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ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

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ARX Occasional Papers - ISSUE 2 / 2012

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Copyright - Dr Stephen C Spiteri Ph.D and www.militaryarchitecture.com

2012

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Hospitaller Gunpowder Magazines

A study of the Magasins à Poudre and other military storehouses built by the Knights of the Order of St John in the Maltese islands throughout the course of the late- seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries.

By Dr. Stephen C Spiteri Ph.D.

Gunpowder began to play an important role in the

history of the Hospitaller Order of Knights of St John

from the moment that it began to power projectile

weapons strong enough to influence the outcome

of warfare and military affairs. Learning quickly from

the lessons of the Turkish siege of Constantinople

of 1453, the Knights of St John were quick to exploit

the potential of gunpowder-operated artillery in

both attack and defence. By the early 15th century

the words bombarda and bombardieri became

common entries in the Order’s records, revealing

an ever-increasing reliance on the new technology.

This development is also physically attested in the

surviving remains of the military architecture of the

period, in the towers with gun-loops, in the ramparts

with their embrasures and in the underlying

countermines, built from the reign of Grand Master

Fluviano onwards. Inevitably, the procurement,

manufacture, and storage of gunpowder became

important functions in the affairs of the Order and

special officials had to be appointed to administer

both the munitions that worked the new artillery and

the guns themselves. Heading the new department,

by the early 16th century, was the Commander

of Artillery who, in time, came also to assume

responsibility for the Order’s armouries and other

military store houses.

Specific references to the title of ‘Commander of

Artillery’, however, only begin to appear in the early

in decades of the sixteenth century. At the end of

the fifteenth century it was more common to find

commissarii encharged with ‘visitandas pulverers et

munitions artillierum.’ In 1491, for instance, we find

the knight Frà Iohanne Danalon elected ‘deputato ad

custodiam artilleriae’ while in 1502, Frà Franciscus

Blacars was made ‘Praceceptor artillariae, Probi

hominess artilleriae. ’ Mention of the election of

probihomines tends to imply that the system of

having a commander of artillery assisted by two

prudhommes had already been formulated by the

early 16th century. Employed within this setup

were also a number of bombardiers necessary to

work the artillery and a few capomastri in charge of

the production and storage of gunpowder. Most of

these, judging by the surviving records, were Latin

rather than Greek. An Italian, Petrus de la Mota,

for example, is listed as ‘peritus’ (expert) in ‘arte

ballistica’ and in the use of ‘artillariae grossae’ whilst

a list of bombardiers employed on guard duty at Fort

St Nicholas in 1516 gives only European names.

As with its armouries, the Order also adopted

a centralized system of artillery and powder

magazines within the fortress of Rhodes and this

in turn fed a large number of outlying strongholds

and outposts. Among the supplies being shipped

to the island of Kos and St Peter Castle at Bodrum

in 1470, for example, were ‘salis nitri rafinati et

cantaria ferri’. Enties such as ‘Rotoli …di bona

Dr Stephen C Spiteri Dipl. (Int. Des.) RI, B.A. (Hons), Ph.D, was born in Malta, 15 September 1963. Dr Spiteri works in Heritage Conservation and specializes in the military architecture of the Hospitaller knights of

St John and the fortifications of the Maltese islands. He

is the author of a number of books and studies on the

military history and fortifications of Malta, the Knights of

St John, and British Colonial defences. He is a founding member of the Sacra Militia Foundation for the Study of Hospitaller Military and Naval History and is also a part-time lecturer at the International Institute of Baroque Studies at the University of Malta, where he lectures on the history and development of military architecture,

and on the art and science of fortification. Dr Spiteri is

currently working on new second editions of his books Fortresses of the Cross (1994) and The Great Siege of

1565 (2005).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

polvere di bombarda’, ‘Rotoli … di fino salnitro’, and

‘unum carratellum salisnitri et unum sulfitris’ show

that gunpowder was imported both as a ready-

made product and in the form of raw materials to be

manufactured on the island.

By the time of the arrival of the Order of St John in

Malta in 1530, the role gunpowder and gunpowder-

operated artillery had increased even further. The

Island’s small and obsolete defences, however,

were not fitted out to house the new artillery and

the storage of vast quantities of gunpowder needed

to work both the fortress and galley guns. During

the early years of the Order’s stay in Malta, the

Knights had to transform the Castrum Maris into

a self-contained martial complex, giving it hastily-

constructed armouries, magazines, and even

setting up powder factories within its walls. As early

as 1530 one already encounters a ‘commissario

pro emenda salpetra’ to be followed by a string

of knights elected to oversee the administration

of artillery and munitions, the prudhommes under

the commander of artillery; ‘Frà George de S.

Iohanne et Hieronymus Avogardo probi hominess

machinarium bellicorum’; ‘Frà Johannes Centeno

electus probus homo artillariae’ (1552); ‘Frà

Alfons’us Correa

...

probus homo tormentorium

bellicorum sive artillariae’ (1554); Gerardus de La

Tour, who was removed from his post of ‘capitanei

tormentum bellicorum’ in 1555 and condemned ‘ad

quarantenam propter rixam’; ‘Iacobus Francisco

Guasco prob. ballistrum incendiarum’ (1557). The

task of mounting ‘i pezzi d’artiglieria nei loro posti

nella nuova città ([Vittoriosa] e nella Senglea … per

rispetto dell’Armamento Turchesco,’ in 1568, was

entrusted to ‘Frà ‘Franciscus Gozon detto Melac,

There were two methods by which the Order

obtained its gunpowder - either importing it ready-

made,or else producing it locally from imported

ingredients. Both practices were resorted to in

Rhodes and Malta. As with the acquisition of

arms and armour, the Order obtained its stocks

of gunpowder from a wide variety of sources. In

times of serious emergencies caused by threat

of invasion, frantic efforts were made to acquire

vast stocks of powder from any readily-available

source. Perhaps the most celebrated instance

of the importation of powder is the arrival of 200

barrels sent to Malta by the Duke of Florence just

prior to the arrival of the Turkish armada in 1565.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES polvere di bombarda

Above and below, The gunpowder magazine at Fort St Angelo. This

structure is undated but seems to have been built after 1690. It has

a vaulted interior and small events placed high up in the walls. The windows are a later British alteration. The magazine stands outside the

walls of the inner castral enceinte, just outside and near the barbican and may possibly occupy the site of an earlier gunpowder factory that

was in use up until the Great Siege of 1565. (Image Source: Author’s

Balì di Manisca’. private collection).
Balì di Manisca’.
private collection).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Another is the arrival in Malta, during the reign of

Grand Master Pinto in 1761, of ‘quattro bastimenti

carichi di polvere, bombe, alcuni cannoni, mortari

  • di bronzo e due detti volgarmente obusier, caricate

parte in Marsiglia parte in Tolone’ during the crisis

caused by the capture of the Corona Ottomana.

Earlier in 1669, following fall of Candia to the Turks,

commission was given to the ricevitore Tarascone

to buy ‘mille cantara di polvere’. By 1793, however,

the Order’s war machine had grown so much that

requests for powder were then of the magnitude of

4,000 quintali polvere di mina’ and 6,000 quintali

polvere di cannone’.

That the Order imported gunpowder from a large

variety of sources is well documented by the

archival records. The names of individual producers

are often mentioned. In 1679, for example, a

contract was given out to ‘Michele Puglielmi,

Francese, per la fabrica di polvere’. Mention is also

frequently made of ‘Polvere di Francia’, ‘Polvere

  • di Genova fina’ and ‘Polvere d’Olanda’, the latter

conveyed to Malta ‘con … vassello da Amsterdam

fra altre munitioni ordinate’. When the urgency and

threat of war were far less pressing, however, it

often proved cheaper to produce gunpowder locally

than to import it from abroad, particularly given the

large and continual demand for it by the Order’s

armed forces.

The first gunpowder factory was established inside

Fort St Angelo but no descriptions of this edifice

are known. It appears that the Knights had found

some sort of gunpowder-producing plant already in

existence when they took over the Castrum Maris

in 1530. The medieval records of the Università

of Mdina show that, in May 1504, one of two large

cauldrons used for the refining of saltpetre was sent

from the Island’s old city (Mdina) down to the castle

by the sea to be used by gunner Joannes Tudiscu.

Undoubtedly this small plant would have been

enlarged by the Knights to enable them to increase

their production of gunpowder, given the larger

demand required by the vast quantity of cannon

that were now needed for the defence of the new

fortifications. This powder factory is still recorded

in existence during the Great Siege of 1565 when,

unfortunately for the Knights, it blew up in the early

stages of the siege. The Order’s records tell us

that on 19 June 1565, one hundredweight (circa

50 kg) of powder blew up and eight persons who

were working at the mill or sleeping there at the

time were killed; amongst these was Sigismondo

Farrugia, a lute player. Immediately following the

explosion, Grand Master Jean de Valette appointed

a special commission headed by the knights Fra

Oliver Starkey and Don Petro de Mendoça to

look into the cause of the explosion in order to

establish wether this was the result of negligence or

sabotage. The exact location of this powder factory

is not known but by the seventeenth century Fort

St Angelo had acquired a magazine situated just

north of the medieval barbican, outside and below

the inner castrum area of the old enceinte, built,

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Another is the

perhaps, on the same site of the old factory. In this

location, the magazine would have been safely

located in an open area between the fortress’ two

enceintes – Grunenburg’s new ramparts and the old

medieval trace. Early gunpowder-making facilities

did not have sophisticated plant. Relatively small

quantities were then made by hand with pestles and

mortars. From the investigations made following

the explosion of the powder factory at Fort St

Angelo during the early stages of the Great Siege,

it appears that the production depended mostly

on civilian manual labour. This can be deduced

from the fact that the commissioners were made

to investigate why so many people, particularly

civilians, had such a free access to this factory.

