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Hospitaller Gunpowder Magazines A study of the Magasins à Poudre and other military storehouses built by the Knights of the Order of St John in the Maltese islands throughout the course of the lateseventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries.

By Dr. Stephen C Spiteri Ph.D. Gunpowder began to play an important role in the history of the Hospitaller Order of Knights of St John from the moment that it began to power projectile weapons strong enough to influence the outcome of warfare and military affairs. Learning quickly from the lessons of the Turkish siege of Constantinople of 1453, the Knights of St John were quick to exploit the potential of gunpowder-operated artillery in both attack and defence. By the early 15th century the words bombarda and bombardieri became common entries in the Order’s records, revealing an ever-increasing reliance on the new technology. This development is also physically attested in the surviving remains of the military architecture of the period, in the towers with gun-loops, in the ramparts with their embrasures and in the underlying countermines, built from the reign of Grand Master Fluviano onwards. Inevitably, the procurement, manufacture, and storage of gunpowder became important functions in the affairs of the Order and special officials had to be appointed to administer both the munitions that worked the new artillery and the guns themselves. Heading the new department, by the early 16th century, was the Commander of Artillery who, in time, came also to assume responsibility for the Order’s armouries and other military store houses. Specific references to the title of ‘Commander of Artillery’, however, only begin to appear in the early in decades of the sixteenth century. At the end of the fifteenth century it was more common to find commissarii encharged with ‘visitandas pulverers et munitions artillierum.’ In 1491, for instance, we find the knight Frà Iohanne Danalon elected ‘deputato ad custodiam artilleriae’ while in 1502, Frà Franciscus Blacars was made ‘Praceceptor artillariae, Probi hominess artilleriae.’Mention of the election of probihomines tends to imply that the system of having a commander of artillery assisted by two

prudhommes had already been formulated by the early 16th century. Employed within this setup were also a number of bombardiers necessary to work the artillery and a few capomastri in charge of the production and storage of gunpowder. Most of these, judging by the surviving records, were Latin rather than Greek. An Italian, Petrus de la Mota, for example, is listed as ‘peritus’ (expert) in ‘arte ballistica’ and in the use of ‘artillariae grossae’ whilst a list of bombardiers employed on guard duty at Fort St Nicholas in 1516 gives only European names. As with its armouries, the Order also adopted a centralized system of artillery and powder magazines within the fortress of Rhodes and this in turn fed a large number of outlying strongholds and outposts. Among the supplies being shipped to the island of Kos and St Peter Castle at Bodrum in 1470, for example, were ‘salis nitri rafinati et cantaria ferri’. Enties such as ‘Rotoli …di bona

Dr Stephen C Spiteri Dipl. (Int. Des.) RI,  B.A. (Hons),  Ph.D,  was born in Malta, 15 September 1963.  Dr Spiteri works in Heritage Conservation and specializes in the military architecture of the Hospitaller knights of St John and the fortifications of the Maltese islands. He is the author of a number of books and studies on the military history and fortifications of Malta, the Knights of St John, and British Colonial defences.  He is a founding member of the Sacra Militia Foundation for the Study of Hospitaller Military and Naval History and is also a part-time lecturer at the International Institute of Baroque Studies at the University of Malta, where he lectures on the history and development of military architecture, and on the art and science of fortification. Dr Spiteri is currently working on new second editions of his books Fortresses of the Cross (1994) and The Great Siege of 1565 (2005). 3


polvere di bombarda’, ‘Rotoli … di fino salnitro’, and ‘unum carratellum salisnitri et unum sulfitris’ show that gunpowder was imported both as a readymade product and in the form of raw materials to be manufactured on the island. By the time of the arrival of the Order of St John in Malta in 1530, the role gunpowder and gunpowderoperated artillery had increased even further. The Island’s small and obsolete defences, however, were not fitted out to house the new artillery and the storage of vast quantities of gunpowder needed to work both the fortress and galley guns. During the early years of the Order’s stay in Malta, the Knights had to transform the Castrum Maris into a self-contained martial complex, giving it hastilyconstructed armouries, magazines, and even setting up powder factories within its walls. As early as 1530 one already encounters a ‘commissario pro emenda salpetra’ to be followed by a string of knights elected to oversee the administration of artillery and munitions, the prudhommes under the commander of artillery; ‘Frà George de S. Iohanne et Hieronymus Avogardo probi hominess machinarium bellicorum’; ‘Frà Johannes Centeno electus probus homo artillariae’ (1552); ‘Frà Alfons’us Correa ... probus homo tormentorium bellicorum sive artillariae’ (1554); Gerardus de La Tour, who was removed from his post of ‘capitanei tormentum bellicorum’ in 1555 and condemned ‘ad quarantenam propter rixam’; ‘Iacobus Francisco Guasco prob. ballistrum incendiarum’ (1557). The task of mounting ‘i pezzi d’artiglieria nei loro posti nella nuova città ([Vittoriosa] e nella Senglea … per rispetto dell’Armamento Turchesco,’ in 1568, was entrusted to ‘Frà ‘Franciscus Gozon detto Melac, Balì di Manisca’.


There were two methods by which the Order obtained its gunpowder - either importing it readymade,or else producing it locally from imported ingredients. Both practices were resorted to in Rhodes and Malta. As with the acquisition of arms and armour, the Order obtained its stocks of gunpowder from a wide variety of sources. In times of serious emergencies caused by threat of invasion, frantic efforts were made to acquire vast stocks of powder from any readily-available source. Perhaps the most celebrated instance of the importation of powder is the arrival of 200 barrels sent to Malta by the Duke of Florence just prior to the arrival of the Turkish armada in 1565.

Above and below, The gunpowder magazine at Fort St Angelo. This structure is undated but seems to have been built after 1690. It has a vaulted interior and small events placed high up in the walls. The windows are a later British alteration. The magazine stands outside the walls of the inner castral enceinte, just outside and near the barbican and may possibly occupy the site of an earlier gunpowder factory that was in use up until the Great Siege of 1565. (Image Source: Author’s private collection).

That the Order imported gunpowder from a large variety of sources is well documented by the archival records. The names of individual producers are often mentioned. In 1679, for example, a contract was given out to ‘Michele Puglielmi, Francese, per la fabrica di polvere’. Mention is also frequently made of ‘Polvere di Francia’, ‘Polvere di Genova fina’ and ‘Polvere d’Olanda’, the latter conveyed to Malta ‘con … vassello da Amsterdam fra altre munitioni ordinate’. When the urgency and threat of war were far less pressing, however, it often proved cheaper to produce gunpowder locally than to import it from abroad, particularly given the large and continual demand for it by the Order’s armed forces. The first gunpowder factory was established inside Fort St Angelo but no descriptions of this edifice are known. It appears that the Knights had found some sort of gunpowder-producing plant already in existence when they took over the Castrum Maris in 1530. The medieval records of the Università of Mdina show that, in May 1504, one of two large cauldrons used for the refining of saltpetre was sent from the Island’s old city (Mdina) down to the castle by the sea to be used by gunner Joannes Tudiscu. Undoubtedly this small plant would have been enlarged by the Knights to enable them to increase their production of gunpowder, given the larger demand required by the vast quantity of cannon that were now needed for the defence of the new fortifications. This powder factory is still recorded in existence during the Great Siege of 1565 when, unfortunately for the Knights, it blew up in the early stages of the siege. The Order’s records tell us that on 19 June 1565, one hundredweight (circa 50 kg) of powder blew up and eight persons who were working at the mill or sleeping there at the time were killed; amongst these was Sigismondo Farrugia, a lute player. Immediately following the explosion, Grand Master Jean de Valette appointed a special commission headed by the knights Fra Oliver Starkey and Don Petro de Mendoça to look into the cause of the explosion in order to establish wether this was the result of negligence or sabotage. The exact location of this powder factory is not known but by the seventeenth century Fort St Angelo had acquired a magazine situated just north of the medieval barbican, outside and below the inner castrum area of the old enceinte, built,

perhaps, on the same site of the old factory. In this location, the magazine would have been safely located in an open area between the fortress’ two enceintes – Grunenburg’s new ramparts and the old medieval trace. Early gunpowder-making facilities did not have sophisticated plant. Relatively small quantities were then made by hand with pestles and mortars. From the investigations made following the explosion of the powder factory at Fort St Angelo during the early stages of the Great Siege, it appears that the production depended mostly on civilian manual labour. This can be deduced from the fact that the commissioners were made to investigate why so many people, particularly civilians, had such a free access to this factory.

Gunpowder Gunpowder is made from a mixture of three basic ingredients, saltpeter (salnitro - potassium nitrate), charcoal, and sulphur. None of the ingredients could be found locally, not even charcoal, for even trees were scarce on the island - everything had to be imported. In 1775, Antonio Pace ‘fu mandato in Torino per appredare’ the necessary ‘carbone ed il salnitro.’ The Lascaris Foundation, set up in 1645 by Grand Master Lascaris, was established to provide, among many other things, for the ‘compra di miglio salnitro.’ The production process involved the mixing together of the three components, the mixture being processed and refined to produce various grades of gunpowder. The local factories were capable of producing various grades of quality of gunpowder. The ‘Polvere di Malta fina’, for example, came in two varieties ‘con lustro’ and ‘senza lustro’. The Order was also aware of the importance of not keeping too much powder in store but of hoarding instead only the materials required to produce it, ‘… quello che più comple alla Religione e il tener i materiali da farne il polvere, perche queste non si guastano’. 5


Another is the arrival in Malta, during the reign of Grand Master Pinto in 1761, of ‘quattro bastimenti carichi di polvere, bombe, alcuni cannoni, mortari di bronzo e due detti volgarmente obusier, caricate parte in Marsiglia parte in Tolone’ during the crisis caused by the capture of the Corona Ottomana. Earlier in 1669, following fall of Candia to the Turks, commission was given to the ricevitore Tarascone to buy ‘mille cantara di polvere’. By 1793, however, the Order’s war machine had grown so much that requests for powder were then of the magnitude of 4,000 quintali ‘polvere di mina’ and 6,000 quintali ‘polvere di cannone’.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Two echaugettes on the Valletta counterguards. Up until the end of the seventeenth centuries such echaugettes were being used for the storage of gunpowder. (Image Source: Author’s private collection).

When the Order of St John transferred its headquarters from Birgu to the new fortress of Valletta in 1571, the Knights took with them all the important military establishments. A ‘luogo dove si fa la polvere’ was eventually established in the lower part of the city, in the vicinity of the slaves’ prison on the site of the present ‘Cottonera block’. That this was not an ideal location is attested by the fact that when the Valletta powder factory accidentally blew up on 12 September 1634, the explosion killed 22 people and seriously damaged the nearby Jesuits’ college and church. The Order’s records show that by 1665 the Knights were still looking for ‘un luogo fuori della città per raffinar la polvere’. In that same year, however, the Congregation of War, determined to resolve the situation, instructed the resident military engineer, Mederico Blondel, to draw up plans for a ‘casa accomodata per fare e raffinare la polvere’ which was to be built ‘nella floriana dalla parte che riguarda il porto di Marsamscetto’. This new polverista was duly erected and was already producing gunpowder by 1667. The building appears to have consisted of a cruciform 6


Above, Plan of a section of the Floriana enceinte showing the location of the Ospizio, built around the mid-seventeenth-century gunpowder factory, shown in plan, opposite page, left (Image Source: National Library of Malta (NLM). This was built to replace an earlier edifice which was situated in Valletta, tragically demolished by an explosion in 1634, opposite page, top. (Image Source: Author’s private collection).

structure enclosed within a high-walled rectangular enclosure. It was equipped with ‘tre molini’ used for the production of ‘zolfo e salnitro’, probably of the type driven by beasts of burden. By the early eighteenth century it was also served by a number of magazines or ‘mine’ (casemates) situated in the vicinity, one of which was known as ‘dell’Eremita’ and another ‘del Tessitore’. Soon after the construction of then nearby casemated curtain, around 1722, the master-in-charge of the polverista, Giovan Francesco Bieziro proposed the utilization of the ‘trogli nuovamente fabbricati’ within the same casemated curtain to be used for the production of gunpowder. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, this polverista had became a prominent landmark, and is seen on many of the plans and views of Floriana. This is hardly surprising, for it was then practically one of the largest buildings within a still mostly barren enclosure formed by Floriani’s ramparts. It appears that the Floriana gunpowder factory continued to function in such a capacity until the early 1720s, for the building seems to have been then incorporated into a larger complex known as the ‘Casa di Carita’, later known as the Ospizio, which was established on the same site by Grand Master de Vilhena as a place to house poor and destitute old men and women. Apparently, by then,

a number of local entrepreneurs had taken over the production of gunpowder on behalf of the Order. Indeed, in 1775, it was suggested that ‘il Casino che altrevolte era de P.P. Gesuiti nella Marsa’ could serve, with some alterations by the Balì de Tigné, as a ‘luogo proprio’ for the production of powder by a certain Antonio Pace.

