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Fort St. Angelo

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Fort St. Angelo is the jewel in the crown of Malta's rich military heritage. It stands majestically at the tip of the promontory of Cittą Vittoriosa or Birgu, as it is popularily known, dominating the Three Cities on the South Eastern Side of the Grand Harbour. The families of De Guevara and De Nava were associated with the castle for many years and the latter family had to hand over the castle to the Order of St. John, when the Knights landed on our shores in 1530.

Soon after their arrival in Malta the Knights set about strengthening the then half-ruined Castle of St Angelo and repairing the fort's defences. The church of St Anne as well as the Castellan's house, both in the fort, were restored and remodelled by the Order's Ingeniere e Soprastante dell' Opere, the Portugese Frą Diego Perez di Malfriere. The castle soon became a veritable fortress, and, thirty five years later, in 1565, was to repulse a formidable Turkish Armada which besieged the island for three months. It was the headquarters of Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette who led the local force of some six hundred Knights and a few thousand men-at-arms against the repeated onslaught of the Muslim invaders. The epic resistance of the defenders of the Fort during the Great Siege, are the archetype of all that symbolizes the character and determination of the Knights of St John and the Maltese.

St. Anne's Chapel - 2.3MbChapel Yard - 1MbSide facing Senglea - 905KbMain courtyard - 745KbView from Palace roof - 1.1MbPalace Courtyard - 1.2MbSide facing Valletta 1.3MbGuva - 2.3Mb

(Panorama sizes:  from 800kb to 2.34Mb. QuickTime® viewer is required.

The panoramas may take time to download on slower systems).

The fort underwent various changes during the rule of the Order of St John and the other defence works were concluded by the  Spanish military engineer Carlos de Grunenburgh, in about 1689. This outline (the dark brown line in the image map above) still survives today.

In 1912 the British Royal Navy moved into Fort St Angelo and the fort was turned into a naval headquarters and rechristened HMS St Angelo. During the Second World War the Fort was extensively damaged by air attack and between 1940 and 1943 it suffered sixty-nine direct hits. It continued to be used as a base ship for the Mediterranean until the British Services finally left Malta in March 1979.

In the historical agreement reached with the Maltese Government in 1998, the Order of St. John, was granted the right to occupy the upper part of the Fort (the green area in the map), comprising the Magistral Palace and St. Anne's Chapel. Intensive restoration works of these areas are being carried out.


The Church of St Anne in Fort St Angelo


This 15th century Chapel of St Anne, in the precincts of Fort St Angelo, is where the Knights first worshipped on their arrival in Malta. It is said that the original chapel was built by the De Nava family one hundred years before the coming of the Knights in 1530. The histographer of the Order Iacomo Bosio, writing in 1594, says that the present chapel was built on the  site of the original one. Leonard Mahoney, a leading historian of architecture in Malta describes the present chapel thus: The church consists of an entrance bay, a square central section of four quadripartite-vaulted bays, another quadripartite-vaulted bay in line with the entrance and, finally a small bay which seems to have supported a half-dome. The four middle bays are sustained by a central column composed of red granite known as syenite and may have formed part of a temple.


The ‘Guva' in Fort St Angelo


The ‘Guva’, or underground cell, was the Order’s most severe place of confinement for convicted knights. It principally served as a place of punishment but occasionally also housed knights awaiting trial. It consists of a bell shaped hole excavated in the ground-rock, without steps, from which it was virtually impossible to escape.

The base is roughly oval shaped (from 3.3 metres at its narrowest to 4.2 metres at its widest) and it is 3.4 metres high. Niches and shelves cut in the walls were probably used for candles, lamps or lanterns. Sad graffiti decorate all the wall surfaces and the names incised indicate that the guva was in use soon after the knights’ arrival in Malta. One graffito by Frą Jeronimo Palan is the earliest, dated August 7, 1532.

The only guva known today, rediscovered in 1913, is in Fort St Angelo in Malta, and is five metres away from the faēade of the little church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The archives indicate that other guvas existed; with at least two or three in Gozo, but their whereabouts have not yet been identified.


Click the images below for detailed pictures:



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EU Celebrations


Fort St Angelo was the centre of attraction in a spectacular display of lights, music and fireworks which was transmitted live on television to millions of viewers, to celebrate Malta's entry into the European Union on the 1st May 2004.


The pictures below show some of the different 'faces' of the fort during the impressive display.








The panoramas were produced with the kind permission of Frą John E. Critien, Grand Cross of Justice, Knight Resident at Fort St Angelo.


Many thanks to:

Comm Joseph C Sammut CM, KM

Mr John Testa BA, Dip Prob Serv

The Maltese Association of SMOM


Produced by: Martin Micallef


© 5/2004

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