A la Vauban

Podcast: Lecture 1. French Military Architecture in Hospitaller Malta.

Authors:  Dr Stephen C. Spiteri Ph.D. and Arch. Hermann Bonnici  M.Sc.

Automated Narration.


When Napoleon Bonaparte entered Valletta on the 12th of June 1798 , he is said to have been astonished by the 'power of resistance' of the vast system of fortifications which had fallen to him so easily with hardly a shot being fired and was thankful that the knights no longer hand men of the calibre of Jean de Valette to defend it. Ironically this 'power of resistance' so evidently manifest in the mighty ring of ramparts and bastions owed much to French influence, for French military engineers and their ideas had been at work in the Maltese islands ever since Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban began to give France the lead in the development of military architecture in the latter half of the seventeenth century.

The appearance on the local scene of distinguished men like Louis Nicolas de Clerville, Louis Viscount de Arpajon and Blaise François Count de Pagan not only marks the decline of the Italians as leading exponents in the art of fortress building but also signals the shift of the Order from the imperial into the French sphere of influence. From around the mid-1600s onwards Frenchmen like Mederico Blondel, Claude de Colongues and François Bachelieu were finding employment in the Order but the real connection came when Grand Master Perellos turned toFrance in his search for military assistance following the emergency of 1714, when the Island was being threatened with attack by the Turks. The generous French response was as much a case of real politik as it was a calculated act of propaganda. Along with French guns, cannon, and munitions, and the promise of troops, came also a corps of French military advisors. From now on, France and not Spain, would be the patron and protector of the Order. The French military mission was headed by Brigadier René Jacob de Tigné. At the time he was then one of the most experienced engineers in France with 26 years service.   Between them, these French experts would effectively reshape the Order's military establishment, dictating the shape of the Order's military organization as well as the course of the development and design of military architecture in the Maltese islands throughout the rest of the eighteenth century. During this seminal period, the ensuing imprint of French ideas extended to cover all aspects of the military arts. Much of the final shape, form, and character of most of the fortifications of Malta, therefore, became largely the product of the French school of military architecture. So much so, that many of the new elements that were introduced by the French military engineers were described in the Order's documents as being 'à la Vauban'.

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Dr. Stephen C Spiteri & Arch. Hermann Bonnici

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