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Lascaris War Rooms

  
   - darkometer rating: 4 -
  
The reconstructed command and operations rooms, as well as other facilities of the British Royal Navy and RAF, that were used in co-ordinating the defence of Malta during the blockade and aerial bombing attacks by Italy and Germany in WWII. One of the top dark-tourism attractions on Malta!   
More background info: See under Malta in general and under War HQ Tunnels in particular. The Lascaris rooms were part of the latter, i.e. they too were used as part of a NATO operations HQ in the Cold War until 1977.
   
But since 2009 this particular part has been taken over by the non-governmental Heritage Foundation Wirt Artna which painstakingly reconstructed it to represent the look the place had when it served as the secret war HQ of the British in WWII. The complex comprised an RAF Fighter Control Room that oversaw all air defence and sea operations, a Gun Operations Room, a Filter Room, where all radar traffic was channelled, as well as rooms for encryption machines for secret communications.
   
In 1943, the war HQ rooms were used as the advance Allied HQ in the run-up to Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily/Italy. So both US General Eisenhower and British Field Marshal Montgomery as well as other military big shots would all have been at work down here at that time.
   
Recently, the commodification at the Lascaris War Rooms has been expanded to include the story of Operation Husky as well. And there may well be yet further expansions and additions in the future (e.g. at the time I was there, Wirt Artna was campaigning for funds and asking for extra donations to enable them to acquire a set of three old tanks to add to their portfolio).
   
    
What there is to see: When I visited this place I was on arrival told that a guided tour had just departed and that I could still join it if I hurried, and so I was rushed to the far end of the tunnel system, where the guide was already in full swing.
   
This guide, wearing a period WWII-era uniform and wielding all manner of pointing sticks and laminated print-outs of historical photos, maps and charts, went into great detail as to how the various operations rooms of these tunnels were used. I won't even attempt to recount any of these details, as much of it was concentrating a bit too much on military minutiae for my taste anyway, and also I shouldn't give away the tour content in any case.
    
Suffice it to say that the ops rooms and all their equipment do look very impressive and genuine and the whole place exudes a distinct period atmosphere (cf. also Churchill War Rooms). Proud Brits will revel in the good-old-British-Empire-ness and the aura of Spitfires and stiff upper lips and all that.
   
There are three large operations rooms, plus a small one, and you can walk both the bottom floor and the upstairs galleries. In the central ops room, as historic photos revealed, it would often have been women who operated the maps and tote boards downstairs while on the galleries above it was men who were in charge of it all. The galleries and side rooms are all stuffed with historic telephones, switchboards and other equipment as well as period furniture. You can always go back and explore all these on your own after the guided tour.
   
One plotting room features a large map of Sicily mounted to a wall (rather than being in a horizontal position as in the other rooms), and I presume this would have represented the Operation Husky part of the war HQ's history (see above), though I'm not sure.
   
In addition to all those recreations, there are also a number of more conventional museum-type glass display cabinets filled with various extra artefacts, such as original tote board indicators and code words, friend vs enemy aircraft identification charts – as well as a whole cabinet full of black aircraft models, presumably for the same purpose. Furthermore there are ship models and original artefacts such as uniforms, shells, ship bells, flags and other things. I found one little portable cage quite intriguing and wondered whether it would have been for carrier pigeons perhaps. Unfortunately no labels revealed such details.
    
There is also a screening room where films are shown, namely the documentary “A Convoy to Malta” as well as the specially commissioned film “Malta G.C.” (where the initials stand for the George Cross) that was made in 1942 to celebrate Malta's resilient role in the defence against the Germans and Italians. (See also the National War Museum and the Malta at War Museum, both of which have a George Cross, or a replica thereof, on display, and where the same classic film is shown, as is also the case at the Mgrarr WWII shelter … after a few days I had the feeling that this film kept haunting me!).
   
Back at the front of the complex, you may want to have a good browse in the museum shop, which has plenty of military/war-themed books, brochures and DVDs for sale, as well as some souvenirs such as T-shirts, caps, soft toys (teddies in fighter pilot garb) plus the unavoidable Airfix model kits you always get at British-style war museums. The shop area also doubles up as a museum cafeteria (called “Victory Café”, no less), where you can sit down for a snack and/or drink – which is what I did, as it had already been my third guided tour and Wirt Artna site that day. It was also then that I saw the row of lockers and the sign asking visitors to deposit their larger bags and coats inside them. In the rush to get me to join the guided tour when I had arrived, this little requirement got overlooked.
   
All in all, this is the place that exudes the most “authentic” air of all the war-related sights in Malta – even though much of it is actually reconstructed rather than original, but still. It's perhaps not as generally educational in terms of history (for that you'll want the Malta at War Museum or the National War Museum), but military buffs will get more detail here than anywhere else. For less militarily-minded visitors it'll be the visual side, rather, that is the most impressive aspect here, though. In any case: not to be missed when in Malta!
   
   
Location: deep (120 feet or 40 metres, to be precise) underneath the Saluting Battery and Upper Barrakka Gardens inside the bastions and bedrock behind the Lascaris Ditch, which forms part of Valletta's main land-wards fortifications.
   
Google maps locators:
   
Main western entrance: [35.89483, 14.51131]
   
Eastern entrance to Lascaris Tunnel: [35.89479, 14.51283]
   
   
Access and costs: quite hidden, but well enough signposted; adequately priced.
   
Details: Without the signposting the Lascaris War Rooms would be near impossible to find (of course that was once quite deliberate). As it is, though, you can quite easily find your way down there – but it is a bit of a walk with many steps.
   
