The Cottonera Lines are grand defensive constructions of over 4 km of total length, erected to protect the cities of Birgu (also called Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla). Together with the older Santa Margherita Lines, it makes a double belt of powerful walls, bastions and gates, protecting the Three cities and the Grand Harbor of Malta. The initial construction embraced eight bastions, two demi-bastions and seven gates, although currently only six bastions and the same number of gates are available for tourists.
Since in the 17th century confrontation between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights Hospitaller in the Mediterranean region continued, Nicolas Cotoner, Grand Master of the Order of Malta, decided to build additional fortifications around the existing lines that were constructed 30 years earlier. Five kilometers of massive ramparts was planned by famous military engineer Antonio Valperga – that’s why the defensive constructions are also called after his name. The works started in 1670, but for lack of funding it lasted almost 100 years and some of the planned facilities were never set.
At the turn of the 19th century the constructions were modified during both the French blockade of Malta and the British rule, when some trenches, batteries and redoubts were added, but later part of the defensive constructions were destroyed due to expansion of the port infrastructure. Besides, the lines suffered during WWII bombings.
Nowadays the Cottonera Lines are partly neglected, but restoration of some objects is planned or in progress. Tourists can observe the powerful defensive walls and bastions while taking tours around the cities. Impressive gates of the lines are particularly noteworthy, since they are fairly well preserved to give an idea of the beauty and grandeur of the original fortifications. San Salvatore Gate, St Louis Gate, St James Gate, St John Gate and St Clement Gate doesn’t provide entrance to inner structures, but Notre Dame de la Grace Gate in Birgu and St. Helen’s Gate, which is a part of the Santa Margherita Lines in Cospicua, have been still used for their initial purpose, while showing the superb Baroque style portals and rusticated pilasters.
Notre Dame de la Grace Gate served as the main entrance and differs from other gates in its large superstructure adding much splendor to its design. Blending beautifully into the landscape of a garden square with flower beds and cozy benches, the gate provides a great photo opportunity for tourists.