Nov30

Qalet Marku gives up its Fougasse

MilitaryArchitecture.com is happy to learn of the finding of a long-forgotten fougasse along the Baħar ic-Cagħaq coastline, on the north eastern side of Malta.

MilitaryArchitecture.com was informed by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage that a fougasse was accidentally brought to light in the course of the major road works currently under way along the Baħar ic-Cagħaq coast road. This was encountered in an area of the coastline known as Qalet Marku, a small cove situated north of Madliena on the way to Salina. In the eighteenth century, this section of the shoreline was very heavily fortified by the Hospitaller knights. Qalet Marku itself was defended with two coastal gun batteries, a redoubt, a coastal tower, an entrenchment wall, and two fougasses.

The fogazza a selci (as the Knights called the fougasse) was one of the most interesting and original adjuncts of coastal defence introduced by the Order of St. John for the protection of the Maltese Islands. It consisted of a kind of a large, rock-hewn mortar that was designed to hurl a huge quantity of stone projectiles onto approaching enemy ships. Although not an altogether Maltese invention as often claimed, this weapon was, nonetheless, a unique adaptation of the original concept, both in its method of construction and also in its unorthodox application in a coastal defence role. For more information on the fougasse, readers can access an earlier article by MilitaryArchitecture.com here.  Watch video below describing the structure of a typical  Maltese fogazza a selci.

Below, Diagrams showing the general layout of a fogazza a selci (Image source: Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri Ph.D. - 2014)

The military engineer responsible for the ‘invention’ and construction of the fougasse was Francesco Marandon. From his working diary we now know that the Qalet Marku fougasse that has been recently found, was actually constructed in 1741, as can be clearly seen from the following entry in Marandon’s notes, under the year 1741,  which states ‘... si fa la fogazza a selci à sinistra della Cala di Marco dopo aver fatto quella à destra [near Qalet Marku Battery], della Cala San Giorgio e quella nel fondo della spiaggia sinistra di S. Giuliano’.

Marandon’s notes also clearly reveal that the fougasses built along the shoreline at St. Julians and Baħar ic-Cagħaq were in fact constructed much earlier than those in the southern part of the island, contrary to what other aspects of the Order’s records seem to claim, which historical documents tend to give the impression that the fougasses in Malta were all built together in 1741.  As a matter of fact, the ‘fogazze a selci nella Cala di M’Xirocco’ were, according to Marandon, built in 1748 , followed, by the continuation of the ‘scavazione delle fogazze alle Cale di Tramontana [i.e., north of Malta] in 1749’. Work on the construction of fougasses in Gozo, on the other hand, is known to have begun in 1742.

The Qalet Marku fougasse was probably still visible until the construction of the scenic Baħar ic-Cagħaq coast road in the 1960s, when it was then forcefully hidden away from view by a concrete revetment wall skirting the coast road (which wall, unfortunately, also damaged the mouth of the fougasse) and remained out of sight and out of mind ever since, to the point that it was lost to public memory.

This discovery of the fogazza at Qalet Marku, adds another example to the growing list of fougasses that have been identified so far. In all, the Knights are known to have excavated 50 fougasses in Malta and another 14 in the neighbouring island of Gozo, but only a handful of these have actually been located, while the location of a few others, which have long since disappeared, can be traced through the historical records and descriptions. This leaves a large balance of fougasses which is still unaccounted for. It has often been assumed that the majority of these fougasses were demolished in the course of the past two centuries. Indeed, a few are known to have been destroyed by the British Military during experimental test firings, but the fate of the rest remains largely unknown. However, it is now becoming increasingly evident that some of these ‘lost’ fougasses may actually still be hidden beneath surface soil or covered by the coastal roads or post-war building developments, waiting to be brought back to light.

 

Below, Close-up views of the Qalet Marku fougasse recently discovered – the bottom picture shows the firing chamber (forno). (Image source: Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri Ph.D. - 2014)

In 2005, a nearly perfectly-preserved fougasse surfaced at ix-Xatt l-Aħmar in Gozo, after heavy rains swept away an area of surface soil from the rocky foreshore below Fort Chambrai. At the time, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage took the opportunity presented by this unique and accidental find to conduct an archaeological excavation, and as a result, found that the fougasse still contained practically all the original stone projectiles, packed tightly within its rock-hewn shaft – the only example of its kind to be discovered in this unique state.  A search of the surrounding areas eventually led to the identification of a second fougasse, likewise covered with earth and vegetation. This latest find at Qalet Marku, therefore, augurs well for the possibility of similar discoveries in the future.

Author: Dr Stephen. C. Spiteri Ph.D.

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