Din L-Art Ħelwa Restoring Tower

Din L-Art Ħelwa, Malta’s leading voluntary heritage organization, has begun work on the restoration of Wignacourt Tower at St. Paul’s Bay.

Wignacourt Tower was the first of the dedicated coastal defences built by Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt in Malta in 1609-10.


Wignacourt Tower, or Torre San Paolo as it was more commonly known, is in many ways a unique historical military building, for this structure represents the first of a series of fortified coastal towers erected in Malta by the Knights of the Order of St. John in their efforts to secure their tiny insular realm against the threat of sea-borne attack. Up until the end of the sixteenth century, most of the Knights’ defensive efforts had gone towards the fortification of the Grand Harbour area and the establishment of a new fortified city, leaving little resources for securing the safety of the island’s vulnerable shoreline. The remote northern rural and coastal areas remained prone to corsair incursions and St. Paul’s Bay, in particular, afforded a direct ingress into the very heart of the island.

Despite its strategic importance, however, this large anchorage was never fortified or provided with any form of fortification until Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt directed his attention to the problem in 1609, when he brought the difficult matter of the defence of the northern areas of Malta before the Council of the Order. Wignacourt was concerned with the need of protecting the Order’s fleet when this required to shelter within St. Paul’s Bay, as well as the urgency of preventing Barbary and Turkish corsairs from disembarking their raiders in the vicinity, as they had done on many occasions. Various designs and a model of the tower were displayed during this council meeting and the Grand Master’s proposal was accepted unanimously. The fact that the Knights were able to go ahead with the construction of the tower, however, was only due to the generosity of the Grand Master himself, who went out of his way to donate, out of his own pocket, a large sum of money to cover all the expenses involved in the building of the structure. The first stone was laid with due ceremony on the 10 February 1610, and the tower was completed within the course of that same year.

Readers wishing to learn more about Wignacourt’s coastal towers can look up Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri’s monograph entitled The Bastioned Towers, published in ARX Occasional Papers and available online (click this link).


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