The ‘Polveriste’ The storage of gunpowder was a risky undertaking that required adequate and safe spaces free from the risks of fire and bombardment, and adequately protected against spoilage from dampness or rain water. Such gunpowder magazines had also to be located away from built up areas to ensure the safety of the garrison and the inhabitants. In the sixteenth and seventh centuries there were no established forms of structures specifically designed to serve solely as gunpowder magazines. Any ordinary available building, preferably dry, could be put to use as a powder store when the need arose. This is perhaps best illustrated by the Order’s practice of storing gunpowder inside the echaugettes (Italian ‘guardiole’, Maltese gwardjoli) scattered around the bastioned enceintes. However, the ‘Commotione che fece in tutta questa città [Valletta] l’incendio di certa polvere conservata in una guardiola di uno de rivellini congiunti alla contrascarpa di essa città colpita dal fulmine’ in 1662 did not deter the commissioners of war from once again proposing the same use for the other ‘quattro garrote’ (guerites) to be found around the 7


walls of Valletta. Even so, it also dawned on them that it was important not to store all the ‘polvere di rispetto’ (reserves stocks of gunpowder) in one area and so a commission of knights was charged to inspect ‘la polvere, e dove stia, e conservarla divisa, et in luoghi, dove non debba tenersi da un solo accidente una ruina irreparabile.’ As a result of these investigations, it was then recommended that apart from the four echaugettes situated on the Valletta counterguards (‘fortificatione del Marchese St Angelo’) another six new magazines were to be constructed to enable an overall capacity of 600 cantara of gunpowder, judged ‘necessaria per riserva’. The commissioners were then also of the opinion that the quantity of gunpowder inside the magazine of Fort St Elmo (apparently situated within the cavalier) was to be reduced to only 8 cantara and those inside Fort St Angelo, in ‘ciascheduno delli due magazeni superiori’, to only 10, although ‘nel fosso’ there was to continue to be retained ‘tutta quella quantità che serve per le galere et altro maneggio quotidiano.’ The estimated cost of the repairs to the guardiola damaged by lightning (‘la garrita voltata dalla

Graphic reconstruction of the warehouses built by Grand Master Lascaris in the midseventeenth-century to house gunpowder and muskets bought through a special foundation that he set up from his own pocket. The building, which was grafted to the flank and gorge of St John Cavalier in Valletta was demolished around the late 1950s. (Image Source: Author’s 8private collection).



Above, inset, Plan of the Lascaris warehouses used for the storage of gunpowder (Image Source: NLM) and, bottom, marble plaque with inscription which was once affixed to the building (Image Source: Author’s private collection).


Left, Various examples of Vauban-style gunpowder magasins à poudre constructed in France in the late seventeenth century. From top to bottom; Ile de Re, Ile de Aix, Hiers-Brouage at Saint Luc, and the poudrieri at Boulogne (Images Source: Author’s collection). Note the various styles of counterforts and enveloping walls. Such structures were to serve as patterns for the construction of the Hospitaller magazines in the course of the eighteenth century, introduced to the Maltese island through French military engineers like Brigadier René Jacob de Tigné and Charles François de Mondion. The first to be built were the two examples at Fort Manoel, to be followed by others constructed in the reign of Grand Master Pinto at Floriana, Valletta and Ras Hanzir. Right, Plan of a magazin à poudre based on the pattern established by Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban, as illustrated in the treatise by Abbé du Fay and Chev. de Cambray entitled ‘Veritable maniere de fortifier de Mr. de Vauban’, printed in Amsterdam in 1726 (Image Source: Author’s private collection). The squarish structure has walls ventilated by ‘events’ (see pages 30-1) and is enclosed by a boundary wall.

polvere’) was 700 scudi whilst another 300 scudi were required to construct the other stores. One of the earliest known edifices that are recorded as being purposely built for the storage of gunpowder was a range of warehouses erected by Grand Master Lascaris in Valletta. This complex of two-storeyed warehouses, affixed to the flank and gorge of St John Cavalier, was erected in 1646 to house the muskets and gunpowder purchased with the money derived from a special foundation established by the same Grand Master. The building, unfortunately, was demolished in the decades after the Second World War but the commemorative slab which once crowned the main façade was removed and fixed to the wall of the cavalier: it reads ‘MIGLIO SALNITRO E MOSCHETTI DELLA FONDAZIONE LASCHERA A.MDCXXXXVI’. The few existing photographs of the exterior of this structure, as well as a surviving plan, however, show that the building had no special storage features in relation to gunpowder, other than perhaps that it was dry and safely sheltered by the towering cavalier.

The Order’s Magasins à poudre à la Vauban By the late seventeenth century military engineers had begun to introduce specialized buildings designed specifically for the safe storage of gunpowder. These gunpowder stores came to be known by various names. In the Order’s records they are frequently referred to as ‘polveriste’, ‘magazzino da polvere’ or ‘magasins a poudre’. In the military language of the time they were also referred to as polveriere (Italian - see G. Grassi, POLVERIERA: Edificio nel quale si fabbrica or si conserva la polvere: quello nel quale si fabbrica la polvere chiamasi piu particolarmente Mulino; e quello destinato solamente a conservarla chiamasi Magazzino); Almacen de pólvera (Spanish), and poudrieres (French). 10


In the Maltese context, a gunpowder magazine was sometimes also referred to as a polverista. Strictly speaking, however, this is an Italian word which actually referred to the person who worked in a magazine or manufactured gunpowder ( see G.Grassi, - POLVERISTA, Colui che fabbrica la polvere da Guerra ), what the French called a poudrier. It was the arrival of French military engineers to Malta in the early 1700s which was to see the introduction of purposely-built gunpowder magazines throughout the Maltese islands. Designed à la Vauban, the new French-designed structures followed, in typical French fashion, a standardized form of construction based on a rectangular plan reinforced with lateral counterforts and fitted with gabled roof. These dedicated buildings had various special features built into their design so as to make them bombproof, fireproof, and damp-proof. Their slanting roofs and barrel-vaulted interiors gave them great resistance against bombardment, helping to deflect mortar shells and cannon balls. Indeed, upwards of 80 shells are said to have been thrown upon a magazine of this type at Landau,

without doing the least damage to the vault; the same thing was reported to have happened at Ath, and in the siege of Tournay by the Duke of Malborough where of the 45,000 shells fired into fortress, the greater part fell upon two powdermagazines and yet neither of them was damaged. Such extraordinary resistance was achieved largely by the vaulted interior and the buttressing provided by exterior counterforts The magazines were also amply cross-ventilated to provide a good circulation of air. This was achieved by a combination of large windows set high up in the end walls (pignons) and a series of small blind ventilation shafts (known as sfiatatori, in the Order’s records, and events in French military jargon) and controlled access points, both of which ensured that no potentially dangerous material could be introduced into the storage areas. These magazines were given raised floors to help aerate the whole structure and reduce the problem of rising damp. A good description of a Vauban-style powder magazine is provided by John Muller in his A Treatise containing the practical part of fortification (1755), based on Bernard Forest de Bélidor: 11


‘The dimensions of Mr. Vauban’s magazines, are as follow; the plan is 60 feet long, clear within, and 25 broad; the foundations are 9 or 10 feet thick under the long sides which support the arch; and these sides he made 8 or 9 feet thick, according as the masonry was good or indifferent, and 8 feet high from the foundation to the spring of the arch; so that making the floor about two feet from the ground to keep it free from all dampness, there remained 6 feet for the height of the story. ‘The thinnest part or hanches of the arch (intermediate parts of arches between the crown and the spring at the bottom, being about a third of the arch, and placed nearer the bottom than the top, likewise called spandrels), and the arch made of four lesser ones, one over the other, and the outside of the whole terminated in a slope to form the roof; from the highest part of the arch to the ridges is 8 feet, which makes the angle somewhat greater than 90 degrees; the two wings, or gable ends, are four feet thick, raised somewhat higher than the roof, as is customary in other buildings; as to their foundations they are 5 feet thick, and as deep as the nature of the ground required. ‘The piers or long sides are supported by four counterforts, each of six feet broad, and four feet long, and their interval 12 feet; between the intervals of the counterforts, are the air holes, in order to keep the magazine dry and free from dampness; the dices of these air holes are commonly a foot and a half every way, and the vacant space round them three inches, made so as the in and outsides be in the same direction, as may be seen by the plan; the dices serve to prevent an enemy from throwing fire in, to burn the magazine, and for a further precaution, it is necessary to stop these air-holes with several iron plates, that have small holes in them like a skimmer, or otherwise fire might be tied to the tail of a small animal, so drive it in that way; this would be no hard matter to do, since where this precaution has been neglected, egg-shells have been found within, that have been carried there by weasels. ‘To keep the floor from dampness, beams are laid long-ways, and to prevent these beams from being soon rotten, large stones [are] laid under them, these beams were 8 or 9 inches square, or rather 10 high and 8 broad, which is better, and 18 inches distant from each other; their interval is filled with dry sea coals, or chips of dry stones, then over these beams are others laid cross-ways, of 4 inches broad, and 5 high, which are covered with two inch Right, Powder magazines designed on the system introduced by Vauban as illustrated in Bernard Forest de Belidor’s treatise ‘La Science des Ignenieurs dans la conduite des travaux de fortification et d’architecture civile’, printed in Paris in 1729. Bottom right, Plan and sectional elevations of a Vauban-type gunpowder magazine employed in the fortress of Gironde, France. Note that the magazines have no events in the front and rear walls (pignons) but only in the flanks and that the dimensions of the interior were roughly in the ratio of 2:1. 12




These two pages illustrate the plan, shape, form, and structure of a typical Vaubanstyle gunpowder magazine built in the Maltese islands (Image source: Author) The original Vauban-type magazines had no events in the front and rear walls (known as pignons) but only along the lateral sides. Later magazines, such as that built at Floriana, however, were also equipped with such events, on each side of the doorways. By 1803, Guillaume de Vauldoncourt could write in his journal that it was the practice to pierce the walls of the pignons by ‘un grande nombre d’évents, de 4 pounces environ de large, sur 15 a 18 pounces de haut; coupés dans leur longeur par un ou plusiers dés, fermés par des grilles en cuivre, et disposes de manière que l’air circule également sur tous les points’.


Barrel-vaulted interior of magazine

Garde de feu boundary wall securing magazine

Main entrance to magazine generally closed off by a pair of doors and surmounted by a large window used to ventilate the interior


Ventilation shafts known as events or sfiatatori. Vauban-type magazines had no events in the front and rear walls. These were built in later models such as that found in Floriana (see page 25)


planks. [This does not apply to the Maltese version of the Vauban magazine, which had a stone floor] ‘To give light to the magazine, a window is made in each wing, which are shut up by two shutters of 2 or 3 inches thick, one within and the other without; that which is on the outside is covered with an iron plate, and is fastened with bolts, as well as that on the inside. These windows are made very high, for fear of accidents, and are opened by means of a ladder, to give air to the magazine in fine dry weather. ‘There is likewise a double door made of strong planks, the one opens on the outside, and the other within; the outside one is also covered with an iron plate, and both are locked by a strong double lock; the store keeper has the key of the outside, and the governor that of the inside: the door ought to

Internal yard used for the drying of gunpowder barrels in warm weather

Sloping roof of gunpowder magazine designed to deflect shoot and bombs and supported on a double arched vault ‘à prova di bomba’

Lateral counterforts (contraforti) 15


face the south nearly if possible; in order to render the magazine as light as can be, and that the wind blowing in may be dry and warm. Sometimes a wall of 10 feet high is built round the magazine about 12 distant from it, to prevent any thing from approaching it without being seen. Such a magazine as this will hold about 200,000 pounds of powder, when the barrels are six above one another, which however is not done, but in case of necessity, because when they lie so much on each other, it is very troublesome to remove them, and change their position, which ought to be done once a year at least; otherwise the salt petre, being the heaviest ingredient, will descend into the lower part of the barrel, and the powder above will lose much of its goodness; but to prevent the barrels form rolling, when some are taken off, two wooden posts are erected, of about 4 or 5 inches square, between every 10 or 12 barrels, by this means

Above, A 1715 proposal for a magazine on St Clement Bastion, Cottonera. French engineers envisaged three magazines along the Cottonera enceinte, as shown in the plans below (1715) and bottom (1717 or later).(Image source: Courtesy of the NLM).

St Clement Bastion

St James Bastion St John Bastion

St Clement Bastion

St James Bastion

St Louis Bastion 16


they me piled up as high as you please, or taken off without any danger.’ The first reference to such magazines is found in Brigadier Rene Jacob de Tigné’s first report of 1715. Brig. Jacob de Tigné headed the seminal French military mission sent to Malta in 1715 and was responsible for introducing many new ideas and procedures within the Hospitaller military establishment. In his second report of 1717, Brig. de Tigné called for twelve gunpowder magazines, six of these at Cottonera and the rest in Floriana (4) and Valletta. The cost of these works was estimated at a little more than twenty-thousand scudi. Below are the main entries: ‘ (47) ... trois magazines à poudre en forme de Retrenchement, dans les gorges des bastions ... 9000 [scudi]; ‘(48) ... trois autre magazines ordinaires dans trois autres bastiones qui serviront a mettres les poudres en temps de paix ... 6000 [scudi] ‘ ( ) .. vourter à preuve de bombe les magazins sous leus les cavaliers de la porte Realle ... 2000 [scudi] ‘(17) ... des magazines à preuve de bombe, derniere la muraille neuve de la porte des Chiens [Porta dei Cani - St Anne Gate, Floriana] et dans le retrenchement des capucins ‘(20) ... deux magazines à poudre à preuve de bombe dans l’interieur des Florianes ... 3000 [scudi]. Some of the plans which accompanied Brig. de Tigné’s report have survived and these enable us to identify both his ‘magazins ordinaires’ as being Above, A 1715 proposal by French military engineers for a gunpowder magazine built into the redoubt of a retrenchment cut into the gorge of St Paul Bastion, Cottonera, in the manner shown in the author’s graphic reconstruction below (Image source of plan: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).



Above, Map of Valletta and its harbours showing the knights’ main gunpowder storage areas around the late eighteenth century. The triangles show the French-pattern magazines, the other shapes, show ordinary casemates and stores (see text).

