The system of maintaining a watch ('il-Mahras') around Malta's coast dates back to the Middle Ages. However during the rule of the Knights Hospitallers, also known as the Knights of St John, or the Knights of Malta, many coastal defences were rebuilt or built from scratch (such as the watch towers of Wignacourt, Lascaris and De Redin, amongst others). Not all of these have survived.
Many were small, lightly fortified and weakly defended watch towers, intended to watch and to 'survive' long enough to raise the alarm. However there were also substantial large forts meant to resist seaborne landings such as Fort St Lucian. These too are included in this itinerary.
Moreover in between a variety of redoubts, coastal batteries, entrenchments etc were built. These are not so well documented or looked after. They were not intended to be included in this walk. Nevertheless, some such as the Qajjenza battery also known as the Ferretti battery, are included in this walk mainly being 'on the way' - though they are neither towers nor forts.
Of course the Grand Harbour area, and to a lesser extent the adjoining Marsamxett harbour are surrounded by fortifications including large forts such as Fort St Angelo, Fort St Elmo and Fort Ricasoli.
More recently, ie under the British colonial administration other coastal forts were built such as Fort Delimara which is also included in this walk.
This is not intended to be an unequivocal and comprehensive definition of Malta's coastal towers, but a rough 'rule of thumb' guideline to the concept of the walk.
This account is a compilation of a walk planned in 2011 and undertaken in early 2012 (see footnote). However since the walk has been completed, it is also intended to update this page for a while. Thus others may find it more informative about the 'towers' in general or for walkers to emulate or to adapt the trekking for their purposes such as for a so-called 'treasure hunt'. Links to Google maps or Googleearth might be added later.
It was hoped to physically get to every coastal tower or fort in this series. However some are on private property and one is not able to walk right up to them (let alone gain access to their interior).
The trek as described here starts in a 'clockwise direction' from Lippija Tower (also called Gnejna Tower). This is a short walk from the village of Mgarr, which is a convenient assembly point, with facilities for food and refreshments. Of course it is possible to start from any 'tower' listed here and to choose which way round the island to go.
Lippija Tower (also called Gnejna Tower)
This tower is one of those erected by Lascaris de Castellar. It is situated on the high ground of the right hand side of the Gnejna valley (as one faces the sea). It is a short walk from a lane (with no parking to speak of) but it is possible to be dropped off by the gate leading to the tower. Like probably all coastal towers it enjoys spectacular views but especially facing South to the beach at Gnejna bay.
(about 7 km from Lippija Tower to Red Tower)
Ghajn Tuffieha Tower.
This is beautifully situated on a promontory between two picturesque bays: Ghajn Tuffieha and 'Golden Bay' (ir-Ramla tal-Mixquqa). The architects and builders who erected it did their job properly, unlike those who centuries later built a hotel 200 metres away and which is now derelict, cracking up and sliding down into Ghajn Tuffieha bay.
The road North to Manikata (or else a footpath closer the coast, through the 'reserve') then leads to the so called Ghajn Znuber Tower. This is probably not a coastal watch tower after all. Its construction is not at all typical of any of the towers of the 'Mahras' (the militia watch).
As the photo shows, the walls of 'Ghajn Znuber Tower' are no thicker than those of any habitation and not at all buttressed or strengthened. It has a surfeit of doors at ground floor level as wide and weak as those of a farmhouse. Far from being constructed with a military design, it could probably be stormed by a determined herd of goats. In contrast the Wignacourt, Lascaris and De Redin watch towers all have very thick slightly sloping 'ground floor' walls with a narrow entrance at 'first floor' level. It is portrayed in a youtube video and a well informed account. On balance this so called 'tower' can probably be missed out of the definitive walk.
The walk then proceeds to Mellieha and beyond.
Red Tower (Torri l-Ahmar) / St Agatha’s Tower
This is Lindsay's favourite tower. The photographs above show why it is called 'the red tower'. It was built during the rule of Grand Master Lascaris de Castellar. A 360 degree panorama and other views can be seen on the Military Architecture website. This tower is open to visitors.
