Iconic landmarks for the Maltese skyline: Fort St Angelo

Fort Saint Angelo, Malta

History and present of the bastioned fort at the center of the Grand Harbour

Function

The site attracted attention since antiquity, in particular following the Islands’ colonisation and insertion in the then prevailing trading routes by the Phoenicians during the first half of the first

Legend has it that Count Roger founded a chapel there in honour of Archangel Michael (St Angelo) following the Norman Conquest in 1091

The thirteenth century provides the earliest known documentary references and description of the then medieval castle.

By 1274, Fort St Angelo or castrum maris as known at the time, consisted of two enclosures, namely a lower castro exteriore and an upper castro interior, each demarcated by an entrance stiffened with round towers

After 1530 the new tenants of the Maltese islands turned the castrum maris, christened Fort St Angelo, into their headquarters.

It was remodeled extensively the then aging castle with the construction of a series of artillery platforms.

In the 1690s the Flemish military engineer Carlos Grunenburgh spearheaded its transformation into a forceful work.

This included four intimidating gun platforms with a staggering capacity of some 50 artillery pieces aimed at the entrance of the Grand Harbour.

In 1906 the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet relocated its command hub inside the Fort.

It was enlisted as shore base, first renamed HMS Egmont in 1912 and HMS St Angelo in 1933.

Fort St Angelo was called into action again during World War II to offer protection against the ruthless Axis air raids

Building

Fashioned around a strategically located and conveniently sized hillock at the tip of the Birgu peninsula, the present fabric is the net sum of countless modifications and additions over several centuries, if not millennia.

At the rear of D’Homedes bastions is a solidly built cavalier known as the Ferramolino’s cavalier. Designed by the military engineer Ferramolino.

It was built between 1542 and 1547, this towering artillery platform contains three adjoining casemates.

The Ferramolino cavalier was built as a counter-bombardment station intended to confront attacks from Mount Sceberras and Santa Margherita heights.

By and large, the most meaningful innovations in warfare technology and defence strategies that marked the Early Modern Period are reflected in the Fort’s multi-layered fabric.

Besides a noteworthy corpus of iron guns, the fort preserves a host of complementary gunpowder magazines and related amenities.

A 13th century chapel excavated in the Fort’s rock dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

A marble tablet inside the chapel indicates that this sanctuary was built in 1090.

It was heavily damaged during World War II air raid with two of its main icons destroyed.

The two side altars cut in rocks are dedicated to St. Angelo and St. Barbara.

This damp underground cell, famous for its unique graffiti served as a reformatory space to convicted knights and occasionally housed knights awaiting trials.

It is believed that artist Caravaggio and Grand Master La Cassiere were imprisoned in here. The oldest graffiti dates back to August 7, 1532.

A raised platform marking the burial site of Knights who lost their lives during the Great Siege of 1565 and victims of the plague in 1676.

The remains inside this cemetery were moved in 1591 and reburied in a memorial adjacent to St John’s Co-Cathedral.

In 1998 the Sovereign Military order of Malta made a return to Fort St Angelo after an absence of 200 years.

The Magisterial Palace, St. Anne’s Chapel and the adjoining terraces have since been beautifully restored.

It turned into a fitting home for the only resident Knight on the Island.

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