à la Vauban, and the ones which were meant to form part of the proposed retrenchments in the three of the Cottonera bastions. None of these ordinary magazines were ever built, but the Knights did eventually come round, many decades later, to implement de Tigné’s proposal for the construction of gunpowder magazines on one of Valletta’s cavaliers and on Capuchin Bastion. The first to be built on such a pattern where the two polveriste at Fort Manoel, followed by others at Floriana (Capuchin Bastion), Vendôme Bastion (Valletta), and in St John Cavalier (Valletta). The two magazines erected at Fort Manoel were both located in the centre of their respective bastion in accordance with the practice adopted by Vauban, which was meant to protect the fortifications from the blast of an accidental explosion. The magazines were also located on the bastions most distant from the fort’s land front enceinte:

M. de Vauban a toujours placé les magasin à poudre au centre des bastions vuides, comme le lieu le plus propre pour les cacher a l’ennemie, & les isoler, en cas d’accident du feu, de la ville & des fortifications: ma il y a des Ingenieurs qui les aiment mieux le long du pied du rempart des courtines, afin de conserver le vuide des bastions pour les ouvrages ou les travaux necessaire pour disputer le terrein pied à pied à l’ennemi. In practice, only one of the two magazines erected at Fort Manoel appears to have been actually


used for the storage of powder. The second was employed for the storage of other unspecified items. Not all of the Knights’ forts and fortresses, however, had been fitted with the Vauban-type of magazine by the time of the French invasion in 1798. Although various plans in the Order’s archives show that the Knights had planned to erect similar magazines at Mdina, Chambrai (Gozo) and other fortresses, most of the major works of fortification, as a matter of fact, such as Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Elmo, Fort St Angelo, Senglea, Birgu, Mdina etc., still continued to store their complement of gunpowder within the vaulted casemates set inside their ramparts. The dangers inherent in such archaic storage arrangements are best illustrated by the incident of the Froberg mutiny at Fort Ricasoli in 1807 which resulted in the demolition of a considerable section of the fort’s ramparts after desperate mutineers fired the gunpowder stored inside the casemates in St Dominic Demi-bastion. The list below shows the magazines which are known to have been in use by the late eighteenth century: Valletta St John Cavalier (Vauban-style) Vendôme Bastion (Vauban-style) Floriana Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion - (Vauban-style) Fort Manoel St Anthony Bastion (Vauban-style) St Helen Bastion (Vauban-style) Cottonera Lines St Clement Bastion (general store - alla leggera) St James Bastion (general store - alla leggera) Fort Chambrai Guardian Angel Bastion (two proposed Vauban-style magazines not constructed)


Above, A proposal, dated to the early 1720s, for the construction of a Vauban-type magazine on De Redin Bastion at Mdina (Image source: Courtesy of Prof. D. de Lucca). This was not built. Right, Undated plan, possibly pre-1740, but with British annotations, showing what appears to be a gunpowder magazine with counterforts in the ditch of the ritirata to the left of St Mark Bastion, Floriana, prior to the construction of the magazine on Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). There are no records to show that this structure was ever built.

Gozo Citadel Near St John Demi-bastion St John Cavalier Ras Ħanżir - depository for naval and foreign vessels (Vauban-style) Fort St Angelo Vaulted structure situated near barbican Two casemates within D’Homedes Bastion (for naval use) Birgu (Vittoriosa) Casemate near Porta Marina (demolished) Fort Ricasoli Casemate in St Dominic Demi-Bastion (Demolished) Mdina (Città Notabile) Casemates within De Redin Bastion (a proposed Vauban-style magazine on same bastion not constructed) Fortifications known to have kept stocks of gunpowder but exact locations unknown: Fort St Elmo Senglea Santa Margherita enceinte Fort San Salvatore 19




This page, above, View of the Vauban-type gunpowder magazine at Fort Manoel, situated on St Helen Bastion. The Fort had two such structures (see detail of plan of Fort Manoel on opposite page) but one of these was demolished by the British military in the course of the nineteenth century. The photographs above and right show the main façade (pignon), facing the interior of the fort with its large access doorway and ventilation window. Note that, in typical Vauban style, the façade is not perforated by events. Bottom, view of the right side of the magazine showing three of the lateral counterforts, two of which were pierced by doorways at a much later date. The magazine also lost all of its events when the side walls between the counterforts were pierced by arched openings designed to enable the magazine to serve as a garrison reading room. (Images source: Author’s private collection). Left, top, Plan of the ‘Magazino da Polvere e Munizioni’ (à la Vauban) on St Helen Bastion, Fort Manoel, showing Britishperiod annotations in pencil related to the conversion of the magazine into a reading room. (Images source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).






The two gunpowder magazines of Fort Manoel, only one of which has survived, were placed in the middle of empty bastions, away from the land front, in typical textbook fashion as established by Vauban. The image above shows Fort Manoel around the early 1860s prior to the onset of British interventions which saw the demolition of the left magazine on St Anthony Bastion (inset). The main photograph shows the right magazine on St Helen Bastion prior to restoration works.


This page, A mid-nineteenth century view of the Vaubanstyle gunpowder magazine which was erected on Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion, at Floriana. Note the enveloping security wall and the then still-unadulterated state of the bastion, prior to the massive British alterations. Below, Details of the Floriana magazine as existing today. (Images source: Author’s private collection).



Plan of Capuchin Bastion (Dhoccara Bastion) at Floriana showing a proposal for the construction of a Vauban-type gunpowder magazine built à prova di bomba (i.e., heavily vaulted). Note that the structure has only lateral events and none on the front and rear pignons, unlike the structure that was eventually built, completed during the reign of Grand master Pinto de Fonseca. Note also that, initially, the designer’s idea was to have one large mur de sécurité sealing off the gorge of the bastion but eventually a smaller enclosure was erected immediately around the magazine, seen sketched in pencil. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). Right, Early 19th century plan of the Floriana magazine as actually built. Of great interest is the shape of the events, which is much simpler and avoids the use of dice. (Image source: Author’s private collection).



Left, and below, Plan an sectional elevation of the Floriana gunpowder magazine, drawn during the early nineteenth century and showing both the interior tavolatura (skidding) as well as the outer boundary wall that was eventually employed to protect the storage area. Of particular interest are the steps that lead up to the rear entrance, and the vertical wooden dividers. Note also, the simplified type of events that were employed in the walls. (Images source: Author’s private collection).



Above, Sectional elevation along the width of the Floriana gunpowder magazine, drawn during the early nineteenth century, showing an interesting detail of what appears to be the vertical wooden elements of the tavolatura (skidding) used for the storage of barrels. Such a feature is not shown in Hospitaller period drawings - the barrels are merely shown stacked on top of one another. Here, however, it appears that a system of vertical dividers was employed. This arrangement, however, may have been a feature that was introduced by the British military. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

Author’s graphic reconstruction of the Floriana Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion gunpowder magazine after the original proposed layout as shown on the initial plan illustrated on the previous page. The magazine was intended to be closed off with a long boundary wall cutting across the wide open gorge of the bastion, much in the same manner as that which had been adopted for the two seaward-facing bastions at Fort Manoel. In this case, the boundary wall had two openings. Although, undoubtedly, such a solution ensured a great degree of safety by enclosing a large area, it nonetheless, would inadvertently also have hindered the defence of the place, by interrupting the movement of cannon and other heavy ordnance from one part of the enceinte to the other in the event of a siege Opposite page, top left, Author’s graphic reconstruction of the Floriana Capuchin Bastion (Dhoccara) gunpowder magazine as eventually closed off with a close-hugging boundary wall. It is not clear if the initial proposal to erect a long wall across the wide open gorge of the bastion was ever implemented. Although still standing, a large part of the magazine was engulfed by a huge earthen massif, revetted in stone which the Royal Engineers constructed on the norther side of the structure to shield it from naval bombardment. A wooden barracca was set up within the enclosure enveloping the magazine to hold in quarantine some of the victims of the 1813 plague. 27


Magazine interiors and storage arrangements Inside the magazines, the powder was kept in wooden barrels stacked horizontally in rows on wooden skids, or tavolate. The Order’s records reveal little details about the type and sizes of barrels employed locally. Most probably, like the magazines themselves, the ‘barils à poudre’ followed French patterns, and around the end of the eighteenth century French gunpowder barrels were normally made of wood, mostly oak or chestnut, and came in two main sizes: the larger ones containing 200 lbs of gunpowder being 63 cm long with a diameter of 58 cm, and the smaller ones containing 100 lbs of gunpowder, 58 cm long, and 43 cm ‘de diameter au bouge.’ These barrels were made of staves (dry strips of redwood free of sap) forming the sides, bound together by flexible bits of wood called withies, or by copper hoops, stacked tightly together along the top and bottom third of the barrels. Such barrels were generally of convex shape, bulging slightly at the middle – this shape helped distribute the stress evenly and made it easier for the barrels to be rolled on their sides, changing directions with little friction. The barrels were lined, internally, with sacks of cloth in order to contain the gunpowder, preventing it from spilling in the event of the barrel breaking and also reducing friction between the wood and the grain during transportation: ‘La poudre est mise dans de barils qui en contiennent cent ou deux cents kilogrammes;ceuxci sont refermés dans de de seconds barils appelés chapes; les premiers sont garnis intérieurement de

Right, Author’s graphic reconstruction of Hospitaller-type skidding (tavolatura) employed in Malta inside the Cottonera polverista, based on the details taken from a plan of the St Clement Bastion magazine (Image source of plan: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). Bottom right, a French-type of gunpowder barrel made of staves of redwood bound together by flexible strips of wood called withies. Below, detail from Abbè du Fay’s treatise showing a plan of a typical event (sfiatatore)





facs de toile destinés à retenir la poudre si le baril venoit à se défoncer, & à diminuer le frottement des grains dans le transport. Les douves & les fonds des barils & des chapes doivent être en chêne on en chataignier, refendu & non scié. Ces bois ainsi débités s’appellant merains. Ils doivent être tressains & sans aubier. Les cercles des barils & des chapes sont également en chêne ou en chataignier, coupés en féve & dépouillés de leur écosse immediatement après la coupe. Ces précautions sont nécessaires pour qu’ils puissent durer longtemps. On renvoie des place & des ports, dans les poudreries, tous le barils & les chapes, à mesure qu’ils se trouvent vides’. The barrels were generally stacked in rows on wooden skidding, and raised above the floor of the magazine to protect the gunpowder from rising damp. French military text books of the period advised military engineers not to stack 200 lb barrels more than three rows high, and those of 100 lbs,

These two pages, Various types of events as found in Hospitaller fortifications in the Maltese islands. Right, top, Conical polverista at Fort Chambrai; bottom, Floriana magazine, and opposite page, Gozo Citadel. Far right, top: Plan and graphic reconstruction of an event in the polverista of Fort Manoel, showing its internal cube (called a dice – or a die) and its singular shaft. This allowed air to enter the magazine but prevented objects from being thrown in. More complex examples were employed in the magazine on St Clement Bastion, Cottonera Lines. The openings of the shafts were closed off with wooden shutters, both externally and internally as shown in diagram, left.


Events and Sfiatatori Blind ventilation shafts, known as ‘events’ in French, or ‘sfiatatori’ in Italian, ensured that no materials could be introduced into the interior of the magazine from outside. Le Blond provides the following description: ‘Dans le milieu de l’intervalle des contreforts, on pratique des petite ouvertures appellees events. Elles servant a faire entrer l’air dans le magasin; au milieu de l’event est un espece de pilier, dont la base est d’un pied quarre. |L’event tourne autour, & il se termine de part & d’autre cote du mur. Il a trois pouces de largeur.’ The rectangular pillar, known as a ‘dice’, served to intercept the passageway halfway through the wall. The external and internal openings were generally fitted with wooden apertures. Some sort of metal mesh or leather sieves were sometimes also placed inside the shaft to prevent birds from nesting. Three types of ventilation openings have so far been encountered in Hospitaller gunpowder magazines: the single slit version found on most structures with central die; the more complex version with additional four smaller openings which was only employed in the two large general magazines in Cottonera; and the simplified version as built in the Floriana magazine (bottom).




whether through a layer of wooden panels or by means of other materials. No descriptions have come to light. At the time, various French engineers recommended that quantities of lime (chaux), muriates of lime (formed from lime and muriatic acid and remarkable for their great attraction for water) or charcoal, were to be kept inside the entrances of magazines in order to absorb the moisture from the air and keep the magazine interior dry. They also advised that the interior walls of the magazines were to be whitewashed with thick layers of lime (biancheggiatura) so that this covering served the same purpose. Traces of biancheggiatura, can in fact still be found in the Floriana magazine, but it is difficult to determine if this is still an original coating. Most of the buildings at the time, whether military or civilian,however, would also have been whitewashed, as this was a common practice. Left, The vaulted interiors of the gunpowder magazines at Fort Manoel (top) and Floriana. Below, Detail of a hinged wooden shaft shutter of what appears to have been an early British period event. Bottom, Detail of the interior opening of one of the shafts of the events in the Floriana magazine. Note the recess for the supporting frame.

not higher than four rows. The barrels were to be laid in multiple rows, depending on the size of the magazine, and kept at least half a metre away from the side walls and at least 1.5 m from the front and rear walls (pignons). The barrels were kept away from the walls not only to protect the powder from dampness but also to allow them to be inspected with ease from both sides. Bergere, writing in 1820, recommended that in a typical small magazine, the powder should be stacked in four rows, with a double row on each side of a central passage 90 cm wide. The type of skidding employed in the Order’s magazines is depicted in a number of plans still to be found in the Order’s archives. Foremost amongst these are those showing the general magazine on St Clement Bastion at Cottonera (see illustration on page 37). These show the barrels laid out in double of wooden beams (tavolatura) each resting or rectangular wooden blocks laid down at regular intervals of around the length of twelve barrels laid side by side. The barrels are shown stacked three barrels high (see page 28). The Order’s records also reveal that the walls of the magazines were sometimes padded (infoderate) to help reduce the effects of rising dampness through the walls. It is not clear how this was achieved, 32


This page, Details of the lateral counterforts employed at the Floriana gunpowder magazine on Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion, together with a view of the rubble and earth packing forming the protective roof layer (clad in large, shaped capping stones) crowning the vault of the same magazine. These contraforti do not have the same pronounced slope that was given to the two magazines at Fort Manoel. The structure may have been designed and constructed by Francesco Marandon, who at the time, was the serving resident engineer. (Images source: Author’s private collection). 33


The Order’s storage arrangements.

