Open Day at Fort Delimara
I was very lucky and privileged to visit the Fort Delimara during their Open Day on 13th March 2022. I love these kind of events. They give you a chance to see a site that’s usually closed to the public. And you can tell that such events are very popular in demand because they sell out very fast!
In this photo blog I would like to take you on a journey to Fort Delimara located nearby Marsaxlokk, the traditional and picturesque fishing village. It is a coastal fort meaning that the main target would be sea, not land. This type of fortification is known as the Victorian polygonal fort. Polygonal because it would be usually built in a shape of regular pentagon or heptagon.
The main gate featured an armored door, consisting of 3-inch thick wooden planks with a 1/4 inch steel plate making it bullet proof (back in those days). It’s not a well visible, but there is a small wicket gate incorporated within the main gate for day-to-day use. For security reasons the main gate would only open when supplies were delivered.
Originally, there was no stone bridge, the main gate was accessible through a rolling Guthrie bridge, which could be rolled back behind the gate.
The polygonal style of fortification is also described as a “flank-less fort”. Why? Because when you look at the fort from the outside there is no outer work just a ditch outside of the fort. Also fortifications are getting lower and blending with the hillside. Their low profile makes them easy to overlook. The main aim was to camouflage the fort, therefore even vegetation was planted on top of the fort for even better effect.
Fort Delimara is one of the finest examples of a fort being an extension of its armament not vice-versa. It was constructed to protect Marsaxlokk Harbour against bombardments and invasions. It effectively took over from a nearby St Lucian’s Tower, which was built back in 1610.
The construction started in 1876 and was mostly ready by in 1878 at a cost of £22,353. Fort Delimara is built in pentagonal style surrounded by a dry ditch, which was also safeguarded by three counter scarp galleries during a land assault.
This long dark tunnel was an underground bombproof passage, which was used to ensure safe communication throughout the Fort.
As you can see this passage has an open top and that’s for the smoke from the fired guns to escape immediately.
Below is the first of the six casemates. Originally it was occupied by one of the guns. The six 38-ton, 12.5 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns were placed in these casemates in 1878. The largest guns in service at that time were placed on their mountings in 1880.
The two large hooks on the ceiling could carry a weight of 38 tons of weight and were used to place the heavy guns in the position.
That metal ring on the right was used to support the long wooden tools used to load the guns.
The platform was not part of the original construction. By 1901 the 38-ton guns were too old, scrapped and replaced by smaller 5-inch guns. The platform was constructed so the smaller gun can reach the gun port.
The tour continues though the gun corridor to see the two of the 4 guns that are still in place till today because it was very hard to remove them when they became obsolete.
This is one of the 38-ton, 12.5 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns. It’s also the second largest gun used in coastal fortifications after the 100-tun gun. 12.5 inch is the diameter of the barrel. The gun was moved manually form the nearby harbour where it was unloaded and the 300m voyage would take about 3 months.
It would take 17 gunners and 1 officer to fire a shot every 4 minutes. The gun could fire common, palliser or shrapnel shells, each weighing just over 360kg, for a maximum range of nearly 5,5 km by using a charge of 72,5kg of gunpowder.
By 1888 the accumulated weight of such large guns had caused the rock below the Fort to crack and there was not much that could be done.
This is one of many ammunition storage found on the fort. The capacity of the two main gunpowder magazines were capable of storing 1,510 barrels of gunpowder and an artillery store for a maximum of 400 shells.
After exploring the ammunition storage we walked back though the gun corridor to the parade ground.
Originally the parade ground was much larger. During peace time the fort housed 36 men in the barrack clock. Other ancillary rooms included a cookhouse, a Royal Artillery workshop and latrines.
In 1890 the Fort was passed to the Royal Artillery. Fort Delimara had another important role, which was hosting of military exercises. For example in 1898, members of the Highland Light Infantry conducted exercises in the maneuvering of the 38-ton guns.
Still Fort Delimara never fired a shot in anger against an enemy vessel prior World War II.
Even though the low profile makes it easy to be overlooked, the fort was still easily spotted from air. In 1935 Fort Delimara was equipped with anti-aircraft searchlights.
Following the abandonment of coastal defence in 1956, Fort Delimara fell into disarray. It became a property of Malta Government in 1964. Nevertheless the fort suffered a lot of vandalism and thefts in the following decade. This caused even bricking up its gates for a brief period of time in the 1960s.
In 1983 the Fort was leased to a third party to serve as a pig farm.
Heritage Malta took over in 2005. Luckily for us, history enthusiasts, in recent years the public access has been increased and got a chance to visit.
Fort Delimara is located very close to the Kalanka Lighthouse. The lighthouse has been recently restored and makes it another interesting landmark to explore and appreciate.
Below you can find the exact location location of Fort Delimara for easier orientation.