Recent years have seen Città Vittoriosa, victorious once again, not over an armed enemy but rather over the ravaging effects of time. Since 2008, Vittoriosa has been undergoing significant restoration and rehabilitation projects undertaken by the Restoration Directorate at the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, aimed both at the restoration of the ramparts’ deteriorated physical fabric as well as the recuperation of the overall legibility of Vittoriosa’s fortified enceinte.
A very important aspect of the Vittoriosa project is that it seeks to re-establish the physical connections in the Cottonera area between the Vittoriosa seafront, its land front, and the Cospicua and Kalkara seafront, thus creating a complete heritage trail all around the city.
An important and pivotal component in this strategy is the role played by the land front ditch. Although the ditch has served as a sort of public garden in the past, its rundown state made it a highly underutilised area. The ditch, however, has tremendous potential as an aesthetically pleasing and creative recreational environment.
The Restoration Directorate has designed and implemented a project that aims to rehabilitate the ditch in such a way as to highlight its historical features and enhance its recreational potential. The design integrates and highlights the several archaeological discoveries made in this historically rich site. The discovery of these unearthed elements and their interpretation will help improve the proper legibility of the Hospitaller-period fortifications of Vittoriosa.
Considerable remains of an 18th-century caponier and tenaille were unearthed by the directorate in the course of the restoration interventions undertaken in the ditch. Completed around 1728, the caponier represents the last phase of development of the fortress of Vittoriosa. It was intended to enable the defenders to sally-out of the fortress and reach the outer positions on the far side of the ditch, protected from enemy musketry fire and ricocheting cannon balls. It consists of stepped masonry banquettes that were originally protected with wooden palisades. It is the largest surviving example of its kind to be found in the Maltese islands.
Considerable remains of an 18th-century caponier and tenaille were unearthed in the ditch. It was intended to enable the defenders to sally-out of the fortress and reach the outer positions on the far side of the ditch, protected from enemy musketry fire and ricocheting cannon balls
The design seeks to highlight the caponier, which is central in the overall scheme. The caponier has been fully conserved and a section of it has been faithfully reconstructed.
Visitors can also see a replica of a wooden palisade du chemin couvert together with a full-size soldier figure cut out in sheet metal placed along a section of the parapet of the caponier, clearly illustrating how it was used.
The caponier leads visitors to two sally-ports that lead to vaulted passageways beneath St John’s bastion and St James bastion respectively. The latter has been unblocked and offers direct access from the ditch to the Collachio, another exceptional experience for the visitor, while the former was unearthed from behind a storey-high earth mound made up of war damage debris piled up against the fortification walls.
Other very important discoveries were unearthed in the area of the battery located at the extreme end of the ditch overlooking Kalkara creek. This casemated battery, which seals off the mouth of the land-front ditch, represents an important element in the Kalkara-facing front of the Vittoriosa enceinte.
Built with three vaulted casemates to provide cover for guns designed to fire though embrasures, it was also fitted with a sally-port. This area, previously largely sunken in soil and covered with large trees, has been fully excavated from tonnes of debris and soil to reach the rock bed surrounding the fortifications, unveiling the original foundations of the ditch of the times of the Great Siege.
The full height of the battery is now uncovered and fully restored and one can appreciate this structure in all its former glory. This is also true of its outer elevation overlooking Kalkara creek.
A masonry staircase structure built in later years abutting the battery’s outer face has also been dismantled, thus restoring the full original legibility of this structure.
Archaeological investigations also exposed a previously buried sally-port leading from the ditch side of the battery down to the Kalkara side of the battery. The sally-port has been unblocked and restored and access through it has been reinstated, further enhancing the whole area.
The implemented scheme strengthens the link from Couvre Porte to the Kalkara seafront through the construction of an elevated and linear footpath opening up into piazzas at strategic points along the length of the ditch, offering visitors vantage views of the imposing surrounding fortifications.
These fortifications have been given more prominence through the transplanting in the same site of a number of trees originally located in close proximity to the walls.
The open spaces or ‘piazzas’ offer minimalist seating arrangements for a more enjoyable experience of the place. All seating, garden furniture and light fixtures have been custom-designed by the project architects.
The project also introduced a co-ordinated, sustainable, and economical LED lighting system to provide evening and night-time appreciation of the site and surrounding fortifications while creating a safe and pleasant outdoor space.
A sally-port, previously largely sunken in soil and covered with large trees, has been fully excavated from tonnes of debris and soil to reach the rock bed surrounding the fortifications, unveiling the original foundations of the ditch of the times of the Great Siege
A total of €1,050,000 was invested in the project, 85 per cent of which was co-financed from EU funds through the European Regional Development Fund programme. It was started in October 2014 and completed by the end of 2015. The Vittoriosa land-front ditch is now open for the enjoyment of local and foreign visitors to this magnificent historic city.
This article was written by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government.
The Vittoriosa fortifications are one of Malta’s four major historical works of military architecture and fortifications which some years ago had been earmarked for restoration through the ERDF under Operation Programme I ‘Investing in Competitiveness for a Better Quality of Life’ for Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, with a co-financing rate of 85 per cent EU funds (ERDF) and 15 per cent national funds.