Throughout the eighteenth century the Order’s military planners sought to re-organize the storage arrangements of gunpowder stocks distributed around the vast network of harbour and coastal fortifications by implementing a system of magazines inspired by the French system. By the mid-1700s, a number of specialized buildings had been erected to replace the archaic and unsafe storage facilities employed up until then with a new hierarchy of gunpowder stores designed to house, on one hand, the vast quantities of the island’s general reserves of gunpowder and, on the other, the requirements of individual forts on the other. In this, the Knights followed the French method which employed the following categories of gunpowder magazines: General reserves of Gunpowder: - Magasins de dépôt – constrution leger - Magasins à poudre de sûreté Storage facilities for individual works of fortification: - Magasins à poudre - Magasines à poudre des batteries Below is a brief description of the various categories of magazines:

Magazins de dépôt and de sûreté Magazines de depot and de sûreté were large buildings designed to hold vast quantities of reserve stocks of gunpowder in times of peace. These were generally located as far away from inhabited areas as possible, but still within the safety of the fortified enceinte. Such storehouses were not usually designed to be bombproof as they were not meant to withstand bombardment. In times of siege, their stocks of powder would have been redistributed amongst the various smaller bombproof magazines feeding the various batteries and works of fortification. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Order’s largest central depository was situated in the uninhabited esplanade behind the Cottonera enceinte. Magazins de dépôt :On doit établir en France, hors des villes et loin des frontières, à l’instar de ce qui a lieu chez quelques puissances étrangères, de grands magasins de dépôt, d’une construction légère et moins dispendieuse que celes des magasins des places, er destinés à recevoir en réserve l’excédant des produits des poudreries, après qu’elles ont approvisionné les place à leur portée. / Ces depots doivent etre places aux noeuds des grandes communications, pour qu’il soit toujours facile d’en diriger les approvisionnnemens partout ou il sont necssaires. / Chaque dépôt se compose de deux magasins, et chacun de ces magasins peut contenir environ 300,000

Author’s graphic reconstruction of the type of general gunpowder magazine which was built on both St James Bastion and St Clement Bastion, Cottonera Lines. Only that at St James Bastion is still standing.

Opposite page, Plan proposal for the construction of a large general magazine ‘coperto alla leggiera’ intended to be built on St Clement Bastion. A similar magazine was also constructed on St James Bastion. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). 34




kilogrammes de poudre. Le prx approximatif de chaque magasin de dépôt, murs d’enceinte et fosses compris, ser de 95,000 francs. (B.H. Cotty 1832) Magasins à poudre de sûreté: Il existe dans beaucoup de places des magasins qui, par le peu de distance qui les sépare des habitations, donnent des inquiétudes fondées et ont fréquemment provoqué de vives réclamations de la part des autorités locales. Cette circostance est généralement une conséquence de l’accroissement de la population de ces villes, par suite duquel les construction se sont successivement élevées à proximité des magasins placés originairement dans une position isolée. / Le meilleur moyen de remédier à cet inconvenient, sans abandonner des magasin indispensables, a paru étre d’établir hors des places des magasins de sûreté destinés à recevoir en temps de paix les poudres conentues dans les magasins signalés comme dangereux; ce qui se pratique chez quelques puissances étrangères. (B.H. Cotty 1832) Magasins à poudre and des batteries: The magasins à poudre held the powder complement allocated to a fortress. These were generally constructed in the centre of open bastions situated on that part of the fortress’ enceinte which was least exposed to direct enemy attack and bombardment. A number of magazines, however, were built within the protective carcasses of pre-existing ramparts (see below). By the end of the eighteenth century few of the major fortress had been equipped with free-standing powder magazines and most (Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Elmo, Fort St Angelo, Birgu, Senglea, the Sta Margherita Lines, Mdina and Fort Tigné) lacked such facilities and continued to store their complement of powder inside casemates within their ramparts. At the time of the Knights, the various batteries of guns on the ramparts of the harbour forts lacked ‘expense’ magazines (magazines des batteries). Such features were only added in the course of the early nineteenth century by the British military. These generally held small quantities of powder required to fire the guns and mortars as well as all the accoutrements needed to work the weapons. The term was also applied to the storage areas erected to service field gun batteries. Magasins à poudre :Dans les Place de guerre, ils se construisent ordinairement dans le centre des bastions vuides, pour etre plis isolés, & pour etre mieux à l’abri de feu: quelquefois on les place au pied du rampart, le long des courtines, afin de ménager le vuide des bastions pour y faire les retranchemens nécessaires en cas d’attaque. Les magasins à poudre doivent être voútés a l’épruve de la bombe’. (G. le Blond - 1762) Magazines à poudre des batteries: Dans le voisinage des batteries de canons & de mortiers, on partique de petits endroits où l’on met de la poudre 36

pour le service de ces batteries: on couvre ces endroits des claies, au d’autre chose, pour les metre à l’abris du feu. C’est ce qu’on apepelle les petits magasins de la batteries. Outre ceux-ci, il y a un endroit plus éloigne & moins à portée de la batterie, où l’on tiennt une plus grande quantité de poudre, c’est le grand magasin. (G. le Blond - 1762)

Central reserve depots By 1758, all the supply of the Order’s gunpowder, apart from that for set aside for naval use, is recorded as being stored at Cottonera, which then, unlike now, was still a vast esplanade. At the time, this vast span of terrain was still a relatively barren tract of land devoid of any dwellings or hamlets and, therefore, provided the perfect setting for the safe storage of vast quantities of explosive materials. Most military planners in the eighteenth century had realized the necessity for gunpowder magazines to be located away from built-up areas, whether civilian or military, as a basic safety precaution. In Malta, the concept was first laid down by the French military mission headed by Brig. Rene Jacob de Tigné in 1715 when they proposed to build two large depositories on St Clement Bastion and St James Bastion respectively. The actual date of the construction of these two magazines, however, is still not established. Another early scheme for the Cottonera enceinte, proposed for by Brig. Jacob de Tigné, in 1717, shows instead, three small magazines ‘ordinaires’ on St James Bastion, St Clement Bastion, and St John Bastion respectively. These three structures, however, were not built and the Order seems to have gone ahead with the building of the two large stores instead. The magazine on St James Bastion appears as completed on a plan dated 1745. This structure has fortunately survived but the one which was built on St Clement Bastion was demolished and replaced by a British nineteenthcentury retrenchment. Its details, however, can be seen on a set of two large but undated, plans, entitled ‘magazino a polvere coperto alla leggera’ (see opposite page). The drawings show that the magazine was designed to house a staggering 2,340 barrels of gunpowder laid out in six double rows, that is about 234,000 lbs of gunpowder in 100lb containers. The storage of huge quantities of gunpowder in large and massive magazines, although at times necessary, was nevertheless always a very precarious and dangerous undertaking. Military planners were well aware of the risks and often advised that a ‘grande Magazzino da polvere é un ospite pericoloso, anzi un nemico interno molto più fiero, molto più formidable, di qualunque nemico esteriore: perche al improvise, ed in un solo istante puo produrre tali Danni, e cosi vaste rovine, qual un avversario esterno tampoco in un anno produrre ne potrebbe.’

A second plan proposal for the construction of a large general magazine ‘coperto alla leggiera’ intended to be built on St Clement Bastion. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).



Author’s graphic cut-away reconstruction of the general gunpowder magazine which was built on both St James Bastion and St Clement Bastion, on the Cottonera Lines.

Indeed, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were to witness a series of tragic disasters involving the explosion of various gunpowder stores throughout Europe. In 1654, for instance, one of the magazines in the city of Delft, Holland, exploded and devastated a large part of the city. At the time of the explosion, the magazine, known as the Secreet van Hollandt, large parts of which were underground, contained some 90,000 lbs gunpowder. The force of the blast was so great that most houses in the immediate vicinity were destroyed and many buildings throughout the city were damaged, including two major churches. The number of people killed was in the hundreds and among the casualties was one of Delft’s most renowned painters, Carel Fabritius. In 1717, the explosion of a magazine in the city of Belgrade left some 5,000 casualties, whilst the explosion of the magasin de poudre of Chateau de Grenelle, near Paris, in 1794, involving some 65,000 lbs of gunpowder, left more than a 1,000 dead. 38

Earlier in 1748, in Savona, Italy, an explosion of a powder store, caused by lightning, demolished more than 200 houses. The danger posed by lightning to gunpowder in storage was again amply demonstrated in August 1769, when lightning struck the church of St Nazaire in Brescia, Italy, where 207,000 lbs of polvere had been housed for safekeeping, resulting in an explosion that killed about 300 people, wounded another 500 and destroyed about 190 edifices. In Malta, the threat posed by lightning was well demonstrated in the course of a thunderstorm in 1662, which hit an echaugette on one of the Valletta counterguards, resulting in a great explosion which, fortunately for the Maltese, caused no casualties and little material damage. There was little that the Knights and their military engineers could effectively do to counter this natural threat. However, by the end of eighteenth century, owing to the a growing understanding of electricity, many countries began to equip structures with

The good practice of placing stocks of gunpowder safely out of reach of the main urban areas, nonetheless, also had its drawbacks. In 1758, a specially set-up commission observed that the gunpowder at Cottonera was situated too far away to be of any use in an emergency, ‘in luogo da non poter servire in caso improviso’ and advised, instead, that more use be made of ‘il Magazeno del Forte Manoel, che é alla prova di bomba sotto un custodia sicura e più à portata della Città Valletta che quelli della Cottonera.’ It was also recommended to stock up ‘i magazeni à polvere dei rivellini de Porta Reale nei quali si trovano tutti li vantaggi [e] … communicazione della città’ while those within the city, on the other hand, particularly inside the cavaliers were to be left empty because of the danger (‘à causa del pericolo’) they posed to their urban surroundings. Ever since 1634, when it accidentally blew up, killing 22 people and seriously damaging the nearby Jesuits college and church, the main powder factory, too, was located in the large stretch of barren ground enveloped within the Floriana enceinte (later known as the Ospizio). Occasionally, unlikely places such as vaulted communications passages, casemates, or countermine tunnels within the ramparts were also put to use as improvised gunpowder stores (expense magazines in later 19th century terminology).

Safety measures Gunpowder magazines were generally cordoned off with a high wall known as a garde de feu so as to prevent unauthorized personnel and civilians from getting too close to the place. The ground within the walled enclosure was sloped outwards to drain rain water away from the base of the walls of the magazines. The enclosure was also kept free of vegetation and trees: La cour qui sépare la magasin à poudre du mur de clȏture n’ayant d’autre but que d’isoler le magasin et d’en défender les approaches, on doit donner au sol beaucoup de pent du dedans au dehors, afin d’éloigner les eaux des maconneries du magasin.

L’ordonnance de 1768 (titre XXXV, art.9) defend de cultivar les cours des magasins en jardins, ou d’y planter des arbres. On assurera l’exécution de cette disposition en composant le sol des cours, à un metre de profondeur, de débris et de gravois bien damés. As a rule, the magazines were guarded round the clock and, to this end, a few were fitted with guardhouses, or corpi di guardia. It seems, however, that the same lassitude which had crept into the administration of the armouries by the mideighteenth century had also found its way into the running of the gunpowder magazines. An insight into this situation is provided by a report, found in the order’s records, entitled De disordini, che succedero a torno de Magazzini, dove si conserva la polvere, posti nel recinto della Fortificazione Cottonera which draws attention to the utter disregard for safety, that seems to have prevailed at the Cottonera polverista in 1741. From this document we learn that ‘Successe piu’ volte, che quelle povera gente ch’abita per decreto dell’Em. Vra. E suoi predecessori nelli Contraforti, corpi di Guardia, e casematte della detta Fort[ificazione], accesero fuochi cosi di giorno come di notte in luoghi poco lontani dalli detti Magazzini, successe anche alcuni anni sono che un Deliquente proseguito dalla Giustizia ai era rifugiato nel primo recinto d’un delli detti Magazzini, dove aveva potuto entrare, senza esser scoverto, e si accendeva continuamente del fuoco; Parimente successe e succede ogni giorno, che molte persone, che vanno a cacciare sbaranno senza incorrere pena veruna, intono de’ Magazzini, anch in tempo, che questi si trovano aperti per prendere aria, e si cava da medesimi la polvere per farla seccare. ‘Questi diversi inconvenienti non possero, che provedere qualche giorno una disgrazi, di cui puol dirsi, che quest’Isola e’ stata preservat sin oggi per grazzia speciale del Cielo ... di stabilire un Corpo di Guardia di dodici Soldati sotto il Comando d’un Caporale ed un Sergente per invigilare alla sicurezza di detti Magazzini . Questo distaccamento potrebbe cavarsi dalle quattro Compagnie delle Galere’ . The ease which the public could gain access to this magazine and its supply of powder on those days when this was laid out to dry – resulting largely form the absence of adequate security measures or simply the posting of a sentinel – was truly alarming. Eventually the corpo di guardia of the Polverista di Rocca Tagliata in Cottonera, which stood next to the nearby powder store, was supplied with soldiers. A corporal and three soldiers from this station, however, were also detailed to guard the gate of the Cortina di detta Roccatagliata as part of their duties, to the detriment of the security of the magazine! The situation concerning the storage of gunpowder in certain magazines appears to have grown so intolerable by 1756 that an official inquiry was held 39


lightning conductors. As a matter of fact, by the early 1800s, all magasins de poudre in France (some 359 in 1824) were equipped with paratonnerres (lightning conductors). None of those which had been built in Hospitaller Malta, however, seem to have been fitted with such features by 1798. Indeed, British military engineers were surprised to see that the doors of the magazines in Malta were actually covered in iron and wandered how these had survived and were never hit by lightning. Eventually, the British military would go on to provide many of the existing magazines, as well as the ones which they constructed anew, with copper lightning conductors and some of these can still be found in situ, such as that at St Michael’s Counterguard, Valletta (see page 69).


