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Fort St Angelo

  
   - darkometer rating:  1 -
 
The most historic site and the No. 1 landmark in the Grand Harbour of Malta, a large fort at the tip of the Vittoriosa promontory directly opposite Valletta. The fort was the original seat of the Knights of St John and later the HQ for the British Royal Navy. After having long been out of bounds to normal mortals, the Fort, following a substantial refurbishing programme, finally opened to the general public in 2018.  
More background info: There was probably some sort of fortification at this prominent point in the natural harbour of Malta from antiquity, when the Phoenicians ruled the island. The oldest architectural relics still to be found today date back to the early Middle Ages.
   
When the Knights of St John arrived to take over the island, they made Fort St Angelo their principal seat and headquarters and substantially expanded its fortifications. This stood them in good stead during the Great Siege by the Ottoman Empire in 1565, even though after the victory in this battle the main seat of the Knights was moved to the new capital Valletta.
   
Yet the military role of Fort St Angelo continued through the centuries. By the late 17th century the massive bastions featured some 50 artillery pieces. After the takeover of Malta by Great Britain, further major upgrades followed, including the equipment with significant modern guns during the second half of the 19th century.
   
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Fort was made the HQ for the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet. As such it became a prime target during the “Blitz of Malta” in WWII – see under Malta. (Some bomb damage to the ramparts remained unrepaired until 2015.)
   
Eventually, however, the British military moved out of Malta for good in 1979 and the Fort was handed over to the now independent government of Malta. Parts of the Fort were given to the Military Order of Malta in the late 1990s.
   
From 2012 a massive restoration programme was begun with the goal of turning the Fort into a major visitor attraction (with the help of massive funds from the European Regional Development Fund). This was overseen by the national Heritage Malta agency. During that time the Fort also hosted major political evens such as the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The restoration project was finally finished and the site opened to the general public in 2018.
   
    
What there is to see: The Fort is regarded as possibly the No.1 icon of Maltese national identity, and visually it certainly dominates the view of the Grand Harbour from Valletta – from where the Fort is best seen from the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens.
   
Formerly out of bounds to ordinary people, the Fort was finally opened to the public in 2018 and so these days you can get up close to it and explore parts of the inside too. You approach the entrance from the marina of Vittoriosa (Birgu), beyond the point where the really big luxury yachts of the super-rich are moored.
    
Once through the big gate and the steep ramp up, you can explore the various levels and former gun batteries and just get a feel for the massive fortifications. When I was there in January 2019 it all felt spanking new, very freshly spruced up – almost too clean to give the place the feeling of a historic military site.
   
A few cannon barrels have been put up on simple stone blocks to enhance the historic look, but the more modern artillery pieces from the Fort's latter days have been dismantled leaving only the foundations of the gun emplacements. Also gone are the former Royal Navy prison cells built in the 1920s – only a few cuts in the outer wall where they used to be connected remain as relics of these – but without the panel explaining this you wouldn't have guessed.
   
There are a few more substantial info panels (all in Maltese and English) providing some background and also explaining the various views over the Grand Harbour to be had from the various vantage points here.
   
Particular sights of interest are the Great Siege monument, the bell right at the top of the highest part of the Fort, as well as the tower on the north-facing bastion (No. 3 Battery).
   
A few buildings within the Fort still remain out of bounds to the public, including the Magisterial Palace and the Admirals' Hall (though the latter can be hired as a venue for special events).
   
In addition to the panels outside, there are also three small indoor exhibitions inside the vaults of Ferramolino's Cavalier. One, entitled “Centre of the Mediterranean”, provides an overview of the maritime and political history of Malta and various nations' interest in it – including the failed attempt of an invasion, the blockade and air raids by Mussolini's fascist Italy and Hitler's Nazi Germany during WWII. The main feature here is a mock-up of a boat, in the style of a galley, where visitors sit on benches while watching a multimedia projection onto a mock sail at the front.
   
Another exhibition called “Key to Malta” provided more information about the military role of Fort St Angelo in controlling the Grand Harbour in particular. And a third part is again primarily a multimedia projection (this time onto the walls of the vault directly) that celebrates the Fort as a “National Icon” and in the process also provides a short summary (and glamorization) of Malta's more recent history in general, from independence to accession to the EU. 
  
