Sep07

Restoring Ximenes Redoubt

The restoration of the Knights’ period salt pans at Salina Bay, in the North of Malta, currently underway,

has also incorporated the restoration of an eighteenth-century coastal work of fortification that was partly converted by the Knights of St John to serve as a warehouse for the nearby salt-producing complex.

 

Known as the Ximenes Redoubt, this eighteenth century work of fortification was originally constructed in 1715/16 as part of the Hospitaller knights’ strategy of defending the Maltese islands against invasion with a network of coastal fortifications designed to actively resist invasion and prevent invading enemy forces from establishing a beachhead and landing their troops ashore. Its partial conversion into a salt magazine occured later in the course of the eighteenth century at a time when various enlightened grand masters sought to improve the economic potential of the island.

 

The Saline Nuove

 

Salina Bay was considered as one of the most important anchorages in the north of Malta and its defence formed an critical part of the island-wide coastal defence scheme.  Although not a large bay in comparison to the other important anchorages at Mellieħa and St Paul’s Bay, its location provided direct access into the plains north of the great fault and a quick entry point into the very heart of the island. In antiquity, Salina Bay was actually much larger such that it served the Romans as an important harbour. It extended well into the plains of Burmarrad but by the middle ages, these inner reaches had largely silted up. Its importance once again came to the fore during the course of the mid-sixteenth century when the Knights constructed a large salt-producing complex to replace the more exposed salt pans at Mellieħa (the so-called Saline Vecchie).  Known as the Saline Nuove, this extensive complex produced up to two salt harvests a year, totalling some 4,000 tons of coarse salt - enough to supply the domestic demand and leave a surplus for export. Unlike all the other salt pans in Malta and Gozo, which were cut into the rocky shoreline, the Saline Nuove were constructed from stone and arranged into large pools separated by stone walls

Image 1: View of the northern end of the Salina salt pans with the Ximenes Redoubt in the background, marked by a white arrow (Image source: Author's private collection).

 

The Ximenes Redoubt

Although largely forgotten today, tucked away as it is along one side of the Bahar-ic-Caghaq-to-Salina coast road and overshadowed by the Coastline Hotel, the Ximenes Redoubt nonetheless remains one of the most intriguing coastal works of fortifications built by the Knights of St John in course of the eighteenth century. This work is a combination of  various elements and comprises a small fortified enclosure, two large warehouses, and a fougasse.

Although known as Ximenes Redoubt (mainly due to the large marble coat of arms of Grand Master  Francisco Ximenes de Texada - reigned 1773-175 affixed to the magazine adjoining the redoubt - see image 3 below), this defensive work actually began its life as a military outpost during the reign of Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful (reigned 1697-1720) in 1715. The Order's official records list it simply as the 'Ridotto à dritta delle Saline' (i.e. redoubt on the right side of Salina Bay). It only acquired the name Ximenes Redoubt late in the eighteenth century (sometime between 1773 and 1775) when Gran Master Ximenes added a second warehouse to the complex to increase its storage capacity and affixed a relatively large escutcheon with his coat of arms above its doorway - little wonder, it was one of a handful of works erected durig his brief magistracy!

Image 2: View of  Ximenes Redoubt before commencement of restoration works (Image source: Author's private collection).

Image 3: View of  the main entrance into the warehouse constructed by Grand Master Ximenes crowned by an escutcheon bearing his coat of arms (Image source: Author's private collection).

Originally, this work of fortification looked much different from that which can be seen today. As a matter of fact, it appears to have been the only one of all the redoubts built at the time which was given a design based on the principle of a fieldwork redoubt, consisting simply of a polygonal enclosure surmounted by a high parapet with walkway - a work designed solely to protect a detachment of infantrymen. Most of the other redoubts, on the other hand, were built either as pentagonal platforms equipped with adjoining blockhouses, or as tour-reduits (tower-redoubts).

The building accounts of 1715/16 confirm that Ximenes Redoubt originally had no adjoining blockhouse or room to shelter troops and this document lists no expenses for the construction of 'Archi' (arches to the support of the roof) or 'volti' (barrel vaults) which are encountered in the accounts of the other coastal works of fortification. The very rudimentary and bare nature of this work of fortification is likewise reflected in its overall cost - a mere 316.9.10.2 scudi when compared to the Vendôme style redoubts built along the Fliegu and Baħar ic-Cagħaq which cost, on average, some 1,100 scudi each. The only other comparable work was situated just across the bay (sometimes referred to as Perellos redoubt). The latter, however, was given a small room or blockhouse with a roof resting on four diaphragm  arches. Unfortunately it no longer exists, having been demolished after the Second World War. The Salina Right Redoubt was built on sloping ground and no attempt was made to level out the enclosure, which was left in its rough natural rocky form.

Image 4: Detail from a 1761 plan entitled ‘Pianta Ideale dal Porto di San Paolo sino alla Cala della Madalena Con li Trincieramenti da Farsi’ showing proposed entrenchments at Salina Bay, Qawra Point and St Paul's Bay (Image source: Coutresy of the National Library of Malta).

Image 5: Close-up view of the 1761 plan showing the redoubts at  Salina Bay. The Salina Right Redoubt (later Ximenes Redoubt) is the one on the left (Image source: Coutresy of the National Library of Malta).