Above, View of the flank of D’Homedes Bastion, at Fort St Angelo, prior to its restoration in the 1990s, showing the internal vault of the two magazines which were used for the storage of gunpowder throughout the eighteenth century (Image source: Author’s private collection).

to investigate the many abuses that had crept in, particularly in the clandestine ‘ma libero traffico delle Polveri della Religione con pericolo grandissimo delle Città, e del Porto, con interesse gravissimo del Com Tesoro’ and to examine how both locals and foreigners (‘non ostante le …ordinanze de bandi’) had acquired ‘la facoltà di acquistare tal genere di munizione in pregiudizio del Governo per farne un uso pernicioso.’ On investigation, it transpired that large quantities of gunpowder were being pilfered from the magazines of the galleys or exchanged for ones of inferior quality. These magazines were situated inside D’Homedes Bastion at Fort St Angelo, and their keys, left in the hands of the ‘Capi Mastri Artiglieri’ who, together with their dependents, had managed to acquire unrestricted access to the place; ‘… che secondo le occorrenze cavano da se stessi o per mezzi delle loro mogli, figli e dipendenti in tutte le ore del giorno .. ritengono in poter loro le chiavi di detto magazeno.’ Worse still, this magazine was situated beneath another one in which was conserved a much larger quantity of powder serving the squadron of the Order’s ship-of-the-lines. As if these irregularities were not serious enough, other worrying abuses were uncovered. Particularly disconcerting was the ‘libertà che anno i bastimenti d’introdurre in questo dominio la polvere, parte della quale si rispone in Castel St Angelo per diposito volontario de Capitani, altra si riserva in luoghi incogniti al Governo ma certamente nelle case di questa città, o Magazzeni delle Marine.’ That 40

gunpowder was being illegally kept inside private houses is best illustrated by the tragic explosion, on the night of 24 June 1756, of a large tenement house near the Auberge de Castille and Leon in Valletta, which resulted in the death of many of the residents. The cause of the tragedy was a certain Rev. Giovanni Mifsud, nicknamed ‘ta suffarelli’, an amateur fireworks manufacturer who operated from his room with utter disregard for the safety of others. Following the 1756 incident, however, the private possession of gunpowder was strictly prohibited ‘in casa propria, ne altrove’ except for ‘una piccola quantità corrispondente all’uso di un cacciatore.’ To this end, fixed places were established in Valletta, Gozo, and ‘in tre luoghi di questa Isola, cioè nella Città Notabile, in Casal Lia e nella Gudia’ where ‘tre persone stabilite con autorità’ could legally sell gunpowder in small quantities and solely for hunting purposes. These distributors, in turn, were only authorized to purchase their own stocks from officially approved sources.

The 1756 Regolamenti The report drawn up on this occasion was to lead towards a series of new regulations, the ‘Regolamenti per la Custodia della Polvere’, that were designed, above all, to ensure a greater central control over gunpowder resources and reduce the facility with which unauthorized persons could sell, exchange, and alter the quality of gunpowder. Immediately, the no longer acceptable practice whereby various Capi Maestri retained the keys to the Santa Barbara in each fortified work was revoked and a stricter regime implemented. In all the fortifications, as a result, there were to be only two keys to the powder stores, one of which was to be held by the ‘Governatore o suo luogotente’ and


the other by the ‘Capomastro del castello’ after a record was made of the ‘esatto conto delli scartucci presi’. The main points of the Regolamento per la Custodia della Polvere read as follows: 1. Che dovendosi fabricare un nuovo Magazeno il sito piu adatto ci sembra quello della Punta di Ras Kanzir sotto il Corradino da noi esaminato con diligenza e ritrovato assai commodo per imbarcare, e sbarcare le polveri delle due squadre, e di qualunque altro bastimento, immune di più per la vantaggiosa sua situazione di poter cagionare un disgraziato incendio alcun danno alle Città e al Porto. 2. Che nel sudetto Magazeno si fanno diversi riparimenti per conservare la Polvere di ciuascheduna Galera e Vassello, siccome ancora un luogo sufficiente per conservare la Polvere dei Particolari. 3. Che nella consegna della Polvere da farsi alli Vapi Maestri delle Galere assista sempre un Commissario della Polvere, la prova della quale si dovrà fare ordinamente nell’atto di ogni consegna. 4. Che similmente nel rimettere al ritorno de viaggi la Polvere nel rispettivo ripartimento accertera l’istesso Commissario, ricevendola dai Capi Maestri con le medesimi prove, per conoscere si confronta nella qualità, e con la nota del consumo, per aver la prova della quantità. 5. Che le Chiavi esteriori siano tutte conservate in Tesoro lasciando alli capi Maestri delle Galere la chiave del ripartimenti corrispondenti alla rispettiva galera. 6. Che il Commissario della V. Cong. Delle Galere nominato per assitere alla Polvere della Squadra abbia l’Incarico del Magazeno del deposito de’ Particolari; Onde ricercato di ricevere o di consegnare à med.mi li di loro Polvere. ... etc Che nelli Castelii di questa Citta’ si conservi la solita quantita’ di Polvere ne’ luoghi a questo effetto destinati sotto due Chiavi diversi una de’ quali dovra esser conservata dal Governatore, o suo Luog.te, l’altra dal Capo Maestro del castello ... lasciarei mano del Sargente, che sarà in obbligo al di loro ritorno dare esatto conto delli scartucci presi dal capo Maestro per qualche impensato accidente succedito. 11. Che Nessuno ardisca tenere in casa propria, ne altrove Polvere pur che non sià una piccola quantità corrispondente all’uso di un Cacciatore. 12. Che percio oltre un luogo fisso nella Città e altri nel Gozzo, in tre luoghi di questa Isola, cioe’ nella Città Notabile, In Casal Lia, e nella Gudia da noi noi creduti i più propij per la commodità della campagna vi siano tre persone stabilite con autorità di V.E.

Manuscript map of the inner reaches of the Grand Harbour, showing the location of the gunpowder magazine established by Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca at Ras Ħanżir, at the foot of the Corradino heights. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

per vendere Polvere per uso di Caccia in poca quantità, i quali venditori siino di più con special Rescritto di V. E. Abilitati a poterla comprare da chi avrà l’autorità di venderla per la totale inteligenza e coguizione del Governo di tutto cio, che risguardia la materia della Polvere ...... 15. Che a tutti gli Capi Maestri, Artiglieri, Bombardieri delle Galere, Navi, Castelli & Torri in vigor di Bando di V.E. si facci una rigorosa proibizione di poter sotto qualsivoglia pretesto, o colre vendere a chicche sia Polvere a medesimi consegnata per servizio delle, Squadre, Fortezze, e Torri di queste Isole, o in altra maniera mutarla o accomodarla sotto pena della perdità dell’ufficio.’ Curiously, the 800 scudi worth of powder then found missing from the magazines in Fort St Angelo were to be detracted from the salary of the Capo Mastro di St Angelo (‘fu sequestrate la meta del suo salario ma potra non estingere, per quanto sara lunga la di lui vita’ intieramente il debito sudetto’). In other times, he would surely have found himself rowing the oars of the Order’s galleys! The primary outcome of the new regulations was the construction of a new ‘magazzeno Generale per le Polveri delle Marine’. This new magazine was erected on a small promontory known as Ras Ħanżir, situated deep within the Grand harbour enclave, immediately beneath the Corradino 41


It is not clear if all of the gunpowder magazines were provided with corpi di guardia. Some, such as the ‘Polverista di Rocca Tagliata’ in Cottonera mentioned earlier, came to be guarded round the clock. The detachment of soldiers posted at this guardhouse, which was situated ‘a canto della gran polverista’ had to provide a corporal and three soldiers to man the ‘piccolo corpo di guardia d’abasso, avanti la porta della Cortina di detta Roccatagliata.’

Marble plaque commemorating the construction of the Ras Ħanżir gunpowder magazine in 1756. (Image source: Author’s private collection).

heights, ‘... Punta di Ras Kanzir …sotto il Corradino … assai comodoso per imbarcare e sbarcare le polveri delle due squadre … immune di più per la vantaggiosa sua situazione di poter cagionare con un disgraziato incendio alcun danno alla città e al porto’. The chosen location was difficult to reach by land but it was set outside the defensive perimeter of the fortifications, in open country and, therefore, had no military value in the event of a siege, since the building, although commanded by the guns on the fortifications of Floriana and Senglea Point, was not fortified but simply surrounded by a boundary wall. Later in the late nineteenth century, the British military sought to enclose the area within a massive polygonal-style entrenchment and protected the magazine with a defensive wall fitted with musketry loopholes. The Ras Ħanżir magazine was constructed in 1756 and comprised of two rectangular buildings joined laterally and enveloped within a protective boundary wall. A plaque at the entrance to the structure reads as follows: QUESTO EDIFICIO FU COSTRUITO NEL 1756 PER CONSERVARE IN ESSO LA POLVERE DELLE NAVI DELLA SACRA RELIGIONE E QUELLA DEI PARTICOLARI CHE PRIMA SI DEPONEVA NEL CASTELLO SANT’ANGELO

The interior of the magazine was divided into separate compartments (‘riparimenti’) set aside for the storage of different vessels. The keys to the external doors of the establishment were deposited in the treasury ‘lasciando alli Capi Maestri delle Galere la Chiave del riparimento corrispondente alla rispettiva galera.’ Special commissioners were appointed to register the quantity and quality of powder whenever deposited or removed. 42

No regulations for the procedures adopted inside Knights’ powder magazines have yet come to light. There does not seem to have been any concept of the shifting lobby as employed in later British nineteenth-century magazines. Officers and soldiers, for example, were prohibited from taking their firearms and swords inside the storage areas and nobody was allowed to walk barefoot, ‘Personne ne doit entrer dans le magasin s’il n’a des sandales ou s’il n’est déchaussé; les officers & les soldats doivent laisser en dehors leurs armes & les cannes’. French military manuals of the late eighteenth century advised on the need for the magazine interiors to be swept clean and washed with water : ‘Arroser de temps en temps le plancher, & le balayer, pour en ôter les pierres, les metaux, e tout ce qui peut produire du feu par le choc’. Similar instructions may have been enforced locally, and it is surely not just a matter of luck that throughout all the period in which these magazines were built and used in the course of the eighteenth century under the Knights, there is not one recorded incident of an explosion having occurred at any of the magazines. This is in marked contrast with the early British period when the island witnessed some very devastating and tragic incidents, such as those which occurred at Birgu in 1806 and at Fort Ricasoli during the Froberg mutiny in 1807; that at Birgu was accompanied by a considerable loss of life (civilian and military) following the explosion of a magazine filled to capacity with some 40,000 lbs of gunpowder stored in 370 barrels, as well as 1600 shells and grenades. Some 493 individuals also lost property as a result of the explosion. The firing of the magazine at Fort Ricasoli by mutineers, although not an accident, resulted in no loss of life but led to the demolition of a considerable part of St Dominic Dem-Bastion. Plans of the demolished ramparts prepared by Royal Engineers shortly after the incident clearly show the extent of the damage caused by the explosion. The bastion was only partially reconstructed and the casemates were omitted. Instead, the Royal engineers erected a

Opposite page, Various views of the Ras Ħanżir magazine and its protective enclosure. The wall with musketry loopholes to the right of the enclosure, grafted onto its walls, forms part of the Corradino defensive line, built by the British military in 1872. This defensive wall was meant also to anchor the harbour end of the defensive perimeter and at the same time protect the magazine. (Images source: Author’s private collection).






View of the Ras Ħanżir magazine compound as seen from the Corradino heights to the south. It appears that the roofs of the two main blocks are not original and appear to have been rebuilt during the nineteenth century, as they are very similar to the Rinella Bay magazine built by the British later in the century. The space between the boundary wall and the magazines was also roofed over. No Hospitaller-period plans of the edifice have yet come to light. A detail from a plan by Col. Dickens, dated 1806, (inset, bottom right) tends to imply a slightly different internal configuration of the stores. (Images source: Author’s private collection).




small Vauban-style magazine (without counterforts as was there custom) a short distance to the rear of the land front and this was eventually augmented by another larger structure which was erected on No. 3 Bastion (see pages 70-1). Eventually, this magazine as encased, on its exposed seaward sides, within a large earthen massif designed to shield it from naval bombardment. A similar solution was adopted by the Royal Engineers for the Pinto magazine on Caphucin Bastion. In the latter case, however, the earth was revetted in masonry.