Gunpowder

Gunpowder is made from a mixture of three basic

ingredients, saltpeter (salnitro - potassium nitrate),

charcoal, and sulphur. None of the ingredients

could be found locally, not even charcoal, for even

trees were scarce on the island - everything had to

be imported. In 1775, Antonio Pace ‘fu mandato

in Torino per appredare’ the necessary ‘carbone

ed il salnitro.’ The Lascaris Foundation, set up in

1645 by Grand Master Lascaris, was established to

provide, among many other things, for the ‘compra

di miglio salnitro.’ The production process involved

the mixing together of the three components, the

mixture being processed and refined to produce

various grades of gunpowder. The local factories

were capable of producing various grades of

quality of gunpowder. The ‘Polvere di Malta fina’,

for example, came in two varieties ‘con lustro

and ‘senza lustro’. The Order was also aware of

the importance of not keeping too much powder

in store but of hoarding instead only the materials

required to produce it, ‘… quello che più comple alla

Religione e il tener i materiali da farne il polvere,

perche queste non si guastano’.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Two echaugettes on the Valletta counterguards. Up until the end of

the seventeenth centuries such echaugettes were being used for the

storage of gunpowder. (Image Source: Author’s private collection).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Two echaugettes on
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Two echaugettes on
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Two echaugettes on

When the Order of St John transferred its

headquarters from Birgu to the new fortress of

Valletta in 1571, the Knights took with them all the

important military establishments. A ‘luogo dove si

fa la polvere’ was eventually established in the lower

part of the city, in the vicinity of the slaves’ prison

on the site of the present ‘Cottonera block’. That

this was not an ideal location is attested by the fact

that when the Valletta powder factory accidentally

blew up on 12 September 1634, the explosion

killed 22 people and seriously damaged the nearby

Jesuits’ college and church. The Order’s records

show that by 1665 the Knights were still looking for

un luogo fuori della città per raffinar la polvere’. In

that same year, however, the Congregation of War,

determined to resolve the situation, instructed the

resident military engineer, Mederico Blondel, to draw

up plans for a ‘casa accomodata per fare e raffinare

la polvere’ which was to be built ‘nella floriana dalla

parte che riguarda il porto di Marsamscetto’.

This new polverista was duly erected and was

already producing gunpowder by 1667. The

building appears to have consisted of a cruciform

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Above, Plan of a section of the Floriana enceinte showing the location of the Ospizio, built around the mid-seventeenth-century gunpowder factory, shown in plan, opposite page, left (Image Source: National

Library of Malta (NLM). This was built to replace an earlier edifice which

was situated in Valletta, tragically demolished by an explosion in 1634, opposite page, top. (Image Source: Author’s private collection).

structure enclosed within a high-walled rectangular

enclosure. It was equipped with ‘tre molini’ used

for the production of ‘zolfo e salnitro’, probably of

the type driven by beasts of burden. By the early

eighteenth century it was also served by a number

of magazines or ‘mine’ (casemates) situated in the

vicinity, one of which was known as ‘dell’Eremita

and another ‘del Tessitore’. Soon after the

construction of then nearby casemated curtain,

around 1722, the master-in-charge of the polverista,

Giovan Francesco Bieziro proposed the utilization

of the ‘trogli nuovamente fabbricati’ within the same

casemated curtain to be used for the production

of gunpowder. By the beginning of the eighteenth

century, this polverista had became a prominent

landmark, and is seen on many of the plans and

views of Floriana. This is hardly surprising, for it was

then practically one of the largest buildings within

a still mostly barren enclosure formed by Floriani’s

ramparts.

It appears that the Floriana gunpowder factory

continued to function in such a capacity until the

early 1720s, for the building seems to have been

then incorporated into a larger complex known as

the ‘Casa di Carita’, later known as the Ospizio,

which was established on the same site by Grand

Master de Vilhena as a place to house poor and

destitute old men and women. Apparently, by then,

a number of local entrepreneurs had taken over the

production of gunpowder on behalf of the Order.

Indeed, in 1775, it was suggested that ‘il Casino

che altrevolte era de P.P. Gesuiti nella Marsa’ could

serve, with some alterations by the Balì de Tigné, as

a ‘luogo proprio’ for the production of powder by a

certain Antonio Pace.

The ‘Polveriste’

The storage of gunpowder was a risky undertaking

that required adequate and safe spaces free from

the risks of fire and bombardment, and adequately

protected against spoilage from dampness or rain

water. Such gunpowder magazines had also to

be located away from built up areas to ensure the

safety of the garrison and the inhabitants.

In the sixteenth and seventh centuries there were

no established forms of structures specifically

designed to serve solely as gunpowder magazines.

Any ordinary available building, preferably dry,

could be put to use as a powder store when the

need arose. This is perhaps best illustrated by

the Order’s practice of storing gunpowder inside

the echaugettes (Italian ‘guardiole’, Maltese

gwardjoli) scattered around the bastioned enceintes.

However, the ‘Commotione che fece in tutta questa

città [Valletta] l’incendio di certa polvere conservata

in una guardiola di uno de rivellini congiunti alla

contrascarpa di essa città colpita dal fulmine’ in

1662 did not deter the commissioners of war from

once again proposing the same use for the other

quattro garrote’ (guerites) to be found around the

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

walls of Valletta. Even so, it also dawned on them

that it was important not to store all the ‘polvere di

rispetto’ (reserves stocks of gunpowder) in one area

and so a commission of knights was charged to

inspect ‘la polvere, e dove stia, e conservarla divisa,

et in luoghi, dove non debba tenersi da un solo

accidente una ruina irreparabile.’

As a result of these investigations, it was then

recommended that apart from the four echaugettes

situated on the Valletta counterguards (‘fortificatione

del Marchese St Angelo’) another six new

magazines were to be constructed to enable an

overall capacity of 600 cantara of gunpowder,

judged ‘necessaria per riserva’. The commissioners

were then also of the opinion that the quantity of

gunpowder inside the magazine of Fort St Elmo

(apparently situated within the cavalier) was to be

reduced to only 8 cantara and those inside Fort

St Angelo, in ‘ciascheduno delli due magazeni

superiori’, to only 10, although ‘nel fosso’ there was

to continue to be retained ‘tutta quella quantità che

serve per le galere et altro maneggio quotidiano.’

The estimated cost of the repairs to the guardiola

damaged by lightning (‘la garrita voltata dalla

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES walls of Valletta.

Graphic reconstruction of the warehouses built by Grand Master Lascaris in the mid- seventeenth-century to house gunpowder and muskets bought through a special foundation that he

set up from his own pocket. The building,

which was grafted to the flank and gorge of St John Cavalier in Valletta was demolished around the late 1950s. (Image Source: Author’s

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Above, inset, Plan
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES
Above, inset, Plan of the Lascaris
warehouses used for the storage of
gunpowder (Image Source: NLM) and,
bottom, marble plaque with inscription

which was once affixed to the

building (Image Source:

Author’s private collection).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Above, inset, Plan

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Left, Various examples
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Left, Various examples
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Left, Various examples
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Left, Various examples

Left, Various examples of Vauban-style gunpowder magasins à poudre constructed in France in the late seventeenth century. From top to bottom; Ile de Re, Ile de Aix, Hiers-Brouage at Saint Luc, and the poudrieri at Boulogne (Images Source:

Author’s collection). Note the various styles of counterforts and

enveloping walls. Such structures were to serve as patterns for the construction of the Hospitaller magazines in the course of the eighteenth century, introduced to the Maltese island through

French military engineers like Brigadier René Jacob de Tigné and Charles François de Mondion. The first to be built were

the two examples at Fort Manoel, to be followed by others constructed in the reign of Grand Master Pinto at Floriana, Valletta and Ras Hanzir. Right, Plan of a magazin à poudre based on the pattern established by Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban, as illustrated in the treatise by Abbé du Fay and Chev. de Cambray entitled ‘Veritable maniere de fortifier de Mr. de Vauban’, printed in Amsterdam in 1726 (Image Source: Author’s private collection). The squarish structure has walls ventilated by ‘events’ (see pages 30-1) and is enclosed by a boundary wall.

polvere’) was 700 scudi whilst another 300 scudi

were required to construct the other stores.

One of the earliest known edifices that are

recorded as being purposely built for the storage

of gunpowder was a range of warehouses erected

by Grand Master Lascaris in Valletta. This complex

of two-storeyed warehouses, affixed to the flank

and gorge of St John Cavalier, was erected in

1646 to house the muskets and gunpowder

purchased with the money derived from a special

foundation established by the same Grand Master.

The building, unfortunately, was demolished in

the decades after the Second World War but the

commemorative slab which once crowned the main

façade was removed and fixed to the wall of the

cavalier: it reads ‘MIGLIO SALNITRO E MOSCHETTI DELLA FONDAZIONE LASCHERA A.MDCXXXXVI’.

The few existing photographs of the exterior of this

structure, as well as a surviving plan, however, show

that the building had no special storage features

in relation to gunpowder, other than perhaps that

it was dry and safely sheltered by the towering

cavalier.

The Order’s Magasins à poudre à la Vauban

By the late seventeenth century military engineers

had begun to introduce specialized buildings

designed specifically for the safe storage of

gunpowder. These gunpowder stores came to be

known by various names. In the Order’s records

they are frequently referred to as ‘polveriste’,

magazzino da polvere’ or ‘magasins a poudre’. In

the military language of the time they were also

referred to as polveriere (Italian - see G. Grassi,

POLVERIERA: Edificio nel quale si fabbrica or si

conserva la polvere: quello nel quale si fabbrica

la polvere chiamasi piu particolarmente Mulino; e

quello destinato solamente a conservarla chiamasi

Magazzino); Almacen de pólvera (Spanish), and

poudrieres (French).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

In the Maltese context, a gunpowder magazine

was sometimes also referred to as a polverista.

Strictly speaking, however, this is an Italian word

which actually referred to the person who worked

in a magazine or manufactured gunpowder ( see

G.Grassi, - POLVERISTA, Colui che fabbrica la

polvere da Guerra ), what the French called a

poudrier.

It was the arrival of French military engineers

to Malta in the early 1700s which was to see

the introduction of purposely-built gunpowder

magazines throughout the Maltese islands.

Designed à la Vauban, the new French-designed

structures followed, in typical French fashion, a

standardized form of construction based on a

rectangular plan reinforced with lateral counterforts

and fitted with gabled roof. These dedicated

buildings had various special features built into their

design so as to make them bombproof, fireproof,

and damp-proof.

Their slanting roofs and barrel-vaulted interiors

gave them great resistance against bombardment,

helping to deflect mortar shells and cannon balls.

