Fort Manoel: a star fort on Manoel Island

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Fort Manoel is located on Manoel Island. Manoel Island is a small island which forms part of the municipality of Gżira in Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. It is named after the Portuguese Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena, who built a fort on the island in the 1720s.

Manoel Island is a flat island shaped roughly like a leaf. The island is connected to mainland Malta by a bridge. The whole island can be viewed from the bastions of the capital Valletta.

Information related to the Fort Manoel

  • Fort Manoel was already described as “perfect” and “beautiful” in Hospitallier times.
  • Fort Manoel has an area of over 4 hectares (excluding its outerworks) making it one of the smaller Hospitaller forts in the Maltese islands (Fort Ricasoli is thrice the size).
  • Unlike most of it counterparts, Fort Manoel remained largely unaltered during the British period. During the war most of the damage was concentrated on the Chapel, casemates and one of the barrack blocks. After the departure of the British forces, the baroque Fort fell to the mercy of squatters, pillagers, vandals and the elements.
  • At the moment, the Fort Manoel is under restoration. The use of Fort Manoel has not been yet decided however it will be adapted for cultural, touristic and entertainment purposes.

History

  • 1569-1688: Various proposals for fortifying the Isoletto in Marsamxetto by distinguished engineers such as Valperga, Blondel and Grunenberg.
  • 1643: The Order of St John barters the Isoletto with the Church for lands at Fiddien outside Mdina.
  • 1715: Chief engineer Tigné produces a star shaped fort which is later refined by his successor Charles Francois de Mondion and accepted by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena who personally footed most of the construction costs.
  • 1723: During a solemn ceremony, the foundation stone is laid on the 14th September and the Fort is named in honour of its benefactor.
  • 1733: Engineer de Mondion dies suddenly and is interred in the crypt beneath the newly constructed Chapel of St Anthony of Padua within Fort Manoel.
  • 1798: The garrison at Fort Manoel puts up a brave opposition to the invading French forces.
  • 1813: Malta’s worst ever recorded outbreak of plague forces authorities to turn Fort Manoel into a place for isolating the afflicted. By the end of the epidemic, hundreds perished here.
  • 1923: Most of the Manoel Island including the fort is transferred to the War Department.
  • 1941: On the 1st November, Fort Manoel is heavily bombed during an air-raid, leaving the Chapel and much of the casemates destroyed. Five troops of the 10th HAA battery based in the fort were killed.
  • 1945: Fort Manoel together with much of Manoel Island becomes a Royal Naval shore establishment under the name of H.M.S. Phoenicia.
  • 1965: H.M.S. Phoenicia is decommissioned and handed over to the Maltese Government.
  • 2000: Fort Manoel is leased to MIDI plc with restoration works starting soon afterwards. Fort Tigné in Sliema was simultaneously preserved and works on the historic Lazzaretto will start shortly.

Source: MIDI (Manoel Island & Tigné Point Development).

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