Valletta’s Magasins a’ Poudre Of a slightly different category, were the two gunpowder magazines which were built inside the fortified city of Valletta. These two structures, although built in the form of Vauban-style magazines, were not, however, erected on open bastions nor sited away from the built up areas of the city, but were actually embedded within sections of the Valletta fortifications in close proximity to the

Quarters of the Capo Mastro in charge of the artillery on the bastion

Entrance to the magazine Mur de sècuritè

These two pages, Author’s graphic reconstructions of the gunpowder magazine which was built with the masonry shell of Vendôme Bastion, Valletta.

Cutaway showing interior of vaulted storage area of magazine

Lateral counterforts with arched openings (in the form of flying buttresses)to enable for a continuous passage around the magazine

Rear pignon

Secure courtyard used for drying out the gunpowder barrels 46

were built early during the reign of Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca, within a few years of each other, the first in 1745, and the other (St John Cavalier) in 1748, both probably designed by the resident engineer Francesco Marandon.

Sixteenth century water cisterns

Counterscarp of the ditch of Fort St Elmo

The two structures were intended to serve as general magazines and were designed to service the requirements of the guns arming the neighbouring bastions and ramparts. British military engineers, in the nineteenth century, calculated that the Vendȏme magazine alone could hold up to 1,520 barrels of gunpowder. Indeed, these two stores were positioned on opposites sides of the enceinte; that in St John Cavalier was intended to serve the land front fortifications while the one in Vendȏme Bastion serviced the northern part of the enceinte facing the entrances to the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett. In both instance, the magazines were built down into the then-existing ramparts. This

involved the excavation of the terreplein within the ramparts in order to create cavities large enough to accommodate and absorb the new structures. In the case of Vendȏme Bastion, this entailed the demolition of a large part of the seventeenth-century artillery platform itself but this work of fortification, which dated back to around 1614, had already lost most of its front line defensive value once the northern tip of the peninsula had been enveloped by a new bastioned enceinte. The magazine in St John 47


Below and right, Author’s graphic reconstructions of the gunpowder magazine built by the knights within part of the Vendôme Bastion, in 1745. Although commonly referred to as a ‘bastion’, this structure was technically a raised artillery platform which was built in 1614 to enable the garrison of Valletta to dominate the Dragut promontory across the mouth of Marsamxett Harbour. With the building of the Caraffa enceinte in the late 1600s, however, the position lost its frontline importance and the opportunity was taken in 1745 to convert it into a magazine. This was eventually turned into an armoury by the British military in the 1850s and is currently used as a War town houses, namely within Vendȏme Bastion near Museum. Fort St Elmo, and inside St John Cavalier. Both




Plan of Vendôme Bastion, Valletta, showing a proposal for the construction of a Vauban-type gunpowder magazine built à prova di bomba (i.e., heavily vaulted). Note that the structure has only lateral events and none on the front and rear pignons. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). The counterforts are different from the types found on other magazines in that they are built in the form of flying buttresses, so as to ensure an open passage all the way around the exterior of the magazine.



Above, View of Vendôme Bastion and its gunpowder magazine in its current state. The large arched opening (shown blocked up) in the rear pignon dates from the British period. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

Plan, and front and side elevations for a proposed gunpowder magazine that was built on St John Cavalier, Valletta. An inscription on the same magazine records that this was built in 1748. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).


the surrounding edifices. The largest of the two was the ‘magazeno di polvere’ in Vendȏme Bastion. Although commonly referred to as a ‘bastion’, this rampart was technically a raised artillery platform which was built in 1614 to enable the garrison of Valletta to dominate the Dragut promontory across the mouth of Marsamxett Harbour. With the building of the Caraffa enceinte in the late 1600s, however, the position lost its frontline importance and the opportunity was taken in 1745 to convert it into a storage space. This magazine was then eventually converted into an armoury by the British military in 1855 and is currently used as a War Museum. The Vendȏme magazine itself was the largest of the Vauban-style structures to be built in the Maltese islands – it has twelve lateral counterforts, six on each side. These counterforts are also unusual and different from those employed at Fort Manoel



Cavalier likewise involved a significant excavation within the terrace platform. It is not clear why these particular magazines were not built on top of the ramparts themselves, in the prescribed manner already employed at Fort Manoel. There was ample space around the Valletta enceinte where such structures could have been easily accommodated, particularly within the four large counterguards and inside the Caraffa enceinte. The primary reason seems to have revolved around the need to shelter the magazines within the protective thickness of the ramparts in order to shield them from direct bombardment. Unlike ordinary casemates, however, which would have likewise provide adequate protection, the roofs of these built-in magazines were not weighed down by the mass of rampart’s terreplein and thus would have allowed the force of any accidental explosion to be directed upwards and not laterally, thereby causing less damage to


This page, Graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine which was built on St John Cavalier, Valletta. This was constructed in 1748, as can be seen from the date inscribed below the escutcheon (left) which once held the coats of arms of Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca and the Order. The plaque reads ‘MAGAZZIN A POLVER[E] A PROVA DI BOMBA’. The coat of arms are said to have been hacked away during the French occupation of Malta in 1798-1800.

Aeration passage


Raised floor supported on arches

Entrance to cavalier on the rear face of the structure


or at the Capuchin Bastion in Floriana in that they had arched openings cut into them to enable a continuous passage around the magazine. They were also attached to the lateral walls and ramparts enveloping the magazine, thereby transferring part of the weight of the vaulted ceiling of the magazine onto the adjoining structures. The magazine built into St John Cavalier, on the other hand, was smaller and lacked any such counterforts. It was built into the upper part of the gorge of the cavalier. Its particular features were a very high raised floor and lateral passageways, similar to the light-passages found in later nineteenth-century magazines but in this case



This page, Author’s graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine built inside St John Cavalier, Valletta. The photograph on the right shows the inner façade opening onto the ramp leading up to the terrace platform of the cavalier. Note the stone hold-fasts for a lightning conductor (British period) Bottom right, Details of the rear façade of the cavalier showing the events that serve the lateral air passages.


Plan, and front and side elevations, dated 12 April 1760, for a proposed gunpowder magazine that was built on Guardian Angel Bastion, at Fort Chambrai, Gozo. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).



intended only to allow for the circulation of air through the events opening up into them and then out through two other slits cut into the rear face of the cavalier. This magazine, as stated earlier, was built in 1748. A small stone plaque, fixed beneath a stone escutcheon that once bore the coat of arms of Grand Master Pinto is still to be found on the inner face of the magazine overlooking the ramp leading up to the terrace platform of the cavalier. The wording on the magazine reads as follows: MAGAZZIN A POLVER / A PROVA DI BOMBA /1748. The last of the gunpowder magazines to be built by the Knights was erected at Fort Chambrai in Gozo around 1760. Work on this last major Hospitaller fortress began around the year 1749 and was largely made possible with financial assistance from the Bailli de Chambrai. The plan of the fortress, however, had been drawn up as early as the 1720s under the direction of the French military engineer, Brig. René Jacob de Tigné. The early plans of the fort show a fortress proposed to be fitted with two gunpowder magazines, both rectangular in plan, fitted with counterforts and secured within walled enclosures. The largest of these was to be located on the eastern flank of the enceinte overlooking Mġarr harbour, and the smaller one, on the western extremity overlooking ix-Xatt l-Aħmar. The layout of the enceinte along the flanks of the city, however, was eventually rethought by the Order’s military engineers following consultations with foreign Author’s graphic reconstruction of the gunpowder magazine which was erected on Guardian Angel Bastion, at Fort Chambrai, in Gozo, as illustrated in the 1760 plan, left. Note the raised stone floor of the magazine. This was ventilated by a number of shall shafts (not show in original drawing proposal)which were introduced to prevent rising damp from getting to the barrels. The magazine’s interior was roughly four metres at its widest.

Above, Top, De Palmeaus’ plan of Fort Chambrai, showing the location of the first two gunpowder magazines proposed to be installed inside the fortified city. Above, middle, Plan of Fort Chambrai showing a Vaubanstyle magazine similar to that depicted on the Palmeaus plan. Although drawn in red, this magazine was never built. Indeed the plan of this part of the fort’s enceinte was modified extensively after consultation with foreign military experts. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). 55


Plan, for a proposed mur de sécurité (and other finishes to the bastion) designed to close off the gorge of Guardian Angel Bastion and its gunpowder magazine, Fort Chambrai, Gozo. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). Top, inset, View of the enclosure created by the boundary wall. (Image source: Author’s private collection).



experts and the two magazines were both omitted from the final plan. Instead, the fortress was fitted with a smaller oval-plan gunpowder magazine capped with a conical roof and located on a redesigned bastion. This structure is the only one of its kind to have been built in the Maltese islands and appears to have been first proposed in the early decades of the 1700s when it was planned to erect it inside a rectangular redoubt that was proposed to be constructed on the Isoletto (Manoel Island) as part of the fortifications defending the approaches to the main fortress in the scheme (see sectional elevation of redoubt and magazine on page 62 below). Neither the redoubt, nor its magazines were ever Right, Author’s graphic reconstruction of Fort Chambrai’s gunpowder magazine with its mur de sécurité. The entrance is on the side. Above, top, Close-up view of Fort Chambrai’s magazine, showing the various events ventilating the interior. The smaller ones at the bottom aerated the space beneath the raised floor inside the magazine. Note the heavily-inclined paved surface around the polverista. This was meant to ensure the rapid drainage of rainwater accumulating on the higher ground to the rear of the bastion. To this end, a large culvert was cut into the foot of the boundary wall (above). (Images source: Author’s private collection). 57


constructed since only the fort (i.e. Fort Manoel) was built. This magazine’s relatively small dimensions, coupled with its compact and solid design, made it highly resistant to bombardment, comparable in many ways to later nineteenth-century expense magazines which were erected directly on the ramparts and made to double up as traverses. The builders of the polveriera at Fort Chambrai were also concerned about rainwater collecting around the structure, given the nature of the site and the tiered form of the bastion. The Order’s engineer invested significant efforts to ensure that the bastion and its adjoining areas could be drained rapidly from run-off rainwater. This they achieved by sloping the platform around the bastion to ensure that all rainwater was quickly channelled away from the magazine and directed towards large culverts cut within the ramparts, designed to expel the water out of the fortress into the surrounding fields. Although the temperate climate of the Maltese islands meant

Below, View of the old gunpowder magazine situated on St John Demi-bastion, at the Gozo Citadel. Note the two events and the central doorway. This building was grafted directly onto the sloping walls of the adjoining ramparts. The roof of the structure was supported on diaphragm arches (above). (Images source: Author’s private collection).


that the amount of rainfall was generally limited, occasional heavy torrential showers generally created considerable damage to buildings and structures not equipped with adequate drainage arrangements that could deal with the expulsion of large volumes of water. It is not clear why the Knights chose to employ such a design for Fort Chambrai, as clearly, this magazine was too small to serve a large fortress.

The oldest of these was that situated near the rockhewn communication passage which leads down from the bastion at the foot of St John Cavalier to the low battery. This is mentioned in detail in one of Mederico Blondel’s reports following the earthquake of 1693. Its actually date of construction, however, is unknown although it cannot predate the 1620s. Structurally, it consists of a simple rectangular edifice, with flat roof supported on diaphragm arches, grafted onto the ramparts to its rear. This was a simple and ordinary structure, devoid of windows and perhaps indicative the early storage arrangements that characterized the pre-eighteenth century period. Even its two events, set high up in the wall, appear to conform to the patterns found on later eighteenth century magazines and, therefore, may have been added later.

eventually led to the two new magazines erected in 1701. These were placed on top of the two existing cavaliers. Unfortunately, only one of the two 1701 magazines has actually survived, situated on the terrace platform of St John Cavalier, since the one which once stood on St Martin cavalier disappeared when part of this cavalier collapsed sometime around the late nineteenth century. Again, judging by the form of the structure now standing on St John Cavalier, these two polveriste were small simple rooms lacking any of the dedicated features that came to define magazine construction after the arrival of French military engineers in the Maltese islands in 1715.

Blondel’s reports also reveal that the Citadel had a severe lack of storage facilities by the late 1600s, indicating that this old store was insufficient to house the required powder. His call for the construction of new structures - ‘ farne magazeni e piazze d’armi, che in quel castello affatto mancano’

Above, View of the entrance to the old gunpowder magazine situated on St John DemiBastion, at the Gozo Citadel. Left, Author’s graphic illustration explaining the simple layout and construction of the Citadel’s magazine The structure is shielded by a thick traverse-like wall but is then compromised by a cutting with low en barbette parapet meant to provide flanking fire along the long side of the bastion. Blondel’s remark that the magazine had more than one internal partition (‘con più porte l’una avanti l’altra’) may seem to suggest that the structure could have been slightly larger than the present edifice which could date to the 18th century or early British period’, as indeed suggested by the two events. 59


The reason may lie in the fact that the new fortress never really acquired any military importance and continued to rely upon the logistical arrangements then in place at the Cittadella. As a matter of fact, by the mid-eighteenth century the old landlocked Cittadella had acquired three gunpowder magazines, the last two of which were erected around 1701 according to Can. Gian Pietro Frangisco Agius de Soldanis:‘tre polveriste .. L’una antica che viene vicino la mina sotteranea da ove si passa per il fortino, e le altre due nuovamente fabricate nell’anno 1701 sopra detti torioni, e proveduti tutti di polvere bellica’.


Front view of St John Cavalier, Gozo Citadel, showing the small gunpowder magazine erected on the roof on the cavalier in 1701. Bottom. Another view of the magazine on St John Cavalier, as seen from the nearby church spire. (Images source: Author’s private collection).



