The 1715 Santa Marija Battery
Those who have the intention of visiting the Santa Marija Battery can kindly contact Din l-Art Helwa to confirm the opening hours or enquire at the Comino Hotel reception desk whether the hotel minivan or bicycles are available. Opening hours may vary due to ongoing restoration programmes.
The battery is well over a half an hours walk away from the hotel. You are kindly advised that there are no toilet facilities on the site, nor any outlets selling snacks and refreshments. Consequently there is no provision of disposal bins where one can discard one’s waste.
It is also advisable to have an umbrella and waterproofs or a sun hat handy since the track leading to the battery is barren, offering no shelter from the prevailing elements. A pair of good walking shoes would definitely help you avoid getting blistered.
We are proud to bring this site to your notice. Please remember that the area is a natural biosphere of significant ecological importance. All we ask from you is to kindly leave the site cleaner than you find it. Thank you for your understanding.
By the early eighteenth century, there was grave concern about an imminent Ottoman invasion of the Maltese Islands. This led the Knights of St. John to consolidate the defence of the Maltese coastline by building a number of batteries on the three islands.
The Vendome batteries, so called after their French designer, have a semi-circular gun battery facing out to sea with the barrack area in the back. Their main aim was to engage and dissuade enemy forces from disembarking on the coastline. Philippe de Vendome’s recommendations were to strengthen the vulnerable bays by a series of fortifications, including entrenchments. Some members of the Order, who backed Vendome’s appeals, met the expenses, with the batteries named in their honour.
Most of the twenty plus batteries still existing in the Maltese islands are in an appallingly poor state of management, a term too kind to describe their physical condition. Squatters occupy some of them, others have been used improperly as discotheques, private summer shacks or are simply closed and falling into dilapidation. Two that are in a very sad state are the Ducluseaux Battery in Marsascala and the Saint Anthony’s Battery in Qala.
The batteries are also a target for those intent in restoring country homes, their weathered and patina encrusted slabs in great demand, thereby creating a lucrative black-market trade. Once these batteries are destroyed, they shall be whitewashed from our national memory forever, with Malta’s man-made heritage definitely impoverished.
The Santa Marija Battery in Comino has seven gun emplacements. Built in 1715, it faces the Wied Musa Battery at Marfa on Malta, close to Ir-Ramla tal-Bir. The battery cost the cassa della fortificazione 1,018 scudi. It was armed with six cannons, two of which were twenty-four pounders, with the other four being six pounders. However, when the Knights came to man these batteries and prepare them on a state of alertness, not enough troops were available to man them. One has to bear in mind that batteries and fortifications dotted the islands from Il-Hamrija Tower in Qrendi up to Il-Qolla l-Bajda Battery in Marsalforn.
Brigadier A. Samut-Tagliaferro writing in his monumental work The Coastal Fortifications of Gozo and Comino, states that it is recorded that in 1770 the Santa Marija Battery had no gunpowder, since it lacked a gunpowder room and “more, importantly, there was no one to look after it ‘non vi è chi la guarda’. The Battery was unoccupied and remained so.”
1997: cannons without gun carriage
Referred to as It-Trunciera by the Cominans, it was lived in by a Gozitan family in the pre-war period. On becoming unoccupied one again, a fig tree, ficus carica, took over the main entrance, as overgrowth and the inclining elements helped fasten its deterioration. A few cannons ended in the gorge beneath, most probably dragged by plebeians in their attempts to spirit them away to some foundry for smelting and reuse.
Up to 1993, the Santa Marija Battery was in a total state of abandonment, its two twenty-four pounders lying off the gun carriage on the paving. We read that these “were found too heavy to cart away and were left abandoned on site below the second-third and sixth-seventh embrasures. Both barrels have had their cascabels sawn off and one of them has also one of its trunnions missing.”
1997: RN helicopter salvaging a 24pdr
The Armed Forces of Malta and the Royal Navy retrieved the cannons on the 21st August 1997 during a joint operation, when a helicopter from HMS Illustrious and Maltese infantrymen helped transport them back to within the battery.
We visited the Santa Marija Battery during a downpour. Three barrack rooms are at the landward side, one having a caved ceiling. The battery is being restored by Din l-Art Helwa, [lit. This Beautiful Land], a leading national heritage organization. The site has been cleaned, gun carriages have been reconstructed, and the gun embrasures repaired and restored to their original condition.
The biting wind gave us no respite, as it must have done with some of our forefathers, caught on roster to watch over the South Comino Channel in those perilous times of old. A clear azure sea, just beneath the precipice on which the battery is perched, awaits the visitor. Hugging the side gun emplacements is a cluster of shrubs, namely the African wolfbane, Periploca angustifolia, and olive-leaved germander, Teucrium fruticans, thankfully on the increase now that liberal goat grazing has experienced a steady decrease. The flowering Mediterranean heath, Erica multiflora, and Mediterranean thyme, Thymbra capitata, add to the beauty, harmonizing the quietness and remoteness of the place. This is a place to enjoy and cherish.
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