Wignacourt Aqueduct and Towers

Among numerous architectural monuments in Malta the Wignacourt Aqueduct takes a special place, being a unique engineering point of interest. This 17th-century water supply system stays to the present days. The most well preserved parts of the aqueduct can be observed today in Birkirkara, Santa Venera, and Mrieħel towns.

Aqueduct history

The aqueduct has a long and engaging history of its emergence. In 1566 when Valetta construction was complete the question of water supply was raised. Having obtained experience of living in besiegement, the Grand Masters wanted to develop a system  that could operate under repeated attacks and the town would not be cut out of water. They also wanted to accustom population of the island to reasonable water consumption, as Malta never had plenty of it due to rare rains and few sources. First, the Grand Masters tried to introduce regulations on water usage, in particular, they obliged every house to have its own well and they also forbade having gardens in order not to waste water on plants.

Yet it didn’t solve the problem of water supply in cases of siege. The nearest source for Valetta inhabitants was situated almost in 5 kilometers by boat, at Marsa. Various efforts to build aqueducts have been taken repeatedly beginning with 1596, but none of them succeeded because of lack of finance. Still, with the course of time, more or less final plan of works was formed. According to this plan water was to be delivered from the springs in Dingli to Fort St.Elmo through Valetta. The construction consisted in the following scheme: from Dingli to Attard water would be delivered through underground channels, from Attard to Hamrun it would be pumped along a pipeline, then, from Hamrun to Fort St Elmo and Valetta, water would run through the underground pipes again.

It took more than 4 years to construct the 16-kilometer aqueduct. Main works were held between 1610th and 1614th. During the construction process a lot of changes took place but in a long run the project was finished successfully. Its total cost reached more than 400 000 scudi. Major part of expenses was covered by the Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt. The aqueduct was inaugurated only on April 21st, in 1615. The first fountain was built specifically for this purpose on St. George's Square. Later it was rearranged by the British military to St Philip’s Garden in Floriana. The rest of the fountains were constructed along the path of a water run. Some are in working condition these days and you shouldn’t miss a chance of observing such beautiful fountains like Wignacourt Fountain, Fountain at the Valletta Marina, and Omnibus Idem.

The arches of the aqueduct appeared due to the irregular ground level and had mostly practical purposes. Having a chance, you should have at least a quick look at the triumphal arch between Santa Venera and Fleur-de-Lys, known as the Wignacourt Arch, or the Fleur-de-Lys Gate. The today’s arch is the reconstruction of the original one, which was almost destroyed during the Second World War, but the newer variant was made just according to the previous one: it has three doorways and it is also decorated with Wignacourt's coat of arms and three fleurs-de-lis sculptures.

Aqueduct water towers

Other related places a tourist should see are 3 water inspection towers, which were also built along the water path. The first one, Tower of St.Joseph, is located in Santa Venera. It is a 2-floor turret, resembling a coastal watchtower. The second one, known as il-Monument tat-Tromba, is located in Hamrun, on the hill of St.Nicholas. It is a round shape turret with an open tank for water, and adorned with Wignacourt's coat of arms. And the third one, Wignacourt Water Tower, is located in Floriana, near to Argotti Botanical Gardens and the Sarria Church. It is a round shape turret, supported by pilasters, with a horse trough and a fountain attached. On the top of the tower one can see a fleur-de-lis sculpture. This tower contains arms of Wignacourt and the ones of the St.John’s Order.

Wignacourt aqueduct was in use from 17th to 20th century. Today this is a precious monument to Maltese engineering and architectural talents. In 2004-2005 the aqueduct was partially restored and enriched with a lighting system.

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