FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Re-Fortification

Posted in Malta, Valletta by folkestonejack on March 21, 2014

One of the most striking aspects of our visit to Malta was the sight of the extensive restoration being undertaken on the fortifications in Valletta, Sliema and the Three Cities. It wasn’t just at one site – works were in progress at four forts and on the bastions of Valletta itself.

Restoration of the fortifications in Valletta

Restoration of the fortifications in Valletta

Fort Manoel. Fort Manoel is a bit like those Russian matryoshka dolls – an island fortress inside the oft-named fortress island of Malta. The star shaped fort was originally constructed by the Knights of St. John in the eighteenth century to a design by French engineer René Jacob de Tigné, as modified by Charles François de Mondion.

Work began on the restoration of the fort in August 2001 as part of a plan to develop a Mediterranean style marina village on Manoel island. The fort has been featured on television recently, hosting the gathering at the Great Sept of Baelor in the first series of Game of Thrones (episode 9).

Fort Manoel and the reconstructed Chapel of St Anthony of Padua

Fort Manoel and the reconstructed Chapel of St Anthony of Padua

One of the highlights of the restored fortress is the reconstruction of the chapel of St Anthony of Padua. The chapel was built in 1727 but was largely destroyed following a direct hit by a bomb in 1942. It is remarkable to compare the ruins with the restored chapel (a picture of the ruins can be seen on the Malta in 360 website). Although the fort is not yet open to the public, the restored chapel is clearly visible from Hastings Gardens.

The Lazaretto

The Lazaretto

Adjacent to the fort is the Lazaretto, a seventeenth century quarantine station, which was briefly home to Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott on their visits to Malta. The building was lent to the Royal Navy in 1940 for use as a submarine base and initially proved an ideal location with wonderful views across to Valletta. However, by February 1942 the Germans had discovered the base and were bombing it daily.

It is no surprise that both the Lazaretto and the fort were heavily damaged as a result of their wartime battering. Added to this, years of neglect and vandalism had taken their toll, leaving the complex in a poor state of repair. The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) approved an application to restore the complex in 2012. More information about the restoration project is available on the Midi PLC website.

Fort Tigné. Midi PLC are also behind the restoration of Fort Tigné. This fort was originally constructed in 1792 by the Knights of St. John and subsequently garrisoned by British forces from 1805 until their departure in 1979. After the British forces left the fort fell into a state of disrepair. Proposals for the renovated fort include a museum, cafe/restaurants and art studios. Although the fort is currently closed to the public, you can walk up to the gates of the tower along a newly created waterfront walk (and enjoy some terrific views across the water to Fort St Elmo).

Waterfront walk to Fort Tigne

Waterfront walk to Fort Tigne

Fort St Elmo. The renovation of the upper part of Fort St Elmo at the tip of Valletta, which is nearing completion, has mostly been financed with a grant of 15.7 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The project aims to deliver a space that can act as a cultural hub, as well as opening up new areas to the public and providing better museum space (incorporating an enhanced National War Museum and a Valletta people’s museum). The restoration will also provide a new ramparts walk along the Carafa Enceinte. The project is scheduled for completion in September 2014.

Fort St Elmo

Fort St Elmo

Fort St Angelo. The European Regional Development Fund has provided 13.4 million euros for the restoration of Fort St Angelo with ambitious plans to turn this into the top tourist attraction in Malta. It’s not hard to see how – the fort has a rich history to draw upon to attract visitors. Alongside the renovations Heritage Malta is conducting archaeological explorations on site, including investigations into a mass grave of victims from the Great Siege in 1565. The renovation work is scheduled for completion in mid-2015 and should see the the restoration of the bastion and rampart walls, the piazza, surrounding barracks and the cavalier.

Fort St Angelo

Fort St Angelo

Alongside all of this, a major programme is underway to restore the landward fortifications in Valletta. There are sympathetic modern additions too – the rather drab 1960s city gate was demolished in 2011 and a new design by Renzo Piano is under construction. The new city gate will incorporate a panoramic elevator that will allow visitors to fully appreciate the depth of the ditch and enjoy the view up from a new stretch of public gardens.

Although I felt a little frustrated by the inability to fully enjoy all these historic sites now, it has left me with a desire to return to Malta in a few years to see the result of all this work. In the meantime, the Fortress Builders exhibition at the Fortifications Interpretation Centre offers a great insight into the changing design and construction of forts in Malta across history. The information panels, models and plans on display really help to put the complicated history of fortification in Malta into context.

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