Thursday, December 24, 2009

Walking tour fortifications in Malta.

This is a bit of an experiment....a walking tour along the fortifications of a real castle. Not sure if my beloved readers will like it, or if they will just get so bored that they will hit the "next blog" button on the top of the page. However, this is the best way I know to show the damage that hundreds of years of neglect has done to perfectly good fortifications.
A couple of notes about that map at the top of the page. Valetta is the capital city, and the little village just outside the main gates is called Floriana. Floriana has been there much longer than Valetta ever was. The bastions are all named, and date back to after the Great Seige...different walls were built at different times, however for what it is worth, they were never actually needed in battle. This walk is along the outer wall of the Sa Maison Bastion from the Port Des Bombes. The Principessa Melita road was at the bottom of the glacis, and these photos are from a walk along the top of this glacis. (A glacis is the flat area in the front of a fort which provides no cover. This glacis was actually planted with umbrella pines, which provide shade, oxygen, and stabilize the soil.) Please click on these pictures to see them full size.

A little bridge leading to to the unnamed bastion, identified as part of the Argotti Botanical Garden. The doorway has been bricked up. The moat, as far as I could tell, would never have been filled with water. Which makes the arched bridge a bit of a folly as far as I can see. The arches are just high enough for me to duck under.

Above, this overgrown ditch is seen from a cannon emplacement. It does not look like a place I would want to get caught in.
The view looking up into that cannon emplacement.
Above is a nice view of the assembly area in behind the outerworks. Actually, to call it a wall is a bit of misnomer, since it is actually a fire step and assembly area cut into the sandstone behind the glacis. There is nothing to prevent an enemy from running up the glacis and jumping into this assembly area. Of course, if he did, he would be facing the crossfire and cannons from the wall, marked by the red line in the map above. In the distance you can see the vedette which defines the point of the much higher Sa Maison Bastion.

Looking towards the west, the assembly area in the previous picture above is just behind that wall. In the foreground, you can see quonset huts which took advantage of the flat assembly area. They date back to world war two, and no doubt were simply taking advantage of a nice flat, hard to come by and hard to bomb area.

The firestep, a little closer to the "point" showing a lot of rubble. Rubble quite possibly all that is left of 17th and 18th century equivalents to quonset huts.

The very point of the wall system had a flag. This is the base of the flagpole. You get a good feeling of the steepness of the glacis in this picture, and the one in the opposite direction below. All those pines were planted only a few years ago so the forest near the base of the glacis is actually not period to the time. OTOH, they are very nice, and they do give a bit of shade. The picture below is attempting to show how much work had gone into cutting the stone to make a flat killing ground.

Actually, it is not quite flat...the surface of the glacis is actually a curve which you can't really see all that well in the above picture, but when you know what to look for, it pops out. The curve of the surface of the glacis was defined by the drop of a musket ball as fired from the fire step. Since the musket ball, once fired, follows a ballistic path, the glacis is designed to match the same ballistic path, being a little humped in the bottom third. Anybody shooting uphill will hit the hump of the glacis rather than hitting the man at the top, and anybody shooting downhill will have his shots hug the surface all the way down, obviating any possibility of cover.

The damaged fire step, and yet another quonset hut in the background. Ditches were, and still are a really good place to stash things like ammunition and other war materiel since a ditch is deucedly hard to hit from an airplane, and if you did, the resultant damage is limited to just that ditch. The French Knights of St. John who built this facility placed all their gunpowder in a bastion well away from the rest of the fort...the Magazine Bastion which nowadays is all covered in can see the Magazine Bastion on the above map to the south east of the Porte Des Bombes.

Imagine fighting up that hill!
And facing the guys at the top looking over that sawtoothed fire step.

There has to be a way to move people and equipment from place to place along the wall, and the above picture, once you figure out what you are looking at, you can see that we have one redoubt behind another. The little bunkers the men would keep their gunpowder dry in have all been broken up, (possibly on purpose to prevent homeless people from taking possession of them) and those are the building stones you see scattered around. However, you can see one wall behind another leading up the hill. It is almost as if they expect to be overrun at that point, and they have provided one fall back after another. There are five in all, I have shown three fall back redoubts in the above picture.

A view from the topmost redoubt.

And what you are looking at when you get there.

This cut in the rock is flat, and provides no cover. Observe the cannons pointing at you from up there. The big steps to the right don't provide any cover, they just give grapeshot something to bounce off on its way to meet you.

The same view, but looking down instead of up....that overgrown ditch does not look very safe.
So as you work your way up those inviting looking steps, you face more of the same.

And this is the pretty little vedette at the point of the Sa Maison Bastion. An O.P.

More of the glacis...overgrown with sage but easy to walk along.
The Port Des Bombes...the stone cannons with the dolphin chain hooks are a nice touch.
This edifice straddles the National Road...that is to say, the Trig Nazzionalli. In the distance you can see the gates of Valetta. A nice little triumphal arch which nowadays seems to be nothing much more than an obstacle to traffic. I suppose it occupies a place which should be a central gate to the city. But rather than totally walling off the city, they built this instead. Well, such a main gate would certainly be a credit to any city in the world.

ip-location map zoom

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