Fort St. Elmo - After the Siege is marking the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 with a drawing of Fort St. Elmo, entitled ‘Fort St. Elmo - After the Siege’.

The large ink drawing, which measures 1.7 x 1.05 m, was created by Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri and depicts Fort St Elmo in the weeks after its fall to the Ottoman forces on 23 June 1565. It shows the structure with its breached and damaged ramparts and the enveloping Turkish siege works, trenches, and advanced batteries.

The drawing will be kindly hosted for public viewing at the Fortifications Interpretation Centre (FIC) in St. Mark’s Street, Valletta, from 24 August to 25 September 2015. Entrance to the Centre is free of charge. For information about visiting hours please consult the FIC facebook page.

A heroic fort

Fort St Elmo is, undeniably, the most famous of the many protagonists to emerge from story of the Great Siege of 1565. Its valiant month-long resistance against the heavy bombardment and unrelenting infantry assaults of the Ottoman army, was perhaps one of the primary reasons for the failure of Turkish campaign in Malta. At the time, Fort St. Elmo was a relatively small outpost of the main Hospitaller strongholds in Birgu and Senglea and, by all the rules of war, was not expected to last for longer than a week against the type of massive force that the Turks could bring to bear against it. The bravery and self-sacrifice of its Christian defenders, however, coupled with the Turkish failure to isolate the fort from its daily reinforcements of men and supplies sent from across the harbour, allowed the Knights to significantly prolong its resistance. But its fate was sealed and fall it did on 23 June. Christian losses amounted to some 1,500 men, practically a fourth of the whole Hospitaller army, although the Turks fared much worse and lost thousands of their most experienced and leading warriors in the process, including the notorious Dragut, corsair-ruler of Tripoli and the most feared and experienced of all Barbary pirates.

With Fort St Elmo captured and Marsamxett harbour secured, the Ottoman commanders then turned their attention to the fortresses of Senglea and Birgu. These bastioned fortresses, however, were much larger and better defended than the puny Fort St Elmo and the Turkish soldiers proved incapable of penetrating their defences despite their own superiority in men and cannon. By mid-August, the siege had ground down to a slow-moving war of attrition but it was the long-awaited arrival of a strong relief force of 10,000-men under Don Garcia de Toledo, in early September, which finally forced the Turkish commanders to lift the siege and sail back to Constantinople.

The drawing of Fort St Elmo is based on Dr. Spiteri’s historical research on the fortifications of the Hospitaller Knights at the time of the Great Siege. This study is currently being prepared for publication and, hopefully, will be available online by the end of the year in a special issue of ARX, the online journal of military architecture and fortification.

A 30-minute video documentary with voice commentary on the fortifications of the Great Siege, produced by, and animated with many 3D computer reconstructions of the Hospitaller defences as these stood in 1565 (see sample images below), will also be shown at the Fortifications Interpretation Centre for the duration of this small exhibition.



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