The fortifications of Birgu are a grand defensive construction around the city, including several bastions, batteries, ditches and walls, initially built by the Knights Hospitaller to protect Malta from expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Nowadays, the powerful fortifications are recognized as a part of Maltese cultural heritage. They attract many tourists, especially those interested in history and military engineering.
The Knights Hospitaller started development of military defense soon after their first arrival to Malta in 1530. They chose Birgu as their capital and rebuilt a medieval half-ruined castle Castrum Maris. It was transformed into Fort Saint Angelo and served as the Order’s headquarter and the Grand Master’s residence. Over the following decades, the Knights Hospitaller built strong defensive constructions around the entire town, securing it against assault both from the sea and the land.
Reliability of the fortifications was confirmed during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, when the Turks besieged the island for 4 months. Even though Birgu’s fortifications were heavily damaged and the Order’s capital was moved to the new town of Valletta, the defensive constructions were later rebuilt and complemented by new defensive lines during XVII-XVIII centuries.
After renovation in the 18th century, the fortifications got the beautiful Baroque style gates made of limestone and designed by the outstanding French architect and the Order’s member Charles François de Mondion. Initially, there were the Couvre Porte Gate, the Advanced Gate and the Gate of Provence, which formed three defensive lines at the main entrance to the town, and Porta Marina, leading to the nearby town of Senglea.
Currently, the fortifications have been undergoing restoration since 2008. In the course of the works, an age-old bastion, a caponier, a battery and a ditch became accessible to visitors. Fort Saint Angelo’s restoration was completed in 2015 and now it is opened to public. Three of the city gates survived through the centuries and they are in a good condition, while Porta Marina was destroyed by a tragic explosion of a gunpowder magazine in the early 19th century. When walking through the remaining gates, tourists are usually impressed by thickness and height of the defensive walls. And the fine decoration of the gates makes the visitors admire the architect’s plan and the stonemasons’ skills.