Fort St. Elmo (Malta)


July 5, 2022

Fort St. Elmo (English: Fort St. Elmo; Maltese: Forti Sant’ Iermu) is a fortress located at the tip of the Xiberras Peninsula in Malta. Built in 1552 by the order of Saint John of Jerusalem, it commands the entrance to the great port and the harbor of Marsamxett.


The creation of a fortified city on the tip of the Xiberras peninsula was mentioned when the Knights of Saint John settled in Malta in 1530. Grand Master Juan de Homedes did not adopt this solution, which would imply the definitive abandonment of Rhodes which the knights had to flee, but which they still hope to recover. He reinforced the existing Fort Saint-Ange at Il-Birgu and built a small fort on the tip of Xiberras to close off access to the harbor of Marsamxett. Work on the fort began in 1552 and was completed in 1556 by Homedes' successor, Claude de La Sengle. The chapel of Notre-Dame du Bon Secours, which pre-existed on the site, was integrated into the fort and rededicated to Saint Anne. Saint-Elme was then a small four-pointed star structure, built on the rock, surrounded by ditches and reinforced by a horseman on its maritime facade. However, it has the serious defect of being overlooked by Mount Xiberras. Grand Master Jean de Valette added a demi-lune to it to reinforce it on the Marsamxett side. As soon as the works were finished, Malta was attacked by the Ottoman fleet in May 1565. Fort Saint-Elme was the first to be attacked: the Turks set up their main artillery on Mount Xiberras and subjected the structure to intense bombardment. The half-pipe is stormed a week later. A direct assault was repulsed, however, and La Valette dispatched reinforcements in the hope of holding the fort as long as possible. Fort Saint-Elme capitulated only a month later, almost entirely destroyed on three of its sides, after having concentrated on it a good part of the Turkish resources. His resistance played a major role in the failure of the siege of Malta. After the siege, the fort was rebuilt and enlarged according to plans by Francesco Laparelli. It was reinforced by the construction of the fortified city of La Valette on its rear and completed on the Marsamxett side by Fort Manoel, then by Fort Tigné on the tip of Dragut. In 1775, it was stormed by Maltese insurgents during the so-called “priests' insurrection”, so named because thirty of the fifty conspirators were priests. The rapid intervention of the grand master, Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc, made it possible to isolate the insurgents from the rest of La Valette and to stifle the plot. Fort Saint-Elme also served as a prison for the French during their occupation of the island in 1798-1800. During the British period, the fort was refitted, in particular to face an attack coming from Valletta: loopholes were drilled in the walls towards the city. Additional slots for port-pointing guns are provided on the demi-lunes. In 1940, it was protected by three pairs of QF 6 pounder 10 cwt, 6 pounder (2.72 kg) guns. During the Second World War, it was attacked by an Italian air raid the day after Mussolini's declaration of war: the first victims of the war in Malta were six artillerymen from the 1st Artillery Regiment of the Royal Malta Artillery. It was at the heart of the Maltese defense throughout the war: it was there that in June 1942, the 1st coastal artillery regiment was dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Today, the upper part of the fort hosts a police school. It includes offices and conference rooms. The outer ditches house shooting ranges and the parade ground is used as a training ground by cadets. Part of the fort is also used by the Rehabilitation Project