Malta's forts have withstood several enemy attacks throughout the centuries. But will they survive neglect and vandalism? Claudia Calleja picked 10 forts and asked three experts to rate them according to their state and accessibility to the public.
Forts and fortifications played a vital role in protecting Malta from invasion.
Their design varies according to when they were built - whether by the Knights of St John in the 1500s or the British occupation in the 1800s. The 10 forts selected here are only a small sample of Malta's fortifications - the greatest concentrations of diverse systems of fortifications to be found anywhere in the world.
The Sunday Times asked experts Stephen Spiteri (historian of military architecture), Stanley Farrugia Randon (Din L-Art Helwa council member) and Mario Farrugia (Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna chairman) to rate the 10 forts on their state of deterioration and accessibility.
Malta has 20 major forts. Dr Spiteri said those built by the knights contain 76 bastions, over 100 curtain walls and 27 gateways. Fort Rinella is the only one that is restored and accessible to the public.
Apart from the forts there are eight fortified cities, three defensive lines, 24 towers, 36 coastal batteries, 10 coastal entrenchments and more.
"In every sense, a prodigious mass of buildings and structures that requires enormous resources, both financial and trained personnel, to enable all the components to be restored, repaired, managed, and maintained," said Dr Spiteri, who is also the Superintendent of Fortifications.
Accessibility: 1 = not at all accessible, 5 = easily accessible
State: 1 = completely derelict and in danger of collapse; 2 = bad state; 3 = abandoned but relatively decent state; 4 = good state or being restored; 5 = very good state, restored.
Fort St Angelo, Vittoriosa
Fort St Angelo dates back to the Middle Ages. It was, together with the city of Vittoriosa, the first home of the Order of St John in the 16th century. It served as the principal defence bastion against the Turks in the Great Siege of 1565. Access was blocked over two months ago after dangerous cracks appeared in the fortifications' stonework.
Fort Cambridge, Sliema
The British built this fort to defend the Sliema peninsula. Within the fort's grounds there is the Cambridge Battery, a fort built in the shape of a pentagon in the second half of the 19th century. Now it is a historical attraction, which is being restored and will be surrounded by gardens open to the public. It has become the site of a residential complex that is under construction.
Fort Benghajsa, Birzebbuga
Built between 1910 and 1912 to protect Marsaxlokk Bay, the British used the pentagonal style. On the seaward side the cliff face was used as part of the defensive perimeter. In the 1950, the British invested in dual-purpose guns which were dismantled soon after. The fort was abandoned by the British in the late 1970s. Today it is occupied by squatters and is in a state of neglect.
Fort Ricasoli, Kalkara
Built in 1670, Fort Ricasoli was first criticised as being too small. Following some alterations its vital importance was realised and the British heavily armed it. The fort fulfilled two major tasks: Its guns had to cover the entrance to Grand Harbour and it had to withstand a direct assault upon its land front. Today it is abandoned and parts risk being reclaimed by the sea.
Fort Delimara, Marsaxlokk
Fort Delimara was built by the British between 1876 and 1888 and was one of a ring of forts and batteries protecting Marsaxlokk harbour. It still houses the world's last remaining four 38-ton guns mounted on dwarf carriages. After being used as a pig farm for about 15 years, in 2005 the government handed the fort over to Heritage Malta. It is in danger of collapse.
Fort San Leonardo, Zabbar limits
Perhaps one of the least known of Victorian forts in Malta, it was built on the polygonal system by the British between 1872 and 1878. Its layout consists of an internal ditch which segregates the battery from the keep, physically dividing the fort. It was used as a military establishment until the 1970s. After that, the fort was handed over by the state to a cattle-farmer and currently hosts animals.
Fort Campbell, Mellieha
Built by the British in 1937, its main purpose was to protect the island from an approach towards Mellieha and St Paul's Bay. It was the last major work of the British in Malta and was designed with aircraft in mind. The barracks blend into the surrounding environment, imitating the terraced fields the fort sits on. Now, the place is completely abandoned.
Fort St Elmo, Valletta
The star-shaped fort was built in the 1550s. During the Great Siege it was invaded by the Turkish armada. This later prompted Francesco Laparelli, who designed Valletta's fortifications, to incorporate the rebuilt fort within the perimeter of the new city. In the late 1500s it was used as a Holy Infirmary. Earlier this year government launched a €100,000 restoration project for the fort but no timeline was set.
Fort Tas-Silg, Marsaxlokk
The British built this fort to stand on high ground at the shoreward end of Delimara Point. It is one of a ring of forts and batteries that protected Marsaxlokk harbour. The gatehouse and part of the ditch are in fair repair, but there has been considerable collapse of the inner face of the north ditch. The fort is now used by the Island Sanctuary as a dog shelter.
Fort Chambray, Ghajnsielem, Gozo
Built during the reign of Grand Master Pinto, the fort was later used as a mental institution during World War II and also served as a hospital that included a leprosy unit. In the early 1990s, there was a plan to transform it into a holiday complex but this never materialised. It was then mired in controversy when a company led by an Italian attempted to develop it until, in 2004, the government signed an agreement with a Gozitan businessman to convert it into a complex of apartments, maisonettes and villas.
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