There are two approaches. From the Barrakka Gardens and the Saluting Battery, you can walk down Battery Street to the east of Barrakka Gardens and take the various flights of steps down, following the signs, until you come to the bottom of Lascaris Ditch and the eastern end of Lascaris Tunnel. Walk this to almost its end to get to the museum entrance.
   
Alternatively you can get to the western end of Lascaris Tunnel and the museum entrance from the road bridge that crosses the Ditch and connects to Castille Place. There's a ramp leading down from the western side of the south end of the bridge, connecting to a metal staircase that leads all the way down to the bottom of the Ditch. From there walk eastwards under the bridge to get to the tunnel entrance ahead of you.
   
From the central bus station of Valletta, walk to the roundabout behind the war memorial and then take the road up to the bridge and Castille Place (Triq Girolamo Cassar) and then use the ramp and stairs down.
   
But note that there's no public transport to near either of the entrances and the site is not accessible for wheelchairs. People with mobility issues should be aware that many steps have to be negotiated both on the approach to and inside the site.
   
Tickets can be obtained either at the Lascaris War Rooms entrance itself, at the ticket office at the Saluting Battery, or in advance online (also for printable combination tickets!).
   
Admission: 12 EUR (seniors/students: 10 EUR, children under 16 years old: 5 EUR). Participation in guided tours is included in the price, as are the film screenings. Alternatively, or in addition, there are audio guides available in a range of a dozen languages.
   
NOTE that you can also get combination tickets, costing 30 EUR per person (or 50 EUR for a family), which also cover the other Wirt Artna sites, namely the Malta at War Museum, Fort Rinella and the Saluting Battery tours – but NOT (yet) the War HQ Tunnels Tour.
   
Opening times: Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., last admission half an hour before closing time. Closed Sundays and over Easter, Christmas and New Year.
   
   
Time required: The guided tours inside the Lascaris War Rooms last roughly one hour, but you'd want extra time for exploring the various rooms and inspecting the additional displays on your own afterwards (or before, as the case may be), so in total it'll be rather more like 90 minutes to two hours that you'll need here.
   
   
Combinations with other dark destinations: The most obvious combinations, naturally, have to be the other sites and tours offered by the Wirt Artna Heritage Foundation. You can even get a discounted combination ticket (30 EUR) covering the Lascaris War Rooms together with the Saluting Battery, the Malta at War Museum in Birgu and Fort Rinella – for the latter, Wirt Artna also offers a free shuttle service daily (except Sundays) at 12:20 from the Saluting Battery (and 12:45 from the Malta at War Museum).
   
In addition Wirt Artna now also has tours of the War HQ Tunnels between Barrakka Gardens and the Lascaris Tunnel, which were the original location of some of the operations rooms and facilities now on display at the Lascaris War Rooms and were later used as a NATO/Royal Navy HQ during the Cold War until 1977. These tours are not (yet) covered by the combination ticket.
   
Outside the Wirt Artna realm, the official National War Museum at Fort St Elmo at the tip of the Valletta peninsula is another combination that makes sense.
   
For things further afield see under Malta in general.
   
   
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Valletta and Malta in general.  
 
   
   
  • Lascaris War Rooms 01 - tunnel entrance underneath the Saluting BatteryLascaris War Rooms 01 - tunnel entrance underneath the Saluting Battery
  • Lascaris War Rooms 02 - Lascaris TunnelLascaris War Rooms 02 - Lascaris Tunnel
  • Lascaris War Rooms 03 - restored WWII-era operations roomLascaris War Rooms 03 - restored WWII-era operations room
  • Lascaris War Rooms 04 - a guide explains the operationsLascaris War Rooms 04 - a guide explains the operations
  • Lascaris War Rooms 05 - historic board indicatorsLascaris War Rooms 05 - historic board indicators
  • Lascaris War Rooms 06 - upstairs command levelLascaris War Rooms 06 - upstairs command level
  • Lascaris War Rooms 07 - telephonesLascaris War Rooms 07 - telephones
  • Lascaris War Rooms 08 - behind the big boardLascaris War Rooms 08 - behind the big board
  • Lascaris War Rooms 09 - out-of-bounds cubicleLascaris War Rooms 09 - out-of-bounds cubicle
  • Lascaris War Rooms 10 - side room officeLascaris War Rooms 10 - side room office
  • Lascaris War Rooms 11 - some sort of meeting roomLascaris War Rooms 11 - some sort of meeting room
  • Lascaris War Rooms 12 - switchboardsLascaris War Rooms 12 - switchboards
  • Lascaris War Rooms 13 - more ops and communications roomsLascaris War Rooms 13 - more ops and communications rooms
  • Lascaris War Rooms 14 - another officeLascaris War Rooms 14 - another office
  • Lascaris War Rooms 15 - big map hallLascaris War Rooms 15 - big map hall
  • Lascaris War Rooms 16 - another meetings roomLascaris War Rooms 16 - another meetings room
  • Lascaris War Rooms 17 - on and off serviceLascaris War Rooms 17 - on and off service
  • Lascaris War Rooms 18 - stairsLascaris War Rooms 18 - stairs
  • Lascaris War Rooms 19 - extra display cabinet - how to tell different kinds of planes from quite a long way awayLascaris War Rooms 19 - extra display cabinet - how to tell different kinds of planes from quite a long way away
  • Lascaris War Rooms 20 - boat modelsLascaris War Rooms 20 - boat models
  • Lascaris War Rooms 21 - perhaps a carrier pigeon carrierLascaris War Rooms 21 - perhaps a carrier pigeon carrier
  • Lascaris War Rooms 22 - cafe and museum shopLascaris War Rooms 22 - cafe and museum shop
  • Lascaris War Rooms 23 - back outside, near the western entrance and exitLascaris War Rooms 23 - back outside, near the western entrance and exit
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  

 

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