Indeed, upwards of 80 shells are said to have been

thrown upon a magazine of this type at Landau,

without doing the least damage to the vault; the

same thing was reported to have happened at

Ath, and in the siege of Tournay by the Duke of

Malborough where of the 45,000 shells fired into

fortress, the greater part fell upon two powder-

magazines and yet neither of them was damaged.

Such extraordinary resistance was achieved largely

by the vaulted interior and the buttressing provided

by exterior counterforts

The magazines were also amply cross-ventilated to

provide a good circulation of air. This was achieved

by a combination of large windows set high up in

the end walls (pignons) and a series of small blind

ventilation shafts (known as sfiatatori, in the Order’s

records, and events in French military jargon) and

controlled access points, both of which ensured

that no potentially dangerous material could be

introduced into the storage areas. These magazines

were given raised floors to help aerate the whole

structure and reduce the problem of rising damp.

A good description of a Vauban-style powder

magazine is provided by John Muller in his A

Treatise containing the practical part of fortification

(1755), based on Bernard Forest de Bélidor:

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

‘The dimensions of Mr. Vauban’s magazines, are as

follow; the plan is 60 feet long, clear within, and 25

broad; the foundations are 9 or 10 feet thick under

the long sides which support the arch; and these

sides he made 8 or 9 feet thick, according as the

masonry was good or indifferent, and 8 feet high

from the foundation to the spring of the arch; so that

making the floor about two feet from the ground to

keep it free from all dampness, there remained 6

feet for the height of the story.

‘The thinnest part or hanches of the arch

(intermediate parts of arches between the crown

and the spring at the bottom, being about a third of

the arch, and placed nearer the bottom than the top,

likewise called spandrels), and the arch made of

four lesser ones, one over the other, and the outside

of the whole terminated in a slope to form the roof;

from the highest part of the arch to the ridges is

8 feet, which makes the angle somewhat greater

than 90 degrees; the two wings, or gable ends, are

four feet thick, raised somewhat higher than the

roof, as is customary in other buildings; as to their

foundations they are 5 feet thick, and as deep as the

nature of the ground required.

‘The piers or long sides are supported by four

counterforts, each of six feet broad, and four feet

long, and their interval 12 feet; between the intervals

of the counterforts, are the air holes, in order to

keep the magazine dry and free from dampness; the

dices of these air holes are commonly a foot and a

half every way, and the vacant space round them

three inches, made so as the in and outsides be

in the same direction, as may be seen by the plan;

the dices serve to prevent an enemy from throwing

fire in, to burn the magazine, and for a further

precaution, it is necessary to stop these air-holes

with several iron plates, that have small holes in

them like a skimmer, or otherwise fire might be tied

to the tail of a small animal, so drive it in that way;

this would be no hard matter to do, since where this

precaution has been neglected, egg-shells have

been found within, that have been carried there by

weasels.

‘To keep the floor from dampness, beams are laid

long-ways, and to prevent these beams from being

soon rotten, large stones [are] laid under them,

these beams were 8 or 9 inches square, or rather

10 high and 8 broad, which is better, and 18 inches

distant from each other; their interval is filled with

dry sea coals, or chips of dry stones, then over

these beams are others laid cross-ways, of 4 inches

broad, and 5 high, which are covered with two inch

Right, Powder magazines designed on the system introduced

by Vauban as illustrated in Bernard Forest de Belidor’s treatise La Science des Ignenieurs dans la conduite des travaux de fortification et d’architecture civile’, printed in Paris in 1729. Bottom right, Plan and sectional elevations of a Vauban-type

gunpowder magazine employed in the fortress of Gironde, France. Note that the magazines have no events in the front and rear walls (pignons) but only in the flanks and that the dimensions of the interior were roughly in the ratio of 2:1.

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These two pages illustrate the plan, shape, form, and structure of a typical Vauban-

style gunpowder magazine built in the Maltese islands (Image source: Author)

The original Vauban-type magazines

had no events in the front and rear walls

(known as pignons) but only along the lateral sides. Later magazines, such as that built at Floriana, however, were also equipped with such events, on each side of the doorways. By 1803, Guillaume de Vauldoncourt could write in his journal that it was the practice to pierce the walls of the pignons by ‘un grande nombre d’évents, de 4 pounces environ de large, sur 15 a 18 pounces de haut; coupés dans leur longeur par un ou plusiers dés, fermés par des grilles en cuivre, et disposes de manière que l’air circule également sur tous les points’.

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pignon

Barrel-vaulted interior of magazine

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ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES These two pages

Garde de feu - boundary wall securing magazine

Main entrance to magazine generally closed off by a pair of doors and surmounted by a large window used to ventilate the interior

Ventilation shafts known as events or sfiatatori. Vauban-type magazines had no events in the front and rear walls. These were built in later models such

as that found in Floriana (see page 25)
14

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planks. [This does not apply to the Maltese version

of the Vauban magazine, which had a stone floor]

‘To give light to the magazine, a window is made in

each wing, which are shut up by two shutters of 2 or

3 inches thick, one within and the other without; that

which is on the outside is covered with an iron plate,

and is fastened with bolts, as well as that on the

inside. These windows are made very high, for fear

of accidents, and are opened by means of a ladder,

to give air to the magazine in fine dry weather.

‘There is likewise a double door made of strong

planks, the one opens on the outside, and the other

within; the outside one is also covered with an iron

plate, and both are locked by a strong double lock;

the store keeper has the key of the outside, and

the governor that of the inside: the door ought to

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 1 / 2011 - FORT TIGNE 1792 planks. [This does
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 1 / 2011 - FORT TIGNE 1792 planks. [This does

Internal yard used for the drying of gunpow- der barrels in warm weather

Sloping roof of gunpowder magazine designed to deflect shoot and bombs and sup- ported on a double arched vault ‘à prova di bomba

Lateral counterforts

(contraforti)

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face the south nearly if possible; in order to render

the magazine as light as can be, and that the wind

blowing in may be dry and warm. Sometimes a

wall of 10 feet high is built round the magazine

about 12 distant from it, to prevent any thing from

approaching it without being seen.

Such a magazine as this will hold about 200,000

pounds of powder, when the barrels are six above

one another, which however is not done, but in case

of necessity, because when they lie so much on

each other, it is very troublesome to remove them,

and change their position, which ought to be done

once a year at least; otherwise the salt petre, being

the heaviest ingredient, will descend into the lower

part of the barrel, and the powder above will lose

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much of its goodness; but to prevent the barrels form rolling, when some are taken off,
much of its goodness; but to prevent the barrels
form rolling, when some are taken off, two wooden
posts are erected, of about 4 or 5 inches square,
between every 10 or 12 barrels, by this means
Above, A 1715 proposal for a magazine on St Clement Bastion,
Cottonera. French engineers envisaged three magazines along
the Cottonera enceinte, as shown in the plans below (1715) and
bottom (1717 or later).(Image source: Courtesy of the NLM).
St Clement Bastion
St James Bastion
St John Bastion
St Clement Bastion St James Bastion St Louis Bastion
St Clement Bastion
St James Bastion
St Louis Bastion

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they me piled up as high as you please, or taken off

without any danger.’

The first reference to such magazines is found

in Brigadier Rene Jacob de Tigné’s first report of

1715. Brig. Jacob de Tigné headed the seminal

French military mission sent to Malta in 1715 and

was responsible for introducing many new ideas

and procedures within the Hospitaller military

establishment. In his second report of 1717, Brig.

de Tigné called for twelve gunpowder magazines,

six of these at Cottonera and the rest in Floriana (4)

and Valletta. The cost of these works was estimated

at a little more than twenty-thousand scudi. Below

are the main entries:

‘ (47)

trois magazines à poudre en forme de

 

Retrenchement, dans les gorges des bastions ...

9000 [scudi];

 

‘(48)

trois autre magazines ordinaires dans trois

autres bastiones qui serviront a mettres les poudres

en temps de paix

6000 [scudi]

(

)

vourter à preuve de bombe les magazins

sous leus les cavaliers de la porte Realle

2000

[scudi]

 

‘(17)

des magazines à preuve de bombe, derniere

la muraille neuve de la porte des Chiens [Porta

dei Cani - St Anne Gate, Floriana] et dans le

retrenchement des capucins

‘(20)

...

deux magazines à poudre à preuve de

bombe dans l’interieur des Florianes

...

3000 [scudi].

Some of the plans which accompanied Brig. de

Tigné’s report have survived and these enable us

to identify both his ‘magazins ordinaires’ as being

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES they me piled
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES they me piled

Above, A 1715 proposal by French military engineers for a gunpowder magazine built into

the redoubt of a retrenchment cut into the gorge of St Paul Bastion, Cottonera, in the

manner shown in the author’s graphic

reconstruction below (Image source of plan: Courtesy of the National

Library of Malta).

Above, Map of Valletta and its harbours showing the knights’ used for the storage of powder.
Above, Map of Valletta and its harbours showing the knights’
used for the storage of powder. The second was
main gunpowder storage areas around the late eighteenth
employed for the storage of other unspecified items.
century. The triangles show the French-pattern magazines, the
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

other shapes, show ordinary casemates and stores (see text).

à la Vauban, and the ones which were meant to

form part of the proposed retrenchments in the

three of the Cottonera bastions. None of these

ordinary magazines were ever built, but the Knights

did eventually come round, many decades later, to

implement de Tigné’s proposal for the construction

of gunpowder magazines on one of Valletta’s

cavaliers and on Capuchin Bastion.

The first to be built on such a pattern where the

two polveriste at Fort Manoel, followed by others

at Floriana (Capuchin Bastion), Vendôme Bastion

(Valletta), and in St John Cavalier (Valletta). The

two magazines erected at Fort Manoel were both

located in the centre of their respective bastion in

accordance with the practice adopted by Vauban,

which was meant to protect the fortifications from

the blast of an accidental explosion. The magazines

were also located on the bastions most distant from

the fort’s land front enceinte:

M. de Vauban a toujours placé les magasin

à poudre au centre des bastions vuides, comme le lieu le plus propre pour les cacher a

l’ennemie, & les isoler, en cas d’accident du feu, de la ville & des fortifications: ma il y a des

Ingenieurs qui les aiment mieux le long du pied

du rempart des courtines, afin de conserver le

vuide des bastions pour les ouvrages ou les

travaux necessaire pour disputer le terrein pied

à pied à l’ennemi.

