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Fort Margarita in Cospicua

Thomas Freller’s recent publication, The Observing Eye – The French Artist, Jean Hoüel in Malta, Midsea Books, 2013, is a most interesting read. It shows the reader in colour Hoüel’s remarkable 1770s’ gouaches, preserved today in the Hermitage, St Petersburg, which clearly record the Knights’ fortification walls of Valletta with red- and also blue-painted bastions and red-painted buildings.

One can still find areas of former paintwork on the exterior of St Helen’s Gate in Cospicua (paintwork that should be preserved, if not restored).

But also, on page 119 one reads in the translation of Hoüel’s text: “The second temple once stood in the precincts of the harbour of Valletta, on the third part of the promontory which extends on the left side of the port into the sea, on the spot where today stands Fort Santa Margarita. (Footnote. 79).

“Abela says that this temple was built in the Ionian order and was restored under the Greeks when they settled at Malta in the period of the 11th Olympic Games, that means in the year 735BC.”

However, when one reads Freller’s footnote 79 one finds: “There is no Fort Margerita at the Porto Grande. Most likely, Hoüel confuses the name of the fortifications of the Margerita lines with Fort St Angelo.”

The problem with this is that there was a Fort Margarita in the 18th century by the Porto Grande (Grand Harbour), which was seen by Hoüel, as he clearly records, “on the spot where today stands Fort Santa Margarita”. It stood where Fort Verdale is and is marked on numerous 17th and 18th century maps, plans and drawings.

This footnote of 2013 is most unfortunate because a Greek temple in the Ionic order and then, centuries later, Fort Margarita was constructed on Santa Margarita hill.

The British found the remains of Fort Margarita when they were constructing Fort Verdale in the mid-19th century.

Early 18th century French plans record the name of the enceinte as Fort St. Margarita, while the Encyclopaedia Londinensis, J. Wilkes, London, 1816, Vol.14, 223, reads: “Citta Nuovo Cottonera is a regularly fortified town, including the old fort of St Margherita”. The Popular Encyclopedia, Vol VII-Part II, Blackie & Son, Glasgow, 1837, 636 (Malta) records also prior to the British construction of Fort Verdala, “the city of Cospicua, or Burmola, commanded by St Margaret’s Hill, on which is a fort of the same name, and covered to the eastward by a continuous line of works called Fiorenzola.”

It is clearly stated in Volume III of the Professional Papers of the Royal Corps of Engineers of 1879, 194, that the “Fiorenzula and St Margarita were constructed upon the already existing foundations of the Old Castle of St Margaret”, that is, that there was an earlier Sta Margarita castle that predates 1638.

The name Bormla was deliberately left out of E. Bradford’s bestseller, The Great Siege, for political reasons of the time, namely Dom Mintoff came from Cospicua and, so, although the sources that he used to write his book repeatedly mention Bormla and the Bormla Curtain of Senglea, he left out the word Bormla; it was unmentionable.

Now Bormla-Cospicua’s heritage has, once again, been made to disappear, its heritage, a Greek temple, and its Fort St Margerita have been expunged from the record.

Given the efforts that have been made recently to bring the wealth of Bormla-Cospicua’s heritage to a wider audience, one can hope that a correction to the error that was made by Freller, that is of confusing Fort St Angelo in Vittoriosa with Fort St Margerita in Cospicua, will be made, as Hoüel saw Fort Santa Margarita in the 18th century on Santa Margarita hill where Fort Verdale stands today.

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