Restoration of the Cittadella


Extensive restoration works have recently begun on the fortified citadel of the Island of Gozo.

Known as the Cittadella, this old Hospitaller stronghold constitutes one of the most sculpturally powerful and architecturally impressive gunpowder fortresses to be found in the Maltese islands. Initially the site of the acropolis of a Roman city (Glauconis Civitas), it was transformed into a small castle in the middle ages and then dragged into the gunpowder era by the knights of St John in the first decades of the seventeenth century when they re-armed it with the solid bastions and cavaliers that account for its distinctive iconic shape and form seen today.

These much needed works on the Cittadella’s consumed and decaying architectural fabric form part of the major restoration effort being undertaken by the Maltese government with the financial assistance of the European Union designed to upgrade the islands’ main historic fortified sites. The project, which comprises the restoration of four sites (Valletta, Mdina, Vittoriosa and Cittadella) is being executed under the auspices of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs and  comprise a substantial investment of around 36 million Euros. This project is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund under Operation Programme I ‘Investing in Competitiveness for a Better Quality of Life’ for Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, with a co-financing rate of 85% EU Funds (ERDF) and 15% National Funds. is informed that the main restoration efforts at the Cittadella will be directed towards the repair of the consumed masonry fabric of the bastioned ramparts and the various outerworks (i.e. the counterscarp, covertway and ditch), as well as the restoration of the medieval northern enceinte and the consolidation of the fragile cliff-face below the ramparts, parts of which collapsed a few years back and have been a source of concern ever since.  Various geotechnical studies and a laser-scanning exercise have recently been completed and these have served as the basis for the planning of the restoration and consolidation interventions currently under way.

View of the scaffolding on the left face of St. Michael Bastion. Below, Consumed and collapsing masonry of the medieval talus along the northern part of the Cittadella’s enceinte.

Brief historical background

When the knights took possession of Gozo in 1530, they found an exposed and largely defenceless place protected by a singular refuge optimistically called the Gran Castello a puny medieval castle described ‘molto picciola, and ‘di forma rotunda’ (round in shape). According to the Order’s historian, Giacomo Bosio, there were also houses which had windows cut into the citadel’s walls.  Through these, we are told, many Gozitans escaped during the fateful razzia of 1551, when Turkish raiders captured the castle after a short siege and carried away around 6,000 souls into slavery after sacking the castle. Although repaired soon after, it was not until 1599 that the castle was rebuilt and fitted out for the gunpowder era with bastions and cavaliers. The work was entrusted to the Anconian engineer Giovanni Rinaldini, came over to Gozo in  March 1599. Most of the building, however, was entrusted to Vittorio Cassar, ‘architector Sacrae Religionis Hierosolimitane, who was put in charge of the construction works.

The new defences of the Castello were those which gave it its present form and these seem to have been completed by 1622. These consisted basically of two fronts joined at right angles to each other by means of  an ‘arrow-head’ corner bastion ... ‘tre bastioni piccoli li quali formano due fronti con un piccolo fosso al piede, e una strada coperta avant il tutto molto ristretta dal poco sito.’  A small ravelin defended the southern curtain between St Martin demi-bastion and St Michael (St Philip) bastion while the main enceinte was strengthened further by two cavaliers.  A raised walkway connected the ravelin to the main gate, the latter being partly sheltered behind the orillion of St Michael bastion.  The northern enceinte was left practically untouched since it occupied the highest ground on the cliff face.


Once these modifications were completed, the Order believed that the Castello was rendered defensible, an opinion, however, not shared by the majority of the engineers who were to inspect Gozo’s defences in the following years.  With the exception of Antonio Maurizio Valperga (1760) and Brig. Rene Jacob de Tigné (1715), they all advised the Order to abandon the citadel and construct a new fortress at Marsalforn.  Indeed, in 1643 the Order did actually agree to demolish the Castello and to proceed with the construction of the new fortress at Marsalforn which was to be financed by a new tax on wheat.  The Gozitans protested strongly that they were too poor to pay the tax and the Order, realizing that it was unequal to the tax of financing the project directly from its own resources, decided to postpone the work.  The alarm of 1645, however, revived the criticism of the Castello. Giovanni Bendinelli Pallavicino and Louis Viscount d’Arpajon recommended that the citadel be evacuated and its walls were actually mined for destruction although, fortunately, the Turkish fleet never appeared.

The need for a new fortress was rekindled frequently in subsequent years and although a new fortress, Fort Chambrai, was eventually constructed at Ras-et-Tafal overlooking the small harbour at Mgarr, the old castle never really lost its importance.

Today, the Cittadella stands as impressive in its monumentality and sculptural splendour as it did when first erected so many centuries ago.  It is surely one fortress worth preserving.



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