In practice, only one of the two magazines erected

at Fort Manoel appears to have been actually

Not all of the Knights’ forts and fortresses, however,

had been fitted with the Vauban-type of magazine

by the time of the French invasion in 1798. Although

various plans in the Order’s archives show that the

Knights had planned to erect similar magazines

at Mdina, Chambrai (Gozo) and other fortresses,

most of the major works of fortification, as a matter

of fact, such as Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Elmo, Fort St

Angelo, Senglea, Birgu, Mdina etc., still continued

to store their complement of gunpowder within

the vaulted casemates set inside their ramparts.

The dangers inherent in such archaic storage

arrangements are best illustrated by the incident of

the Froberg mutiny at Fort Ricasoli in 1807 which

resulted in the demolition of a considerable section

of the fort’s ramparts after desperate mutineers fired

the gunpowder stored inside the casemates in St

Dominic Demi-bastion. The list below shows the

magazines which are known to have been in use by

the late eighteenth century:

Valletta

St John Cavalier (Vauban-style)

Vendôme Bastion (Vauban-style)

Floriana

Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion - (Vauban-style)

Fort Manoel

St Anthony Bastion (Vauban-style)

St Helen Bastion (Vauban-style)

Cottonera Lines

St Clement Bastion (general store - alla leggera)

St James Bastion (general store - alla leggera)

Fort Chambrai

Guardian Angel Bastion

(two proposed Vauban-style magazines not constructed)

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Above, A proposal, dated to the early 1720s, for the construction of a Vauban-type magazine on
Above, A proposal, dated to the early 1720s, for the
construction of a Vauban-type magazine on De Redin Bastion
at Mdina (Image source: Courtesy of Prof. D. de Lucca). This
was not built. Right, Undated plan, possibly pre-1740, but with
British annotations, showing what appears to be a gunpowder
magazine with counterforts in the ditch of the ritirata to the left
of St Mark Bastion, Floriana, prior to the construction of the
magazine on Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion. (Image source:
Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). There are no records
to show that this structure was ever built.
Gozo Citadel
Near St John Demi-bastion
St John Cavalier
Ras Ħanżir - depository for naval and foreign vessels
(Vauban-style)
Fort St Angelo
Vaulted structure situated near barbican
Two casemates within D’Homedes Bastion (for naval use)
Birgu (Vittoriosa)
Casemate near Porta Marina (demolished)
Fort Ricasoli
Casemate in St Dominic Demi-Bastion (Demolished)
Mdina (Città Notabile)
Casemates within De Redin Bastion (a proposed
Vauban-style magazine on same bastion not
constructed)
Fortifications known to have kept stocks of
gunpowder but exact locations unknown:
Fort St Elmo
Senglea
Santa Margherita enceinte
Fort San Salvatore
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This page, above, View of the Vauban-type gunpowder magazine at Fort Manoel, situated on St Helen Bastion. The

Fort had two such structures (see detail of plan of Fort Manoel

on opposite page) but one of these was demolished by the

British military in the course of the nineteenth century. The

photographs above and right show the main façade (pignon), facing the interior of the fort with its large access doorway and

ventilation window. Note that, in typical Vauban style, the façade is not perforated by events. Bottom, view of the right side of the magazine showing three of the lateral counterforts, two

of which were pierced by doorways at a much later date. The

magazine also lost all of its events when the side walls between the counterforts were pierced by arched openings designed

to enable the magazine to serve as a garrison reading room. (Images source: Author’s private collection). Left, top, Plan of the ‘Magazino da Polvere e Munizioni’ (à la Vauban) on St Helen Bastion, Fort Manoel, showing British- period annotations in pencil related to the conversion of the magazine into a reading room. (Images source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

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ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES The two gunpowder

The two gunpowder magazines of Fort Manoel,

only one of which has survived, were placed in the

middle of empty bastions, away from the land front,

in typical textbook fashion as established by Vauban. The image above shows Fort Manoel around the

early 1860s prior to the onset of British interventions

which saw the demolition of the left magazine on

St Anthony Bastion (inset). The main photograph

shows the right magazine on St Helen Bastion prior to restoration works.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

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This page, A mid-nineteenth century view of the Vauban-

style gunpowder magazine which was erected on Capuchin

(Dhoccara) Bastion, at Floriana. Note the enveloping security wall and the then still-unadulterated state of the bastion, prior to the massive British alterations. Below, Details of the Floriana

magazine as existing today. (Images source: Author’s private

collection).

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ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES This page, A
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Plan of Capuchin Bastion (Dhoccara Bastion) at Floriana showing a proposal for the construction of a Vauban-type gunpowder magazine built à

prova di bomba (i.e., heavily vaulted). Note that the structure has only lateral events and none on the front and rear pignons, unlike the structure that was eventually built, completed during the reign of Grand master Pinto de Fonseca. Note also that, initially,

the designer’s idea was to have

one large mur de sécurité sealing off the gorge of the bastion but eventually a smaller enclosure was

erected immediately around the magazine, seen sketched in pencil. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

Right, Early 19th century plan of

the Floriana magazine as actually built. Of great interest is the shape of the events, which is much simpler and avoids the use of dice.

(Image source: Author’s private

collection).

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Left, and below, Plan an sectional elevation of the Floriana gunpowder magazine, drawn during the early nineteenth century and showing both the interior tavolatura (skidding) as well as the outer boundary wall that was eventually employed to protect the storage area. Of particular interest are the steps that lead

up to the rear entrance, and the vertical wooden dividers. Note also, the simplified

type of events that were employed in the walls. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

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Above, Sectional elevation along the width of the Floriana gunpowder magazine, drawn during the early nineteenth century, showing an interesting detail of what appears to be the vertical wooden elements of the tavolatura (skidding) used

for the storage of barrels. Such a feature is not shown in Hospitaller period drawings - the barrels are merely shown stacked on top of one another. Here, however, it appears that a system of vertical dividers

was employed. This arrangement, however, may have been

a feature that was introduced by the British military. (Images

source: Author’s private collection).

Author’s graphic

reconstruction of the Floriana

Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion gunpowder magazine after the

original proposed layout as shown on the initial plan illustrated on the

previous page. The magazine was

intended to be closed off with a long boundary wall cutting across the wide open gorge of the bastion, much in the same manner as that which had been adopted for the two seaward-facing bastions at Fort Manoel. In this case, the boundary wall had two openings. Although, undoubtedly, such a solution ensured a great degree of safety by enclosing a large area, it nonetheless, would inadvertently also have hindered the defence of the place, by interrupting the movement of cannon and

other heavy ordnance from one part of the enceinte to the other in the event of a siege

Opposite page, top left, Author’s graphic reconstruction

of the Floriana Capuchin Bastion (Dhoccara) gunpowder magazine as eventually closed off with a close-hugging boundary wall. It is not clear if the initial proposal to erect a long wall across the wide open gorge of the bastion was ever implemented. Although still standing, a large part of

the magazine was engulfed by a huge earthen massif,

revetted in stone which the Royal Engineers constructed

on the norther side of the structure to shield it from naval

bombardment. A wooden barracca was set up within the enclosure enveloping the magazine to hold in quarantine some of the victims of the 1813 plague.

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Magazine interiors and storage arrangements

Inside the magazines, the powder was kept in

wooden barrels stacked horizontally in rows on

wooden skids, or tavolate. The Order’s records

reveal little details about the type and sizes of

barrels employed locally. Most probably, like

the magazines themselves, the ‘barils à poudre

followed French patterns, and around the end of the

eighteenth century French gunpowder barrels were

normally made of wood, mostly oak or chestnut, and

came in two main sizes: the larger ones containing 200

lbs of gunpowder being 63 cm long with a diameter

of 58 cm, and the smaller ones containing 100 lbs

of gunpowder, 58 cm long, and 43 cm ‘de diameter

au bouge.’ These barrels were made of staves (dry

strips of redwood free of sap) forming the sides,

bound together by flexible bits of wood called

withies, or by copper hoops, stacked tightly together

along the top and bottom third of the barrels.

Such barrels were generally of convex shape,

bulging slightly at the middle – this shape helped

distribute the stress evenly and made it easier for

the barrels to be rolled on their sides, changing

directions with little friction. The barrels were lined,

internally, with sacks of cloth in order to contain

the gunpowder, preventing it from spilling in the

event of the barrel breaking and also reducing

friction between the wood and the grain during

transportation:

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‘La poudre est mise dans de barils qui en

contiennent cent ou deux cents kilogrammes;ceux-

ci sont refermés dans de de seconds barils appelés

chapes; les premiers sont garnis intérieurement de

Right, Author’s graphic reconstruction of Hospitaller-type skidding (tavolatura) employed in Malta inside the Cottonera

polverista, based on the details taken from a plan of the St Clement Bastion magazine (Image source of plan: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). Bottom right, a French-type of gunpowder barrel made of staves of redwood bound together by

flexible strips of wood called withies. Below, detail from Abbè du Fay’s treatise showing a plan of a typical event (sfiatatore)

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facs de toile destinés à retenir la poudre si le baril

venoit à se défoncer, & à diminuer le frottement des

grains dans le transport. Les douves & les fonds

des barils & des chapes doivent être en chêne on

en chataignier, refendu & non scié. Ces bois ainsi

débités s’appellant merains. Ils doivent être tres-

sains & sans aubier. Les cercles des barils & des

chapes sont également en chêne ou en chataignier,

coupés en féve & dépouillés de leur écosse

immediatement après la coupe. Ces précautions

sont nécessaires pour qu’ils puissent durer long-

temps. On renvoie des place & des ports, dans les

poudreries, tous le barils & les chapes, à mesure

qu’ils se trouvent vides’.

The barrels were generally stacked in rows on

wooden skidding, and raised above the floor of

the magazine to protect the gunpowder from rising

damp. French military text books of the period

advised military engineers not to stack 200 lb barrels

more than three rows high, and those of 100 lbs,

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These two pages, Various types of

events as found in Hospitaller

fortifications in the

Maltese islands. Right, top, Conical polverista at Fort Chambrai; bottom, Floriana magazine, and opposite page, Gozo Citadel. Far right, top:

Plan and graphic reconstruction of an event in the polverista of Fort Manoel, showing its internal cube

(called a dice – or a die) and its

singular shaft. This

allowed air to enter the magazine but prevented objects from being thrown in. More complex examples were employed in the magazine on St Clement Bastion, Cottonera

Lines. The

openings of the shafts were closed off with wooden shutters, both externally and internally as shown in diagram, left.

