Fort St. Elmo

Valletta, Malta

Fort Saint Elmo is a star fort commanding the entrances to both harbours along with Fort Tigné and Fort Ricasoli. It is best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565. By 1417, the local militia had already established a permanent watch post on the tip of the Sciberras Peninsula. In 1488, the Aragonese built a watchtower on Saint Elmo Point, and it was dedicated to Erasmus of Formia, better known as Saint Elmo. In 1533, the Order of Saint John reinforced the tower due to its strategic location. In 1551, an Ottoman raid occurred in which the Turkish fleet sailed into Marsamxett Harbour unopposed. Due to this, it was decided that a major expansion was necessary, and in 1552 the tower was demolished and a new star fort began to be built. It was designed by four Italian architects and had a cavalier, a covertway and a tenaille. A ravelin was hastily constructed months before the 1565 siege.

In 1565, the Ottomans invaded Malta once again with much more force than in 1551, in the Great Siege of Malta. Fort Saint Elmo was the scene of some of the most intense fighting of this siege, and it withstood massive bombardment from Turkish cannon deployed on Mount Sciberras that overlooked the fort and from batteries on the north arm of Marsamextt Harbour, the present site of Fort Tigné. The fort withstood the siege for 28 days, falling to the Turks on 23 June 1565. None of the defending knights survived, and only nine of the Maltese defenders survived by swimming across to Fort St. Angelo on the other side of the Grand Harbour after Fort St Elmo fell. The long siege bought much needed time for the preparation of the other two fortresses and the arrival of reinforcements from Spain, which drove the Ottomans off of Malta in a bloody massacre.

After the siege, Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette decided to build a new city on the peninsula. Construction started in 1566, and Francesco Laparelli was sent by the Pope to design the fortifications. The ruined Fort Saint Elmo was rebuilt and integrated within the city walls.

The fort was modified a number of times in the 17th century. The Vendôme Bastion was built in 1614, and in 1687 the Carafa Enceinte was built on the foreshore surrounding the entire fort. In the late 17th century, the fort was directly linked to the cavalier and part of the ditch was filled in burying some of the original ramparts in the process. In the 18th century, a new polverista was built in the Vendome Bastion, and stores were built in the area between the main fort and the Carafa Enceinte. These are known as Pinto Stores and they and the surrounding area form what is known as Lower Saint Elmo.

On 8 September 1775, Fort Saint Elmo was captured by 13 rebel priests along with Saint James Cavalier in what became known as the Revolt of the Priests. The Order's flag was lowered and a banner of Saint Paul was raised instead. The Order managed to recapture St Elmo so the rebels in control of St James surrendered as well. Eventually the rebels were tried and three were executed while the others were exiled or imprisoned. The heads of the three executed men were displayed on the corners of St James Cavalier, but were removed soon after Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc was elected Grandmaster in November of the same year.

The fort was once again modified in the early 19th century by the British, when a musketry parapet was built. In 1855, the polverista at Vendome Bastion was converted into an armoury, and some small arms from the Palace Armoury were transferred there. In the 1870s, more works were done on Abercrombie's Bastion. In 1917, the first heart operation to be performed on a soldier was done at St Elmo.

On 26 July 1941, the Italians launched a seaborne attack on the Grand Harbour with two human torpedoes, four MAS boats and six MT boats. The force was detected early on by a British radar facility, and the coastal artillery at Saint Elmo opened fire when the Italians approached to close range. In the attack, 15 men were killed and 18 captured, and all the human torpedoes and MT boats, along with two of the MAS boats were lost. One of the MT boats hit Saint Elmo Bridge, which linked the breakwater with the tip of the peninsula near the fort, and the bridge collapsed. The bridge was never restored, and it was only in 2012 that a new one was built in its place with a similar but different design.

Parts of the fort were severely damaged during the war and some scars of the bombing can still be seen to this day. The Royal Malta Artillery left the fort on 26 March 1972, ending its long military history. Parts of the fort subsequently fell in disuse. Restoration work was completed in 2015. From 1975, part of the fort housed the National War Museum, which contained military equipment and other things related to World War I and II.

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Address

Boat Street, Valletta, Malta
See all sites in Valletta

Details

Founded: 1552–1570
Category: Castles and fortifications in Malta

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Benjamin Murtagh (Benjamin Murtagh) (3 months ago)
A must visit if you are in Malta! Full of interesting history of the Island and some great displays. Parking is difficult, I had to park further down the city and get a tour bus over at little cost.
Dorogi Zsolt (3 months ago)
We didn't have time to check out everything at our final destination of the day. It's easy to get lost exploring this place. The history of this great site is a must if you visit Valetta. You can gain a great understanding of this little island in just a few short hours.
Theresa St. John (4 months ago)
I am very interested in WWII and write a lot about the holocaust. I wanted to see the remining fighter plane 'Faith' and was happy to be able to, here at the National War Museum. There were so many more artifacts to view on my visit - as the fort is split into 7 sections and covers 7,000 years of Maltese Military History. The architecture is breath-taking as well - just standing within the walls, knowing how this fortress was built to protect this country and its people.
Vanya Mihaylova (4 months ago)
We easily spent almost 3 hours there. Very well done and smart museum. Many informative videos, well maintained infrastructure. Many objects are preserved from the history of the island. If you love history and have time to visit it will not regret it at all. Heritage Malta has very good deals for combo tickets or club membership which may be a better choice than just a single ticket
Kevin Scanlon (5 months ago)
Whether you're a WW II history buff or a fan of museums, the National War Museum is a must while visiting Valletta, Malta. There a seven different sections covering 7000 years of military history on Malta. Housed in historic Fort St. Elmo, built by the Knights of St. John in 1552, is a fascinating retrospect of ancient military events through World War One and Two. The ancient buildings that have been restored give you a feel and view of what the soldiers felt and saw. I highly recommend this experience for anyone visiting stunning Valletta.
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