Love Maltese history? Fort St Angelo is iconic
Fort St Angelo is one of the gems of Malta, and arguably the most important building on the island.
Historians claim that ‘if you control the fort, you control Malta’.
Indeed, experts at Heritage Malta argue that ‘no other fortress has been engaged with the same intensity in the shaping of Malta’s destiny as Fort St Angelo.
Today, you can see it for yourself.
Fort St Angelo is open to the public and is a massive state-of-the-art museum with regular guided tours.
Here’s why a visit to the fort should be on your ‘to-do list’.
Fort St Angelo has always been of great importance because of its strategic position, guarding Valletta, Floriana, Senglea, Kalkara and the Grand Harbour.
According to historical records, the fort stands on a Roman settlement which was built at the tip of Vittoriosa.
A castle was constructed on the site in the Middle Ages, after 1090.
The earliest historical records about the castle date to the 12th century.
When the Knights arrived in Malta hundreds of years later, the fort became the seat of the Grand Master of the Order.
In the 19th century, the Royal Navy took over the fort, first naming it HMS Egmont and then HMS St Angelo.
Today, the fort is open every day to the public and is looked after by Heritage Malta.
Fort St Angelo over the years
1530 – The year the Knights of St John arrived in Malta. They found the Grand Harbour under the watch of the crumbling ‘Castrum Maris’ which dated back to the 12th Century.
1541 – Italian military engineer Antonio Ferramolino strengthened the walls of the medieval castle in 1541, creating an elevated fort around the Vittoriosa peninsula. He also built a moat to separate the fort from the rest of the peninsula.
1565 – The fort was to play a heroic role in the Great Siege, when against all odds, it managed to repel a formidable Saracen armada. The resistance of the Knights during the three-month siege gave the fort its legendary status.
1571 – Fort St Angelo served as the residence of the Grand Master of the Order until 1571 and was the headquarters of la Valette during the Great Siege.
1609 – The famous painter Caravaggio was imprisoned at St Angelo in 1609 for injuring a knight in a brawl.
1687 – Fort St Angelo was strengthened in 1687 by military engineer Don Carlos de Grunenberg. He paid for the construction of four gun batteries using his own savings. You can still see his coat of arms above the main gate of the fort to this day.
1798 – When French forces arrived in Malta in 1798, St Angelo had become a very powerful fort with 80 huge guns, 48 of which were pointed towards the entrance of the port. The blockade lasted for two years, and ended with the French surrendering to the British in 1800, making Malta a British protectorate.
1814 – Fort St Angelo stood at the very heart of the British Empire when Malta became a British crown colony in 1814. Malta’s Grand Harbour quickly became an important strategic stronghold in the region and a stepping stone to India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
1912 – The Royal Navy occupied the fort from the 19th century, and from 1912 until 1979 it served as the headquarters of the Mediterranean Fleet, first as HMS Egmont and from 1933 as HMS St Angelo.
1923 – Between 1923 and 1933, workers from the Royal Naval Dockyard restored the main gate and the original marble inscription was replaced with the one currently on site, with the original being donated to the National Museum and still displayed at the Palace Armory.
As a naval base, HMS St Angelo was self-sufficient. It had a sick bay, dormitories, silos, a water distillation plant, a mechanised mechanised flour mill, at least two pubs and even a cinema. This was one of the first cinemas on the island.
1943 – The fort suffered considerable damage during the Second World War with 69 direct hits between 1940 and 1943. Nazi propaganda famously claimed that ‘HMS St Angelo has been hit and sunk’ even though it was a fort rather than a warship.
1945 – Fort St Angelo was supposedly haunted by a Grey Lady. She was first seen in the early 1900s but no one has seen her since the end of the war in 1945. Maybe it’s because no one has been in mortal danger at Fort St Angelo since then.
1979 – Fort St Angelo continued to be used by the Royal Navy up to 31 March 1979 when the last sailors marched out of the fort and boarded the destroyer HMS London.
1998 – The Sovereign Military Order of Malta was granted use of part of the fort in 1998. The Order occupies the upper part of the fort, including the palace and small chapel, which is why the Knights’ red and white flag flies on top of Fort St Angelo.
Its stated purpose is ‘to give the Order the opportunity to be better enabled to carry out its humanitarian activities as Knights Hospitallers from Saint Angelo, as well as to better define the legal status of Saint Angelo subject to the sovereignty of Malta over it’.
2004 – Fort St Angelo was the centre of a spectacular display of lights, music and fireworks which was transmitted live on television to millions of viewers, to celebrate Malta’s entry into the European Union on May 1, 2004.
2014 – Fort St Angelo hosted an incredible lights show in front of Prince William, to celebrate 50 years of Malta’s independence.
2015 – A major €14.5 million restoration project was completed, shortly before the historic fort hosted events connected to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
2016 – Heritage Malta opened restored sections of the fort providing public access to its amazing harbour views.
Why should you visit?
Fort St Angelo is a must for history lovers. Heritage Malta provide guided tours of the fort every day.
The opening hours are from 9am till 5pm, with last admission at 4.30pm.
It’s also an awesome place for Instagram fans to check out.
The panoramic views of the Grand Harbour and the towns and cities that surround it are incredible.
How to get there
Getting to Vittoriosa by bus is easy – it only takes 15 minutes from Valletta via bus routes 2 or 4.
You can also cross the Grand Harbour from Valletta to Vittoriosa by ferry or by taking a traditional water taxi.
The crossing takes less than 10 minutes and starts from the Valletta waterfront.