The coastal defences

The coastal defences of the 18th century are divided into three groups: the coastal batteries, coastal redoubts and coastal entrenchments and later the fougass was also added. The building of coastal batteries was in what could be said as an extension of the coastal defences began in the 17th century. The early 18th century saw a new enthusiasm for coastal defences, after the brief interest that had erupted in the first half of the previous century (1700s). The concept of a chain of towers around the coast was a Spanish idea. On the other hand, the concept of coastal batteries was a French idea.

During the festa week, from September 1 – 8, the Mellieha Parish Square is full of activities. In the Parish Square and the nearby areas you can find mobile kiosks selling hot-dogs, ice-creams, burgers, kebabs, chips, and all sort of fast food. One must also mention the delicious “mqaret”. “Mqaret” are pastry stuffed with a concoction of dates fried in oil. The traditional Maltese nougat sellers are also present, selling several types of delicious nougats.

All over their possessions the French built these types of fortifications. In one of their possessions, Quebec, they built an extensive number of coastal batteries in the vicinity of the city. These coastal batteries succeeded in resisting the British attempts to disembark soldiers in their area, while those built in Malta were overwhelmed immediately, partially due to Hospitaller traitors and lack of enthusiasm in the maintenance of the defences. When Bonaparte decided to invade the Maltese islands he knew about this fact. (For those Maltese readers they can see my article about the fortifications in Mellieha of the 18th century Fortifikazzjonijiet fil-Mellieha tas-seklu tmintax: batteriji, ridotti u truncieri: Xebh bejn is-sistema ta difiza li nbniet Malta, ma dawk li nbnew fl-imperu Franciz matul dan iz-zmien in Imperial Band Club Mellieha Festa tal-Vitorja 2005).1

In 1714 two French military experts employed by the Hospitallers, Bernard Fontet and Jacques de Camus d’Arginy emphasised on the importance of building coastal defences at Marsaxlokk and Marsascala. On the request of the Hospitaller Congregation of War they later expended their plan to the whole Island including the various bays which are found in Mellieha. The Order began constructing coastal batteries in various parts of the Island including in Mellieha, especially on the coast facing Comino. The arrival of Prince Philip de Vendome in 1715 accelerated the process of the building of these coastal fortifications. He was the greatest supporter for the building of the coastal batteries. 2

Many knights donated sums of money for the construction of coastal batteries; one of them was Commander Mongontier. Part of his donation was used for the building of a number of these structures in the Mellieha area. The coastal batteries were armed with various calibres of artillery, with the aim of having proper cannon to defend those vulnerable bays. 3

The majority of the coastal batteries were built from 1714 to 1716. Generally, the coastal batteries were built opposite each other in order to defend the bay well. The main model of coastal battery was a semi-circular platform for cannons, two block rooms at the back and a redan in the middle of them. This model of coastal battery was very similar to that built by the French in their colonies. It was also the main type of coastal battery built in the village of Mellieha. A number of coastal towers had also a coastal battery built during this period. The White tower in Mellieha endured a similar process. 4

A group of French military engineers who inspected the coastal defences in 1761 recommended the building of more coastal batteries, but only few of the proposed batteries were eventually built. The coastal batteries were not locked during the year and it was manned only during the summer which was the most appropriate time for an invasion. 5

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    About the village of Mellieha

    Mellieha is a rural village and tourist resort in the Northwestern part of Malta and derives its name from the Semitic root 'm-l-h' which in Arabic means salt. The name was probably derived from the ancient Punic and Roman salt-terns; historians indicated as lying adjacent to the large sandy bay at the foot of the village.
    Mellieha has been inhabited since early Neolithic times (3000 B.C). Several megalithic remains and tombs of this era and other primitive tools and fragments of pottery were found in various localities around this area, primarily at "il-Latnija" - a natural cavity used by several stone-age peoples - and at l-Gholja tax-Xemxija.
    During the Roman and Byzantine occupations (213B.C- 870A.D.), Mellieha's valleys were inhabited by troglodytes, who irrigated the land, adopted natural caves as their dwelling places and buried their beloved ones in Punic style burial chambers. Following the Arab conquest and during the medieval period (870-1530A.D.), the area was deserted, primarily due to the continuous raids of the Muslim corsairs.
    Notwithstanding the hardship experienced by the Maltese during the Reign of the Order of St. John (1530-1798A.D.), Mellieha's medieval chapel, dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary, was one of the most venerated places on the island. Several distinguished persons, such as grandmaster's, kings and bishops visited the shrine and pilgrimages to the sanctuary from all over the island were held frequently.
    In the late 17th century, the Knights built several fortifications along the coast, so as to protect the inhabitants. This venture brought about the gradual repopulating of the area, mainly by those who wanted to exploit the fertile valleys and the new enterprise of tunny net fishing. Under the British, in 1844, Mellieha was established again as a parish and since then it grew up into a modern town, of circa 6,500 people.
    Today, Mellieha is one of Malta's most picturesque tourist destinations. The town centre boasts of its splendid hotels, fine restaurants and traditional cute shops. It has a unique primary school, a majestic baroque church (built in late 19th century) and various cultural organizations, including band clubs, sports clubs, an orchestra, various religious societies, a parish community centre and an environmental pressure group. Since 1993, local affairs are being run by the Mellieha Local Council, an institution made up of seven councilors, elected every three years by the people.
    Mellieha's main festive season occurs in the first two weeks of September and reaches its climax on the 8th September. During these days various cultural manifestations are held, such as musical concerts, fireworks, folk singing, art exhibitions and the traditional religious procession. The town's people, ''Il-Mellehin'', are renowned for their laborious nature, their ironic sense of humour, and their friendliness and hospitality. Those who visit us, no matter where they hail from, do not merely enjoy themselves but feel at home.

    As long as Mellieha preserves its great archaeological and historic heritage, its unique natural environment, and its traditions and costumes, its people, "Il-Mellehin", can look forward to a bright future.