(about 4 km from Red Tower to White Tower)
White Tower (Torri l-Abjad) / L-Ahrax Tower
This is situated practically at the northernmost tip of the island. The following image shows it in the distance after one has set off from the 'Red Tower'.
However close up the White Tower is a slight disappointment especially since it is not well kept.
From the White Tower one has to double back along one's tracks, nearly as far as the Red Tower, proceeding to St Paul's bay via Mellieha.
Note that it is possible to detour to Ghajn Hadid Tower which was a De Redin watchtower but after an earthquake it was reduced to not much more than a pile of rubble, so has not been formally included in this itinerary.( Click here if you wish to find out more.). If one were to visit the ruins of Ghajn Hadid then one could also visit 'Fort Campbell' of British construction, hurriedly put up before WWII. It is however not particularly well fortfified, and has thin walls; perhaps it is better called a battery.
(about 13.5km from White Tower to Qawra Tower)
This is reputedly the oldest coastal tower still in existence in Malta. As the name attests it was commissioned by Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt.
Qawra Tower (ta Fra Ben)
This is at the tip pf the Qawra promontory, and like other towers further South on the East coast has been engulfed by pubs, clubs and similar tourist establishments, and is practically on top of a restaurant.
If (as Lindsay and her team did) the walk is started at Lippija, then Qawra is a good location to 'call it a day' - plenty to eat and drink before resuming the next day.
> (about 3.5km from Qawra Tower to Ghallis Tower)
An account of this tower can be found on the Din l'Art Helwa website.
> (about 12 km from Ghallis Tower to Fort Tigne)
Qalet Marku Tower (St Mark Tower)
This tower is open to visitors by appointment.
The photograph which follows shows (from left to right): Emily, Isabel, Lindsay and Amanda - all wearing their 'St Ann's Hospice' T-shirts by the door of Qalet Marku (St Mark's) Tower.
(not to be confused with Madliena Fort which is much more recent and further inland. Click here for more information)
St George’s Tower
This has been assimilated into the Corinthia hotel, and overshadowed by it.
Getting to the tower is easy if you are a guest at the hotel - otherwise you have to discreetly inveigle your way along the foreshore.
This was the last substantive fort built by the knights in Malta. It was built to complement Fort St Elmo on the opposite side of the entrance to Marsamxett (Marsamscetto) harbour. It was relatively innovative in design compared to the other fortifications built by the knights.
(about 2 km from Fort
Tigne’ to Fort Manoel)
This Fort lies on an island in Marsamxett (Marsamscetto) harbour. The island is linked by a small stone bridge to the mainland at Gzira (which means 'island').
The Fort is named after Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena under whose patronage it was built. An informative account as well as panorama is found on another website.
(about 6.5 km from Fort Manoel to Fort St
Elmo - a walk around the shore line of Marsamxett harbour)
Fort St Elmo
This fort is at the tip of the Valletta promontory.
Although it is possible to walk from Valletta to The Three Cities, it is not a pleasant walk, along some of the most industrialised and polluted parts of the island. So it may be reasonable to catch a boat over to Birgu (where Fort St Angelo is situated) and to get an impressive view of this and other harbour forts from the sea, to appreciate how imposing they would have seemed to any enemy. These views can be seen from a webcam (or just snapshot) based at Corradino (Kordin) of the Grand Harbour (from VisitMalta.com), or else from a Valletta webcam.
Perhaps to give the walk a contemporary flavour it might be appropriate to walk back past the Palace in Valletta which houses in its 'turretta' the 'Valletta Port Control'.
is about 7.5km
exclusively on foot from Fort St Elmo to Fort St Angelo, but it
would be very ugly and awkward through industrial dockside areas. However if one catches a boat from the Valletta waterfront to the
marina at Birgu, one would only walk about about
2.5km or less)
Fort St Angelo - the oldest of the fortresses guarding the Grand Harbour, is shown in the next image.
