Fort Manoel

Gżira, Malta

Fort Manoel is a star fort on Manoel Island built in the 18th century by the Order of Saint John. Fort Manoel has been on Malta's tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998, as part of the Knights' Fortifications around the Harbours of Malta.

In the 16th century, the Marsamxett Harbour was one of the two major harbours in the Maltese city of Valletta. In the centre of the harbour was an island, originally known as l'Isolotto and now known as Manoel Island after the fort, which overlooked the city. Shortly after Valletta's construction, the Order of Saint John realised this was a potential vulnerability in the city's defences. As early as 1569, it was proposed that a small fort with a cavalier be built on the Isolotto to prevent the enemy from taking the island and building batteries on it. The threat was again highlighted by the Spanish military engineer Scipione Campi in 1577, and by Giovanni Battista in 1582.

The next proposal to build a fortification on the island was made by the Italian military engineer Antonio Maurizio Valperga in 1670. Other proposals were made in 1715, this time by the knight René Jacob de Tigné and a team of French engineers. There were several different plans, including building a coastal battery and a redoubt. Other plans included building a four-bastioned fort, or combining all three (fort, battery and redoubt) for the defence of the island.

Eventually, the final design was agreed in 1723, and it incorporated the work of de Tigné as well as Charles François de Mondion, the Order's military engineer. The new fort was to be square in shape, with four bastions and two cavaliers. The fort was financed by, and named after, the Portuguese Grand Master, António Manoel de Vilhena. He also set up the Manoel Foundation, a fund responsible for the maintenance and garrison of Fort Manoel and its outworks.

The first stone was laid by de Vilhena on 14 September 1723, and work progressed rapidly. By 1727, the enceinte, cavaliers and gateway were complete. The ditch had been excavated by 1732, while the chapel, barracks, magazines and countermines were completed in around 1733. The fort was an active military establishment by 1734. When Mondion died in 1733, he was buried in the crypt under the fort's chapel.

In 1757, Lembi Battery was added near Tigné Point, Sliema. The battery was funded by the Manoel Foundation and it was considered to be an outwork of Fort Manoel, since it was intended to prevent an enemy from bombarding the fort's northern flank. It was decommissioned following the construction of Fort Tigné in 1795. The construction of the latter fort was also partially funded by the Manoel Foundation.

The fort first saw use during the French invasion of Malta in June 1798, in the French Revolutionary Wars. At the time, it was commanded by the Portuguese knight Gourgeau, and it was garrisoned by the Cacciatori, who were a volunteer chasseur light infantry regiment, as well as a few men from the Birchircara militia. The fort surrendered after Grand Master Hompesch officially capitulated to Napoleon.

A French garrison of a few hundred men took over the fort on 12 June. During the subsequent Maltese uprising and insurrection against the French, Maltese insurgents built Għargħar and Sqaq Cappara batteries to bombard Fort Manoel. The Maltese attacked the fort on a number of occasions, and the French retaliated with their own bombardment at least once. On 12 September 1799, a company of French troops from Fort Manoel attempted to silence an insurgent gun position in San Ġwann, but were repelled by the Maltese insurgents.

When Malta became a British protectorate in 1800, Fort Manoel was officially taken over by the British military that September. In the late 19th century, the echaugettes on the bastions facing Valletta were dismantled to make way for gun emplacements. Later on, significant alterations were made to St. Anthony Bastion, when its gunpowder magazine was demolished to make way for a battery of three QF 12-pounder guns.

The British military finally decommissioned the fort's guns in 1906. Nonetheless, it remained a military establishment, seeing use again during World War II, when a battery of 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft guns was deployed there. The guns were mounted in concrete gun emplacements and deployed in a semicircle in and around the fort. The fort suffered considerable damage to its ramparts, barracks and chapel as a result of aerial bombing during the war. The fort was eventually decommissioned in 1964.

After being decommissioned, Fort Manoel was abandoned and fell into a state of disrepair. Parts of it were also vandalized. In 2001, the restoration work began on the fort. The piazza and some of the bastions have been restored, with the ruined chapel being completely rebuilt.



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Manoel Island, Gżira, Malta
See all sites in Gżira


Founded: 1723–1733
Category: Castles and fortifications in Malta


4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

C. Wallace (5 months ago)
Cool spot with some great views. Perfect for a stroll.
Lina Maestre (12 months ago)
Beautiful place
Englishman in Malta (13 months ago)
Not sure What Happened To Manoel Island Project ? But its still worth a wak arount Manoel Island its like a nature reserve you need good shoes, but its worth it with fantastic views all around check out my video on my channel englishman in malta on youtube
Özge Ergün (16 months ago)
A small island where on one side you can see Sliema and on the other side Valetta. It is quite abandoned, in fact there are signs everywhere stating that there is a risk of some old construction parts falling down. Unfortunately it is not well maintained. Most of the buildings are not used anymore and they are not in good shape. Though still it is nice to take a walk on the island. You can either take the proper path or jump from one stone to the other one on the shore and go back to the fond memories of your childhood ?
Vincent Jones (2 years ago)
A pleasant one hour stroll with your camera will have you delighted with what you capture. So much tourist potential. Lots of heritage restoration taking place. So accessible and scenic for all.
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