, the area became a jumble of buildings with dark alleyways. In the 1950s the city partially demolished the Manderaggio, and rebuilt it as a housing estate.
Our Lady of Victories Church was the first building completed in Valletta, built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578. The body of Jean Parisot de Valette was entombed there until the construction of St. John’s Co-Cathedral, commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the conventual church of the Knights of Malta. The Church was designed by the Maltese military architect Gerolamo Cassar, architect of the Knights of Malta. St Francis of Assisi Church (Maltese: San Franġisk t’Assisi) was erected in 1598 but significantly rebuilt through the munificence of Grand Master Gregorio Carafa in 1681. The Parish Church of St Augustine (Maltese: il-Knisja ta’ Santu Wistin) is contemporary to the creation of Valletta and its foundation stone was laid in 1571. It was built according to the plan and guidance of Cassar. The church was rebuilt in 1765 by Giuseppe Bonnici, and was elevated to parish church in 1968.
A Maltese Jesuit, Fra Andrea, opened a conservatory for girls in 1692 through charitable collections from the Knights of Malta and wealthy Maltese. Christ the Redeemer Church (Maltese: Kristu Redentur), commonly known as Sagaramentini Church for the Perpetual Adoration, is part of this building. The Church of the Jesuits (Maltese: il-Knisja tal-Ġiswiti) is among the oldest churches in the City. St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus in 1534, had considered founding a college in Malta as early as 1553. Through a letter dated 28 March 1592, Pope Clement XIII solicited the setting up of the Jesuit College and its church.
The Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck (Maltese: San Pawl tal-Ħġejjeġ) contains the wooden statue of St. Paul the Apostle carved in 1657 by Melchiorre Gafà, brother of Lorenzo Gafà who renovated the church in 1680. The church contains two first-class relics, the right wrist-bone of St. Paul and part of the column on which he was beheaded in Rome. The Franciscan Church of St Mary of Jesus, popularly known as Ta’ Ġieżu in Maltese, was built in 1571, following Cassar’s design. The façade was replaced in 1680 by Mederico Blondel, a French architect. Numerous Grandmasters contributed lavishly towards the embellishment of the church, which hosts various works of art. These include the Miraculous Crucifix brought to Malta from Sicily in 1630 and a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows by Stefano Erardi. The Blessed Nazju Falzon is entombed within the Franciscan Church.
Other Roman Catholic churches in Valletta include Our Lady of Pilar Church, the Carmelite Church, Our Lady of Liesse Church, St. James Church, St. Barbara Church (offering services in French, English and German), Our Lady of Damascus (a Byzantine Rite Catholic church), St. Lucy Church, St. Roch Church, St. Catherine of Italy Church (offering services in Italian), St. Nicholas Church (known as the ‘Church of All Souls’), St. Catherine of Alexandria Church, and the church of Porto Salvo & St. Dominic (accredited as the first Basilica in Malta in the Bolla Pont by Pope Pius V). There are several Protestant churches in Valletta, catering to the needs of minority denominations. St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral is a Pro-Cathedral, commissioned by Queen Adelaide on a visit to Malta, when she discovered there was no permanent place of worship for Anglicans on the island. St. Andrew’s Scots Church is a joint congregation (a “Local Ecumenical Partnership”) of the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church of Great Britain. For Church of Scotland purposes it is part of the Presbytery of Europe.
Some of these palaces served as the auberge for a particular langue of Knights, although some knights also had their own private residences.
The Magisterial Palace of the Grandmaster currently houses the House of Representatives of Malta and the office of the President of Malta.
The palace is built around two courtyards, one of which is dominated by a statue of Neptune. There are two entrances in the front and one entrance from Piazza Regina just west of the National Library.
The Armoury, housing one of the finest collections of Medieval and Renaissance weapons in all of Europe, runs the width of the back of the palace.
The palace also features Gobelins tapestries and frescos by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio (a student of Michelangelo) among other treasures.
The Auberge de Castille was the official seat of the knights of the Langue of Castille, León and Portugal – one of the most powerful of the Order, its Head being the Grand Chancellor. The Knights of this Langue were responsible for the defence of part of the fortifications of Valletta known as the St Barbara Bastion. The original Auberge was built by the renowned Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar in 1574, and later extensively re-modelled and virtually rebuilt in 1741. The Auberge d’Aragon is a palace also designed by Girolamo Cassar, in 1571 five years after the establishment of the city. The residents of the palace were initially knights of Aragon, Navarre, and Catalonia. The Auberge de Provence is another of Cassar’s masterpieces of Renaissance architecture, built between 1571-75 as residence of the Langue de Provence, its Head, the “Gran Commandeur” being the Treasurer of the Order. From 1824 to 1954 the building housed the British officers’ Union Club, and is now the National Museum of Archeology.