> (about 2.5km from Fort St Angelo to Fort Ricasoli)
From the Birgu marina (on the west side of Fort St Angelo) it is best to walk gently uphill towards Victory Square, and thence up Main Gate Street. Although it is possible to exit via the Main Gate, a slightly shorter and more quaint route is through the Gate of Auvergne, close to the Post of Castille which is at the Eastern most end of Birgu's land front. Thence one crosses the ditch (moat) on a narrow foot bridge (watching out for dogs' vsiting cards). After that it is downhill to Kalkara bay, uphill through Kalkara and downhill again to Rinella bay.
The next image shows a mega-pothole that was
encountered during the walk in April 2012. As the photo shows, a small car
could easily vanish down the hole.
The next and biggest Grand Harbour fort is Fort Ricasoli. It has featured in many movies (such as Gladiator). Unfortunately it is not open to visitors, and is reputed to be in a dilapidated state. It is the largest (and the most recent) Grand Harbour fort built by the knights.
> (about 0.5 km from Fort Ricasoli to Fort Rinella)
Fort Rinella is a much more recent fort, of British construction, and only a short and well signposted walk from Fort Ricasoli. It has a very low profile, and is difficult to see especially with the new wall put up around it (presumably so that only paying guests can see it).
Fort Rinella is a well known tourist attraction, on account of its 100 ton Armstrong gun - reputedly the world's largest muzzle loading gun.l
Rinella is followed Southwards along the coast by other coastal fortifications which are not old watch towers.
> (about 1 km from Fort Rinella to Fort St Rocco)
Fort St Rocco
An excellent account of Fort St Rocco appears on the military architecture website. Unfortunately it seems to have been assimilated into the 'Smart City' development and when we tried to gain access to it in 2012, we were denied access by the security guard, and could only see part of it from outside the barrier.
One hopes that the development around it, will be done in good taste and will take account of the fort (but developments elsewhere in relation to Malta's fortifications do not leave much ground for optimisim).
> (about 7.5 km from Fort St Rocco to Fort St Thomas
- you may skirt Delle Grazie Battery as well as Fort St Leonardo on the
Fort St Leonardo
From Fort St Rocco, past 'Smart City' the route goes past Smart City and curves to the left until reaching Kalkara military cemetery, at which junction one turns left. Then onto a road that passes between the villages of Xghajra on the left and Zabbar on the right. Confirmation that one is on the right track is the smell and sight of the sewage plant one one's left. Not long after a small track (also on the left) leads to Fort St Leonardo. The track bifurcates and parts of the walls of the fort can be seen from either side - and through the right track working one's way round to the sea facing walls. The fort seems to have been practically annexed by a private farmhouse.
After Fort St Leonardo, making one's way back to the main 'road' it is important to turn left (at a small crossroad') soon after leaving. The track then leads down to the sea. On reaching the sea, to the left one returns to a fortification dating back to the Knights :
Triq il-Wiesgħa Tower
This is another one of the De Redin watch towers.
The importance of the location of the tower is shown in the images above. Next to it in World War II a concrete "pill box" was built. Thankfully the knights' tower was not demolished to make way for the later fortification (as had happened in other locations), but has been well restored.
Unfortunately the seaside track to Marsascala (Marsaskala / Wied il-Ghajn) is shamefully littered with rubbish. One day this stretch of seaside track (extending back almost as far as Ricasoli) will hopefully be a pleasant and enjoyable walk.
Fort St Thomas.
This fort is in Marsascala ( Marsaskala / Wied il-Ghajn). From across the bay this once imposing fort can be seen to have been engulfed by unfettered development. As the next photo shows it has been deprived of its relation with the sea. A huge concrete monster next to it was a hotel which now stands derelict and abandoned - instead of being levelled as it should have been.
As one looks more closely or approaches, the lost majesty of the fort begins to appear.
The event prompting its construction early in the 17th century is outlined below.
A comprehensive account of this fort appears on another website.
> (about 6 km from Fort St Thomas to Fort Delimara)
Fort Delimara is of much more recent construction and has a wide footprint and low profile.
> (about 4.5 km from Fort Delimara to Fort St Lucian)
Fort St Lucian
This beautiful imposing fort had been converted by the University of Malta into a Marine Biological Station, and now houses the Malta Centre for Fisheries Sciences.