All in all, it can't be claimed that this is a particularly dark site, quite on the contrary: the general approach is totally celebratory, yet with its military history and the odd somewhat darker aspects (the coverage of WWII history and the prison remnants, say) Fort St Angelo still deserves an entry here. So if you are visiting the other sites within Vittoriosa (such as the Inquisitor's Palace or the Maritime Museum) you can tag on this Fort as well. But I wouldn't make it a top priority.
   
   
Location: At the tip of the promontory that is Vittoriosa (aka Birgu), one of the so-called Three Cities, on the southern side of the Grand Harbour of Malta, right opposite Valletta.
   
Google maps locator: [35.8915, 14.5186]
   
   
Access and costs: now fairly easy; not too expensive.
   
Details: See under Vittoriosa/Birgu for how to get to this part of the Three Cities in general.
   
The Fort is accessed through a gate that is on the western side of the promontory that the city sits upon, by the outer parts of the marina inside the creek between Birgu and Senglea. If you're coming by car, you can park right by the marina. If you're coming by bus, you have to walk it either from the main gate (see Malta at War Museum) or from the central square where bus line 2 (from Valletta) terminates. Head down past St Lawrence Church to get to the waterfront and walk all the way past the Maritime Museum to the end of the marina. Note that inside the Fort there are many steps and a somewhat steep ramp to negotiate.
  
Opening times: April through to October daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., in winter only to 5 p.m., last admission half an hour before closing. Closed on major public holidays (Good Friday, Christmas, New Year's Day).
   
Admission: 8 EUR (regular adult price – seniors and students 5 EUR, children up to 11 years old 3 EUR)
   
You can get a reduced combination ticket covering Fort St Angelo as well as the Inquisitor's Palace and the Maritime Museum. It's even worth it if you want to combine a visit to the Fort with only one of those other two sites.
   
   
Time required: Between one and two hours.
   
   
Combinations with other dark destinations: See under Vittoriosa.
   
   
Combinations with non-dark destinations: See under Vittoriosa – the main added bonus of going to Fort St Angelo is probably the splendid views you can enjoy over the Grand Harbour and especially to Valletta from here. It's one of only few places from where you can see the entire skyline of the capital city.  
   

   

  • St Angelo 01 - the fort seen from VallettaSt Angelo 01 - the fort seen from Valletta
  • St Angelo 02 - approach from BirguSt Angelo 02 - approach from Birgu
  • St Angelo 03 - entrance and Birgu in the backgroundSt Angelo 03 - entrance and Birgu in the background
  • St Angelo 04 - bellSt Angelo 04 - bell
  • St Angelo 05 - massive fortificationsSt Angelo 05 - massive fortifications
  • St Angelo 06 - uppermost levelSt Angelo 06 - uppermost level
  • St Angelo 07 - view downSt Angelo 07 - view down
  • St Angelo 08 - Siege memorialSt Angelo 08 - Siege memorial
  • St Angelo 09 - former gun emplacementSt Angelo 09 - former gun emplacement
  • St Angelo 10 - tower and cannonsSt Angelo 10 - tower and cannons
  • St Angelo 11 - location of 1920s prison cellsSt Angelo 11 - location of 1920s prison cells
  • St Angelo 12 - old signSt Angelo 12 - old sign
  • St Angelo 13 - No 3 batterySt Angelo 13 - No 3 battery
  • St Angelo 14 - part not open to the general publicSt Angelo 14 - part not open to the general public
  • St Angelo 15 - in one of the exhibition partsSt Angelo 15 - in one of the exhibition parts
  • St Angelo 16 - mock boat with silver-screen sailSt Angelo 16 - mock boat with silver-screen sail
  • St Angelo 17 - evil rearing two of its ugliest headsSt Angelo 17 - evil rearing two of its ugliest heads
  • St Angelo 18 - bisected model of the fortSt Angelo 18 - bisected model of the fort
  • St Angelo 19 - history projection onto the wallSt Angelo 19 - history projection onto the wall
  • St Angelo 20 - Malta joining the EUSt Angelo 20 - Malta joining the EU
  • St Angelo 21 - Malta celebratingSt Angelo 21 - Malta celebrating
  • St Angelo 22 - back at the entrance by the marinaSt Angelo 22 - back at the entrance by the marina

   

   

   

 

   

  

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