Construction for the Auberge d’Italie was begun in 1574. The building was constructed around an arcaded courtyard and received considerable alteration in the 17th century. Situated in the upper part of Merchants street and in front of another notable building, Palazzo Parisio, it has a fine façade designed by Romano Carapecchia. It now houses the Malta Tourism Authority. Opposite the Jews’ Sally Port (Maltese: Il-Fossa) is the Auberge de Bavière, built in 1696). Originally intended as a private palace, from 1784 on it was used to accommodate Bavarian and English knights. Casa Rocca Grande was built by Fra Pietro La Rocca, Prior of Santo Stefano, towards the end of the 16th century, and formed part of a magnificent palace with double entrances in the style of the Grandmaster’s Palace. It was later divided into two palaces, Palazzo Marina and Messina Palace. For a short time the palace used by the Maltese Government as the Department of Education and later as the Ministry of Education. Messina Palace was leased to the German-Maltese Circle in 1975 until its purchase by the Circle with the financial assistance of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1989.
Casa Rocca Piccola is one of the last remaining unconverted palaces currently inhabited by the nobility, in this case the de Piro family. The palace is open to the public; it is the only occupied aristocratic residence in Valletta open to the public. Opposite the ruins of the Royal Opera House stands Palazzo Ferreria. Its façade resembles a Venetian palace. Popularly known as Palazzo Francia, surname of the family that built and owned it, it originally housed the Knights’ foundry – hence the name Ferreria. It today houses a number of offices and retail outlets.
In the early 18th century, Bishop Sceberras had the Palazzo Parisio built on the site of two former houses in Merchants’ Street, then known as Strada San Giacomo. The Palazzo Parisio consists of three elements, each two storeys high, enclosing a central courtyard, all in a Neo-Classical style. Napoleon Bonaparte stayed there briefly after taking Valletta on 11 June 1798. Left dilapidated by the late 19th century, it was sold to the Government and fully restored and refurbished. Palazzo Parisio formally opened its doors to the public under the British on 8 May 1886, as Malta’s General Post Office. This palace is not to be confused with the Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar, a private property.
The Palazzo Castellania is located along Merchants’ Street and was begun to the designs of Maltese architect Francesco Zerafa in 1748. It replaced an earlier building and housed the Civil and Criminal Courts. Zerafa died in 1758 and Giuseppe Bonici was called in to complete the building, which he did by 1760. The building’s centrepiece shows stone figures of Justice and Truth. The National Museum of Fine Arts is housed in a palace on South Street, and was formerly known as Admiralty House when it became the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Mediterranean fleet. The building dates back to the late 1570s. The palace was the private residence of a succession of knights of the Order of St John. It was opened as a museum in 1974, as a repository of Malta’s permanent national art collection.
The National Museum of Fine Arts is home to works of art that were originally displayed in buildings of the Order, such as the Grand Master’s palaces and churches, as well as paintings by Mattia Preti and J. M. W. Turner. Prior to its conversion into a museum, it was a residence. The Order acquired the building in the mid-18th century and transformed it into a Rococo palace. After the departure of the Order from Malta in 1798, the State took over the administration of the building and its contents.
Paintings and sculptures were brought together in the early years of the 20th century and formed the core of the Fine Arts Collection within the National Museum by 1922. Subsequently, individuals and organisations made important donations and bequests to the collection, in addition to acquisitions made throughout the years. The highlight of the 19th century collection is a watercolour by J. M. W. Turner of the Grand Harbour. A number of Old Master works, including as drawings by Pietro Perugino (1450–1523), Vittore Carpaccio (1465–1526) and Mattia Preti (1613–1699), may be viewed under controlled lighting.
The Grandmaster’s Palace Armoury Museum exhibits a collection of full suits of armour, arms and guns dating back to the 15th century. During the 1850s, the British Government intended to remove the collection to London. Although they removed some items, local opposition blocked the complete looting of the collection. Instead, in 1860 the Armory was officially opened as Malta’s first public museum. The collection of Renaissance weapons and armour is unique and includes suits of armor that belonged to grandmasters Fra Martin Garzes and Fra Alof de Wignacourt, as well as suits of parade armour that expert armourers had created. The museum displays Italian, German, French and Spanish arms and a number of ornate bronze cannons.