Events and Sfiatatori

Blind ventilation shafts, known as ‘events’ in French, or ‘sfiatatori’ in Italian, ensured that no materials could be introduced into the interior of the magazine from outside.

Le Blond provides the following description: ‘Dans le milieu de l’intervalle des contreforts, on pratique des petite ouvertures appellees events. Elles servant a faire entrer l’air dans le magasin; au milieu de l’event est un espece de pilier, dont la base est d’un pied quarre. |L’event tourne autour, & il se termine

de part & d’autre cote du mur. Il a trois pouces de largeur.’ The rectangular pillar, known as a ‘dice’, served to intercept the passageway halfway through the wall. The external and internal openings were generally fitted with wooden apertures.

Some sort of metal mesh or leather sieves were sometimes

also placed inside the shaft to prevent birds from nesting. Three

types of ventilation openings have so far been encountered in Hospitaller gunpowder magazines: the single slit version found on most structures with central die; the more complex version with additional four smaller openings which was only employed

in the two large general magazines in Cottonera; and the

simplified version as built in the Floriana magazine (bottom).

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not higher than four rows. The barrels were to be

laid in multiple rows, depending on the size of the

magazine, and kept at least half a metre away from

the side walls and at least 1.5 m from the front and

rear walls (pignons). The barrels were kept away

from the walls not only to protect the powder from

dampness but also to allow them to be inspected

with ease from both sides.

Bergere, writing in 1820, recommended that in

a typical small magazine, the powder should be

stacked in four rows, with a double row on each side

of a central passage 90 cm wide.

The type of skidding employed in the Order’s

magazines is depicted in a number of plans still to

be found in the Order’s archives. Foremost amongst

these are those showing the general magazine on

St Clement Bastion at Cottonera (see illustration

on page 37). These show the barrels laid out in

double of wooden beams (tavolatura) each resting

or rectangular wooden blocks laid down at regular

intervals of around the length of twelve barrels laid

side by side. The barrels are shown stacked three

barrels high (see page 28).

The Order’s records also reveal that the walls of the

magazines were sometimes padded (infoderate) to

help reduce the effects of rising dampness through

the walls. It is not clear how this was achieved,

whether through a layer of wooden panels or by

means of other materials. No descriptions have

come to light. At the time, various French engineers

recommended that quantities of lime (chaux),

muriates of lime (formed from lime and muriatic acid

and remarkable for their great attraction for water)

or charcoal, were to be kept inside the entrances

of magazines in order to absorb the moisture from

the air and keep the magazine interior dry. They

also advised that the interior walls of the magazines

were to be whitewashed with thick layers of lime

(biancheggiatura) so that this covering served the

same purpose. Traces of biancheggiatura, can in

fact still be found in the Floriana magazine, but

it is difficult to determine if this is still an original

coating. Most of the buildings at the time, whether

military or civilian,however, would also have been

whitewashed, as this was a common practice.

Left, The vaulted interiors of the gunpowder magazines at Fort

Manoel (top) and Floriana. Below, Detail of a hinged wooden shaft shutter of what appears to have been an early British period event. Bottom, Detail of the interior opening of one of the shafts of the events in the Floriana magazine. Note the recess for the supporting frame.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES not higher than
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES not higher than

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES This page, Details
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES This page, Details
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES This page, Details
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES This page, Details
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES This page, Details

This page, Details of the

lateral counterforts employed at the Floriana gunpowder magazine on Capuchin (Dhoccara) Bastion, together with a view of the rubble and earth packing forming the

protective roof layer (clad in large, shaped capping stones) crowning the vault of the same magazine. These contraforti do not have

the same pronounced slope that was given to the two magazines at Fort Manoel.

The structure may have been

designed and constructed by Francesco Marandon, who

at the time, was the serving resident engineer. (Images

source: Author’s private

collection).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

The Order’s storage arrangements.

Throughout the eighteenth century the Order’s

military planners sought to re-organize the storage

arrangements of gunpowder stocks distributed

around the vast network of harbour and coastal

fortifications by implementing a system of

magazines inspired by the French system. By the

mid-1700s, a number of specialized buildings had

been erected to replace the archaic and unsafe

storage facilities employed up until then with a new

hierarchy of gunpowder stores designed to house,

on one hand, the vast quantities of the island’s

general reserves of gunpowder and, on the other,

the requirements of individual forts on the other. In

this, the Knights followed the French method which

employed the following categories of gunpowder

magazines:

General reserves of Gunpowder:

  • - Magasins de dépôt – constrution leger

  • - Magasins à poudre de sûreté

Storage facilities for individual works of fortification:

  • - Magasins à poudre

  • - Magasines à poudre des batteries

Below is a brief description of the various categories

of magazines:

Magazins de dépôt and de sûreté

Magazines de depot and de sûreté were large

buildings designed to hold vast quantities of reserve

stocks of gunpowder in times of peace. These were

generally located as far away from inhabited areas

as possible, but still within the safety of the fortified

enceinte. Such storehouses were not usually

designed to be bombproof as they were not meant

to withstand bombardment. In times of siege, their

stocks of powder would have been redistributed

amongst the various smaller bombproof magazines

feeding the various batteries and works of

fortification. By the mid-eighteenth century, the

Order’s largest central depository was situated in

the uninhabited esplanade behind the Cottonera

enceinte.

Magazins de dépôt :On doit établir en France, hors

des villes et loin des frontières, à l’instar de ce

qui a lieu chez quelques puissances étrangères,

de grands magasins de dépôt, d’une construction

légère et moins dispendieuse que celes des

magasins des places, er destinés à recevoir en

réserve l’excédant des produits des poudreries,

après qu’elles ont approvisionné les place à leur

portée. / Ces depots doivent etre places aux

noeuds des grandes communications, pour qu’il soit

toujours facile d’en diriger les approvisionnnemens

partout ou il sont necssaires. / Chaque dépôt

se compose de deux magasins, et chacun de

ces magasins peut contenir environ 300,000

Author’s graphic reconstruction of the type of general

gunpowder magazine which was built on both St James Bastion and St Clement Bastion, Cottonera Lines. Only that at St James Bastion is still standing.

Opposite page, Plan proposal for the construction of a large general magazine ‘coperto alla leggiera’ intended to be built on St Clement Bastion. A similar magazine was also constructed on St James Bastion. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

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35
35

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kilogrammes de poudre. Le prx approximatif de

chaque magasin de dépôt, murs d’enceinte et

fosses compris, ser de 95,000 francs. (B.H. Cotty -

1832)

Magasins à poudre de sûreté: Il existe dans

beaucoup de places des magasins qui, par le

peu de distance qui les sépare des habitations,

donnent des inquiétudes fondées et ont

fréquemment provoqué de vives réclamations de

la part des autorités locales. Cette circostance

est généralement

une conséquence de

l’accroissement de la population de ces villes,

par suite duquel les construction se sont

successivement élevées à proximité des magasins

placés originairement dans une position isolée. /

Le meilleur moyen de remédier à cet inconvenient,

sans abandonner des magasin indispensables, a

paru étre d’établir hors des places des magasins

de sûreté destinés à recevoir en temps de paix les

poudres conentues dans les magasins signalés

comme dangereux; ce qui se pratique chez

quelques puissances étrangères. (B.H. Cotty -

1832)

Magasins à poudre and des batteries: The

magasins à poudre held the powder complement

allocated to a fortress. These were generally

constructed in the centre of open bastions situated

on that part of the fortress’ enceinte which was least

exposed to direct enemy attack and bombardment.

A number of magazines, however, were built within

the protective carcasses of pre-existing ramparts

(see below). By the end of the eighteenth century

few of the major fortress had been equipped with

free-standing powder magazines and most (Fort

Ricasoli, Fort St Elmo, Fort St Angelo, Birgu,

Senglea, the Sta Margherita Lines, Mdina and Fort

Tigné) lacked such facilities and continued to store

their complement of powder inside casemates

within their ramparts. At the time of the Knights,

the various batteries of guns on the ramparts of

the harbour forts lacked ‘expense’ magazines

(magazines des batteries). Such features were only

added in the course of the early nineteenth century

by the British military. These generally held small

quantities of powder required to fire the guns and

mortars as well as all the accoutrements needed to

work the weapons. The term was also applied to the

storage areas erected to service field gun batteries.

Magasins à poudre :Dans les Place de guerre,

ils se construisent ordinairement dans le centre

des bastions vuides, pour etre plis isolés, & pour

etre mieux à l’abri de feu: quelquefois on les place

au pied du rampart, le long des courtines, afin de

ménager le vuide des bastions pour y faire les

retranchemens nécessaires en cas d’attaque. Les

magasins à poudre doivent être voútés a l’épruve de

la bombe’. (G. le Blond - 1762)

Magazines à poudre des batteries: Dans le

voisinage des batteries de canons & de mortiers, on

partique de petits endroits où l’on met de la poudre

pour le service de ces batteries: on couvre ces

endroits des claies, au d’autre chose, pour les metre

à l’abris du feu. C’est ce qu’on apepelle les petits

magasins de la batteries. Outre ceux-ci, il y a un

endroit plus éloigne & moins à portée de la batterie,

où l’on tiennt une plus grande quantité de poudre,

c’est le grand magasin. (G. le Blond - 1762)

Central reserve depots

By 1758, all the supply of the Order’s gunpowder,

apart from that for set aside for naval use, is

recorded as being stored at Cottonera, which then,

unlike now, was still a vast esplanade. At the time,

this vast span of terrain was still a relatively barren

tract of land devoid of any dwellings or hamlets and,

therefore, provided the perfect setting for the safe

storage of vast quantities of explosive materials.

Most military planners in the eighteenth century had

realized the necessity for gunpowder magazines

to be located away from built-up areas, whether

civilian or military, as a basic safety precaution. In

Malta, the concept was first laid down by the French

military mission headed by Brig. Rene Jacob de

Tigné in 1715 when they proposed to build two

large depositories on St Clement Bastion and St

James Bastion respectively. The actual date of the

construction of these two magazines, however, is

still not established.

