Saint Mary's Tower is a large bastioned watchtower on the island of Comino. Saint Mary's Tower was built in 1618 to defend Comino since ships travelling between Malta and Gozo were often attacked by Barbary corsairs based on the cliffs and creeks of Comino. It also served as a communications link between the island of Gozo and mainland Malta in case of an attack on Gozo.
The tower is a large, square building with four corner turrets, and is located about 80 metres above sea level. The tower itself is about 12 metres tall, with walls that are approximately 6 metres thick, and is raised on a platform and plinth that are approximately 8 metres high. A musketry gallery was built on the plinth, but this no longer exists. Overall, the tower is higher than any of the other Wignacourt towers. The tower was surrounded by a ditch and glacis, the remains of which can still be seen today. A chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph is also located within the tower.
During times of crisis, its garrison numbered up to 60 soldiers. By 1791, its armament included two 12-pound iron cannon, one 10-pound bronze cannon, one 4-pound bronze cannon, and two 3-pound bronze cannon. After 1715, Saint Mary's Battery and Saint Mary's Redoubt were also built around the coast of Comino, and these had a garrison of 130 men and housed eight 32-pounder and ten 24-pounder cannons, which dominated the North and South Comino Channels.
Later on, the Order also built a barrack block on Comino, a short distance away from the tower. The barracks were later used as an isolation hospital.
In the 17th century, Comino served as a place of imprisonment or exile for errant knights. Knights who were convicted of minor crimes were occasionally sentenced to the lonely and dangerous task of manning St. Mary's Tower. During the French blockade of 1798–1800, St. Mary's Tower served as a prison by the Maltese insurgents and their British allies for suspected spies or French sympathizers. In 1799, the insurgents transferred the tower's cannons to blockade batteries to bombard French positions. Insurgent positions armed with cannons taken from Comino included Tas-Samra Battery and Ta' Għemmuna Battery.
The tower was abandoned by the British military in 1829. For several decades it was deemed to be property of the local civil authorities, and may have been used as an isolation hospital, or even as a wintering pen for farm animals. The tower again saw active service during both World War I and World War II.
Between 1982 and 2002, the tower was used by the Armed Forces of Malta. It served as a lookout and staging post to guard against contraband and the illegal hunting of migratory birds at sea.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.