Wignacourt Tower – Malta’s Oldest Watch Tower
Welcome to the oldest surviving coastal tower on the Maltese islands built by the Knights! Wignacourt Tower or also known as St Paul’s Bay Tower is located, as the name reveals, at St Paul’s Bay. The tower is named after Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt who ordered the construction of this tower. Before I show you the interiors let me give you a little bit of a general historical background.
During the 14th and 15th century corsair landings in Malta used to occur quite often. In a matter of fact Malta’s waters were full of pirates! Many Maltese were killed or taken into slavery, their houses were destroyed and their animals, food or even water were stolen. The Knights had to find a way to protect the island. Their solution was to built number of watch towers around the coast.
It is worthwhile to mention that watch towers were not actually introduced by the Knights. Close to Fort St Elmo, a watch tower was built in 1488 to protect the Grand Harbour. This tower was however dismantled to pave the way to construct Fort St Elmo. (The HQ of the Order of Saint John had been located in Malta from 1530 until 1798).
Now let’s go back to the Wignacourt Tower in St Paul’s Bay. It was designed by Vittorio Cassar, a Maltese architect and military engineer of the Order. The tower is a two-storey square structure with two barrel-vaulted chambers within. The building is 15m wide, 16m high and its walls are 4m thick. It is located about 18m above the sea level.
Right in the center you can see the original stout wooden door, which used to serve as the only entrance to the tower. Unfortunately the original staircase is no longer there, but I’ll come back to this later on.
The Wignacourt Tower was constructed in 1610 and for the next 39 years it was the furthest northern defence post until St Agatha’s Tower was built in Mellieha in 1649.
When you enter the ground floor you will find an exhibition showcasing the development of Malta’s defence systems starting with Fort St. Elmo. This floor was originally used purely for storage purposes.
What’s also worth a mention is the English Officer’s sabre sworn that is visible on the picture above. It was engraved during the reign of King George III. (1760 – 1820). This type of sword was used by the Light Cavalry during the American Independence and Napoleonic Wars.
You can also watch a short 5 min introductory video which will briefly introduce the Wignacourt Tower.
After you viewed the ground floor you can make your way to the first floor using this spiral staircase. Please note that it is very narrow. I wasn’t able to bring baby Oliver with me due to the small space, so just keep it in mind.
On the other hand the staff is very friendly and more than happy to baby sit! So baby Oliver stayed downstairs while I was educating myself and collecting material for this photo blog. 🙂
On the first floor you can see what soldiers’ living quarters could have looked like back in the 17th and 18th century.
Available documents related to the tower state that six soldiers would man this tower, which would explain the presence of six muskets and twelve lances on the picture below. While visiting have a look at the box placed on the table which is preserving a hand pistol.
This small fireplace, including a stone cooked, used to serve as a cooking area and to warm up the place during winter months.
The toilet is located right next to the cooking area, which is not exactly ideal or hygienic. The dry toilet was obviously operated without a flush and once the soldiers finished ‘their business’ everything simply ended up in the sea.
Now you are looking at the very original door to the tower with the original 17th century key on display. This door used to protect the entrance to the tower before the outside stairway was demolished. A wooden bridge, which was raised by the guards of the tower, linked the door to the stairway.
This informative board gives you more information about the other coastal towers that used to guard the Maltese coastline. Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, apart from this tower, built other six coastal towers, four of which survived to the present days. The succeeding Grand Masters continued building more watch towers and within 50 years the entire coastline became completely guarded.
How did it actually work? The tower raising the alarm would either fire the cannon and hoist a flag by day or ignite a small fire by night. This message would be picked up by the neighboring towers and delivered to Valletta where the main stronghold of the island’s defences were concentrated.
Here is a well that used to provide water on all three floors. If you look down you can still see that there is water coming from the underground fresh water springs.
Last couple of steps leading to the tower’s roof. Way more specious than the spiral staircase that’s for sure.
Now it’s time to rest your feet on the wooden benches (I know you can’t see them, but they’re there!) and enjoy the picturesque view of St Paul’s Islands and surrounding areas. The informative board explains what you can see around you and highlights the main points with arrows and numbers for easier orientation.
The opening hours of Wignacourt Tower are Monday till Saturday from 10.00 to 13.00 and occasionally on Sundays. The entrance fee is only 2euro, so please feel free to leave a donation to Din I-Art Helwa to help them with the upkeep the tower. Thank you!