Malta Independent, Wednesday 8th October 2008 –
An early 18th century military outpost at Ras il-Qala (Qala Point) designed to serve as a gun battery for the defence of the coast and channel between Gozo and Comino.
As access to the battery is somewhat remote and rough, this project presently being restored by Din l-Art Helwa is quite daunting.
Restoration was entrusted to the organisation by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) and is co-funded by Din l-Art Helwa, Qala Local Council and MEPA’s Environmental Fund.
The battery is locally known as “Ta’ Sant’ Antnin” or “it-Trunciera” and has suffered the ravages of time and vandalism. It was almost reduced to mere rubble had Din l-Art Helwa not intervened to save it.
Many of its strong hardstone has been misappropriated to neighbouring farmsteads. Its magnificent coat of arms over the main gate went missing only recently.
Many of the remaining walls also succumbed to the elements. The battery stands isolated in the remotest point of Qala guarding the straits between Gozo and Comino.
Built in 1732 by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, Qala Battery is one of the only two coastal batteries built by the Order of St John to have survived in Gozo. The other is situated at Il-Qbajjar, outside Marsalforn. It was probably designed by the French military engineer Charles Francois de Mondion just before his unexpected death in 1733.
Grand Master de Vilhena’s accession in June 1722 created various significant opportunities for de Mondion, as the new Grand Master decided to unleash an ambitious building programme in Malta and Gozo.
The battery was originally designed with a semi-circular gun platform and two blockhouses at the rear. However, it was eventually built with a semi-hexagonal front.
Consequently the landward defences incorporated a free-standing redan outline with five faces of embrasures for eleven guns with all walls pierced with musketry loopholes shielded by two flanking traverses.
The land front itself was protected by a shallow ditch. A solid blockhouse with battered walls occupied the centre of the enclosure. Above the main gate of the battery two shields were carved – the Cross of the Order and Vilhena’s Coat of Arms.
In 1770, Qala Battery had an armament of three 8-pdr guns with 427 rounds of roundshot and 75 rounds of grapeshot; and eight 6-pdr guns with 127 rounds of roundshot and 45 rounds of grapeshot.
Qala’s coastline is a rocky trek to which nature and history contributed a great deal. Natural gifts include several caves, with Ghar Minka the most pretty but it is accessible only by boat. Nearby is the bay of Hondoq ir-Rummien and a coastline with salt pans.
The fougasse was introduced to Gozo in 1743, and several were erected along the Qala shore. Reportedly, only two survived, one facing Mgarr Harbour at Blata l-Bajda, the other on Gebla tal-Halfa.
The Battery retains its original relationship with the surrounding landscape and seascape as these have remained practically unchanged since 1732.
When the restoration of Qala Battery is completed, it will form part of a heritage and nature trail allowing visitors to enjoy the secluded coastal location of the area.
Din l-Art Helwa has salvaged other historic sites in the vicinity – Torri Sopu in Nadur, Santa Marija Tower in Comino, the Comino Coastal Battery, and the Red Tower in Mellieha.
Mr Rizzo is Hon. Treasurer of Din l-Art Helwa