Another early scheme for the Cottonera enceinte,

proposed for by Brig. Jacob de Tigné, in 1717,

shows instead, three small magazines ‘ordinaires

on St James Bastion, St Clement Bastion, and St

John Bastion respectively. These three structures,

however, were not built and the Order seems

to have gone ahead with the building of the two

large stores instead. The magazine on St James

Bastion appears as completed on a plan dated

1745. This structure has fortunately survived but

the one which was built on St Clement Bastion was

demolished and replaced by a British nineteenth-

century retrenchment. Its details, however, can

be seen on a set of two large but undated, plans,

entitled ‘magazino a polvere coperto alla leggera

(see opposite page). The drawings show that the

magazine was designed to house a staggering

2,340 barrels of gunpowder laid out in six double

rows, that is about 234,000 lbs of gunpowder in

100lb containers.

The storage of huge quantities of gunpowder

in large and massive magazines, although at

times necessary, was nevertheless always a very

precarious and dangerous undertaking. Military

planners were well aware of the risks and often

advised that a ‘grande Magazzino da polvere é un

ospite pericoloso, anzi un nemico interno molto più

fiero, molto più formidable, di qualunque nemico

esteriore: perche al improvise, ed in un solo istante

puo produrre tali Danni, e cosi vaste rovine, qual un

avversario esterno tampoco in un anno produrre ne

potrebbe.’

A second plan proposal for the construction of a large general magazine ‘coperto alla leggiera’ intended
A second plan proposal for the
construction of a large general
magazine ‘coperto alla leggiera’
intended to be built on St Clement
Bastion. (Image source: Courtesy
of the National Library of Malta).
Author’s graphic cut-away reconstruction of the general gunpowder magazine which was built on both St James
Author’s graphic cut-away reconstruction of the
general gunpowder magazine which was built on
both St James Bastion and St Clement Bastion, on
the Cottonera Lines.
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Indeed, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

were to witness a series of tragic disasters

involving the explosion of various gunpowder

stores throughout Europe. In 1654, for instance,

one of the magazines in the city of Delft, Holland,

exploded and devastated a large part of the city.

At the time of the explosion, the magazine, known

as the Secreet van Hollandt, large parts of which

were underground, contained some 90,000 lbs

gunpowder. The force of the blast was so great

that most houses in the immediate vicinity were

destroyed and many buildings throughout the city

were damaged, including two major churches.

The number of people killed was in the hundreds

and among the casualties was one of Delft’s most

renowned painters, Carel Fabritius. In 1717, the

explosion of a magazine in the city of Belgrade

left some 5,000 casualties, whilst the explosion of

the magasin de poudre of Chateau de Grenelle,

near Paris, in 1794, involving some 65,000 lbs

of gunpowder, left more than a 1,000 dead.

Earlier in 1748, in Savona, Italy, an explosion of

a powder store, caused by lightning, demolished

more than 200 houses. The danger posed by

lightning to gunpowder in storage was again amply

demonstrated in August 1769, when lightning

struck the church of St Nazaire in Brescia, Italy,

where 207,000 lbs of polvere had been housed for

safekeeping, resulting in an explosion that killed

about 300 people, wounded another 500 and

destroyed about 190 edifices. In Malta, the threat

posed by lightning was well demonstrated in the

course of a thunderstorm in 1662, which hit an

echaugette on one of the Valletta counterguards,

resulting in a great explosion which, fortunately for

the Maltese, caused no casualties and little material

damage.

There was little that the Knights and their military

engineers could effectively do to counter this natural

threat. However, by the end of eighteenth century,

owing to the a growing understanding of electricity,

many countries began to equip structures with

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lightning conductors. As a matter of fact, by the early

1800s, all magasins de poudre in France (some 359

in 1824) were equipped with paratonnerres (lightning

conductors). None of those which had been built in

Hospitaller Malta, however, seem to have been fitted

with such features by 1798. Indeed, British military

engineers were surprised to see that the doors

of the magazines in Malta were actually covered

in iron and wandered how these had survived

and were never hit by lightning. Eventually, the

British military would go on to provide many of the

existing magazines, as well as the ones which they

constructed anew, with copper lightning conductors

and some of these can still be found in situ, such as that at

St Michael’s Counterguard, Valletta (see page 69).

The good practice of placing stocks of gunpowder

safely out of reach of the main urban areas,

nonetheless, also had its drawbacks. In 1758, a

specially set-up commission observed that the

gunpowder at Cottonera was situated too far away

to be of any use in an emergency, ‘in luogo da

non poter servire in caso improviso’ and advised,

instead, that more use be made of ‘il Magazeno

del Forte Manoel, che é alla prova di bomba

sotto un custodia sicura e più à portata della Città

Valletta che quelli della Cottonera.’ It was also

recommended to stock up ‘i magazeni à polvere

dei rivellini de Porta Reale nei quali si trovano tutti

li vantaggi [e] … communicazione della città’ while

those within the city, on the other hand, particularly

inside the cavaliers were to be left empty because

of the danger (‘à causa del pericolo’) they posed to

their urban surroundings. Ever since 1634, when it

accidentally blew up, killing 22 people and seriously

damaging the nearby Jesuits college and church,

the main powder factory, too, was located in the

large stretch of barren ground enveloped within the

Floriana enceinte (later known as the Ospizio).

Occasionally, unlikely places such as vaulted

communications passages, casemates, or

countermine tunnels within the ramparts were

also put to use as improvised gunpowder stores

(expense magazines in later 19th century terminology).

Safety measures

Gunpowder magazines were generally cordoned off

with a high wall known as a garde de feu so as to

prevent unauthorized personnel and civilians from

getting too close to the place.

The ground within the walled enclosure was sloped

outwards to drain rain water away from the base of

the walls of the magazines. The enclosure was also

kept free of vegetation and trees:

La cour qui sépare la magasin à poudre du mur de

clȏture n’ayant d’autre but que d’isoler le magasin

et d’en défender les approaches, on doit donner au

sol beaucoup de pent du dedans au dehors, afin

d’éloigner les eaux des maconneries du magasin.

L’ordonnance de 1768 (titre XXXV, art.9) defend

de cultivar les cours des magasins en jardins, ou

d’y planter des arbres. On assurera l’exécution de

cette disposition en composant le sol des cours, à

un metre de profondeur, de débris et de gravois bien

damés.

As a rule, the magazines were guarded round

the clock and, to this end, a few were fitted with

guardhouses, or corpi di guardia. It seems,

however, that the same lassitude which had crept

into the administration of the armouries by the mid-

eighteenth century had also found its way into the

running of the gunpowder magazines.

An insight into this situation is provided by a

report, found in the order’s records, entitled De

disordini, che succedero a torno de Magazzini,

dove si conserva la polvere, posti nel recinto della

Fortificazione Cottonera which draws attention

to the utter disregard for safety, that seems to

have prevailed at the Cottonera polverista in

1741. From this document we learn that ‘Successe

piu’ volte, che quelle povera gente ch’abita per

decreto dell’Em. Vra. E suoi predecessori nelli

Contraforti, corpi di Guardia, e casematte della detta

Fort[ificazione], accesero fuochi cosi di giorno come

di notte in luoghi poco lontani dalli detti Magazzini,

successe anche alcuni anni sono che un Deliquente

proseguito dalla Giustizia ai era rifugiato nel primo

recinto d’un delli detti Magazzini, dove aveva potuto

entrare, senza esser scoverto, e si accendeva

continuamente del fuoco; Parimente successe e

succede ogni giorno, che molte persone, che vanno

a cacciare sbaranno senza incorrere pena veruna,

intono de’ Magazzini, anch in tempo, che questi

si trovano aperti per prendere aria, e si cava da

medesimi la polvere per farla seccare.

‘Questi diversi inconvenienti non possero, che

provedere qualche giorno una disgrazi, di cui puol

dirsi, che quest’Isola e’ stata preservat sin oggi

per grazzia speciale del Cielo

...

di stabilire un

Corpo di Guardia di dodici Soldati sotto il Comando

d’un Caporale ed un Sergente per invigilare alla

sicurezza di detti Magazzini . Questo distaccamento

potrebbe cavarsi dalle quattro Compagnie delle

Galere’ .

The ease which the public could gain access to this

magazine and its supply of powder on those days

when this was laid out to dry – resulting largely

form the absence of adequate security measures or

simply the posting of a sentinel – was truly alarming.

Eventually the corpo di guardia of the Polverista di

Rocca Tagliata in Cottonera, which stood next to the

nearby powder store, was supplied with soldiers.

A corporal and three soldiers from this station,

however, were also detailed to guard the gate of the

Cortina di detta Roccatagliata as part of their duties,

to the detriment of the security of the magazine!

The situation concerning the storage of gunpowder

in certain magazines appears to have grown so

intolerable by 1756 that an official inquiry was held

Above, View of the flank of D’Homedes Bastion, at Fort St gunpowder was being illegally kept
Above, View of the flank of D’Homedes Bastion, at Fort St
gunpowder was being illegally kept inside private
Angelo, prior to its restoration in the 1990s, showing the internal
vault of the two magazines which were used for the storage of
gunpowder throughout the eighteenth century (Image source:
houses is best illustrated by the tragic explosion,
on the night of 24 June 1756, of a large tenement
house near the Auberge de Castille and Leon in
Author’s private collection).
Valletta, which resulted in the death of many of the
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to investigate the many abuses that had crept in,

particularly in the clandestine ‘ma libero traffico delle

Polveri della Religione con pericolo grandissimo

delle Città, e del Porto, con interesse gravissimo del

Com Tesoro’ and to examine how both locals and

foreigners (‘non ostante le …ordinanze de bandi’)

had acquired ‘la facoltà di acquistare tal genere di

munizione in pregiudizio del Governo per farne un

uso pernicioso.’

On investigation, it transpired that large quantities of

gunpowder were being pilfered from the magazines

of the galleys or exchanged for ones of inferior

quality. These magazines were situated inside

D’Homedes Bastion at Fort St Angelo, and their

keys, left in the hands of the ‘Capi Mastri Artiglieri

who, together with their dependents, had managed

to acquire unrestricted access to the place; ‘… che

secondo le occorrenze cavano da se stessi o per

mezzi delle loro mogli, figli e dipendenti in tutte le

ore del giorno

..

ritengono in poter loro le chiavi

  • di detto magazeno.’ Worse still, this magazine

was situated beneath another one in which was

conserved a much larger quantity of powder serving

the squadron of the Order’s ship-of-the-lines.

