When Monsieur Pierre de Bonneville and his family visited Fort Manoel during their recent first-ever trip to Malta, there was more than a passing interest in Maltese history. For Monsieur de Bonneville is a direct descendant of Charles-François de Mondion, the renowned military engineer who, under the patronage of Portuguese Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena, built the magnificent and recently restored Fort Manoel.
Monsieur de Bonneville's great-grandmother who passed away in 1961 was Suzanne de Mondion. "We knew from her that her family could be traced back to the year 900 and that the de Mondion family carried the title of comte and had proven many times during history their nobility in France so they must have had some Knights of St John," said Monsieur de Bonneville. "It was after extensive research that I discovered I was a direct descendent of Charles François de Mondion and that he played a significant role in Malta's rich history and cultural heritage".
Fort Manoel was built by the Knights of Malta to protect Valletta's north-facing flank from artillery action from the Isolotto in Marsamxetto Harbour. The first stone was laid in 1723 under the supervision of de Mondion who is regarded as one of the most important architects to have ever worked in the Maltese Islands.
Although the fort's defining characteristics survived the ravages of time, certain changes were effected to meet the exigencies of military strategies over the years. It also endured numerous attacks during World War II when Manoel Island was a submarine base, but perhaps the greatest threat to this magnificent fortress came from the decades of vandalism that it suffered after the British forces left Malta. The revitalisation and restoration of Fort Manoel was part of an extensive multi-million euro restoration project undertaken on both Manoel Island and Tignè Point by MIDI p.l.c. This mammoth restoration programme includes Fort Tignè, the Lazzaretto and other sites on Manoel Island that are to be restored under the obligations in the lease agreement between MIDI and the government.
Architect Edward Said, who was involved in the restoration project, accompanied Monsieur de Bonneville and his family around the fort, showing them the various restored structures and guiding them through the rich detailed features of the site. Fittingly, their tour ended with a visit to the crypt beneath the recently reconstructed chapel of St Anthony of Padua where Charles-François de Mondion was once buried.
For Monsieur Bonneville this was an extraordinary moment. "To stand in exactly the same spot as one of my ancestors and be able to admire the culmination of a lifetime's work carried out over 250 years ago is quite surreal," he said. "It also fills me with extraordinary pride."
Fort Manoel was described by respected engineer François Charles Comte de Bourlamaque as "a model of fortification built with care and complete in all parts". Experts on de Mondion Prof. Dennis de Lucca and Dr Stephen C. Spiteri maintain that the delicate marriage between baroque military engineering and architecture in Malta is epitomized at Fort Manoel.
De Mondion left a wealth of Baroque buildings and fortifications largely under the auspices of Grand Master Antonio Manoel De Vilhena who in many instances financed the projects out of his own pocket. Charles François de Mondion died suddenly of heart failure on Christmas Day, 1733 aged 52. It is recorded that he had explicitly willed to be buried in the crypt of the Fort Manoel chapel which he himself described as "a beautiful little church that dominates the fort".
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