Over the centuries, Malta has weathered its fair share of drama. It has been invaded, occupied, and fought over by land, sea and air. While finally left in peace to enjoy its lovely climes and idyllic location, evidence of the country’s military past can be found across the archipelago in the form of fortified structures. Some historic sites didn’t survive the action and the centuries that followed, but many, like the renowned Fort St Angelo and Fort Manoel, have been restored and have opened their doors to the public. These are five of the best forts in Malta to explore during your visit.
Fort St Elmo, Valletta
Fort St Elmo is one of the major fortifications in the capital of Valletta, a city that also has its own 500-year-old Saluting Battery that still performs daily gun salutes. The site has been a strategic military asset since around 1417, when a watchtower was first reported here. It has been attacked, destroyed, and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries, but since its recent renovation, it’s looking better than ever. It’s also home to the National War Museum, which has an impressive collection of historic artefacts, with items dating back to the Bronze Age.
Fort Manoel, Manoel Island
While you’re in Valletta, take a stroll along the city’s colossal bastions, thrusting high above the ocean below, and look out towards the 18th century Fort Manoel on Manoel Island. Originally built to protect the city from the west, Fort Manoel also recently underwent intensive restoration and is now one of the best-preserved forts in Malta. Keep an eye out for the regular open days, when you can go over and appreciate the €20million restoration project in person.
Fort St Angelo, Birgu
Originally intended as a castle, Fort St Angelo was rebuilt with a more martial mission in mind by the Knights of the Order St John, and was used defensively during the Great Siege of 1565. Legend says that the fort is perched atop Roman ruins. While it’s hard to say for sure, what is certain is that this spot – found front and centre of Birgu’s waterfront – has played a vital, strategic role in Malta’s military history for centuries. While visiting, be sure to keep an eye out for the ghost of the Grey Lady, said to be the murdered mistress of a Sicilian captain from the 13th century, and the spirits of the Ottoman soldiers who were executed during the Great Siege.
The Citadel, Gozo
You can admire Gozo’s fortified Citadel from outside its walls (and you should), but don’t miss the chance to venture inside its formidable walls. Like Fort St Elmo, the Citadel’s a survivor of the Great Siege of 1565, but the hill on which it’s perched has been settled since at least Neolithic times. Commanding 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside, it would have been an enviable military stronghold. Today, you can enjoy the panoramas, explore the wonderfully preserved architecture, and visit numerous top-notch museums and cultural spots, like the Baroque Gozo Cathedral.
Fort Rinella, Kalkara
Fort Rinella is an imposing structure, like many of the other forts in Malta, but it was specifically built by 19th-century British engineers to protect Malta from the Italians and so is different in one key respect. It has a massive 100-tonne gun positioned on the coastal battery – definitely enough to keep the Italian navy at bay. For a touch of historical flair, plan your visit to coincide with the regular volunteer tours where guides dress up as Victorian-era soldiers to show you around. Audience participation is not, thankfully, required.