The National War Museum is located within Fort Saint Elmo, a focal point during the Great Siege that rose to prominence once again during World War II. The Museums Department and the National War Museum Association established the museum, which opened to the public in 1975; the museum reopened in 2008 after having been closed for more than a year for refurbishment. The museum building was originally a powder magazine; during the Second World War anti-aircraft gun crews trained there. The Museum highlights Malta’s military role in the post-1800 period under British rule, and memorializes especially the suffering and the heroism that characterised Malta during the Second World War.
The museum offers a walking tour through history, from World War One to the Inter-Wars period, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942 and so on. It includes a Memorial area, with photographic panels that depict the conditions that prevailed in Malta during the War years 1940-1943. These photographs show the hardships the civilian population endured, the extent of war damage, the unhealthy living conditions within underground shelters and above all, the people who withstood the siege. The museum’s main hall has several World War II relics: an Italian E-Boat, a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, the Willys Jeep (“Husky”), and the Gloster Gladiator (“Faith”). Also on display are the George Cross, awarded to the people of Malta by King George VI, the Book of Remembrance of civilians and servicemen killed during the years 1940-43 and the illuminated Scroll that President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented to the “People and Defenders of Malta” in 1943, as well as awards and decorations to individual Maltese servicemen and civilians during WWII for their bravery and sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty.
The Auberge De Provence houses the National Museum of Archaeology. This palace once served knights from the langue of Provence. The Museum features artifacts from Malta’s Neolithic culture, displaying objects collected from the first free-standing structures built on Earth, 5,500 years ago. The National Museum of Archaeology displays an exceptional array of artifacts from Malta’s prehistoric periods starting with the first arrival of man in the Ghar Dalam phase (5200 BC) and running up to the Tarxien phase (2500 BC). The collection includes obsidian cores and the Red Skorba figurines, which are predecessors of temple period objects and statuary, as well as pottery, worked flint, beads and other ornaments.
The museum’s main hall is devoted to temple carvings, in particular the giant statue and altar blocks from the Neolithic Tarxien Temples. The collection continues with representations of animals, temple models and human figures. There are statuettes of the “Sleeping Lady” (Maltese: Mara Rieqda) found in the Hypogeum, and the “Venus” (Maltese: Venere) of Hagar Qim. There is also a large top floor salon with painted walls and a wooden beamed ceiling, currently displaying plans by Renzo Piano for the renovation of the entrance to Valletta. The building was inaugurated as the National Museum in 1958. The nearby Manoel Theatre Museum presents the history of Valletta’s first playhouse, one of the oldest in Europe. It traces the history of theatre on the Maltese Islands through displays of memorabilia assembled from a wide range of sources, both public and private, including donations from private collectors. Works in the Maltese language are also displayed. The Domus Pauli Museum is located within an extension of the Chapter Hall of the Collegiate Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck. The museum, located in St Paul’s Street, exhibits antique and precious items from St Paul’s Shipwreck Church, including relics of St Paul.
St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum adjoins the Co-Cathedral and contains Medieval and Renaissance art objects, together with ecclesiastical artifacts. Among the contents of the museum are the tapestries of Grandmaster Fra Ramon Perellos y Roccaful, portraits of Grandmasters Fra Jean de la Cassiere, Fra Nicolas Cotoner and Fra Manuel Pinto da Fonseca and paintings that were once kept in the Co-Cathedral’s many side chapels such as “St George killing the Dragon” by Francesco Potenzano. The museum displays a number of bronze and plaster sculptures by the Maltese artist Antonio Sciortino (1879–1947) and paintings by Edward Caruana Dingli (1876–1950). There is also a display of Maltese silverware from the national collection, including liturgical artifacts from churches that formerly belonged to the Order, as well as a collection of silver snuffboxes among other silverware. There are various other displays and exhibits. Valletta’s Toy Museum contains an extensive collection of Corgi, Dinky and Matchbox cars. Its three floors house other Maltese and international toys, which date from the 1950s onwards.
Manoel Theatre (Maltese: Teatru Manwel) is Europe’s third-oldest working theatre. Located on Old Theatre Street, it is now Malta’s National Theatre and home to the National Orchestra of Malta. The Manoel is a small, six-hundred and twenty-three seat venue with a lavish, oval-shaped auditorium, three tiers of boxes constructed entirely of wood and decorated with 22-carat gold leaf and a pale blue, trompe-l’oeil ceiling that resembles a rounded cupola. Boris Christoff, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, John Neville, Magda Olivero, Michael Ponti, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dame Margaret Rutherford, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sir Donald Wolfit have all graced its stage. Visiting companies have included Nottingham Playhouse, the Comédie-Française and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.
