Restoration nearing an end on 18th century battery in Qala
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The reconstruction and restoration being undertaken by Din L-Art Helwa at St Anthony’s battery Qala, is now almost complete. The upright masonry is finished and has been built with much of the original old stone found on the site. The woodwork on the battery is now also complete and looks very imposing.
The project was entrusted to the organisation by MEPA and is being co funded by Din L-Art Helwa, the Qala Local Council and MEPA’s Environmental Fund.
Master Mason, Leli Bufajra, worked through last winter to carve the missing coat-of-arms that once adorned the entrance to the Fortizza ta’ Sant Antnin.
A 2 metre block of hard stone was chosen specially from a Gozo quarry for the coat-of-arms of Grand Master de Vilhena and the Cross of the Order of St John, together with an inscription by the Governor of Gozo which reads: ‘Nel Governo del Cav Fra Paulo Antonio de Viguier, 1732.’ This important decorative dedication over the Battery entrance is now back in place.
The coastal battery of Sant Antnin, as it is locally known, had suffered the ravages of time and vandalism and was almost reduced to mere rubble had Din l-Art Helwa not intervened to save it. Its strong hardstone has been misappropriated to neighbouring farmsteads. Many of the remaining walls had fallen victim to the elements.
It stands isolated in the remotest point of Qala guarding the straits between Gozo and Comino permitting limited and difficult accessibility to even the most dauntless volunteer. St. Anthony’s Battery which was built in 1732 by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, is one of the only two coastal batteries built by the Order of St. John to have survived in Gozo, the other being at Il-Qbajjar, outside Marsalforn.
Designed on a regular plan with five faces of embrasures for eleven guns and with ancillary accommodation inside the battery it has a gorge wall with a projecting tenaille all pierced with musketry loopholes. Above the main gate of the battery, were carved two shields, one had the Cross of the Order whereas the other had Vilhena’s Coat of Arms.
St. Anthony’s Battery is regarded as a National Heritage in architecture which is somewhat unique to the islands. The work was originally designed with a semi-circular gun platform and two blockhouses at the rear, however, it was eventually built with a semi-hexagonal front. Consequently the landward defences incorporated a free-standing redan trace with thick walls and numerous musketry loopholes, which were shielded by two flanking traverses. The land front itself was protected by a shallow ditch.
A solid blockhouse with battered walls occupied the centre of the enclosure. In 1770, St. Anthony’s Battery had an armament of three 8-pdr guns with 427 rounds of roundshot and 75 rounds of grapeshot; and eight 6-pdr guns with 127 rounds of roundshot and 45 rounds of grapeshot.
Din l-Art Helwa’s commitment to Malta’s built heritage has resulted in the salvage and restoration of numerous historic sites, the main ones having been that of Comino Tower and Comino Coastal battery and the Red Tower in Melieha. When the restoration of Saint Anthony’s Battery is completed, it will form part of a heritage and nature trail that will ensure visitors can enjoy the wild coastal location in which it is sited.