Coastal Towers Malta
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.
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.
On the photo (at the right) we see the Wignacourt Tower how it was in the early 1900's
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
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 (Red) Tower
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.
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.
Ghajn Tuffieha 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 Tower
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
St. Mark's 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.
St. Julians 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
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.
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.
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