Stunning landmarks of Malta: Fort St. Elmo

Fort St Elmo - National War Museum

The Fort
Fort St. Elmo occupies a strategic position at the tip of the Sceberras peninsula, keeping watch over the mouths of the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour.
Function

During the Medieval period, this strategic position was already recognised and exploited.

Reference to a permanent watch-post at Santo Eramo can in fact be found in the Militia Roster of 1417; together with reference of a watchtower, built after the Ottoman razzia of June 1488.

Additions and alterations were carried out to the fort over centuries. In 1614, the Vendome Bastion was built, and later a polverista was added to the same bastion.

Further alterations and additions were also carried out during the British Period, adapting the fort to the various advances in military technology.

This included a number of gun emplacements constructed with the purpose of housing the new twin 6-pounder QF guns.

Fort St. Elmo also played an important role during World War II.

During the first Italian air raids, 6 RMA gunners lost their lives; they were the first victims of the war. It also played an essential part in the defeat of the Italian seaborne attack of 26th July 1941 on the Grand Harbour.

Building
Fort St. Elmo complex has an approximate footprint 50,4000 square metres. This would include the original Fort and the extended outworks along the bastions. The confines of the Fort are all bounded within the bastion walls of a changing profile. On the land front side there is a deeply cut ditch. The highest point of the Fort is circa 50 metres above sea-level

After the fortifications of Valletta were built, Vendôme Bastion was constructed in 1614 linking the French Curtain to Fort St. Elmo. The bastion contains an echaugette, and it was eventually converted into a magazine, and later an armoury.

The Carafa Enceinte, which was built starting from 1687, encloses the original fort as well as Vendôme Bastion. It consists of the following bastions and curtain walls

St. Gregory Bastion: an asymmetrical bastion with a long left face. It was altered by the British to house QF 6 pounder 10 cwt guns.

St. Gregory Curtain: a curtain wall linking St. Gregory and Conception Bastions. It contains various British gun emplacements.

Conception Bastion: Also known as Ball's Bastion – a small pentagonal bastion, containing a number of gun emplacements, magazines, and gun crew accommodation.

Sir Alexander Ball was buried in the salient of the bastion.

St. Ubaldesca Curtain: also known as Abercrombie's Curtain – a long curtain wall linking St. John and St. Lazarus Bastions. It contains a number of British gun emplacements.

Some barrack blocks are located in the area between Upper St. Elmo and the Carafa Enceinte.

In front of the land front Fortifications of Fort St. Elmo, the open glacis contains underground bell-shaped granaries

These were used for the storage of wheat.

The old Fort has two separate entrances

The main entrance known as the ‘Porta Principale’ lies across the bridge along the Fort’s landfront through the gatehouse into a passage hewed through the bastion walls and emerging into the upper parade ground.

‘Porta del Soccorso’ is located behind the internal angle of the south and north-east spurs. This gateway which had been blocked after the Siege was widened during the 17th century for the easier passage of carts. It has subsequently been restored.

Within the precincts of Fort St. Elmo are two religious buildings

Chapel of St Anne: Also known as Chapel del Soccorso. The old chapel which had existed since 1488 was incorporated near the gate to the Fort, referred to as ‘del Soccorso’.

The chapel was dedicated to St. Anne in the mid-sixteenth century.

The chapel although of modest dimensions is embellished with ornate stone carvings that date to the seventeenth century.

Another church also dedicated to St. Anne and which has an early eighteenth century Baroque facade overlooking the piazza was desecrated during the British period and its interior was completely remodelled.

A circular stone light-house some 56 feet in height and a total of 206 feet above sea-level used to dominate the skyline of Fort St. Elmo and served as a guiding beacon to incoming ships.

This lighthouse was demolished in 1940 for security reasons as it could have served as a landmark for the enemy aircraft World War II.

The ditch of the Fort used to house the Botanical Gardens which provided a source of medicinal plants for the School of Anatomy of the Order. These gardens were later transferred to Floriana by Sir Alexander Ball in the early nineteenth century.

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