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MIDI restoring crypt, chapel at Fort Manoel

A pre-war picture of the Chapel of St Anthony on Manoel Island. The statue of Grand Master de Vilhena, now in Floriana, can be seen in front of it.

A pre-war picture of the Chapel of St Anthony on Manoel Island. The statue of Grand Master de Vilhena, now in Floriana, can be seen in front of it.

MIDI plc is embarking on restoration work on the crypt below the Chapel of St Anthony of Padua as part of a €30m restoration programme of Fort Manoel on Manoel Island.

The crypt was the final resting place of Charles Francois de Mondion (1683-1733), engineer of the Order of St. John and designer of Fort Manoel. It is dedicated to Our Lady of Graces and was kept in pristine condition until the British forces decommissioned the fort in 1964. After that date, the fort was abandoned and taken over by squatters. The crypt was pillaged and vandalised.

MIDI, under the guidance of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, is now completing an archaeological survey of the burial chamber and will carry out the restoration process on this basis.

The chapel dedicated to St Anthony of Padua took a direct hit during the Second World War, and after the decommissioning of the fort, much of its stonework was systematically removed by trophy-hunters.

“We debated long and hard as to how best to tackle this particular building,” said Professor Alex Torpiano, who is heading the restoration team.

“Two-thirds of it went down in the war. The rest was stolen or dismantled later. We asked ourselves whether we should reconstruct it or build something entirely new and inspired by the original. I don’t like reconstruction as a general rule, but in this case I thought it necessary to maintain the visual integrity of the fort.”

The architectural team had little to go on bar a few old photographs sourced from the Imperial War Museum in London and a couple of paintings. These focussed on the façade of the chapel. “Where the sides and rear of the building are concerned, we are going to have to abstract the details,” Professor Torpiano said.

The fort on Manoel island was built by order of the Portuguese Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena in the first half of the 18th century. Its purpose, together with another fort built on the tip of the peninsula in what is now Sliema, was to protect and defend the exposed flank of Valletta, which was suitably defended on the other side by Fort St Angelo.

The original design was the work of the French engineer René Jacob de Tigné. Tigne also designed the fort in that part of Sliema which came to bear his name. The final plans incorporated the design input of Mondion, who was at the time retained by the Order of St John as its military engineer. Mondion supervised the construction of the fort.

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