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Understanding Malta’s military architecture

The view from the Bastion Terrace.

The view from the Bastion Terrace.

A cross between a museum, an information point and a resource centre, the Fortifications Interpretation Centre was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor and rated number eight on the list of Top things to do in Valletta.

The centre, which is dedicated to the history and significance of Malta’s military architecture heritage, is housed in a 16th-century warehouse built within the fortifications themselves below St Andrew’s Bastion.

Situated adjacent to St Biagio Steps, on the Marsamxett Harbour side of Valletta, it also offers some of the best views of Manoel Island and of the capital’s skyline, particularly from the Bastion Terrace.

The centre includes a number of models.The centre includes a number of models.

The facilities sprawl across three floors, totalling a 1,200 square metre spread. There are 27 large, numbered and bi-lingual interpretation panels, 18 touch-screen kiosks and audio-visual screens (including 3D, computerised reconstructions) and 12 unique scale models and dioramas.

The visit to the centre kicks off with an introductory video. The exhibition next door is a scale model of Porta Reale and the unique remains of a drawbridge platform assumed to be that of Porta Reale. This has been carbon dated to circa 1645.

The second hall displays an assortment of tools and basic architectural equipment that was used to build the fortifications, set the sites and quarry the stone. This section is augmented by a replica wall featuring stone blocks, infill and other elements used on fortifications. The other half of the hall is an educational centre, where the timeline of historical fortifications and fortification typologies throughout history is explained.

The third hall, which is located on the first floor, introduces the visitor to the history of fortification in Malta from the Bronze Age, primarily Borġ in-Nadur, the Punic/Roman and Medieval periods of Mdina and Rabat and of the Castrum Maris which later became Fort St Angelo.

This section hosts detailed models of the Borġ in-Nadur walls and of Roman Mdina and Rabat. The central exhibit is the Castrum or Cittadella at Gozo and its development from the medieval period to a 17th-century fortified citadel. The last item in this hall is the story of the building of Valletta, with a large model of the capital city detailing its extensive fortifications and grid-iron formation.

The same floor also houses scale models and descriptive panels on the coastal towers, retrenchments, redoubts and gunpowder magazines. Keep an eye out for the central display in Hall 4, a glass covered ‘walk-over’ diorama of the Three Cities. The far end of the same hall is dedicated to the 18th-century Fort Manoel and Fort Tigné. Fort Tigné was the last defensive structure built by the Order of St John in Malta.

On reaching the third floor, visitors will find the batteries erected during the Maltese uprising against the besieged French army of occupation of 1798-1800. The entire British period, inclusive of all the coastal forts, their artillery and the Victoria Lines, follows.

The final coverage is of the beach posts and pill boxes constructed in the 1930s and during WWII as well as Malta’s anti-aircraft defences.

The Fortress Builders Fortifications Interpretation Centre is located in St Mark Street, Valletta.

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