D: Fortified Island

Jules Verne’s travels brought him to Malta in 1884, and the French writer was clearly impressed by local fortifications and armaments, particularly around Valletta. One of the protagonists in From the Earth to the Moon (which was actually published in 1865, before Verne visited the island) refers to a gigantic gun found at Valletta’s Fort St. Elmo during the times of the Knights, which could launch extremely heavy projectiles toward the enemy.

Malta’s capital, Valletta, was planned as a walled city whose massive bastions were built before the rest. The island’s harbors are often described as the most beautiful in the world, yet their natural settings are complemented by their equally impressive fortifications. These walls are replete with tales about the island’s strategic position, defense, airborne attacks, sieging Turks, and breaches that followed the introduction of modern traffic. Today, in an age when Malta’s economy is largely de- pendent on tourism, this obsession with keeping others out of the country feels irrelevant, if not counterproductive. From a purely architectural perspective, the walls around Valletta are awe-inspiring feats of engineering, construction, and design, but politically, they lend a sense of insularity.

Swordfish blade. National Museum of Natural History, Mdina, Malta. Courtesy Heritage Malta
Photo: Alexandra Pace.

Teresa Sciberras, Circumscribed 3, 2015. Oil and collage on canvas, 18 × 24 cm. Courtesy the artist.
This painting is one of a triptych that reflects on walls and their multiple functions, references, and associations: as supporting structure, as defensive shield, as organizing principle, as divider, as marker of boundaries, territories, and ownership, as protector of privacy, as platform for urgent voices, as container for the unwanted, as obstacle to progress, as impasse, as barrier, as blind spot, as violence.

Nuovo & ultimo disegno di Malta, 1565. Scene shows evacuation of the Ottoman Turks in September 1565 after the Great Siege. 27.3 × 39.7 cm. Albert Ganado Malta Map Collection, MUŻA Cartographic Collection, Heritage Malta