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Watch: Forts under attack from neglect and vandalism

Vandalism and weather erosion have left their mark on the walls of at least three forts on the east coast, all crying out for some care.

After surviving wars and tribulations, Delle Grazie Battery, in Xgħajra, Fort Delimara and, the largest one, Fort Ricasoli, in Kalkara, have fallen victim to neglect.

None of them enjoy Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna’s protection but, when contacted, the foundation’s CEO and military heritage expert Mario Farrugia noted that it was never too late to restore them.

Still, it would require a massive expense, besides the fact that one ought to find a long-term sympathetic and sustainable use for them to make it worthwhile, he quickly added.

Asked about possible causes of damage, Mr Farrugia said the main culprits were neglect, vandalism, lack of maintenance and weather erosion.

Fort Ricasoli was almost completely surrounded by the sea and fully exposed to the wild gregale winds.

Furthermore, the ground it sat on was very weak with large sea caves underneath.

This situation was already evident to the knights when they were building the fort, he said, adding they still went ahead with the works.

Fort Ricasoli is a bastioned fort built by the Order of Saint John between 1670 and 1698 and occupying a promontory known as Gallows’ Point. It has a commanding view of the entrance to Grand Harbour and of Fort St Elmo and is the largest fortified building in Malta.

First used by the Knights, then by the French and, finally, by the British army and the Royal Navy it remained in use until the 1960s.

The fort served as an isolation camp during plague outbreaks and was part of the defence of the Grand Harbour against naval attacks on the island during WWII. As a result, it sustained heavy damage from aerial bombardments.

Sadly, the fort is now a dilapidated state though it is often used as a filming location. In fact, it was where director Ridley Scott built the set for his film The Gladiator.

The other two forts are a bit younger than Fort Ricasoli.

Built by the British between 1888 and 1893 at a cost of £16,344, the Xgħajra battery was constructed to take advantage of the improved breech-loading disappearing guns that were coming into service at the time. During construction work, the British demolished the nearby Santa Maria Delle Grazie tower that had been built by Grand Master Wignacourt.

The battery was abandoned in 1910, had its guns removed and is presently occupied by the Xgħajra local council. Mr Farugia noted that its overall condition was very bad with most of its outer revetment walls having collapsed in the defensive ditch.

Fort Delimara was built slightly earlier, between 1876 and 1888, on the Delimara headland, from where it dominates the approaches into Marsaxlokk Bay.

Mr Farrugia pointed out that the fort had huge military architectural importance. Most of it was built underground with only small parts standing above ground. Part of its main original armament is still housed in its casemates looking out at sea. These include 12.5-inch riled muzzle loading 38-ton guns mounted on dwarf carriages. They are very rare and among the very last few in the world.

In 1956, the fort was stripped of the majority of its artillery. It lay abandoned for years and, in 1975, was leased by the government to a local farmer, who raised pigs there from 1982 to 2005.

The fort was in a bad state after decades of misuse and vandalism and it also suffered from sea erosion, which even led to the collapse of parts of the sea cliff on which it stood, Mr Farrugia said, calling for immediate action to save it.

Fort Ricasoli. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

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