Fort San Lucian, One of Four Surviving Wignacourt Towers
It was a sunny December day and I decided to go down to Birzebugga’s Pretty Bay to get some ‘Christmas spirit’ on the beach (haha)! I like that bay very much, have you been? Yes, the ‘views’ of Malta Freeport or the Delimara Power Station are quite eyesore, but the water is nice and the access to the sea is slow and gradual. Ideal for children.
This time I’m not going to talk about the beach or Birzebugga. I’m going to tell you a bit more about Fort Saint Lucian. This large bastioned watchtower is clearly visible from Pretty Bay and finally I managed to stop and check it out.
So let’s start from the beginning. Fort San Lucian, also known as Saint Lucian Tower or Fort Rohan is the second largest watchtower in Malta, after Saint Thomas Tower in Marsaskala. Saint Lucian Tower is a polygonal fort and the original fort was built by the Order of Saint John between 1610 and 1611.
Fort San Lucian is one of the six Wignacourt towers built in Malta by the Order of Saint John between 1610 and 1620. Only four out of these large coastal watchtowers survived – Wignacourt Tower, Saint Thomas Tower, Saint Mary’s Tower and this Saint Lucian Tower.
The fort, as you can see it today, was built in stages. The tower was built in between 1610 and 1611. The artillery battery was added in 1715. It was upgraded into a fort in the 1790s and rebuilt by the British in the 1870s in the polygonal style.
This fort was built above the shores of Marsaxlokk Bay for strategic reasons to protect the area against invaders. Fort San Lucian was in use in between 1610 and 1885 and saw these battles:
Raid of Żejtun (1614) – this attack took place in July 1614 in Zejtun and the surrounding areas and it was the last major attack made by the Ottoman Empire against the island of Malta.
French invasion of Malta (1798) – the French invasion took place in between 10–12 June 1798. The invasion ended the 268-year-long rule of the Order of St. John and resulted in the French occupation of Malta.
Siege of Malta (1798–1800) – also known as the Siege of Valletta or the French Blockade. It was a two-year siege and blockade (effort to cut off supplies, war material or communications) of the French garrison in Valletta and the Three Cities between 1798 and 1800.
Between 1792 and 1795 the tower and the battery were surrounded by a ditch and the complex was renamed Fort Rohan after the reigning Grandmaster Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc. After the Order left Malta the tower began to be referred to as Saint Lucian Tower once again.
There is a pathway all way around the fort. While admiring the tower, don’t forget to look down as the sea is beautiful and crystal clear!
The design of the tower is very similar to the Wignacourt Tower in St. Paul’s Bay, but on much larger scale. The tower was originally armed with 6 strong bronze cannons, ammunition and other armaments.
The fort was decommissioned in 1885, but it was used as a Royal Air Force bomb depot between WWII and the 1950s. It is believed that nuclear weapons were also stored within the walls of the fort during the Cold War. Believe it or not, Fort Saint Lucian was also used as a prison at some points in time.
The fort was handed to the Government of Malta upon independence in 1964. Today it houses the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre. It was set up in 1988 by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. The primary aim was to pioneer the development of fish farming as a new industrial activity in Malta.
Unfortunately Fort San Lucian is closed to public. It used to be open once upon a time and individuals or small groups could visit the fort on Saturday mornings. However as of September 2017 all visits/tours at Fort San Lucian are currently suspended until further notice due to a major refurbishment (confirmed with an Aquaculture Officer from Ministry for Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change).
The government is considering relocation of the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre and if relocates, the fort will possibly be restored and turned into a historical attraction.
Fort San Lucian once had a drawbridge, however it was removed and replaced by a fixed bridge and rail tracks were fitted across it and leading into the fort. This enabled the bombs to be carried inside the fort with the least possible inconvenience during the late forties and early sixties when it was used as a bomb depot.
I know, you cannot go inside the fort these days, but if you’re in the area, it is still worth it to stop (parking right in front of the fort) and walk around.