Fort St. Angelo > Sea Gate Vaults > History

Building description
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Architectural Plans

In 1681, Grand Master Gregorio Caraffa requested the King of Spain to send the Flemish military engineer Carlos de Grunenberg to Malta to give advice to the Order of St John on the state of the Grand Harbour fortifications and to suggest plans for their improvement. Grunenberg drew up a preliminary report in March of that year, and visited Malta a second time in 1687 to inspect the works he had proposed during his first visit, and to make new submissions to the Order's Council. For Fort St Angelo he recommended the raising of gun-batteries on different levels on three tiers, and the construction of a fourth one at a later stage.

In 1690, Grunenberg was admitted as a Knight of Devotion into the Order when offered to construct further works at St Angelo at his own expense. He suggested the closing of the circuit of the walls facing the inner creek of the harbour, the strengthening of the cavalier facing Valletta, and the construction of a new gateway.

A marble tablet, placed on the new gate recalls Grunenberg's contribution to the defences of St Angelo, and praises him for having 'in addition to his own diligence, contributed the major expense to restore and convert it in a more elegant form'. The gate was restored in 1929, and the tablet that by that time had its inscription almost completely decayed, was replaced by a new one.

The gate itself consists in an arched opening with bold projecting voussoirs and the coat-of-arms of Grunenberg and a framed panel containing the marble inscription already referred to. It is flanked by two coupled heavily rusticated pilasters and a complete entablature with an architrave, frieze and a projecting cornice.

The Fort sea-gate is at a higher level than the facing wharf and is reached by a ramp that runs parallel to the bastion wall. This leads to a complex of four distinct vaulted chambers. The first one is entered directly from the gate, and leads to the second chamber on its right-hand side which has five windows placed high on the wall facing the sea. A flight of five steps leads to the next vault that has no natural lighting. A narrow ramp leads to the fourth vault that is at a higher level than the preceding chambers. The tunnelled complex at wharf level is accessible through a flight of steps from the third vault and is also accessible through two separate entrances at the toe of the bastion wall, and through another one on the quay facing the wet ditch that separates Fort St Angelo from Birgu.

Michael Ellul
Architectural and Conservation Consultant
December 2004