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Għajn Żnuber structure not Knights era tower

Cynthia Busuttil's article 'Crumbling unique tower dates back to the Knights' (The Sunday Times, April 18) fails to explain on what basis the tower-like structure at Għajn Żnuber near Manikata is being labelled by Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna as a Knights-period militia coastal turret. If anything, the historical and architectural evidence indicates otherwise.

To begin with, Prof. Stanley Fiorini's study of the Mahares watchtowers between the years 1417 and 1647 (in Sacra Militia, 2, 2003) does not list Għajn Żnuber near Għajn Tuffieħa as one of the Università's militia coastal watch positions.

Indeed, there were only three militia stations along this northwestern stretch of the island's coastline, located at Blat Mogħża, Lippija, and Għajn Tuffieħa, and all were fortified with towers by Grand Master Lascaris. Blat Mogħza tower (Torre Capra), fell in the early 1700s and was never rebuilt by the Knights.

The only recorded Żnuber position, as mentioned by both Prof. Fiorini and earlier, by Mgr. A. Mifsud in his La Milizia e Le Torre Antiche in Malta, published in 1920, was actually situated on the other, southeastern side of the island at Ħal Far - the torricella of Wied Żnuber.

In other words Għajn Żnuber, near Manikata, was not a designated militia watchtower. But there are other factors which should question the newspaper's claim as to the 'uniqueness' and dating of this structure.

Firstly, there is the manner of its construction. The structure's thin walls, especially on the south face, large ground-floor openings, irregular stone courses, and internal iron beams all imply a relatively late rural building, possibly dating from the early 1800s.

The structure also shows clear signs of having been very heavily rebuilt before 1902, when it first features in cartographic records, acquiring in the process an external staircase.

Secondly, there is the matter of its positioning. The structure is located too far inland to have been of any use as a coastal watchtower. All the watchtowers and militia open-air look-out posts on this side of the island's coastline were perched at the very edge of the cliff-face for maximum visual command over the seaward approaches.

The inland positions of Mandra, Għajn Tarġa, Ġnien il-Borġ and Għajn Rażul, on the other hand, were located much further south on the strategic towering heights of the Ras il-Ġebel to Wardija ridge.

The one thing mentioned in the article over which there is no argument is the fact that the Għajn Żnuber structure, whatever its origins, needs to be repaired. It would make an ideal warden post for Park Majjistral.

For more information readers are invited to visit www.militaryarchitecture.com.

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