 

 No plans of the original layout of the Salina Redoubt have survived. The earliest known graphic representations are from around the mid-1700s. The work appears for the first time in basic graphic form in a 1761 plan of proposed entrenchments prepared by the French military mission headed by the Comte de Bourlamaque in 1761 - the ‘Pianta Ideale dal Porto di San Paolo sino alla Cala della Madalena Con li Trincieramenti da Farsi’. This shows a squarish enclosure (in reality the enclosure had a wedge-shaped plan) fitted with a large rectangular building along its southern side. It is not clear if this represents a blockhouse or the first of the two sizeable warehouses which were eventually grafted onto the redoubt during the course of the eighteenth century. The first of these two magazines is a very large and high structure with a roof supported on diaphragm arches. A close study of its interior suggests that the building may have actually had an intermediate floor likewise resting on arches which seems to have been removed at some later stage, resulting in the very large and high interior space we see today. The building also has windows set high up in the walls which were purposely blocked up at some stage. The northern side of the building, abutting the redoubt and facing out to sea (and hence exposed to bombardment), was heavilly reinforced with a contraforte (a sloping and solid buttress). This large warehouse apears to have been attached to the redoubt in a very aggressive manner, overriding all defensive concerns. Indeed, in the process, it consumed a very significant potion of the original enclosure, leaving only half of the perimeter availabe for defence.

Image 6: Author's graphic reconstruction of the first two phases in the development of the Salina Right Redoubt (Image source: Author).

At present there is no internal connection between the warehouse and the redoubt, so it is not clear how the soldiers accessed the remodelled position short of climbing over its walls. The current restoration works, however, have uncovered the remains of a blocked-up internal passage (with the remains of a spiral staircase) that led out from the annex in front of the entrance of the large magazine and into the redoubt. It is not yet clear at this stage, however, to what phase in the development of the redoubt and its adjoining magazines this passage belonged to. There is also a curious remnant of a thick wall immediately behind the parapet of the redoubt on the side of the road that seems to have once supported some roofed structure. Again, the exact purpose of this wall is unclear and requires further investigation. The second warehouse, added by Grand Master Ximenes, runs the full length of the building but it is lower in height. Unlike the rest of the structure, it is faced with rusticated hard-stone masonry.

Image 7: View of the interior of the large arched warehouse, the first of the two magazines grafted onto the redoubt. The photographs shows the interior during the later stages of the restoration works (Image source: Author's private collection).

Image 8 (above) and Image 9 (below): Details from 19th century maps depicting the Ximenes Redoubt with its two warehouses (Source of image: Author's private collection).

The partial conversion of the Salina Right Redoubt into a salt-warehouse was not the only example of the reuse of a defensive work for industrial purposes during the time of the Knights. Another instance can be found in the conversion of Fedeau Battery at Mellieħa (also referred to as Vendôme Battery, Ta' Kassisu or Mellieħa Left Battery) into an Officina della Tonnara (a tuna-processing plant) by Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca in 1748. This battery, unfortunately, is no longer standing. Although both works retained some degree of their military value, the fact that they were relegated to such non-military duties, despite their strategic location, tends to suggest a momentary lack of confidence in the actual merits of some parts of the coastal defensive network.

Image 10: View of the mouth of the fougasse located within the Ximenes Redoubt, during the early stages of the restoration intervention (Image source: Author's private collection).

Image 11: View of  the interior of the Ximenes Redoubt fougasse as it was being cleaned up of the accumulated debris (Image source: Author's private collection).

Image 12: Early 20th century photograph showing the fougasse located within the Ximenes Redoubt, after it was cleaned up. Note the narrow culvert cut into the side of the fougasse - this was designed to take the fuse (Image source: Author's private collection).

Image 12: Early 20th century photograph showing the fougasse located within the Salina Left (Perellos) Redoubt which onced stood across the bay opposite the Ximenes Redoubt. This redoubt was demolished after the Second World War (Image source: Author's private collection).

The Fougasse

A fascinating feature of the Ximenes Redoubt is the fougasse which was cut out into its enclosure. The fougasse, or fogazza a selci, was a stone-throwing mortar which was cut out into the rock. Some fifty such examples were excavated by the resident military engineer  Francesco Marandon from 1741 onwards (together with another 14 in Gozo) and four of these are known to have been positioned at Salina Bay. One of these was actually placed within the Salina Redoubt and another immediately outside it.  Another fougasse was likewise placed within the Perellos Redoubt on the oppposite side of the bay. These are the only two known examples of fougasees which were shielded by protective ramparts (for further information on the fougasses see here).  The restoration works on the Ximenes Redoubt have also included the removal of the earth and debris which had accumulated inside the fougasse, exposing its forno, or firing chamber, which held the gunpowder charge. It is now one of the best preserved surviving examples of the handful of fougasses still to be seen in both Malta and Gozo.  Neither of the two Salina Redoubts are listed in the detailed inventory compiled by Chev. St. Felix in 1785, showing that these works housed no armament, equipment or munitions whatsoever.

Image 13: View of the interior of the Ximenes fougasse prior to commencement of the restoration works  -compare with the photograph at the beginning of this article (Image source: Author's private collection).

Image 14: Ximenes Redoubt  in the process of restoration  (Image source: Author's private collection).

 

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The restoration of both the Saline Nuove and the Ximenes Redoubt are being co-financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development 2007 - 2013. The project is being implemented by the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs and it is understood that once complete, the Ximenes Redoubt will be opened to the public to serve as a visitor information and interpretation centre on the history of the nearby salt pans, as well as the redoubt itself, and all the various military, architectural, archaeological, natural, and ethnographic features found in the area.

 


Author:
Dr. Stephen C Spiteri Ph.D
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