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Knights’ fortifications in Mellieħa

A new publication about fortifications in the north of Malta, titled Fortifications of the Knights Hospitallers in Mellieħa, has been published by Jimmy and Jonathan Muscat.

The book focuses on the northern areas of Malta and the Tal-Aħrax peninsula, which have always been exposed to the natural elements of the northwesterly wind and which in the old days were also subjected to the constant incursions of pirates.

It was only at the beginning of the 17th century, when the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta started building towers, that a sense of protection was beginning to be felt among the local country people.

St Agatha’s Tower, or the Red Tower, was built in 1649 and was the first beacon to bring a ray of hope and security to these areas. Within 10 years, another two watch towers were added on the initiative of Grand Master Martin de Redin.

Around 1715, the order embarked on a massive building programme to safeguard our shores; batteries and entrenchements were constructed along the coast to present a formidable line of defence against the enemy.

In presenting this book about the 16 fortifications built by the Knights of St John in Mellieħa, the authors endeavour to enkindle an awareness about these national and world heritage sites.

Starting from the Red Tower towards the coast of Marfa, they follow the whole stretch of coastline, reaching up to the White Tower, covering the 10 fortifications guarding the Fliegu Channel facing Comino.

Onto Mellieħa Bay, they deal with another four fortifications defending the shallow waters and eventually the last two fortifications, namely Għain Ħadit Tower and Mistra Battery. They have followed this sequence to present this book as a guidebook for the locals and foreigners.

In each case, they have given a short but detailed description of each fortification, using photographs, plans, diagrams, copies from manuscripts and other data to illustrate the order’s serious approach to defending the northwest coast of Malta around Mellieħa.

They have also considered the financial aspects, wherever possible including a break-up of the cost of each fortification. In certain cases, they have added various historical spots or snippets taken from different sources to bring out the social aspect of the life of the soldiers manning these fortifications.

The authors also try to raise awareness about the state of these fortifications, both in text and visual form. Out of the 16 fortifications constructed between 1647 and 1750, three have been completely demolished. Three have nearly disappeared and another five are in dire need of restoration.

It would be a great loss for our national heritage were the remaining fortifications to be further neglected.

At the end of the book, the authors have included interesting details about regiments, armaments, manoeuvres, coins and a chronological list of all the Grand Masters of the Order.

The book is a must for all history lovers and for those who want to delve into a detailed study of the Knights’ fortifications. The Knights’ ultimate aim was to form a complex network of towers, batteries and entrenchments with intermediate links; this was envisaged to complete an impenetrable chain of defence which was to form the first real line of security for the people of northwest Malta.

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