Although labeled as a fort in most Maltese guidebooks, in fact this fortification is an artillery battery of the Victorian era, which is widely known for its world's largest muzzle-loading Armstrong gun. Being in a state of fair preservation, Fort Rinella attracts tourists with its interesting exposition of weapons and spectacular theatrical performances, showing everyday life of the XIX century garrison.
When in the late 19th century the Italian Navy had introduced into service two powerful battleships protected by thicker steel armor and equipped by four 100-ton guns, the British saw a potential menace to their standing in the Mediterranean and took a decision to strengthen the coastal defense of Malta and Gibraltar. Constructed in 1878-1886, Rinella Battery was one of two batteries in Malta, specifically designed to house one Armstrong gun, which was mounted there in 1884.
At that time the gun was considered a masterpiece of military engineering. It was designed and manufactured by Lord William Armstrong, who was a prominent British industrialist and inventor. The gun had a steam hydraulic system that allowed turning it in all possible directions and was equipped with the world's first mechanical loading system that enabled the crew to reload it in just 6 minutes. Having the caliber of 450 mm, the gun weighted over 100 t and used shells weighing about 900 kg. Its effective distance made up to 5-6 km and the projectiles could penetrate 65-centimeter steel sheets. The crew includes 35 people, who provided the battery combat capability autonomously.
But the powerful gun has never been used in a battle, limited to few shots for training purposes. In the early 20th century it was discarded from service, and Fort Rinella was used as a surveillance station and a military warehouse until the mid 60s. In the early 90s, Malta Heritage Foundation started the reconstruction and made the battery a popular live museum of the Victorian age. All parts of the fort, including the underground chambers and tunnels may be visited.
To date, only two of 12 Armstrong guns survived and one of them is displayed in Fort Rinella, which is protected by the Maltese authorities as a site of national heritage. Every day tourists are offered to participate in a fascinating tour through the utility premises and fortifications, while accompanied by costumed guides. At certain hours an exciting performance begins: the guides dressed as British soldiers of the XIX century show air flappers’ skills, fencers’ exercises and gunnery. Visitors may also fire a cannon or a soldiers's rifle for a small fee.