The theatre was bombed to the ground during World War II in 1942. The space is still used for present day performances and plans to re-build or somehow renovate the area are at a stalemate.
The Maltese government has commissioned architect Renzo Piano to build a new Royal Opera House. This is part of a project to renovate the entrance to Valletta. Piano’s plans remained the subject of fierce controversy.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens (Maltese: Il-Barrakka ta’ Fuq) offer a panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. They were first constructed in 1661 for the private use of knights from the Italian langue. It was not before 1824 that the gardens were opened to the public. The garden suffered extensive damage throughout the Second World War.
The garden paths are lined with busts, statues and plaques illustrating various personalities and significant events from Maltese history. Of special interest are the bronze group by Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino, entitled Les Gavroches (English: the Street Urchins). Its depiction of three running children reflects those extreme hardships faced by the people of Malta at the turn of the 20th century. Also overlooking the Grand Harbour and Breakwater, the Lower Barrakka Gardens (Maltese: Il-Barrakka t’Isfel) offer views of Fort Ricasoli, Bighi Palace, Fort St Angelo and the creeks of Vittoriosa and Kalkara. The gardens contain two major monuments, one dedicated to Sir Alexander Ball and another in remembrance of the Great Siege of Malta. Sir Alexander Ball led Maltese insurgents against the French in the 1798 uprising, and went on to become the first British Governor of Malta.
Located on top of the bastions on the west side of City Gate, Hastings Gardens (Maltese: Ġnien Hastings) affords clear views of Sliema, Manoel Island and Marsamxett Harbour. The garden houses a monument built by the Hastings family dedicated to Francis, Marquis of Hastings, Governor of Malta. He died in 1827 en route to Naples and his body was returned for burial in this garden.
Fort Saint Elmo (Maltese: Forti Sant’Iermu) stands on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula, dividing Marsamxett Harbour from the Grand Harbour. Since the mid-20th century, Fort Saint Elmo has housed Malta’s police academy. The War Museum also occupies part of the Fort. It commands the entrances to both harbours and prior to the arrival of the Knights of Malta in 1530, a watchtower existed on this point. Reinforcement of this strategic site commenced in 1533. By the time of the Ottoman Siege of Malta in 1565, this fortification had been reinforced and extended into a modest star fort. Fort Saint Elmo was the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the siege, and withstood massive bombardment from Turkish cannon deployed from batteries on the north arm of Marsamextt Harbour, present site of Fort Tigne.
During the bombardment of the fort, a cannon shot from Fort St Angelo across the Grand Harbour struck the ground close to the Turkish battery. Debris from the impact mortally injured the corsair and Admiral Turgut Reis (Maltese: Dragut), an Ottoman hero. Though the fort was reduced to rubble during the bombardments, when the Ottomans abandoned the siege the fort was rebuilt and reinforced, becoming partially incorporated into the seaward bastion of the fortress city of Valletta. Faced with the continuing threat of Turkish attack and the weaknesses caused by the Great Siege of Malta (1565), the Knights of Malta were made to decide whether to abandon the island or attempt its restoration. Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette preferred to stay and ask for aid, which promptly arrived from several quarters, most notably Pope Pius V, who sent not only financial assistance but also the famed military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Cortona. It is Laparelli, succeeded by Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar, who masterminded the plan of Valletta as we see it today.
Saint James Cavalier (Maltese: Il-Kavallier ta’ San Ġakbu) was designed by Laparelli and Cassar, as a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend the city against attacks from the land (Floriana) side. As well as prohibiting entry, St James could threaten those who had already breached the city’s defences. Under the British, St. James was converted into an officers’ mess. During the latter part of British rule, St. James was turned into a food store, known as the NAAFI. St James is now a “Centre for Creativity”, hosting various theatrical and musical performances, also providing installation and gallery space. Its interior was extensively renovated by Maltese architect Richard England alongside Michael Ellul. The design received a mixed reception from the Maltese public. The national heritage organization Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna protested against the removal of a rare World War II gas shelter and other historical remains from the British period. While the restoration of St James Cavalier was intended as the first phase in a larger project aiming to radically alter Valletta, it has so far been halted at planning stages and is the subject of much local controversy.
