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5 Facts you didn’t know about Fort St. Elmo

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The star shaped fort at the edge of Valletta was built by the Knights of St. John as an extension to the watch tower built by the Aragonese in 1488. The Fort was instrumental in the Great Siege of 1565 which saw the knights and the people of Malta defend the island from invasion by the Ottoman Empire. Following are 5 facts you may not have known about Fort. St. Elmo.

 

I.                     It was on the World’s Most Endangered Sites list

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Eight years ago, the World Monuments Fund placed Fort St Elmo on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world because of its significant deterioration due to factors such as lack of maintenance and security, natural aging, and exposure to the elements.

Heritage Malta, along with a number of multidisciplinary teams, has completed major restoration works within the star-shaped fort. Perhaps the most important team which worked tirelessly to restore this site from decay is the Conservation division, composed of various qualified and experienced conservator-restorers and diagnostic scientists.

Malta came very close to losing a precious gem in its crown as a place where one can revisit the past yet live in the present.

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II.                   The National War Museum has in its ownership the ‘Luftwaffe Cup’

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Since its renovation in 2015, the museum (housed within the walls of Fort St. Elmo) contains artifacts relating to the military history of Malta ranging from the Bronze Age to Malta’s entry into the European Union in 2004. The museum’s most important collection is in the World War II section. Various photographic panels provide snapshots of life in Malta during the way, narrating the hardships of civilian life and the devastation incurred from aerial bombardment.

The ‘Luftwaffe Cup’ is the silver goblet, donated to the national collection by Joseph Said, a former chairman of Heritage Malta and is on permanent display at Fort St. Elmo. Nazi Leader Hermann Goering, who was instrumental in Hitler’s rise to power and also created the Gestapo, gave this goblet to fighter pilot Joachim Helbig. The goblet underlines the importance Malta had during the World War II for the Axis powers.

One of the highlights of the collection includes the fuselage of a Gloster Sea Gladiator N5520, as well as a Willys Jeep ‘Husky’ used by Dwight D. Eisenhower before the invasion of Sicily and also by Roosevelt while visiting Malta. The George Cross that was awarded to Malta by King George VI in April 1942 is also on display at the museum. The collection contains wreckage from crashed aircraft, captured German machine guns, a torpedo, trench mortars and other weapons.

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III.                 It featured not only in international films, but also video games, and novels

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The fort features in the 1980 thriller novel Man on fire by A. J. Quinnell, where the main character Creasy trains with the AFM inside the fort, and is also mentioned in the 2014 Honorverse novel Cauldron of Ghosts by David Weber and Eric Flint, as part of a list of ‘last stands’ throughout history.

In the popular real time strategy game Age of Empires III, the first level’s task is to defend St. Elmo from the Ottomans. The fort also plays a key role in the novel Sword and Scimitar by Simon Scarrow.

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Perhaps most famous is the use of the Lower Saint Elmo as a film location for the Turkish jail in the 1978 film Midnight Express.

IV.                 It hosts the In Guardia Parade

The In Guardia Parade is a re-enactment of the military drills that used to be conducted by the soldiers and knights of the fort’s garrison. This was done to demonstrate to the Grand Bailiff their state of readiness in the event of a military threat and to ensure that the fort was in good condition to defend the Valletta peninsula and the two harbours situated on either side of it. The show starts at 11:00 in the morning and lasts 45 minutes.

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V.                  It hosts one half of the Valletta 1566 – Melita Renascens exhibition

Heritage Malta’s major exhibition, in collaboration with Malta Libraries, commemorates the 450th anniversary since the laying of the first stone of the city of Valletta. The exhibition opened at the National Library and the former National War Museum at Lower Fort St. Elmo on Saturday 23rd July 2016 and will remain open for a whole year.

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The exhibition includes statues, photos, books, documents, models, clothes, furniture, plants, and other items from the 16th century.

St. Elmo can be reached by car on the Valletta ring road. To get there on foot, walk down Valletta’s main thoroughfare, Republic Street to reach Fort St Elmo at the very end, and then turn right.

For more information on things to see there and opening times you can visit Heritage Malta’s website

 


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