From our balcony overlooking Malta’s Grand Harbour, we can see the island’s iconic Fort St Angelo that’s located at the end of the Birgu peninsular. But despite having lived in the Three Cities for a year, we had never been. Are you the same? Do you tend to visit other countries and see the major touristic sites but somehow manage to ignore what’s on your own doorstep?
A Little History About Fort St Angelo
Many people assume that the Knights of St John built Fort St Angelo for the Great Siege of Malta. But, actually when the Knights arrived in Malta in the early 16th century, where now stands the impressive fort, was a somewhat dilapidated ‘Castrum Maris’ (castle by the sea) that was built four centuries earlier.
At one point in Malta’s long history, the island was part of the Spanish empire. And it was Emperor Charles V of Spain, who having been expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks, that granted Malta “that barren rock”, where “grain refused to grow” to the Knights of St John for the princely sum of one Maltese falcon a year.
The Knights moved in and began reinforcing the fort to protect themselves from attack. Lucky they did. After surviving the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, when the Ottoman Empire attempted to invade the island, Fort St Angelo remained as it was until 1687.
The then Grand Master Gregorio Carafa decided that the fort needed some refurbishment and added four gun batteries to the side of the fort that faces the entrance to Grand Harbour. His coat of arms still remains above the main gate of the fort.
By 1798, Fort St Angelo had become a mighty fortification and for a short while served as headquarters for the French Army, following the surrender of the Knights to Napoleon Bonaparte.
But this is Malta, and nothing stays the same for very long. After the Maltese rebelled against the French in 1800, the fort was soon taken over by the British.
The British Royal Navy relocated its Mediterranean fleet command hub to the fort in 1906.
Phew, I hope I got that all right, Malta has a very long and very complicated history, but the documentaries shown at the fort should make it a bit clearer.
Fort St Angelo During World War II And After
During World War II, Fort St Angelo suffered 69 direct hits from bombings. However, after the war, the Royal Navy continued to use the fort as its headquarters. But, even though, Malta was granted Independence on 21st September 1964, the British forces did not leave until 31st March 1979. You know, it always takes us Brits a long time to move on!
Fort St Angelo’s Most Famous Prisoner
The Ghosts Of Fort St. Angelo
According to popular belief, Fort St. Angelo is home to several ghosts. The most well-known is the Grey Lady.
The Grey Lady was the mistress of the Aragonese Lord, Giovanni Di Nava, who lived here in the 15th century, long before the arrival of the Knights of St John. Anyway, she got rather annoyed that she didn’t have the same status as Di Nava’s wife. Worried that the affair would become public, he ordered his guards to have her removed. So, the guards killed her and sealed her body within the fort’s dungeon.
Di Nava was furious; he had only wanted her to be sent away, not killed, so he ordered those guards to be killed as well.
The ghost of the Grey Lady first appeared in the 1900s during restoration works when it is said, skeletons were discovered in a sealed dungeon. Many people claim to have seen her and apparently, she seemed very nice but very sad looking.
An exorcism took place, and the Grey Lady was not seen again until World War II. The story goes that during the Second World War, she supposedly saved some soldiers’ lives, who were convalescing, from an aerial bombardment. The soldiers reported that their room turned cold, and a grey lady floated in, waving her arm, indicating she wanted them to leave and go with her. The soldiers followed, and just as they left, a German bomb hit and destroyed their ward. Had they not followed the Grey Lady, they would all have been killed.
Since the war, however, there have been no further sightings of the Grey Lady.
Other ghosts residing within the fort are believed to be the souls of Ottoman soldiers that were executed during the Great Siege of 1565. Apparently, their heads were used as cannonballs!
Sadly, we didn’t get to meet any of the ghostly residents when we visited.
Top Tips For Visiting Fort St Angelo
There’s very little shade – Malta has an aversion to trees, so wear a hat, bring sunscreen and water. There is a small spot inside the fort that serves light refreshments with some tables and chairs outside but offered no shade at all when we were there. Maybe they’ve added a few umbrellas now.
Wear comfy shoes, as the fort is quite large and has lots of steps.
Please note that during Covid19 times, you do have to wear a mask when inside the interpretation centres. But they have a/c, so it’s nice and cool inside. If you don’t want to wear a mask, then stay outside.
Would We Recommend Visiting Fort St Angelo?
Yes, but try and go on a day that’s not so blazing hot. Also, keep an eye out as sometimes they do re-enactments at the fort, which could be fun to witness. There are three small interpretation centres, they all show a movie documentary that are actually quite interesting, but as they used to say when we lived in Thailand’ same, same but different.’ This definitely applies here!
You do get some great views of the Grand Harbour and Valletta from Fort St Angelo. Unfortunately, you would also get some fab photos of our hometown Senglea in the Three Cities, but the ugly rigs in the background that were abandoned there a few years ago tend to spoil the shot. They don’t mention that in the brochures, but all the cruise passengers and all other visitors seem to notice them.
Opening Hours For Fort St Angelo
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Fort St Angelo
Adults (18-59) €10
Seniors (Over 60) / Students/ Youths (12-17) €6
Children (6-11) €4
Infants (5 and under) Free
How To Get To Fort St Angelo
Coming from Valetta, the easiest and most beautiful way is to take the Three Cities Ferry or a local water taxi across to Birgu.
Alternatively, bus number 2 from Valletta Bus Station will take you to Birgu Square, which is just a short walk away.
While you’re in Birgu, you should consider visiting the Inquisitor’s Palace. It’s just a short walk from the fort.
What popular tourist sites are near your home, that you haven’t yet visited? Tell us about them in the comments below.