Valletta's fortifications on the harbour side

Valletta and Floriana Fortifications

The Order of St John had intended to build a city on the site known as Mount Sceberras long before the actual birth of Valletta in 1566. In 1524, eight Knights who were sent to Malta by Grand Master l’Isle Adam, had already identified this peninsula standing high between two natural ports as the ideal place for a new fortified city. The only fortified structure the Knights built on this peninsula of Mount Sceberras was Fort St Elmo in 1552, alongside Fort St Michael on the Senglea peninsula, following the 1551 attack led by the Ottoman corsair Dragut Reis. 

Various attempts were made by the Knights to start constructing the new city but it was after the Great Siege of 1565 that the funds became available to make this possible. The first stone was laid on the 28th March 1566 by Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette.

Pope Pius V and King Philip II of Spain both helped with financial assistance for this project as it was in their interest to strengthen Malta to keep the Turkish army out of Europe. The Pope also offered the services of Francesco Laparelli, a leading military engineer who prepared the necessary plans for the new city and its defence system.

Valletta was designed as an irregular fortress, designed to the conventions of the bastion trace and fitted to the contours of the peninsula, with its strongest defences being the bastion land front facing inland, what is now Floriana. Its other major defences were a deep, rock-hewn ditch and two Cavaliers, large, tower-like bastions which stood on top of the lower bastion to enable the Knights to view and fire over an approaching force. In subsequent centuries, the Knights continuously strengthened Valletta’s defences with additional structures, namely the four counterguards placed in front of the bastions, and a large enclosure known as the Carafa Enceinte which was built to envelope Fort St Elmo which Laparelli had excluded from the design of Valletta.

When Laparelli left Malta, his assistant Ġlormu Cassar continued his work and prepared the plans for the conventual church of St John, the auberges and the Grand Master’s Palace. Construction works started with great urgency, out of the very real fear that the Turkish army would return. Approximately 4,000 workers, most of them brought over from Sicily, worked hard to turn the bedrock into large, imposing bastions.

From 1566 onwards, Valletta became a work in progress, as its fortifications were periodically updated to improve their design or cope with new forms of attack like stronger gun on ships. It was the focal point of the Island’s defence and all the Knights’ fortifications built in later years were designed to protect it and its harbour installations from attack from land or bombardment from the sea. Amongst these structures was the Floriana enceinte.

The British period saw minor modifications, most notable of which was the Lascaris Battery which was grafted onto the Grand Harbour side to protect the approaches to the then newly-built Dockyard, the design of which was influenced by Russian fortifications seen during the Crimean War.

The British also carried out major changes to Valletta’s Baroque gates, replacing Porta San Giorgio with the construction of Porta Reale (City Gate), Porta Marina or Porta del Monte with Victoria Gate. Grand Master Del Monte had ordered the construction of the latter gate in Valletta. This known as Porta del Monte directly faced Fort St Angelo. Later it was renamed Porta Marina and in 1884, it was demolished to make place for the Victoria Gate while Marsamxett Gate was dismantled altogether.

Various gun emplacements were added on St. Andrew’s bastion and other retired batteries including Tryon Battery. Under the British, the harbour breakwater was built both to shelter ships at anchor from inclement weather and also to combine it with a system of steel nets to seal off the entrance to the harbour in times of emergency.

Floriana is the town which served as Valletta’s suburb at the time of the Knights. For a long period of time. during the 17th century, Floriana was a large stretch of land without buildings except for the convent of the Capuchin Friars, the mall and the gunpowder factory.

The fortifications of Floriana were designed in 1635 by the Italian military engineer Pietro Paolo Floriani – the architect after whom the city was named.

However the bastions took quite a long time to be completed since various other engineers made changes to the original plans. The military engineer Antonio Maurizio Valperga added a faussebraye and the crowned-hornworks (known as La Galdiana, after the Knight who paid for it) in 1670 while de Mondion added a large entrenchment facing Marsamxett. De Mondion was also responsible for the construction of the original Porte des Bombes which consisted of only one gate and was known as Porta dei Cannoni due to the stone canons decorating its face.

The British enlarged this gate to its present size in the 19th century. Floriana also had another two large gates – St Anne Gate (Porta dei Cani) and Notre Dame Gate – however both have been demolished.
 


Aerial view of Valletta today's showing its grid pattern and surrounding fortifications
Aerial view of Valletta today's showing its grid pattern and surrounding fortifications
Before Valletta, Mount Sceberras with Fort St Elmo as the only fortification
Before Valletta, Mount Sceberras with Fort St Elmo as the only fortification
All the fortifications surrounding Valletta
All the fortifications surrounding Valletta
Overview of Fort St Elmo
Overview of Fort St Elmo
Fort St Elmo between 1552-1798 before the British re-arranged it
Fort St Elmo between 1552-1798 before the British re-arranged it
A virtual reconstruction of Fort St Elmo in 1565
A virtual reconstruction of Fort St Elmo in 1565
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia4rB1f7RhI
Aerial view of Fort St Elmo as seen before recent restoration
Aerial view of Fort St Elmo as seen before recent restoration
St John's Cavalier
St John's Cavalier
Aerial view of Fort St Elmo after the recent restoration
Aerial view of Fort St Elmo after the recent restoration
St James Cavalier
St James Cavalier
Lascaris Battery 1
Lascaris Battery 1
Lascaris Battery 2
Lascaris Battery 2
A painting showing Porta San Giorgio during the Knights
A painting showing Porta San Giorgio during the Knights
Model of Tumas Dingli's Porta San Giorgio
Model of Tumas Dingli's Porta San Giorgio
City Gate (Porta Reale)
City Gate (Porta Reale)
It was built in 1853 to replace the Porta San Giorgio of 1630 which had become small for the large number of carriages using the GatE
Porta del Monte or Marina Gate before being demolished by the British
Porta del Monte or Marina Gate before being demolished by the British
Porta del Monte or Marina Gate, being dismantled in 1885 to be replaced by the larger Victoria Gate
Porta del Monte or Marina Gate, being dismantled in 1885 to be replaced by the larger Victoria Gate
Victoria Gate once built by the British
Victoria Gate once built by the British
Victoria Gate at present
Victoria Gate at present
Marsamxett Gate - In the early 1900’s it was demolished and replaced by an archway
Marsamxett Gate - In the early 1900’s it was demolished and replaced by an archway
Marsamxett Gate - photo taken in 1902 gives a glimpse of the gate
Marsamxett Gate - photo taken in 1902 gives a glimpse of the gate
Marsamxett Arch after the gate was demolished
Marsamxett Arch after the gate was demolished
Marsamxett Arch in the 1960's
Marsamxett Arch in the 1960's
St. Andrew's Bastions
St. Andrew's Bastions
Tryon Battery at St. Andrew's Bastions
Tryon Battery at St. Andrew's Bastions
Overview of Floriana's fortifications
Overview of Floriana's fortifications
Porte  des Bombes with one gate
Porte des Bombes with one gate
Portes des Bombes restored by the British with two main gates
Portes des Bombes restored by the British with two main gates
Porte des Bombes at present day
Porte des Bombes at present day
 St Anne Gate (Porta dei Cani)
St Anne Gate (Porta dei Cani)
Notre Dame Gate
Notre Dame Gate