Mar05

Reconstructed Gateway for Qala Battery

Din L-Art Ħelwa, Malta’s long-standing and leading non-profit-making voluntary heritage organization,

has recently announced the completion of the reconstruction of the escutcheons and door of  the eighteenth-century coastal work of fortification known as St. Anthony Battery, situated at Ras il-Qala, in Gozo.  This important and unique example of a Hospitaller coastal work of fortification, one of a handful to still survive in a relatively complete state, has been the subject of an extensive restoration intervention that was undertaken by Din L-Art Ħelwa in conjunction with the Qala Local Council.  The two organizations campaigned hard over the past years both to have the battery returned to the public domain, and also to muster the resources that were necessary to finance the substantial restoration intervention.

 

Built in 1731-32, the Qala Battery (known locally as ‘Ta’ Sant’ Antnin’ or simply ‘it-Trunciera’) is actually one of only two coastal batteries from the eighteenth century  Hospitaller period to have survived in Gozo (the other is situated at Il-Qbajjar, outside Marsalforn), and also one of only a handful still to be seen in a relatively unadulterated form throughout the whole of the Maltese archipelago. Despite its heavily battered state of preservation, St. Anthony Battery nonetheless retained most of its authentic and unique features as well as its original relationship with the surrounding landscape and the sea, given that the site on which it stands at the western-most tip of the island (one of the remotest spots on Gozo) has remained practically unchanged and devoid of any modern developments since this work of fortification was first erected there in 1732.

Before the restoration intervention by Din L-Art Ħelwa, St. Anthony Battery had been in a very poor state of repair for many decades and was fast becoming another tragic historic ruin.  Among the salient features of the battery that sadly had already been lost, was the arched gateway leading into the work (through the redan on the landward side of the structure) with its crowning pair of escutcheons bearing the plain Latin cross of the Order and the coat of  arms of Grand Master Antoine Manoel de Vilhena.

A short inscription, carved into the stone beneath the escutcheons, surmounted by the date 1732, commemorated the building of the battery during the governorship of the knight Fra Paolo Antonio de Viguier, who was in charge of the island in 1732-34. The inscription reads ‘NEL GOVERNO DEL  CAV FRA PAOLO ANTONIO DE VIGUIER’.

The original coat of arms were carved out by the renowned eighteenth-century Maltese scalpellino Mastro Carlo Fabri who was sent to Gozo, together with his assistant, on 15 April 1734 to execute the work. The task, which was completed by the 27 April, cost the Order the total sum of  23 scudi 5 tari and 7 grani, inclusive of the sculptor’s  return fare (4 tari) to Malta.  The escutcheons were carved in situ, with the unworked blocks themselves already forming part of the gateway panoply – indeed  the sum of 8 tari was disbursed for the transportation, to and from the battery, of ‘gli legni e altre cose necessarie al scultore’ (i.e., scaffolding).

The photographs illustrated here, sent to us by Col. E. Parnis,  Din L-Art Ħelwa’s project co-ordinator and manager for Ras il-Qala Battery, show the gateway and escutcheons in the process of reconstruction.

A full article on the historical and architectural significance of St. Anthony Battery (with 3D computer animation) was featured here on militaryarchitecture.com and can also be read in PDF format in issue 8 of ARX (2011).

(Image source: copyright Col. E. Parnis – 2012).

(Image source: copyright Col. E. Parnis – 2012).

 

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