The maintenance of gunpowder magazines The Order’s records show that, in most periods, gunpowder magazines were inspected regularly by the commander of artillery or his subordinates to ensure that they remained capable of adequately housing gunpowder in reasonably good conditions. That this was not always the state of affairs, however, is best illustrated by the recorded visit of the resident military engineer Mederico Blondel to the powder magazine of the citadel in Gozo, shortly after the earthquake of 1693. Blondel found that the roof (terrazzo) of the powder magazine had caved in, ‘essendo stata tre anni sono, sfrondata da alcune pietre, cascati sopra, durante un grosso temporale di pioggia.’ Evidently, with each rainfall, the interior of the magazine flooded up (‘s’allago dentro’) and because the room was ‘sempre chiuso con più porte l’una avanti l’altra, e senza fenestre, ne’ respiro veruno’ the internal conditions had remained damp to the detriment of the powder. As a result of this the ‘tavolato, l’infodera de muri, et i barili’ became covered in mould (‘si muffano’) and the powder had mostly rotted away. Blondel immediately ordered the repair of the broken flagstones but also recommended that the roof be covered with an added layer of packed earth to ensure better water proofing, ‘… battere in terrazzo con al quanto di turba il suo costiglietto [roof supporting arches] dandogli pendio grande all’infuori, per deviarne l’acqua piovane.’ He also ordered the uprooting and removal of all the ‘malve et alter herbe grandi’ which had taken root on the roof of the magazine. As an added measure to ensure the drying of the gunpowder, Blondel advised that the barrels were be taken out daily from inside the magazine, for at least a whole week, and left to dry out in the sun, ‘… uscirne fuori i barili in tempo del sol lione, e tenerli esposti al sole, con guardia competente de bombardieri stessi, nell’hore del giorno più calde; lasciando in tanto le porte del magazzino spalancate, e cio per una settimana, o più, secondo sara giudicato.’ He also recommended that the distance between the insulating panels (infodera) and wooden floor (tavolato) and the damp surfaces be increased and that a layer of charcoal be laid beneath the floor. Most engineers invested considerable energy to make magazines waterproof. At Fort Chambrai, for example, Francesco Marandon included adequate provisions – in the form of large culverts and sloped paved flooring – to drain away large volumes of run-off rain water from the Bastione del Angelo Custode on which the small conical polverista was erected. These devices were so designed to ensure that all the aque piovale diverging towards the small magazine (owing to the nature of the site) were comfortably channelled away leaving the structure, itself raised on an aerated floor, practically waterproof. One problem in this regard, however, was inherent in the very design of the counterforts employed in the Vauban- style magazines. Indeed,

Above, Two other views the small 1701 gunpowder magazine standing on top of St. John Cavalier at the Gozo Citadel. (Images source: Author’s private collection). Note the ramp leading up to the terrace platform, which is accessed from a small doorway in the gorge of the cavalier.

most French military engineers complained that the re-entrant angles between the counterforts and the side walls of the magazine, which were usually shielded by the shadows cast by the counterforts, tended to become very damp and also enabled water to seep through, as did the top parts of the counterforts: ‘L’assemblage des contreforts avec les pieds-droit form des angles rentrans, dans lesquels l’air et le soleil pénètrent difficilement; il s’y engender une humidité qui pourrit les murs, perce le magasin et le gate .... Ces contreforts presentment encore l’inconvénient de laisser penetrer l’eau dans leur intérieur par leur sommet, ou par le ur junction avec le pied-droit, ce qui est une nouvelle cause d’humidité.’ Vermin too, seem to have been a cause of concern. An interesting entry found in the accounts of the Reggimento di Malta, was the provision of a small some of money to cover the expenses required for maintaining a cat (‘Mantenimento di Gatto’), a practical counter-measure intended to help keep the areas around the magazines free of rats! 61


Outworks, Coastal Towers, Redoubts and Batteries Another source of worry for the Order’s commanders of artillery were the supplies of gunpowder which had to be kept, for tactical purposes, in the various outer works of the main fortress and even farther afield in the many coastal batteries and towers spread around the islands’ shores: ‘Il Comm. Dell’Artiglieria terra’ in tutti le batterie, e ne’ luoghi piu convenevoli tutta quella quantita’ di polvere ed ognaltro giudicato necessario per esser pronto in caso d’un colpo di mano de nemici e per qualche accidente’. By the eighteenth century, the Malta’s defences had grown into a vast network of harbour fortifications augmented by an island-wide system of coastal defences. The harbour fortifications had evolved into multiple lines of defences each with their own detached series of outer works and opere avanzate, all spreading out into the countryside. Many of these detached works were situated many kilometres away from the main deposits of gunpowder and lacked any provisions for the storage of munitions. The Order’s records show that in such instances, use was often made of the communication tunnels and sally-ports for the storage of munitions. In 1758, for example, the tunnel or ‘mina no. 582 alla dritta della mezzaluna inanti Porta Reale’ (St Magdaleine Ravelin) was conceded to the ‘Aiutante della milizia Alberto Gatt per ponere la polvere.’

Above, Nineteenth-century plan and sectional elevation of the gunpowder magazine at Fort Tigné. This appears to have been located inside the casemate occupying the salient angle formed by the left face and flank of the fort. Unfortunately, this part of the fort was demolished during World War Two so that the original details of the structure are now lost. It is not clear if this casemate was also used for the storage of gunpowder until 1798. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

Occasionally, however, some outer works were fitted with their own specific storage rooms intended to hold small supplies of gunpowder. The best example of this is encountered in the small triangular room which was built into the scarp musketry gallery that was erected at the foot of the crowned-hornworks of the Floriana enceinte in order to protect the approaches from Marsa. The small storage room

was fitted into the gorge of the vaulted spur and equipped with two small events (see page 63). This structure was erected in the course of the early eighteenth century under the influence of the French military engineers. In many ways, however, this is an exception to the rule since most outer works had already been constructed by the time of the arrival of the French military mission in 1715 and lacked such dedicated features.

Below, Sectional elevation for a proposed redoubt on the Isoletto ( dated around 1715-16 – project not realized) showing a conical magazine similar to the one that was eventually erected at Fort Chambrai - see text. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

Another outer work which was designed with its own gunpowder magazine, was likewise proposed by the French military mission and was intended to form part of a series of defence on the Isoletto inside



Marsamxett (later Manoel Island). Designed in the form of rectangular redoubt it was to be fitted with its own central magazine, conical in shape and not much unlike the small magazine that was eventually built at Fort Chambrai, in Gozo, later in the course of the century (vide supra, page 55). This redoubt, however, was never constructed as the Knights chose instead to build a larger fort which they named Fort Manoel. In the eighteenth century, the coastal works of fortification and their batteries of guns provided the islands’ front line of defence against any

Above, Plan, and sectional elevation of the musketry spur at Marsa shown in the photograph at top left. This unique defensive outwork (top left) forms part of the escarpment of the crowned-hornworks and contained what can perhaps be described as the only example of an ‘expense magazine’ built during Hospitaller times in the Maltese islands (left, middle). Most coastal works of fortifications had small rooms set aside for storage, such as shown below in the plan of the blockhouse of Westreme Battery at Mellieħa. St Paul’s Bay Tower, left, had an external Santa Barbara (the room adjoining the flight of steps). (Image sources: plans; Courtesy of the National Library of Malta: photographs; Author’s private collection).



Above, St Julian Tower and Battery, showing the opening made in the ground floor room of the tower made to provide a storage area for the gun battery which was added to the tower in 1715. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

direct invasion. Many of these structures were located in very remote areas that could not be easily resupplied at short notice with the munitions necessary for their defence. The problem largely arose from the fact that throughout most of the winter season many of these coastal works of fortification, with a few exceptions, were simply locked up and left unattended. Therefore, as a safety precaution, their stocks of gunpowder had to be transferred to the closest manned stations and kept there until the opening of the next shipping season when the defences would then be manned and armed again. Consequently, few of these coastal defensive structures were actually provided with any adequate facilities for the proper storage of gunpowder. Generally, any room, where available, was set aside for this purpose. Those batteries equipped with a blockhouse would have one of their smaller lateral rooms set aside for such a purpose, its windows or embrasures unceremoniously blocked up with masonry in order to render the space as safe and secure as possible. Still, in winter, most of these dispersed stocks of gunpowder would have had to be transported for better safe keeping inside the large Wignacourt towers, since these sentinels were kept manned all year round with a permanent garrison and generally contained ample interior space to absorb the added supplies brought in from the neighbouring outposts. Many of these towers seem to have employed the upper rooms of their corner turrets for such a purpose although one, the Wignacourt Tower at St Paul’s Bay, is known to have had an external room which served as a Santa Barbara, i.e., an artillery room, which seems to have also doubled up as a store for gunpowder. Some of the smaller De Redin and Lascaris watchtowers, 64

where fitted with coastal batteries in 1715, had doors cut into the sloping walls of their lower floors to enable the ground floor rooms to be converted into storage areas in the manner illustrated in the sectional elevation of St Julian Tower shown above.

Artillery stores Various other munitions were held in artillery stores apart from gunpowder. Inventory lists minutely accounted for cannon shot, of iron and stone, bombs, grenades and ‘sacchetti di mitraglia.’ The Order’s military advisors always recommended a healthy stock of munitions, as illustrated by the list below, drawn up in the 1790s, which gives the recommended quantities of munitions that were to be kept in store in preparation of a siege. palle di libri 24, 12,000 palle di libri 4, 20,000 palle di libri 2, 20,000 bombi di pollici 12, 11,000 bombi di pollici 8, 12,000 per gli obus di pollici 8, 8,000 granate di lib 6, 26,000 granate di lib 3, 3,000 granate a mano 8,000 That is, a total of 120,000 cannon shot and shells together with a reserve stock of legna di ceppi for 900 gun carriages. An entry in the Order’s records also mentions a ‘provista di granate di cartone per servizio delle galere’. Added to these were vast quantities of paper cartridges. These were kept in wooden boxes and distributed to the various outlying fortresses and depositories prior to military exercises or defence preparations so that they could be then handed out to the troops. In November 1770, for example,

Less economical were the mortar bombs which were stuffed with around 16 lbs (7.25 kg) of gunpowder and even more expensive were the charges (fornelli) used in countermines and in fougasses which consumed powder in exorbitant quantities. The 100 lbs (45 kg) of gunpowder necessary, on average, to fire a fougasse (propelling over 3 tons of rock) yielded roughly 20 charges for a cannon, 80 for a rampart gun (muschettone da posta), or else filled 400 musket paper cartridges.

Above, Plan of a walled enclosure attached to the quarters of the Capomastro, showing storage of various types and calibres of cannon shot and bombs stacked in pyramids. The location is unknown but may form part of either the Upper or Lower Barracca ( i.e., SS Peter and Paul Bastion or St Christopher Bastion) judging by the pilasters shown in the drawing. These appear to form part of the arcaded loggias (the barracche) that occupied these bastions. Indeed, the plan seems to be proposing the walling-up of part of the loggia for storage purposes, perhaps out of a need to prevent the public from having direct access to the munitions. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). Bottom right, British nineteenth century mortar battery with stacked shells and expense magazine in the background, situated on the Valletta enceinte (Image source: Author’s private collection).

Bombs, grenades, paper cartridges, grapeshot rounds (sacchetti di mitraglia), and fuse chord (meccia) were not always kept inside a fort’s powder magazine (polverista) and one encounters other storage areas that were set aside for the purpose. Cannon shot and grapeshot rounds were stacked in pyramids next to guns of corresponding calibre. This was a practice which was retained well into the nineteenth century. Many photographs from the latter half of the 1800s, for example, still show the harbour defences armed with cannon and shot. Indeed, in 1852, Governor Sir William Reid was still complaining to the secretary of state of the nuisance of unserviceable munitions and ‘piles of French shot on the Batteries by the side of English guns, just of a size to render the guns unserviceable if one of the shots were to be, by mistake, put into one of the English guns’. Although it had long been intended to remove all the French cannon and shot there, it was not until 1859–60 that a re-classification programme finally witnessed the removal of most of the obsolete weapons and munitions.

written instructions were issued for the distribution of 1,200 cartridges to the Vittoriosa militia, 1,000 to Senglea and 5,000 to Cospicua while the commander of Fort Ricasoli was asked to determine if he had an adequate provision in his magazines to supply his ‘guarnigione ordinaria’ together with a further 300 men to be sent there in case of emergency. One of the duties of the governor of a Hospitaller fortress was to keep his position well-supplied with adequate quantities of gunpowder and shot which, if not large enough to withstand a prolonged siege, were at least sufficient to allow the stronghold to ward off determined raids. In determining the amount of munitions necessary for each gun, consideration had to be taken of the calibre and 65


weight of shot of each weapon. It was reckoned that each cannon round would burn a weight of powder equivalent to a third of that of the shot. In 1785, Fort Chambrai’s complement of shot consisted of 321 rounds of 8-pdr iron shot and 1,141 rounds of 6-pdr iron shot together with 224 sacchetti di mitraglia, and 180 paper cartridges.





A large warehouse and administrative building used by the Order’s artillery department, situated near St Andrew Bastion , Valletta, in the location known as Biagio Steps (shown on left side of document). The complex also incorporated a ‘scuola per gettare bombe’ on the adjoining platform. One of the magazines is shown as being used for the storage of incendiaries and other types of fireworks (artifizii). The plan shows the uppermost floor of a large three storey building, which, unfortunately was levelled out during WWII (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).