The Phoenicians erected a tower on the site now occupied by the city, a tower that the Greeks and Romans also used. Today, various sentry posts and lookout towers still exist across the city bastions. The Knights built the present watchtowers, which every succeeding conquering power since has used. The watchtowers are placed at strategic locations throughout the city, most prominently towards its rear and main entrance.
These watchtowers vary in design but are generally rounded and bear armorial or symbolic carvings on their exterior. One common motif, especially in restored examples, is the eye. One can also find this symbol on the sides of dgħajes and luzzijiet, traditional Maltese boats. The present City Gate (Bieb il-Belt) is the fourth to have stood at the entrance to Valletta. The military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Carotona designed the original gate, known as Porta San Giorgio, which was erected between April 1566 and 1569. During the rule of Grand Master Antoine de Paule, the Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli designed a more ornate gate that replaced the Porta in 1632. In 1853, at the height of British rule, a certain Col. Thompson of the Royal Engineers designed and erected a new gate consisting of two central arches with two smaller ones. This gate, which survived for slightly more than a century, was known as Porta Reale, Putirjal in Maltese and Kingsgate in English. The Independence celebrations in 1964 inaugurated the present gate, whose Italian modernist design remains the source of much controversy. A new city gate is now part of the renovation schemes in Valletta. The new gate is designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and construction starts 2010 finishing in 2013.
The Triton Fountain is situated in the centre of Valletta’s main bus terminus, surrounded by shops and cafes. The Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap designed the fountain’s statues in 1959, modeling them after Classical and Baroque examples. The Knights constructed the Castellania, which faces the harbour, as the city’s law courts. The architect Francesco Zerafa designed the building and construction began in 1760 during the reign of Grand Master Manuel Pinto de Fonseca, who died two years before the building’s completion. The façade includes florid stone-work and de Fonseca’s crescent emblem. On the sides of the first floor balcony there stand two statues that the Sicilian sculptor Maestro Gian created to represent Justice and Truth. A pillory stone resides in the apex of the building’s corner, for those convicted and sentenced to death after the Priest’s Revolt of 1775. Above the stone is a hook, used to lift the church bells, or to hang prisoners sentenced to death. Physician and archaeologist Sir Themistocles Zammit discovered the Mediterranean strain of brucellosis in 1905 at the Castellania.
The Valletta Waterfront, in nearby Floriana, is composed of nineteen 250 year old warehouses built by Grand Master Pinto, stretching along the water’s edge and the Quay Wall. Also part of the Waterfront are the Forni Stores, built in 1626 at the order of Grand Master de Vilhena. These restored buildings now provide retail, dining and leisure outlets.
One of the most imposing buildings in Valletta is the former “Sacra Imfermeria” of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, now popularly known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre. It is located adjacent to Fort St Elmo, overlooking the Grand Harbour. Work on this vast edifice started during late 1574 during the reign of Grand Master Jean de la Cassière (1572–82) and was extended several times over the years. The “Old Ward” which is the main attraction was extended into the “Great Ward” during the years 1660 to 1666 under the rule of the Cotoners. This hall measuring 155 metres in length, was at that time one of the largest in Europe and was described as “one of the grandest interiors in the world”. The Sacra Infermeria was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe and could accommodate 914 patients. In 1676, Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner founded the School of Anatomy and Surgery at the Infirmary, considered to be among the oldest hospitals in Europe. This school was to be the forerunner of the Medical School of the University of Malta.
When the Order of St John of Jerusalem left the Maltese Islands, the French took over the Infirmary in June 1798, just after the occupation of the Island by General Napoleon Bonaparte. The Infirmary now became known as “Grand Hopital”. From 1800 till 1918 during the British Rule, the Centre served as a Station Hospital. Situated very near to the Grand Harbour, the hospital was within easy reach of the sick and wounded servicemen as hospital ships brought them in. Between 1950-51 it was turned into a Children’s Theatre and later served as an Examinations Hall. The building was finally transformed into the present Mediterranean Conference Centre in 1978. The Centre was inaugurated on 11 February 1979 and was awarded the coveted Europa Nostra Diploma of Merit for the “superb restoration of the Sacra Infermeria and its adaptation for use as a conference centre.”
