Fort Saint Elmo

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Fort Saint Elmo
Valletta, Malta
Fort St. Elmo; Valletta, Malta.jpg
View of Fort Saint Elmo
Type Coastal fortification and part of a city wall
Site information
Condition Currently undergoing major restoration works
Site history
Built 1552–1570s
Built by Order of Saint John
Materials Limestone
Battles/wars Great Siege of Malta
Plan of the fort.

Fort Saint Elmo is a fortification in Valletta, Malta. It stands on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula that divides Marsamxett Harbour from Grand Harbour, and commands the entrances to both harbours.


Prior to the arrival of the Knights of Malta in 1530, a watchtower existed on this point. Reinforcement of this strategic site commenced in 1533. After a raid by Dragut in 1551, during which the Turks sail unopposed into Marsamxett Harbour, work commenced on a major expansion, and by the time of the Ottoman Siege of Malta in 1565, this fortification had been reinforced and extended into a modest star fort.

Fort Saint Elmo was the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the 1565 siege, and it withstood massive bombardment from Turkish cannon deployed on Mount Sciberras that overlooked the fort and from batteries on the north arm of Marsamextt Harbour, the present site of Fort Tigné. The initial garrison of the fort was around one hundred and fifty knights and six hundred soldiers, the majority of which were Spanish, and sixty armed galley slaves. The garrison could be reinforced by boat from the forts across the Grand Harbour at Birgu and Senglea.

During the bombardment of the fort, a cannon misfired and hit the top of its parapet, sending shards in all directions. Debris from the impact killed the gunner and mortally injured the corsair and Ottoman admiral Turgut Reis, one of the most competent of the Ottoman commanders. The fort withstood the siege for 28 days, falling to the Turks on 23 June 1565. None of the defending knights survived, and only nine of the Maltese defenders survived by swimming across to Fort St. Angelo on the other side of the Grand Harbour after Fort St Elmo fell. The long siege bought much needed time for the preparation of the other two fortresses and the arrival of reinforcements from Spain, which drove the Ottomans off of Malta in a bloody massacre.

The fort was rebuilt and integrated into the fortifications of Valletta after the Great Siege.

On 8 September 1775, Fort Saint Elmo was captured by 13 rebel priests along with Saint James Cavalier in what became known as the Revolt of the Priests. The Order's flag was lowered and a banner of Saint Paul was raised instead. The Order managed to recapture St Elmo so the rebels in control of St James surrendered as well. Eventually the rebels were tried and three were executed while the others were exiled or imprisoned. The heads of the three executed men were displayed on the corners of St James Cavalier, but were removed soon after Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc was elected Grandmaster in November of the same year.[1]

Present day[edit]

Since the mid-20th century, Fort Saint Elmo has housed Malta's police academy. The original George Cross that was awarded to Malta by King George VI in April 1942, is on display in the National War Museum, which occupies part of the Fort.

The World Monuments Fund placed the fort on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world because of its significant deterioration due to factors such as lack of maintenance and security, natural aging, and exposure to the elements. Conservation and restoration remains possible for much of the fort, but current funds are not sufficient to carry out many necessary repairs.

In popular culture[edit]

Fort Saint Elmo was used as a film location for the Turkish jail in Midnight Express.

Popular Maltese folk band Etnika gave three concerts on 31 July, 1 and 2 August 2003 named Bumbum, that drew thousands of revellers to listen to modern Maltese folk music.

In the popular real time strategy game, Age of Empires III, the first level's task is defend a fort on Malta against the Ottomans, which appears to be Fort St. Elmo.


  • Francesco Balbi di Correggio translated Ernle Bradford (1568 translated 1965). "chapter IV". The Siege of Malta 1565. Penguin 2003. ISBN 0-14-101202-1. 
  • Hughes, Q., Fort 1982 (Fortress Study Group), (10), pp. 71–93
  • Crowley, Roger, Empires of the Sea 2008, Chapters 9–10

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°54′7″N 14°31′7″E / 35.90194°N 14.51861°E / 35.90194; 14.51861

  1. ^ Sciberras, Sandro. "Maltese History - E. The Decline of the Order of St John In the 18th Century". St Benedict College. Retrieved 30 September 2014.