As if these irregularities were not serious enough,

other worrying abuses were uncovered. Particularly

disconcerting was the ‘libertà che anno i bastimenti

d’introdurre in questo dominio la polvere, parte della

quale si rispone in Castel St Angelo per diposito

volontario de Capitani, altra si riserva in luoghi

incogniti al Governo ma certamente nelle case

  • di questa città, o Magazzeni delle Marine.’ That

residents. The cause of the tragedy was a certain

Rev. Giovanni Mifsud, nicknamed ‘ta suffarelli’, an

amateur fireworks manufacturer who operated from

his room with utter disregard for the safety of others.

Following the 1756 incident, however, the private

possession of gunpowder was strictly prohibited

in casa propria, ne altrove’ except for ‘una piccola

quantità corrispondente all’uso di un cacciatore.’ To

this end, fixed places were established in Valletta,

Gozo, and ‘in tre luoghi di questa Isola, cioè nella

Città Notabile, in Casal Lia e nella Gudia’ where

tre persone stabilite con autorità’ could legally

sell gunpowder in small quantities and solely for

hunting purposes. These distributors, in turn, were

only authorized to purchase their own stocks from

officially approved sources.

The 1756 Regolamenti

The report drawn up on this occasion was to

lead towards a series of new regulations, the

Regolamenti per la Custodia della Polvere’, that

were designed, above all, to ensure a greater

central control over gunpowder resources and

reduce the facility with which unauthorized persons

could sell, exchange, and alter the quality of

gunpowder. Immediately, the no longer acceptable

practice whereby various Capi Maestri retained the

keys to the Santa Barbara in each fortified work was

revoked and a stricter regime implemented. In all

the fortifications, as a result, there were to be only

two keys to the powder stores, one of which was to

be held by the ‘Governatore o suo luogotente’ and

the other by the ‘Capomastro del castello’ after a

record was made of the ‘esatto conto delli scartucci

presi’.

The main points of the Regolamento per la Custodia

della Polvere read as follows:

  • 1. Che dovendosi fabricare un nuovo Magazeno

il sito piu adatto ci sembra quello della Punta di

Ras Kanzir sotto il Corradino da noi esaminato

con diligenza e ritrovato assai commodo per

imbarcare, e sbarcare le polveri delle due squadre,

e di qualunque altro bastimento, immune di più per

la vantaggiosa sua situazione di poter cagionare

un disgraziato incendio alcun danno alle Città e al

Porto.

  • 2. Che nel sudetto Magazeno si fanno diversi

riparimenti per conservare la Polvere di

ciuascheduna Galera e Vassello, siccome ancora

un luogo sufficiente per conservare la Polvere dei

Particolari.

  • 3. Che nella consegna della Polvere da farsi alli

Vapi Maestri delle Galere assista sempre un

Commissario della Polvere, la prova della quale si

dovrà fare ordinamente nell’atto di ogni consegna.

  • 4. Che similmente nel rimettere al ritorno de viaggi

la Polvere nel rispettivo ripartimento accertera

l’istesso Commissario, ricevendola dai Capi Maestri

con le medesimi prove, per conoscere si confronta

nella qualità, e con la nota del consumo, per aver la

prova della quantità.

  • 5. Che le Chiavi esteriori siano tutte conservate in

Tesoro lasciando alli capi Maestri delle Galere la

chiave del ripartimenti corrispondenti alla rispettiva

galera.

  • 6. Che il Commissario della V. Cong. Delle Galere

nominato per assitere alla Polvere della Squadra

abbia l’Incarico del Magazeno del deposito

de’ Particolari; Onde ricercato di ricevere o di

consegnare à med.mi li di loro

Polvere. ...

etc

Che nelli Castelii di questa Citta’ si conservi la

solita quantita’ di Polvere ne’ luoghi a questo effetto

destinati sotto due Chiavi diversi una de’ quali dovra

esser conservata dal Governatore, o suo Luog.te,

l’altra dal Capo Maestro del castello

...

lasciarei

mano del Sargente, che sarà in obbligo al di loro

ritorno dare esatto conto delli scartucci presi dal

capo Maestro per qualche impensato accidente

succedito.

  • 11. Che Nessuno ardisca tenere in casa propria, ne

altrove Polvere pur che non sià una piccola quantità

corrispondente all’uso di un Cacciatore.

  • 12. Che percio oltre un luogo fisso nella Città e altri

nel Gozzo, in tre luoghi di questa Isola, cioe’ nella

Città Notabile, In Casal Lia, e nella Gudia da noi noi

creduti i più propij per la commodità della campagna

vi siano tre persone stabilite con autorità di V.E.

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Manuscript map of the inner reaches of the Grand Harbour, showing the location of the gunpowder magazine established

by Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca at Ras Ħanżir, at the foot of

the Corradino heights. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

per vendere Polvere per uso di Caccia in poca

quantità, i quali venditori siino di più con special

Rescritto di V. E. Abilitati a poterla comprare da chi

avrà l’autorità di venderla per la totale inteligenza e

coguizione del Governo di tutto cio, che risguardia la

materia della Polvere ......

15. Che a tutti gli Capi Maestri, Artiglieri,

Bombardieri delle Galere, Navi, Castelli & Torri

in vigor di Bando di V.E. si facci una rigorosa

proibizione di poter sotto qualsivoglia pretesto, o

colre vendere a chicche sia Polvere a medesimi

consegnata per servizio delle, Squadre, Fortezze,

e Torri di queste Isole, o in altra maniera mutarla o

accomodarla sotto pena della perdità dell’ufficio.’

Curiously, the 800 scudi worth of powder then found

missing from the magazines in Fort St Angelo were

to be detracted from the salary of the Capo Mastro

  • di St Angelo (‘fu sequestrate la meta del suo salario

ma potra non estingere, per quanto sara lunga la

  • di lui vita’ intieramente il debito sudetto’). In other

times, he would surely have found himself rowing

the oars of the Order’s galleys!

The primary outcome of the new regulations was

the construction of a new ‘magazzeno Generale

per le Polveri delle Marine’. This new magazine

was erected on a small promontory known as Ras

Ħanżir, situated deep within the Grand harbour

enclave, immediately beneath the Corradino

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES Marble plaque commemorating

Marble plaque commemorating the construction of the Ras

Ħanżir gunpowder magazine in 1756. (Image source: Author’s

private collection).

heights, ‘

...

Punta di Ras Kanzir …sotto il Corradino

… assai comodoso per imbarcare e sbarcare le

polveri delle due squadre … immune di più per la

vantaggiosa sua situazione di poter cagionare con

un disgraziato incendio alcun danno alla città e al

porto’. The chosen location was difficult to reach by

land but it was set outside the defensive perimeter

of the fortifications, in open country and, therefore,

had no military value in the event of a siege, since

the building, although commanded by the guns on

the fortifications of Floriana and Senglea Point, was

not fortified but simply surrounded by a boundary

wall. Later in the late nineteenth century, the British

military sought to enclose the area within a massive

polygonal-style entrenchment and protected the

magazine with a defensive wall fitted with musketry

loopholes.

The Ras Ħanżir magazine was constructed in 1756

and comprised of two rectangular buildings joined

laterally and enveloped within a protective boundary

wall. A plaque at the entrance to the structure reads

as follows:

QUESTO EDIFICIO FU COSTRUITO NEL 1756 PER CONSERVARE IN ESSO LA POLVERE DELLE NAVI DELLA SACRA RELIGIONE E QUELLA DEI PARTICOLARI CHE PRIMA SI DEPONEVA NEL CASTELLO SANT’ANGELO

The interior of the magazine was divided into

separate compartments (‘riparimenti’) set aside for

the storage of different vessels. The keys to the

external doors of the establishment were deposited

in the treasury ‘lasciando alli Capi Maestri delle

Galere la Chiave del riparimento corrispondente

alla rispettiva galera.’ Special commissioners were

appointed to register the quantity and quality of

powder whenever deposited or removed.

It is not clear if all of the gunpowder magazines

were provided with corpi di guardia. Some, such

as the ‘Polverista di Rocca Tagliata’ in Cottonera

mentioned earlier, came to be guarded round the

clock. The detachment of soldiers posted at this

guardhouse, which was situated ‘a canto della

gran polverista’ had to provide a corporal and

three soldiers to man the ‘piccolo corpo di guardia

d’abasso, avanti la porta della Cortina di detta

Roccatagliata.

No regulations for the procedures adopted inside

Knights’ powder magazines have yet come to

light. There does not seem to have been any

concept of the shifting lobby as employed in later

British nineteenth-century magazines. Officers

and soldiers, for example, were prohibited from

taking their firearms and swords inside the storage

areas and nobody was allowed to walk barefoot,

Personne ne doit entrer dans le magasin s’il n’a

des sandales ou s’il n’est déchaussé; les officers &

les soldats doivent laisser en dehors leurs armes

& les cannes’. French military manuals of the late

eighteenth century advised on the need for the

magazine interiors to be swept clean and washed

with water : ‘Arroser de temps en temps le plancher,

& le balayer, pour en ôter les pierres, les metaux, e

tout ce qui peut produire du feu par le choc’.

Similar instructions may have been enforced

locally, and it is surely not just a matter of luck that

throughout all the period in which these magazines

were built and used in the course of the eighteenth

century under the Knights, there is not one recorded

incident of an explosion having occurred at any

of the magazines. This is in marked contrast with

the early British period when the island witnessed

some very devastating and tragic incidents, such as

those which occurred at Birgu in 1806 and at Fort

Ricasoli during the Froberg mutiny in 1807; that

at Birgu was accompanied by a considerable loss

of life (civilian and military) following the explosion

of a magazine filled to capacity with some 40,000

lbs of gunpowder stored in 370 barrels, as well as

1600 shells and grenades. Some 493 individuals

also lost property as a result of the explosion. The

firing of the magazine at Fort Ricasoli by mutineers,

although not an accident, resulted in no loss of life

but led to the demolition of a considerable part of

St Dominic Dem-Bastion. Plans of the demolished

ramparts prepared by Royal Engineers shortly after

the incident clearly show the extent of the damage

caused by the explosion. The bastion was only

partially reconstructed and the casemates were

omitted. Instead, the Royal engineers erected a

Opposite page, Various views of the Ras Ħanżir magazine and its protective enclosure. The wall with musketry loopholes to

the right of the enclosure, grafted onto its walls, forms part of the Corradino defensive line, built by the British military in 1872.