The remains of the Nibbia Chapel of Bones next door to the Sacra Infermeria are being given a face-lift. Built by the knight Fra Giorgio Nibbia in 1612, the walls of the chapel were covered with human skulls, bones and even complete skeletons. It was the chapel of the cemetery of the Sacra Infermeria, which has since been restored and now functions as the Mediterranean Conference Centre, located in the present grounds of the Evans Building. The Nibbia Chapel was a domed, octagonally-shaped building and is known so after Fra Giorgio Nibbia who was buried there. Its façade consisted of a large portal panel having the main door set within two clustered sets of Doric pilasters on each side. The door’s architrave was adorned with a marble plaque at the centre and topped by a broken rounded pediment. A thin cornice separated the upper section which was made up of a central light arched window set between two smaller clusters of pilasters and running scrolls. Above the whole was a triangular pediment.
The ossuary, popularly known as the Chapel of Bones, was a vaulted underground crypt, possibly beneath the Nibbia chapel, but could also have been in close vicinity, and is reputed to be still extant, where bones from a cemetery of those who had died at the Sacra Infermeria were placed in patterns and designs as mural decorations, hence its name. The Latin inscription on the single altar lamented the ephemerity of life and requested prayers for the dead. The chapel was destroyed by enemy action during the second World War and dismantled after 1953, but some ruins and a few photos taken before the war remain.
The National Library began in 1555. It is currently the legal deposit and copyright for Malta. Its collection spans the personal libraries of the Knights of Malta (also the archives and treasury manuscripts of that order), including archives from the medieval [Università dei Giurati] of Mdina and Valletta. The idea of a public Library in Malta began with the issue of a decree by Fra’ Claude de la Sengle, Grand Master of the Knights, whereby all books in the legacy of deceased knights were to pass to the Common Treasury of the Order. It was not until 1776, however, that the formal foundation of a Bibliotheca Publica was decreed at the Chapter General of the Order convened by Grand Master de Rohan. The main collections were those belonging to Fra’ Louis Guérin de Tencin.
In 1925 the Library acquired its “legal deposit” status by an Act of Parliament; 11 years later was granted the prefix “Royal” by King George V of the United Kingdom. The following year the Royal Malta Library took over the custody of the Archives of the Order of St John which were transferred from the Public Registry premises. With the setting up of the new Public Library in Floriana in 1976, the Library in Valletta was officially designated as the “National Library of Malta” and became solely a research and reference Library. In its capacity as National Library the mission of the Bibliotheca is to acquire, catalogue and preserve manuscripts and all printed books, as well as periodicals and journals issued in Malta.
With the fall of Candia in 1670, the Order – conscious of the half-finished state of the Santa Margerita Lines and their limitations – decided to immediately embark on a new line of fortifications so as to better protect Cottonera and eventually the Grand Harbour area.
The Cottonera Lines were designed by Valperga as a five kilometre line of fortification that comprises of eight bastions that join the extremities of the front lines of Vittoriosa and Senglea from the Post of Castille to Fort St Michael. These were intended to encircle Vittoriosa, Cospicua, Senglea, the San Salvatore Hills, as well as the half-finished Santa Margerita Lines of Cospicua. The scheme was expected to provide shelter for some 40,000 people and their livestock. It was approved on the 2nd April 1670, and the foundation stone was laid on the 28th August 1670 on the site of St Nicholas Bastion.
Count Vernada, while favouring the original eight-bastion layout, preferred that the enceinte be extended in both directions to enclose Corradino Hills, Bighi and the Rinella peninsula. This was an ambitious project since it entailed a high cost and a long time before it was completed. Indeed these plans were never realised.
The French engineer Mederico Blondel designed the majestic seven gates that provide access through these walls. These are namely Our Saviour’s Gate, St Louise’s Gate, St James’ Gate, Notre Dame Gate, St Nicholas’ Gate, St John’s Gate and St Paul’s Gate. The latter, together with a part of the fortifications, was dismantled during the expansion of the Naval Dockyard at the beginning of the 20th Century.
By the death of Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner (1663-80), the main body of the enceinte had been laid down, but Grandmaster Gregorio Carafa (1680-90) had to suspend and virtually abandon the project because of a lack of funds. Also priority had to be given to the Floriana fortifications and as a result the planned ravelins and cavalier, together with the ditch and covert way, were never built.
Under Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-36), the project was again revived with the construction of the St Lawrence demi-bastion, the connecting of St Ursula’s platform with San Salvatore Bastion, and the completion of Fort Salvatore in 1724 – on the very site where once the Turks’ heavy artillery breached the Post of Castille at point blank range.
Nevertheless the works on the Santa Margerita Lines, Fort Ricasoli, and the Cottonera Lines during the 17th Century delineated and eventually consolidated the land phase of the Cottonera Region. At the same time, the building of Valletta on the other side of the Grand Harbour gave the latter a holistic identity with both sides related to and complementing each other.
