Pillboxes were the last type of fortification to be built in Mellieħa and Malta. These types of military structures were constructed in nearly every part of the Island. It seems that the largest number of pillboxes was built in Mellieħa and fortunately the largest number of them survived to this day.

The rise of Fascist Italy with its expansionist policies forced the British to reconsider the Island’s defensive situation.1 The process of building pillboxes in Mellieħa, like other parts of Malta, was

set in motion by the threat of invasion caused by the Abyssinian Crises in 1935. However, the real concentrated scheme of pillbox building began in August 1938.2

The first type of defences consisted of trenches dug out and fitted with one or two emplacements for the Vickers machine-guns. Accompanying these positions were small stone-clad concrete observation posts. A number of these positions were built on Mellieħa Ridge, and it appears that it was these field defences which were first constructed during the Abyssinian Crises Military exercises were carried out from 1935 onwards in preparation for an Italian invasion.3

The first building programme of pillboxes occurred in 1935, when Italy invaded Abyssinia, and according to a map shown in Stephen Spiteri’s book British military architecture in Malta, in 1938-39, 53 pillboxes were built in Malta, 27 out of them in Mellieħa alone.4 Another map in the same book, showing the existing pillboxes and new built ones from 1939 onwards, indicates that there were around 130 pillboxes in Malta, 46 were in the district of Mellieħa alone.5 The first type of pillboxes erected were those which were distinguished by their neat and elaborate camouflage of rubble stone cladding.6

Meanwhile, as a result of the growing threat of war and invasion, after the occupation of the whole of Czechoslovakia in March 1939,6 in the same year a new type of pillbox, more box-like in shape, began to appear. The second group of pillboxes, of which there were three basic types,7 retained their bare concrete finish. As the pillboxes became more box-like in form, the only practical form of camouflage was to disguise them as rural building and farm houses. Camouflage was mainly applied in the form of paint work.8 Pillboxes continued to be built till the siege was lifted in mid 1942.9

The pillboxes were not scattered for nothing. In fact they formed part of a number of stop lines in order to stop an enemy invasion and penetration in the defences of the island.10 It seems that in Mellieha there were mainly two stop lines. But in at least two cases there were three stop lines.

The first case is the third stop line stretching from the Wied tal-Ħanżira to the left roadside on the road leading to Mellieħa Bay from the village. The three stop lines included the fist one from Ċirkewwa to Armier; the second one from Ponta tal-Qammieh to id-Dahar and the third one the above mentioned. It served also as a second stop line after the first one in Mellieħa bay. The second third stop line seems to be built on the natural fault of Għajn Żejtuna valley. Until much more information I am considering that the pillbox that was situated opposite the cross Keyes formed part of the third stop line.

Each stop line was to report to the one in its rear the movements and approximate number of enemy soldiers and vehicles, tanks and artillery. Each stop line was built on natural obstacles, beginning from the coastline and falling back inland following the geography of the land. All the pillboxes were given a code number consisting mainly of letters and numbers.11


1 Stephen C. Spiteri, The British Military Architecture in Malta, Malta, 1996, p 496.

2 Ibid, p 503.

3 Ibid, p 509.

4 Ibid, p 515.

5 Ibid, p 538.

6 Ibid, p 513.

7 E. Jablonski, A pictorial history of the World War II years, United States, 1977, p 21.

8 Ibid, p 523.

9 Ibid, p 526.

10 Ibid, p 513.

11 Ibid, p 535.

12 Ibid.

Article researched and written by Charles Debono B.A. (Hons) History.

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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.