The garrison of Fort St Lucian (San Lucjan) first fired its guns in anger in 1614 (only about three years after the fort was built).
On that occasion 60 Turkish galleys attempted to disembark troops In Marsascirocco (Marsaxlokk) bay. In the words of the historian G. A. Vassallo "lo sbarco e in quel porto impedito merce le artiglierie di S. Luciano".
The enemy then landed at Marsascala bay, since Fort St Thomas had not yet been built - indeed these events prompted the building of Fort St Thomas. However Fort St Lucian had proven its mettle, and the engagement bought valuable time for the defenders of the island.
Following an ostensibly well designed, but apparently somewhat clumsily executed, plan the cannon of Valletta and Notabile (Mdina) sounded the alarm. Cavalry and other men at arms repulsed the landing on the South of the island, whilst a strong concentration of militia assembled, in response to the call to arms, around Naxxar and fended off the threat from the North.
> (about 5 km from Fort St Lucian to Fort Benghajsa)
Ferretti (Qajjenza) Battery
This seems to have been adapted into a restaurant along the seaside promenade.
(Not really much to see)
Fort Benghajsa (Benghisa)
Like Fort Delimara this is of British construction and in both cases the corresponding knights' tower was demolished to allow the more modern guns an unhindered arc within which to operate.
> (about 10 km from Fort Benghajsa to Wied iz-Zurrieq Tower)
This tower is in the limits of Zurrieq, south of in-Nigret.
Wied iz-Zurrieq Tower
> (about 18 km from Wied iz-Zurrieq Tower to Lippija Tower)
This is another of the 'De Redin' watchtowers and is the last on this anticlockwise trek, since the steep cliffs on the Western coast beyond did not warrant such watchtowers until much further North. A panoramic view of the Hamrija Tower can be seen by clicking here.
Closing the loop .... Dingli cliffs.
Arguably the walk North along the West coast should go past Dingli Cliffs Radar Station – which is functionally a modern ‘watch tower’ (watching aircraft coming in over the sea), but later one should veer inland (before getting to Bahrija) to then walk to Nadur Tower
This is sometimes classified as a ‘coastal’ tower, but it is relatively far from the coast, and a long climb. Although the sea and stretches of the coast are clearly visible from Nadur, its main function was probably as a 'relay' station so that signales from towers on the coast like Ghajn Tuffieha and Lippija could then be relayed to Mdina - since it clearly has a good line of sight with all of these (while many coastal towers on the North do not have a direct line of sight yo Mdina).
To the West of Nadur Tower is, the much more recent, Fort Bingemma. Although Fort Bingemma's main function was to protect the West flank of the Victoria lines (along Malta's great fault) they could also be turned on the sea. Walking down Bingemma gap, northwards in the direction of Mgarr one then veers left to get back to Lippija thus completing the full circuit.
Other links related to the coastal 'towers' of Malta
Besides the links in the text above, there are various others well worth accessing, including:
Coastal Towers of the Knights of Malta (Part 2) - Video on Youtube
More links will be added to this page in due course.
On a part time basis I have worked at St Ann's Hospice, Cheadle for ten years.
It has been a most rewarding job. The years have been peppered with sadness, camaraderie, compassion, empathy, learning and humour. I have developed a massive respect for patients, families and friends who, when nearing the end of a life, have the courage to get through what must be a difficult time. It has been a privilege to work for such an establishment.
At St Ann’s Hospice we do our best, as do other hospices, to help people through this. But we are essentially a charity and we need every penny.
I am nearing the end of a thirty year nursing career. And, while I still had a little oil in my joints and strength in my bones and fire in my belly, I wanted to do something for the hospice that I care for so much - before hanging up my cap (not that we wear them anymore).
I walked round it in March/April 2012 - coastal tower to coastal tower (there are about 26 in my itinerary). Following the route more or less as described above, the island is approximately 70 miles round (that's about two and a half marathons). It took me just over four days!
My daughters, and intermittently friends and relatives, accompanied me.
My Justgiving page.