The Cottonera enceinte was more or less completed between 1723 and 1761 but as with the Santa Margerita Lines it was never fully constructed as planned. Yet the Santa Margerita Lines, and more-so the Cottonera Lines rendered the Vittoriosa and Senglea land-front defences practically obsolete. This is illustrated by the fact that they played no part in the 1798 events. It was however ironic that such an enormous system of bastions and curtains as the Santa Margerita and Cottonera Lines, that were built over the span of a century at such a great sacrifice and cost, could not be properly manned when Napoleon’s troops approached its walls in 1798. The gates were opened without this impressive and massive fortifications’ ever being put to the test.
Città Cottonera, Città Cospicua, Cospicua (Maltese: Bormla) is a double-fortified harbour city. It is the largest of the Three Cities. It is situated between the other two towns which make up Cottonera which are Vittoriosa (Birgu) and Senglea (Isla). These three towns form part of the area surrounding the Grand Harbour and are found on the eastern side of the capital city Valletta. Its population was 5,658 as of March 2011.
Cospicua has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Prior to the 18th century it was known as Bormla, a name which is still in use. Its fortification walls, constructed to protect the town and its neighbours Birgu and Isla, were built by the Knights of Malta. Construction began in 1638 but took 70 years to be completed. In 1722, Grand Master Marc’Antonio Zondadari declared Bormla a city and in view of its strong bastions named it Città Cospicua.
Its maritime facilities started during ancient times around the Phoenician era c. 600 BC. In 1776, the Order of St. John started a dockyard, which was to play a vital role in the development of this city. During the British Era, the navy made extensive use of the dockyard, particularly during the Crimean War, the First World War and during the years preceding the Second World War.
Cospicua celebrates its feast which is held annually on 8 December in honour of the Immaculate Conception. Cospicua is known for its celebration of Good Friday, which began in the 18th century. A statue of the Resurrection of Jesus is traditionally carried across the city’s streets to symbolize Jesus’ triumph over death.
The people of Cospicua started the famous and artistic first ‘Mejda tal-Appostli’, which literally means, the table of the Apostles. It consists of a display showing the food that was eaten during the Last Supper of Jesus and the 12 Apostles. It also consists of different stories from the Bible made with coloured rice and salt on plates (these are done separately).
Cospicua’s football team is the St. George’s F.C., thought to be the oldest on the island. Documentation shows that by 1885 there were already three football teams at Cospicua which merged to form the current club in 1890. Cospicua is also famous for its Regatta team which was one of the first.
The 1st Cospicua Scout Group was formed in 1917. The St. George’s Band Club was officially founded in 1862. Its first name was ‘La Banda dei Cospicuani’ but when Giorgio Crispo Barbaro, Marquis of St. George, became first president of the Band the name was changed to the present one.
The Floriana Lines are a line of fortifications outside the capital city of Malta, Valletta. They were built in the 17th Century during the reign of Grand Master Antoine de Paule, who asked to bring over Italian military engineer Pietro Paolo Floriani for advice on the improvement of the defences of Malta. He designed a new line of fortification outside Valletta, today the town of Floriana.
Floriana is named after the Italian military engineer Pietro Paolo Floriani from Macerata who was responsible for building the town’s fortifications.
However, the actual building of Floriana as a residential town was the work of the Portuguese Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena, causing Floriana to be known by the nicknames Borgo Vilhena or Citta Vilhena. Floriana was intended to be a suburb of Valletta but then for various reasons, Grand Master Vilhena changed his mind and renamed this suburb Floriana, thus developing it as a town in its own right.
The town of Floriana is situated a stone’s throw away from the capital city Valletta. The origins of Floriana date back to 1634 when Grand Master De Paule, sensing another attack from the Ottoman Turks, brought over an Italian engineer, Pietro Paolo Floriani to examine the state of the Islands’ fortifications.
His recommendations were to the effect that in the stretch of land just outside Valletta other fortifications were necessary to prevent a situation whereby the enemy would see directly into the capital city.
Notwithstanding some initial opposition, works on the fortifications were eventually taken in hand and these were completed in 1721 ending at what is today Porte des Bombes, having an extension of over 4 km.
With the accession of Fra Anton Manoel de Vilhena to the post of Grand Master in 1722 this town was given the name Borgo Vilhena. However, the residents still kept calling their own town Floriana and so it has remained to this day.
