Refurbished Birgu Ditch

Wednesday 27 January 2016 saw the inauguration and opening of Birgu’s land front ditch (il-Foss) following its rehabilitation by the Restoration Directorate as part of an ERDF project dedicated to the restoration and rehabilitation of the historic fortifications of the Maltese islands.

The historic city of Vittoriosa, or Birgu as it is also known, was the first fortified maritime urban settlement inside the Grand Harbour and the first location of the Convent of the military Order of the Hospitaller Knights of St John in Malta prior to the establishment of the formidable fortress of Valletta in 1566-1571.  The bastioned fortifications of Birgu, begun by the Knights soon after 1530, survived a punishing Turkish onslaught during the Great Siege of 1565, and then underwent many modifications in the course of the Hospitaller rule, the last and most significant of which were those undertaken during the course of the  1720s under the direction of the Order’s resident French military engineer, Charles Francois de Mondion, when the  fortress, with its new gateways, acquired much of its present ‘Baroque’ character.

In recent years, both the fortifications of Birgu and its main land front ditch have received a much needed upgrade and attention. These substantial works were undertaken by the Restoration Directorate as part of the Maltese Government’s major efforts directed towards the re-valorisation of Malta’s unique military architecture heritage, works which were designed both to repair and consolidate a very consumed architectural fabric, as well as to provide a new use for what has been for too long an unappreciated and neglected heritage asset.

The refurbished ditch has now been given a new lease of life and transformed into a pleasant recreational area for the people of the locality, while at the same time remaining an important and integral element of the historical fortifications.


Above, View of the new walkways designed to improve access within the various levels of the ditch and Birgu’s outer works (Image source: Courtesy of the Restoration Directorate).

Below, View of the casemated battery before restoration (Image source: Courtesy of the Restoration Directorate.)

The refurbishment of the ditch has also sought to draw attention to the various original architectural and defensive features which formed part of the outworks of Birgu in Hospitaller times, some of which, such as the eighteenth-century caponier, and a sally-port leading down to Kalkara, were unearthed and brought back to light in the course of the restoration works. These features were also   integrated into the visitor trail set up within the ditch. An earlier article by MilitaryArchitecture.com on the discovery of the eighteenth-century caponier  can be found here.

Above, View of the restored caponier inside Birgu Ditch (Image source: Courtesy of the Restoration Directorate).

A number of Interpretation panels, designed to draw attention  to the historical significance and the layout of the original and complex network of fortifications of Birgu, and the manner in which the Birgu land front  fits in within the wider layout of the outer enveloping ring of fortifications (ie., The Sta Margherita and Cottonbera Lines) , have also been set up along  the new walkway within the ditch so as to help visitors orientate themselves in relation to the trace of walls.

Below, View of one of the new  interpretation panels as mounted on its metal stand,  set up along the walkway within the ditch, and designed (as can be seen from the examples reproduced below) to help orientate the visitor to the significance of the historical fortifications (Source of images: Courtesy of the Restoration Directorate).





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