Above, Two views of what appears to be an eighteenth-century magazine at the foot of Crucifix Bastion, just to the rear of a Hospitaller low battery discovered in the course of restoration works. (Images source: Author’s private collection). Right, top, Proposal for a magazine in Mġarr Harbour, Gozo, which may have been used for both commercial and military purposes. Bottom right, An open storage area for cannon shot below the cavalier of Fort St Elmo. (Image source of plans: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

Reference is occasionally also made to large deposit areas around the fortifications where vast quantities of shells were stored, again mostly in the open. An undated eighteenth-century plan of Fort St Elmo, for example, shows a large ‘spazio chiuso e scoperto per le palle da canone’ situated just below the left face of the cavalier. Another appears to show a temporary deposit of shells housed beneath the roofed arcaded loggia of the Upper Barracca (see illustration on previous page). 68


Other sorts of materials connected with the working of artillery were generally housed in warehouses and other stores falling either under the jurisdiction of the commander of artillery or the naval department (arsenale). Such warehouses are generally shown as housing bars of iron (‘un fascio di ferro quadrato per le petriere fatte di nuovo’), lead, ‘meccio’, and wood for carriages. Fuse chord was rolled up in balls (‘ballone di meccio’). Among the interesting items encountered in the artillery stores were various ‘stromenti geometrici’ to measure ‘le portate delli tiri’ and wooden ‘ruote’ to seal off the powder chambers of fougasses. Strict regulations were also issued for the breaking up of old and consumed gun carriages and the disposal of their wooden components as attested by the following decree of 1554: ‘Dispozioni redatte in lingua Italiana, intorno alla a rimonzione di ceppi rotti o di legname inutili dell’artiglieria , ... che … per levar et remuover alcuni abusi hanno ordinato et espresso probito che da qua avanti il de l’artilleria non possa rompere o disfar ceppo o rota de l’artillaria ne altro legname se non in presentia delli prodhomi et trovandosi detti ceppi rotti e legnami fargili et inutili per servire che nessuno de detti com.ri o prodhomi le possa appropriare ma siano riservati in beneficio della religione et questo medesimo s’intenda del del arsenale et altri officiali.’

Right, top, Elevation drawings revealing the damage caused to Fort Ricasoli by the explosion of the gunpowder magazine in Fort Ricasoli as a result of the Froberg mutiny. (Image source: Courtesy of the Arch. H. Bonnici). Right, Nineteenth-century gunpowder magazine in St James Counterguard, Valletta. Below, gunpowder magazine in St Michael Counterguard, Valletta. (Images source: Author’s private collection).



Below, A Large early British-period gunpowder magazine at Fort Ricasoli (‘A’ Magazine), one of two to be built by the British military in the early decades of the 1800s. The construction date has still to be determined. A record plan of 1867 shows it labelled as ‘cancelled’. The magazine was initially protected on the northern and seaward sides by a high and detached earthen wall (see bottom, plan and elevation). The enclosure was later filled in to create a large earthen massif designed to shield the magazine from naval bombardment, while the northern end of the roof was also modified to accommodate a command post and directing station for the fort’s new RML coastal gun batteries. A smaller magazine (inset, bottom, far right), possibly the first to be built, is located on the gorge of St Dominic’s Demi-bastion, close to the original location of the fort’s casemated magazine. (Images source: Author’s private collection).





requisitioned and converted into use as gunpowder magazines. Among the new gunpowder magazines erected in the early British period were those placed on the Valletta counterguards and another two erected at Fort Ricasoli. The latter became necessary when the old magazine inside the fort’s casemated ramparts was blown up by the mutineers in the course of the Froberg mutiny. Above, from top, Early-nineteenth century British expense magazines at Fort Ricasoli and Fort Manoel. Bottom, Fort Ricasoli and its gunpowder magazine - see previous page (Images source: Author’s private collection).

Epilogue - The Order’s magazines in the British period Like the fortifications they were meant to serve, the eighteenth century Hospitaller gunpowder magazines continued to soldier on well into the British rule. Furthermore, the need to supply both the local garrison as well as the large British Mediterranean fleet with all the munitions necessary for war meant that the then existing network of stores had to be enlarged and more storage areas created to house the growing volume of supplies. As a result, a number of new gunpowder magazines were erected in various locations while some of the vaulted spaces within a few of the existing harbour fortifications (such as the three large barrel vaults inside the cavalier of Fort St Angelo) were


In all these structures, the British-built magazines were given much the same features of the Vaubanstyle magazines except, however, that these were not fitted with lateral counterforts. British military engineers were not fond of counterforts. Capt. Lendy, writing in his Treatise of Fortification (London, 1862) states that the counterforts of Vauban’s magazines were objected to, ‘on account of their shadow’ which caused the ‘wall to keep moist in the corners’ and that most engineers preferred to see the counterforts constructed inside the walls. The largest of the British-built gunpowder magazines is found at Fort Ricasoli, situated to the rear of No. 3 Bastion, on the seaward side of the enceinte. Many early nineteenth century depictions of the fort show the magazine quite clearly, surrounded by a low boundary wall. Today, however, most of the structure lies buried beneath a large earthen massif which was added around the middle of the nineteenth century in order to shield the magazine from naval bombardment. A similar solution was also adopted for the Hospitaller


Left (previous page), A British-period brass lightning conductor (paratonnerre) fixed to the parapet above the gunpowder magazine situated in St Michael Counterguard, Valletta. This magazine was erected during the early half of the nineteenth century but was never used for its intended purpose - Col. Lewis’ plan, dated around 1864, shows it marked as S.M. (i.e.,Storekeeper’s Magazine - inset). This page, side view of a typical nineteenthcentury British expense magazine as built along the Floriana and Valletta enceintes. This example is located on St Luke Bastion, Floriana land front. Note the sunken steps leading down to the entrance on the rear faces and the small lateral events - inset. (Images source: Author’s private collection).



magazine on Capuchin Bastion at Floriana. British military engineers also introduced another category of gunpowder magazines in the early decades of the nineteenth century. These were the so-called ‘expense magazines’ – small, solidly built magazines that were meant to house small amounts of munitions necessary to work the guns on a battery. These structures were usually built directly on the gun platforms and were generally grafted on to the parapets and made to double up as traverses, their thick solid walls designed to protect the gun crews from ricochet fire. There had been nothing of the kind employed in the earlier Hospitaller period. Capt. Lendy describes expense magazines as temporary bombproof structures designed to contain enough made-up ammunition to last 24 hours. A large number of these small British expense magazines were erected around the perimeters of most of the harbour forts, particularly in Valletta, Floriana, Ricasoli and Cottonera. The study of nineteenth-century gunpowder stores, however, falls outside the scope of this paper and will be featured in a future edition of this series. What is of interest here, is that the British military interventions, on the whole, did not result in the loss of many of the Hospitaller period magazines and that the majority survived to the present day with little or no alterations. Those magazines which were, unfortunately, demolished were the large gunpowder store on St Clement Bastion, which was removed to make way for a redoubt forming part of St Clement Retrenchment within the Cottonera Lines, and that on St Anthony Bastion in Fort Manoel, which was demolished to make way for a battery. The magazine in Vendȏme Bastion, Valletta, on the other hand, was converted into an armoury in 1855, an intervention which saw its pignons heavily altered and replaced by large arched openings. The few structures which have survived, described and illustrated in this paper, are now important examples of a typology of fortress buildings that deserve further attention, study, and preservation.

A. HOPPEN, The Fortification of Malta by the Order of St John (Edinburgh, 1979): 2nd revised edn. was issued in paperback by Minerva Publications (Malta 1999). Q. HUGHES, Britain in the Mediterranean and the defence of her naval stations (Liverpool, 1981). — —, Fortress: architecture and military history in Malta (London, 1969). — —, Guide to the Fortifications of Malta (Malta, 1992). — —, Military Architecture (Hants, 1991). — —, The Fortifications of Malta (Wirral, 1997) D. DE LUCCA, ‘French Military Engineers in Malta during the 17th and 18th centuries’ , Melita Historica, viii /1 (1980), 23–33. — —, Mondion; The achievement of a French military engineer working in Malta in the early eighteenth century (Malta, 2003). J. Muller, A Treatise Containing the Practical Part of Fortification: In Four Parts (London, 1755) B. Forest de Belidor, La science des ingenieurs dans la conduite des travaux de fortification ... (Paris, 1754) L’Abbe du Fay and Chev. De Camray, Véritable manière de bien fortifier, de M. de Vauban, (Amsterdam, 1702) G. Blond, le, Elemens de fortification contenant les principes & la description raisonnée des differents ouvrage qu’on emploi à la fortification des places, les systèmes des princepaux ingenieurs (Paris, 1756). — —, Traite de la Defense des Places – avec un precis des observations les plus utiles pour proceder à la visite au ... et un dictionnaires des termes de l’artillerie de la fortification (Paris, 1762). — —, Manuel de l’Ingenieur et de l’Artilleur (Paris, 1762). H. Yule, Fortifications for Officers of the Army and Students of Military History (Edinburgh & London, 1851). Capt. Lendy, Treatise on Fortification (London, 1862). Can. G. P. F, Agius de Soldanis, Gozo antico e moderno, sacro e profano (Manuscript - Maltese translation by Mons. Dun G. Farrugia (Malta, 1936). H. Cotty, Supplément au Dictionnaire de l’Artillerie (Paris, 1822). P. Bergère, ‘Note sur les Magasins a poudre’ in Memorial de L’Officier du Genie (Paris, 1820) E. Philip Krider, Franklin, Ingen-Housz and Protecting Gunpowder from Lightning in the 18th Century (Univ. of Arizona, 2012).

Sources Full references and notes will be available in the printed version of this journal. Below is a basic list of the sources consulted: Archives of the Order of St John, National Library, Valletta : AOM 269, 270, 1015, 6519, 6551-6558, 6560, 6565, Manuscript Collection MS 290, 1301 / Collection of Plans at the National Library of Malta, Valletta / Regolamento per la Custodia della Polvere (1715) S.C. Spiteri, Armoury of the Knights, A study of the Palace Armoury, and the Military Storehouses of the Hospitaller Knights of the Order of St John (Malta, 2003). — —, The Art of Fortress Building in Hospitaller Malta (Malta, 2008). 74

N. SAMUT-TAGLIAFERRO, N., British Military Facilities in Malta, BA dissertation, Faculty of Architecture (University of Malta, 1982). Acknowledgements The author is grateful for the assistance of: the National Library of Malta, for making the collection of Hospitaller plans available for study; Prof. Denis de Lucca, Director, International institute of Baroque Studies, University of Malta and Arch. Hermann Bonnici (Restoration Directorate); Midi plc (Fort Manoel); Mr M. Balzan, Heritage Malta (Fort St Angelo); Malta Film Commission (Fort Ricasoli).

The International Institute for Baroque Studies at the University of Malta is offering a two-week Summer School on the military architecture of the Baroque age entitled Hospitaller Malta – Bastion of the Christian World, to be held at the Valletta Campus of the University of Malta, 3-14 June 2013. The aim of this program - which is co-ordinated by Professor Denis De Lucca - is to introduce participants to the theoretical and practical aspects of the splendid early modern artillery fortifications of Malta, which were built by the ruling Hospitaller Knights of St John the Baptist during the period 1530-1798. The course lectures, by specialists in the field from various European and American universities, will also attempt to place these stillvisible examples of military architecture in their proper historical, philosophical, mathematical, medical, technical and representational context so as to enable the participants to relate the fortifications of Malta with what had been built in the former abode of the Knights in Rhodes and what was now being built in the Christian world of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries where fortifications were mushrooming everywhere in an age described by the Italian diplomat Fulvo Testi as the ‘age of the soldier.’ Although primarily built by a religious order of hardened warrior

Besides having forty-five contact hours of lectures and debates, course participants will also have the opportunity to experience early modern military architecture during a number of field trips which will be introduced by an afternoon cruise of the heavilyfortified cities of Valletta, Vittoriosa and Senglea bordering the once-famous Grand Harbour of Malta. These field trips will also extended towards the end of the course by guided optional tours to early modern fortifications situated on the sister island of Gozo and south-east Sicily. Further information can be found on the website of the International Institute for Baroque Studies at For further information on how to apply please send e-mail to or register directly at registration



monks to protect Christendom from the Turkish threat, the powerful bastions of Malta were also intended to project the prestige and aristocratic family connections of the Grand Masters who commissioned them and the formidable military engineers who designed them, in the context of an ever-changing scenario of alliances and wars that characterized the courtly culture of Baroque Europe.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Your STEPPING STONE to the WORLD of historic fortifications and MILITARY ARCHITECTURE a unique online resource with thousands of links to: academic articles and papers fortification sites videos, documentaries podcasts 3D reconstructions of fortifications free e-journals publications

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The next issue in the series ARX OCCASIONAL PAPERS will be devoted to a detailed study of FORT ST ELMO as it stood during the GREAT SIEGE OF MALTA in 1565, based on the latest research and archaeological discoveries and illustrated with new 3D computer graphic reconstructions. This issue will be the first part in a series of monographs focusing on the fortifications of the Knights of St John at the time of the Great Siege and will include separate publications on Birgu, Senglea, Mdina and the Gozo Citadel. These new monographs are based on Dr Stephen C Spiteri’s new second edition of his book on the Great Siege of 1565 (2005) which is currently under preparation.

Arx Occasional Papers - Hospitaller Gunpowder Magazines  

The second issue of ARX Occasional Papers (2012) is dedicated to a detailed exposition of the Magasins à Poudre and other military storehous...

Arx Occasional Papers - Hospitaller Gunpowder Magazines  

The second issue of ARX Occasional Papers (2012) is dedicated to a detailed exposition of the Magasins à Poudre and other military storehous...