Today, Floriana has a population of around 2300 inhabitants; somewhat low considering that in 1860 the population had reached a peak of 7,871. It covers an area of 133 acres, extending from City Gate to Porte des Bombes, an enceinte better know as the inner and outer defenses. At its highest central point Floriana is about 125 feet above sea level.
Fort Chambray was a fort situated in the precincts of Għajnsielem, on the island of Gozo, Malta. This fortress was built in the area of Ras it-Tafal’ which is situated between the port of Mġarr and that of Xatt l-Ahmar.
In its 250-year life, the fort experienced only one brief military adventure. In 1798, it was Gozo’s defence against the revolutionary forces of Napoleon. During the remaining years of the Knights’ rule in Malta, the fortress never experienced any attack mainly due to the decline of the Berber and Turkish marauders. During the first four decades of British rule, the Fort’s importance diminished. It was in fact abandoned for several years but found a new lease of life when several British regiments were stationed there during the Crimean War and the First World War.
Most of the fortress, except for its outer bastions and the Knights barrack, was destroyed in the 1990s in order to make way for a small village. The project was later abandoned but restarted under Dr. Michael Caruana who has created a unique development of which phase one and two is completed. Phase three has recently received outline planning permission.
250 years ago, on the tiny unspoiled Mediterranean island of Gozo, The Knights of the Order of St John had a dream. They wished to build a new fortress town to replace The Citadel in Victoria as the Island’s Capital City. They believed that this new city would protect the island because of increased fortification. They were also convinced that this would increase commerce between the islands and attract new settlers to Gozo.
The project for the new fortress town was drawn up and plans were approved. Unfortunately they had to be shelved for around 25 years because of lack of funds. Works on the fortress recommenced solely thanks to the generous benefactor Jacques de Chambray.
Jacques de Chambray (1687-1756) was born into a noble family from Evreus in Normandy, France, and arrived in Malta at thirteen years of age. Later on, he entered the Order’s navy, and proved to be a natural commander and a true buccaneer in the traditions of the Order’s long history. This made him very wealthy, and following the capture of one of the greatest Turkish flagships, The Sultana, in 1749, he retired from active service to enjoy his wealth and status. At the same time, he made an offer to Grandmaster Pinto to use his fortune to undertake the building of the new fortifications and city at Ras-et-Tafal, Mgarr. The offer was accepted, and works on the fortress began.
Until his death, Jacques de Chambray had already spent 40,000 Scudi on the project and he had bequeathed one fifth of his property to secure its completion. Work continued after his death and the fortress was finished in 1758, albeit with many alterations from the original plans.
Fort Chambray, as it was christened, was ready to attract settlers by 1760. It was the best-defended and the best-provisioned on the island. The town was to have the Governor’s Palace, a parochial church, and an administrative building. Besides, each building block was to have a central courtyard to shelter more people in an emergency. The town, however, never materialised, as its need as a refuge in case of attacks was rapidly disappearing due to the increasing presence in the Mediterranean of powerful naval frigates of Dutch, British and French powers.
By 1755, the plans for the City had been scaled down, but the Fort was almost complete. In 1761, the Fort was lightly-armed, and an effort was made to sell land to the public; however, this was not succcesful as the Gozitan people once again began to feel more secure in their existing homes.
The Fort experienced only one brief military adventure in its lifetime. In 1798, it defended Gozo against Chambray’s own countrymen, the revolutionary forces of General Bonaparte. The surprise arrival of Napoleon caused Gozo’s population, for the only time, to rush to the new Fort with their animals and possessions, but after a token show of resistance to the powerful French forces, they surrendered the Fort to the French commander.
During the first four decades of British rule, the Fort’s importance diminished. It still continued to be garrisoned and maintained; however, as the years rolled by, it began to be used solely as a barracks. It did, however, find a new lease of life when a squadron of some 500 British men were stationed there during the Crimean War and the First World War. From thereon in it served many purposes. In the period between the World Wars, the Government started using the Fort as a mental institution and on the onset of the Second World War it was turned into a hospital with a special section for those afflicted with Leprosy. In 1971 the mental institution was reopened and this was its function for seven years, until the Government planned to allocate the Fort for Tourism purposes.
A large complex was planned with a hotel, commercial outlets and complete restoration – however Fort Chambray once again fell victim to a severe lack of funds and for a second time its development ground to a halt.
Now, finally, Fort Chambray is being given a new breath of life. It is to become a lush and luxurious real-estate haven. New residential units are currently being crafted in stone by local tradesmen using traditional methods. The design has been adapted to create a traditional local village environment; whilst also being an up-market and unique development.
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