Saint Mary's Tower
|Saint Mary's Tower|
|Part of the Wignacourt towers|
Saint Mary's Tower
|Type||Bastioned coastal watchtower|
|Owner||Government of Malta|
|Controlled by||Din l-Art Ħelwa
Armed Forces of Malta
|Built by||Order of Saint John|
Saint Mary's Tower is a large bastioned watchtower on the island of Comino in Malta. It was built in 1618, the fifth of six Wignacourt towers. The tower is still in use by the Armed Forces of Malta as a lookout post.
Saint Mary's Tower was built in 1618 to defend the island of Comino since ships travelling between Malta and Gozo were often attacked by Barbary corsairs based on the cliffs and creeks of Comino. It also served as a communications link between the island of Gozo and mainland Malta in case of an attack on Gozo.
Funds for its construction were raised primarily by means of the sale of Comino brushwood, and the total cost was 18,628 scudi, 5 tari and 10 grani, which made it the most expensive of all the towers. However, the high costs were probably due to the difficulties for transportation and construction on a barren island. Batteries on the coast of Comino had a garrison of 130 men and housed eight 32-pounder and ten 24-pounder cannons, which dominated the North and South Comino Channels.
The tower is a large, square building with four corner turrets, and is located about 80 metres above sea level. The tower itself is about 12 metres tall, with walls that are approximately 6 metres thick, and is raised on a platform and plinth that are approximately 8 metres high. Overall, the tower is higher than any of the other Wignacourt towers. During times of crisis its garrison numbered up to 60 soldiers. By 1791, its armament included two 12-pound iron cannon, one 10-pound bronze cannon, one 4-pound bronze cannon, and two 3-pound bronze cannon.
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 by the Maltese and their British allies for suspected spies or French sympathizers. 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, making it one of the oldest forts still in use.
St. Mary's Tower underwent extensive restoration between 2002 and 2004 and is also open to the public on a number of days in the week.
In popular culture
- St Mary's Tower represented the prison Château d'If in the 2002 film The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel.
- The tower was depicted on a postage stamp issued by MaltaPost in 2006.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to St. Mary's Tower (Comino).|