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In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the End of the Second World War, Military Architecture.com is holding an exhibition of original pen drawings of concrete defences from World War Twostill be found in the Maltese countryside and coastal areas. These drawings are the work of Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri and will be hosted later this summer at the Red Tower in Mellieħa by Din L-Art Ħelwa, Malta’s longest-standing and leading voluntary heritage organization.
The free-hand pen drawings, a few examples of which are illustrated below, have never been published or displayed to date. In all, the exhibition will host some 20 drawings and will be accompanied by an ongoing video presentation highlighting the wealth and diversity of concrete defensive structures from this period in the history of Malta.
Although, never tested in battle, the concrete pillboxes and beach-posts would have had to shoulder the brunt of the defence of Malta had the island been invaded by the Axis powers. These puny concrete structures, as a matter of fact, represent the last chapter in the development of fortifications and military architecture in Malta. Hundreds of pillboxes were built immediately prior to the outbreak of the War in 1939 and in the opening years of the conflict. Many, unfortunately, disappeared after 1945, either because they were unceremoniously swept away to make room for modern development or simply because they were abandoned and left to decay and fall apart. Being, more often than not, simple and plain structures of concrete, crudely built, they have tended to elicit little popular aesthetic response. With time, however, many of the surviving structures have blended into the countryside and earned their own place in the rural and coastal landscapes of the Maltese islands.
Dr. Spiteri’s artistic portrayal seeks to capture some of the more iconographic examples of these structures, emphasizing their sculptural qualities and rich textures, within their suggestive rural and coastal settings. The drawings are executed in the spirit of nineteenth-century Ruinenlust and what Peter Ackroyd calls the ‘spectacle of desuetude and decay’, inspired by the manner with which Romantics took to ruination. Indeed, ever since the castle ruin arrived centre-stage in European art and psyche in the eighteenth century, ruins of abandoned fortifications, including the discarded or bombed out concrete structures of WWII, continue to exert a strong spell on our minds. ‘The ideas ruins evoke in me’, wrote Denis Diderot, the renowned French philosopher and art critic in 1767, ‘are grand’.
Exhibition venue and visitor dates
The exhibition will be kindly hosted by Din L-Art Ħelwa in its Red Tower at Mellieħa. The Red Tower (Torre Rossa or Fort St. Agatha as it is also known) is a unique work of coastal fortification erected by the Knights of St John in 1647-49. Its choice as a venue for hosting this exhibition was inspired by the fact that this old tower also served as defensive position in WWII. Furthermore, the area around tower presents one of the best-preserved WWII defensive stop lines and contains some of Malta’s most interesting and beautifully camouflaged WWII pillboxes still to be encountered in the Maltese countryside and coastal areas.
The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday 24 October to Saturday 7 November 2015.
Above, View of the Red Tower at Mellieħa with one of the camouflaged pillboxes located in its immediate vicinity (foreground). The tower itself was used as a defensive post in WWII. One of its large windows (seen on the right) was also adapted to take a machinegun emplacement. (Image source: Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri).