Bastions in Valletta

Due to Malta’s strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean, it has made it vulnerable to attacks in the past.

Whether your approach is from air or sea, the first thing that strikes you is the island’s impregnable appearance. Its historically strategic role as an outpost protecting Christian Europe from the Ottoman Empire has bequeathed Malta with an iron-clad defence system of fortifications which today, although militarily unnecessary, are an indispensable part of the Maltese landscape.

Mostly concentrated around the Grand Harbour area, fortifications were built primarily during the reign of the Knights of St John. Using some of Europe’s best military engineers and architects, the fortifications were continuously improved and upgraded into what is today considered one of the finest examples of military defence architecture in the world.

Apart from protection against the advances of the Ottoman Empire, the Grand Harbour’s importance as a trans-shipment hub also necessitated strong defences, and the lucrative nature of shipping provided further funds to strengthen these defences. The Grand Harbour’s bastions and ramparts stretch over 25 km, and while visitors can examine the architectural details during the day, it’s at night that these magnificent structures come to life, providing a most romantic frame to the beautiful city architecture of Valletta, and the three cities.

Further inland, the walled city of Mdina dominates the surrounding land. Perched high-up on a hill, this medieval town with its labyrinthine streets and Norman architecture is well protected thanks to the ramparts rising high around the town’s buildings. Mdina’s Gozitan counterpart, Citadella, also stands proudly above its surrounding landscape. The walled city dates back to the Bronze Age (around 1500 BC) and was continuously fortified up to and during the reign of the Knights of St John.

Dotting the landscape around the islands are a number of smaller watchtowers known as the De Redin Towers, many of which are open to the public. These small towers were placed strategically around Malta, Comino, and Gozo. From each tower, soldiers could communicate with neighbouring towers, providing for a system of communication and early warning against invading corsairs. Most of the towers are relatively well preserved with a number having been restored recently.

The Victoria Lines – a complex walled defence system built by the British – are amongst the few examples of military defence that was not constructed by the Knights. The British built these defensive lines, which cut across the Island separating North from South, to protect the Grand Harbour – a vital asset for British naval superiority in the Mediterranean.

Did you know?

  • The famous eight-pointed Maltese Cross symbolizes the 8 obligations of the Knights of St John: Truth, faith, repent of sins, humility, justice, merciful, sincere and enduring persecution.
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