Wignacourt towers

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Wignacourt Towers
Various locations in Malta and Gozo
Alof de Wignancourt official portrait.jpg
Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, ordered the construction of the seven towers
Type Coastal fortification
Site information
Condition 5 survive
2 destroyed
Site history
Built 1610-1649
In use 1610-present
Built by Order of Saint John
Materials Limestone
Battles/wars Raid of Żejtun (1614)
Siege of Malta (1798–1800)

The Wignacourt towers are a series of fortifications on the island of Malta built by the Knights of Malta between 1610 and 1649. A total of seven towers of this type were constructed, and five remain.

The initial towers of this type were built under the auspices of Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt. Wignacourt contributed significantly from his personal funds towards the cost of their construction.

Unlike the later Lascaris towers and De Redin towers, the Wignacourt towers were more than simply watchtowers. Instead they formed significant strongpoints intended to protect vulnerable sections of the coast from attack.

The towers[edit]

Wignacourt Tower (Saint Paul's Bay Tower)[edit]

Wignacourt Tower

The first of the towers to be constructed was Wignacourt Tower overlooking St Paul's Bay. The first stone was laid on 10 February 1610, and the ceremony of the blessing of the foundation stone was personally attended by Grandmaster Wignacourt. The design of the tower is attributed to the Maltese architect Vittorio Cassar.

The tower first saw action in July 1614, when an Ottoman fleet tried to land but they went elsewhere when they saw the new tower. A coastal battery was added in 1715 to increase the tower's fire power. During British rule in the 19th century, it was used as a police station and a telegraph post. The tower was eventually leased to Din l-Art Helwa in 1970 and restoration began six years later.

Since 1998, the tower has been a museum. The exhibit contains models of various fortifications found in the Maltese islands, reproductions of items used by the tower's occupants in the 17th and 18th centuries, old photos and a restored cannon.[1]

Saint Lucian Tower[edit]

Saint Lucian Tower

Saint Lucian Tower stands above the shore of Marsaxlokk Bay on the headland between Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga. It was built between 1610 and 1611. It was upgraded during the reign of Grandmaster Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc and was renamed Fort Rohan. However, the name fell in disuse after the Order left the islands in 1798, and the original name was restored. The British substantially extended it and the original tower now forms the core of a Victorian era fortress. The tower is surrounded by a rock cut ditch, with caponiers, a sunken gate, and a curved entrance ramp. On the seaward side the tower has been extended to form a low battery, with three large casemates facing out across Marsaxlokk bay towards Fort Delimara.

St Lucian forms part of a ring of Victorian fortresses that protected Marsaxlokk bay, a ring that that also included Fort Delimara, Fort Tas-Silg and Fort Benghisa.

The fort is now the base of the Malta Centre For Fisheries Sciences. It is generally in good repair, though the ditch is somewhat overgrown. The casemates are empty, the guns long gone.

Saint Thomas Tower[edit]

Saint Thomas Tower

Saint Thomas Tower stands above the shore on the seaward face of the headland of Il-Hamriga. The tower was built in 1614. It is a substantial fortification intended to prevent the landing of troops in the sheltered anchorages of Marsascala Creek and St Thomas Bay. It was subsequently reinforced during the later tenure of the Knights of Malta by the addition of a battery on the seaward face. The tower and battery have undergone modern repair. The village of Marsaskala has expanded to surround the tower with modern buildings. The tower now forms the centerpiece of a plaza around the shoreward face of the tower.

Marsalforn Tower[edit]

Marsalforn Tower or Ix-Xaghra Tower was built in 1616. The tower's design is attributed to the military engineer Giovanni Rinaldini. To the west the tower commanded Marsalforn Bay and to the east it commanded ir-Ramla Bay, thus guarding the northern approach to Gozo. It was built on the edge of a cliff; it collapsed in 1716.

In 1720, Fra Ramon Perellos y Roccaful, 64th Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta had a second Marsalforn Tower, also known as the Perellos Tower, built in the centre of the tal-Qortin plateau. The architect was the military engineer Charles François de Mondion, who gave it the form of a redoubt, mounting several cannon. It was demolished in 1915.

Saint Mary's Tower[edit]

Saint Mary's Tower

Saint Mary's Tower or Santa Maria Tower, was built in 1618 by the military engineer Vittorio Cassar.[2] Funds for its construction were raised primarily by means of the sale of Comino brushwood. St. Mary's Tower greatly improved communications between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The tower also stopped Turkish corsairs from using the island's creeks as a base from which to harry boats from Gozo. 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.[3] 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 for suspected spies. 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.[3] 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 in Malta still in use.

St. Mary's Tower underwent extensive restoration between 2002 and 2004. The 2002 film, The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel, used St Mary's Tower to represent the prison Château d'If.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Tower[edit]

Santa Maria delle Grazie Tower stood above the shore to the east of Grand Harbour, close to the present day town of Xgħajra. The tower was built in 1620; the last of the Wignacourt towers to be built.

The tower was demolished to clear the field of fire of the nearby Della Grazie Battery, construction of which began in 1888, by the British. Nothing of the original tower remains.

Saint Agatha's Tower[edit]

Main article: St. Agatha's Tower

St. Agatha's Tower, is not strictly speaking a Wignacourt tower. Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris built the tower in the Wignacourt style in 1649. Other towers built by Lascaris but which are smaller are known as the Lascaris towers.

References[edit]