This defensive wall was meant also to anchor the harbour end

of the defensive perimeter and at the same time protect the

magazine. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

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-

 

View of the Ras Ħanżir magazine compound as seen from

the Corradino heights to the south. It appears that the roofs of the two main blocks are not original and appear to have been rebuilt during the nineteenth century, as they are very similar to the Rinella Bay magazine built by the British later in the century. The space between the boundary wall and the magazines was also roofed over. No Hospitaller-period plans

of the edifice have yet come to light. A detail from a plan by

Col. Dickens, dated 1806, (inset, bottom right) tends to imply

a slightly different internal configuration of the stores. (Images

source: Author’s private collection).

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45

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

small Vauban-style magazine (without counterforts

as was there custom) a short distance to the rear of

the land front and this was eventually augmented by

another larger structure which was erected on No. 3

Bastion (see pages 70-1). Eventually, this magazine

as encased, on its exposed seaward sides, within

a large earthen massif designed to shield it from

naval bombardment. A similar solution was adopted

by the Royal Engineers for the Pinto magazine on

Caphucin Bastion. In the latter case, however, the

earth was revetted in masonry.

Valletta’s Magasins a’ Poudre

Of a slightly different category, were the two

gunpowder magazines which were built inside

the fortified city of Valletta. These two structures,

although built in the form of Vauban-style

magazines, were not, however, erected on open

bastions nor sited away from the built up areas of

the city, but were actually embedded within sections

of the Valletta fortifications in close proximity to the

Quarters of the Capo Mastro in charge of the artillery on the bastion

These two pages, Author’s

graphic reconstructions of the gunpowder magazine which was built with the masonry shell of

Vendôme Bastion, Valletta.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES small Vauban-style magazine

Entrance to the magazine

Mur de sècuritè

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES small Vauban-style magazine

Cutaway showing inte- rior of vaulted storage area of magazine

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES small Vauban-style magazine

Rear pignon

Lateral counterforts with arched openings

(in the form of flying

buttresses)to enable for a continuous passage around the magazine

Secure courtyard used for drying out the gun- powder barrels

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Below and right, Author’s graphic reconstructions of the gunpowder magazine built by the knights within part of the Vendôme Bastion, in 1745. Although commonly referred to as a ‘bastion’, this

structure was technically a raised artillery platform which was built in 1614 to enable the garrison

of Valletta to dominate the Dragut

promontory across the mouth of Marsamxett Harbour. With the building of the Caraffa enceinte in the late 1600s, however, the position lost its frontline importance and the opportunity was taken in 1745

to convert it into a magazine.

This was eventually turned

into an armoury by the British

military in the 1850s and is currently used as a War Museum.

town houses, namely within Vendȏme Bastion near

Fort St Elmo, and inside St John Cavalier. Both

were built early during the reign of Grand Master

Pinto de Fonseca, within a few years of each other,

the first in 1745, and the other (St John Cavalier)

in 1748, both probably designed by the resident

engineer Francesco Marandon.

Sixteenth century water cisterns
Sixteenth century
water cisterns

The two structures were intended to serve

as general magazines and were designed to

service the requirements of the guns arming the

neighbouring bastions and ramparts. British military

engineers, in the nineteenth century, calculated

that the Vendȏme magazine alone could hold up

to 1,520 barrels of gunpowder. Indeed, these two

stores were positioned on opposites sides of the

enceinte; that in St John Cavalier was intended

to serve the land front fortifications while the

one in Vendȏme Bastion serviced the

northern part of the enceinte facing the

entrances to the Grand Harbour

and Marsamxett. In both

instance, the magazines

were built down into

the then-existing

ramparts. This

Counterscarp of the ditch of Fort St Elmo

involved the

excavation

of the terreplein

within the ramparts in

order to create cavities

large enough to accommodate

and absorb the new structures.

In the case of Vendȏme Bastion, this

entailed the demolition of a large part

of the seventeenth-century artillery platform

itself but this work of fortification, which dated

back to around 1614, had already lost most of its

front line defensive value once the northern tip

of the peninsula had been enveloped by a new

bastioned enceinte. The magazine in St John

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Plan of Vendôme Bastion, Valletta, showing a proposal for the construction of a Vauban-type gunpowder magazine built à prova di bomba (i.e.,

heavily vaulted). Note that the structure has only lateral events and none on the front and rear pignons. (Image source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). The counterforts are different

from the types found on other magazines in that

they are built in the form of flying buttresses, so as

to ensure an open passage all the way around the exterior of the magazine.

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Above, View of Vendôme Bastion and its gunpowder magazine in its current state. The large arched
Above, View of Vendôme
Bastion and its gunpowder
magazine in its current state.
The large arched opening
(shown blocked up) in the
rear pignon dates from the
British period. (Images source:
Author’s private collection).

Plan, and front and side elevations for a proposed gunpowder magazine that was

built on St John Cavalier, Valletta.

An inscription on the same magazine records that this was built in 1748. (Image source:

Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Cavalier likewise involved a significant excavation

within the terrace platform. It is not clear why these

particular magazines were not built on top of the

ramparts themselves, in the prescribed manner

already employed at Fort Manoel. There was ample

space around the Valletta enceinte where such

structures could have been easily accommodated,

particularly within the four large counterguards and

inside the Caraffa enceinte. The primary reason

seems to have revolved around the need to shelter

the magazines within the protective thickness of

the ramparts in order to shield them from direct

bombardment. Unlike ordinary casemates, however,

which would have likewise provide adequate

protection, the roofs of these built-in magazines

were not weighed down by the mass of rampart’s

terreplein and thus would have allowed the force

of any accidental explosion to be directed upwards

and not laterally, thereby causing less damage to

the surrounding edifices. The largest of the two

was the ‘magazeno di polvere’ in Vendȏme Bastion.

Although commonly referred to as a ‘bastion’, this

rampart was technically a raised artillery platform

which was built in 1614 to enable the garrison of

Valletta to dominate the Dragut promontory across

the mouth of Marsamxett Harbour. With the building

of the Caraffa enceinte in the late 1600s, however,

the position lost its frontline importance and the

opportunity was taken in 1745 to convert it into a

storage space. This magazine was then eventually

converted into an armoury by the British military in

1855 and is currently used as a War Museum.

The Vendȏme magazine itself was the largest of the

Vauban-style structures to be built in the Maltese

islands – it has twelve lateral counterforts, six on

each side. These counterforts are also unusual

and different from those employed at Fort Manoel

This page, Graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine which was
This page, Graphic
reconstructions and
photograph of the
details of the bombproof
powder magazine which
was built on St John
Cavalier, Valletta. This
was constructed in 1748,
as can be seen from the
date inscribed below the
escutcheon (left) which
once held the coats of
arms of Grand Master
Pinto de Fonseca and
the Order. The plaque
reads ‘MAGAZZIN A
POLVER[E] A PROVA
DI BOMBA’. The coat
of arms are said to have
been hacked away during
the French occupation of
Malta in 1798-1800.
Aeration passage
Events
Raised floor
supported on
arches
Entrance to cavalier
on the rear face of
the structure
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES
This page, Author’s graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine built

This page, Author’s graphic reconstructions and photograph of

the details of the bombproof powder magazine built inside St

John Cavalier, Valletta. The photograph on the right shows the

inner façade opening onto the ramp leading up to the terrace

platform of the cavalier. Note the stone hold-fasts for a lightning conductor (British period) Bottom right, Details of the rear façade of the cavalier showing the events that serve the lateral air passages.

This page, Author’s graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine built
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES or at the
ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES
or at the Capuchin Bastion in Floriana in that they
had arched openings cut into them to enable a
continuous passage around the magazine. They
were also attached to the lateral walls and ramparts
enveloping the magazine, thereby transferring part

of the weight of the vaulted ceiling of the magazine

onto the adjoining structures.

The magazine built into St John Cavalier, on the

other hand, was smaller and lacked any such

counterforts. It was built into the upper part of the

gorge of the cavalier. Its particular features were

a very high raised floor and lateral passageways,

similar to the light-passages found in later

nineteenth-century magazines but in this case

This page, Author’s graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine built
This page, Author’s graphic reconstructions and photograph of the details of the bombproof powder magazine built

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

Plan, and front and side elevations, dated 12 April 1760, for a proposed gun- powder magazine that was built on Guardian Angel Bastion, at Fort Chambrai, Gozo. (Image source:

Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

ARX - OCCASIONAL PAPERS - ISSUE 2 / 2012 - HOSPITALLER GUNPOWDER MAGAZINES

intended only to allow for the circulation of air

through the events opening up into them and then

out through two other slits cut into the rear face of

the cavalier. This magazine, as stated earlier, was

built in 1748. A small stone plaque, fixed beneath a

stone escutcheon that once bore the coat of arms

of Grand Master Pinto is still to be found on the

inner face of the magazine overlooking the ramp

leading up to the terrace platform of the cavalier.

The wording on the magazine reads as follows:

MAGAZZIN A POLVER / A PROVA DI BOMBA

/1748.

The last of the gunpowder magazines to be built by

the Knights was erected at Fort Chambrai in Gozo

around 1760. Work on this last major Hospitaller

fortress began around the year 1749 and was

largely made possible with financial assistance from

the Bailli de Chambrai. The plan of the fortress,

however, had been drawn up as early as the 1720s

under the direction of the French military engineer,

Brig. René Jacob de Tigné. The early plans of the

fort show a fortress proposed to be fitted with two

gunpowder magazines, both rectangular in plan,

fitted with counterforts and secured within walled

enclosures. The largest of these was to be located

on the eastern flank of the enceinte overlooking

Mġarr harbour, and the smaller one, on the western

extremity overlooking ix-Xatt l-Aħmar. The layout of

the enceinte along the flanks of the city, however,

was eventually rethought by the Order’s military

engineers following consultations with foreign