One of the Fortifications full of never ending history around the Maltese Islands is FORT SAINT ELMO (in Maltese as FORTI SANT’ IERMU) , situated at Valletta.
Building it started in 1552 and it stands on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula that divides Marsamxett Harbour from Grand Harbour, and commands the entrances to both harbours along with Fort Tigné and Fort Ricasoli. It is best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.
By 1417, the local militia had already established a permanent watch post on the tip of the Sciberras Peninsula. In 1488, the Aragonese built a watchtower on Saint Elmo Point, and it was dedicated to Erasmus of Formia, better known as Saint Elmo. In 1533, the Order of Saint John reinforced the tower due to its strategic location. In 1551, an Ottoman raid occurred in which the Turkish fleet sailed into Marsamxett Harbour unopposed. Due to this, it was decided that a major expansion was necessary, and in 1552 the tower was demolished and a new star fort began to be built. It was designed by a Spanish Engineer named Pietro Pardo.
After the siege, Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette decided to build a new city on the peninsula of which construction started in 1566, and Francesco Laparelli was sent by the Pope to design the fortifications. The ruined Fort Saint Elmo was rebuilt and integrated within the city walls.
The fort was modified a number of times in the 17th century. The Vendôme Bastion was built in 1614, and in 1687 the Carafa Enceinte was built on the foreshore surrounding the entire fort. In the late 17th century, the fort was directly linked to the cavalier and part of the ditch was filled in burying some of the original ramparts in the process. In the 18th century, a new polverista was built in the Vendome Bastion, and stores were built in the area between the main fort and the Carafa Enceinte. These are known as Pinto Stores and they and the surrounding area form what is known as Lower Saint Elmo.
The Carafa Enceinte with the towers on top of the bastions are concrete coastal defences built in World War II.
Amongst never ending history, which we will post more about this interesting Fort, Lower Saint Elmo was used as a film location for the Turkish jail in the 1978 film MIDNIGHT EXPRESS which was a prison drama film directed by Alan Parker and adapted by Oliver Stone from Billy Hayes’s 1977 memoir of the same name.
Although the story is set largely in Turkey, the movie was filmed almost entirely at the Fort, after permission to film in Istanbul was denied. The end credits state the movie was made entirely on location in Malta. However, background shots of Istanbul were taken by a small crew pretending to be making a cigarette commercial.
TO BE CONTINUED…….