Saint Thomas Tower in Marsaskala
Welcome to Saint Thomas Tower! Together with Saint Mary’s Tower in Comino, Saint Lucian Tower in Marsaxlokk and of course the Wignacourt Tower in St. Paul’s Bay these forms the four surviving Wignacourt Towers on the Maltese Islands.
I wanted to see this watch tower as part of my attempt to visit all the coastal towers around Malta, Gozo and Comino. There is a long way to go, but with Saint Thomas Tower I managed to visit all the large Wignacourt Towers! Yeah!
Honestly I didn’t really know what to expect. It is not kept in a mint condition and there is some unwanted stuff dumped in the ditch. But! It does have a certain charm and if you’re visiting Marsaskala for one reason or another, I think it is still worth to stop by. Now let’s talk a little bit of history!
Originally there were six Wignacourt towers on the Maltese Islands. These are large watchtowers (much bigger than the usual Maltese watchtowers) and were built by the Order of Saint John between 1610 and 1620. Why are they called Wignacourt towers you may wonder. I’m going to explain.
To put you in the picture, Malta was always wanted by many. Everyone desired to rule this tiny Mediterranean island. The Order of Saint John knew that they had to straighten the island’s defense system. At the end of the 16th century, the Grand Harbour area was extremely fortified, but nothing was done to improve the coastal defense system.
In 1599, Grand Master Martin Garzez requested the military engineer Giovanni Rinaldini to suggest improvements that should be made to straighten the coastal defense. He died in 1601 before any new defenses were built. Nevertheless Grand Master Garzez left a sum of 12,000 scudi in his will for the building of a new coastal watchtower. In 1605, construction of Garzes Tower began in Mġarr, Gozo. The tower was completed around 1607. Unfortunately it didn’t survive to the present day.
For those interested why the sum of money was called ‘scudi’, here is an explanation. Scudo was currency used in Malta under the Order of St John. The Maltese scudo circulated from the 16th century until the Order was expelled in 1798. The currency remained the official currency of Malta for another nearly 30 years until 1825. The last coins were removed from circulation in 1886. Don’t worry, I didn’t know that either. Had to Google it. Haha. We all learn something new every day.
Anyway, to continue the story, Alof de Wignacourt was Garzez’s successor and he pursued his mission to build a series of towers around the coastline. That’s were they got their name from.
The watchtowers are called Wignacourt after the Grand Master, as the construction (five of the six towers) was funded by Wignacourt himself! The first stone was laid on 10 February 1610. The five towers were built over a ten-year period until 1620. Saint Thomas Tower was built in 1614 and stayed intact until today.
As you can notice, the tower has very thick walls and four pentagonal bastioned turrets. The tower’s entrance was (and still is) through a vaulted doorway with a wooden drawbridge (not visible from the outside). The drawbridge is still partially intact and it is the only original one to have survived in Malta.
The rock-hewn ditch that surrounds the watchtower is open to public and is easily accessible. It’s very impressive to stand in such close proximity to this majestic tower.
Unfortunately, as you can see in the background, the tower is dominated by ugly remains of an old hotel. Would be wonderful if this abandoned building was put down and the coastal area with its original sea views were restored. Apparently there were plans to demolish the former Jerma Palace Hotel in 2016, but nothing has happened just yet.
Does anyone know if this fortified watchtower is open to the public? It was closed when I visited, but I read some comments on TripAdvisor from 2017 saying that it was open back then. They were even guided tours taking place. Would love to see inside if there is the option. Leave me a comment if you have more info.
Given the fact that the watchtower is currently closed (or it seemed that way), there isn’t that much to see from the outside. However if the Maltese fortifications interest you, it’s definitely worth a visit.
As I already mentioned, I’m not a big fan of the abandoned hotel, but I’ve heard that it’s quite interesting to see. As in, how often do you visit the ‘ruins’ of a building that once upon a time was a popular hotel? Walk though the corridors and think what it was like?
Should I go and visit the forgotten Jerma Palace Hotel and tell you if it’s worth the hassle? Let me know in the comment.
Here you can find the exact location of Saint Thomas Tower for easier orientation.