The Red Tower

The Red Tower or Fort St. Agatha was one of the seven towers built by Grand Master Lascaris. These towers were proposed by the military engineers Blaise Francoise, Comte de Pagan and his assistant Blondel des Croisettes.

Fort St. Agatha is the largest tower to be built in the village. Although the military engineers were French, it seems that Italian military influence still predominated in Malta. A number of large towers were built on this Island, which served to protect vulnerable bays from Ottoman or corsair attacks. Other large towers were built in different parts of Malta, including Santa Marija Tower on Comino.

Fort St. Agatha was the second tower to be built at Mellieha and like the Ghajn Tuffieha one was built in an area, probably in the same site where il-Mahras maintained a watch-post. This watch-post is listed in the Militia List of 1417.1 There are two reasons why this area in Mellieha was chosen. The first was that it had a good command of the approaches of Mellieha Bay and the ability to defend it. The second was that from that area it would maintain communications between Gozo/Comino and Imdina. It also had the advantage of a good view of enemy shipping passing the straits between Malta and Gozo or troops attempting to disembark in Northern Mellieha. Therefore it could send an alarm to Imdina to advise that an enemy force was sighted.

The tower’s construction was financed by the Universita of Imdina, and the first stone was laid in 1647 and completed on the 20th November 1648. As I said before, this fortification which in fact was a large tower, its design is square and in its corners has four turrets. The tower consists of a number of stairs and a large central door, which during the Knights was defended by a drawbridge. After entering the door there are two rooms in the ground floor, which houses the only rooms in the tower. 2

In the past there was a spiral staircase, but when the tower was restored by Din L-Art Helwa it was fitted with a winding-staircase which leads one to the roof where guns were installed. On the back side of the Red Tower there is a low star shaped gun platform where a number of cannons were installed there. The first artillery was installed a year later in 1649. It seems that this tower was armed with four cannons but in 1770 there were five cannons of different calibers. Fort St. Agatha was painted red, thus referring to its other name Red Tower, because it was much easier for the guards at Naxxar and Imdina to identify it without much difficulty.3 On top of its entrance a placate was fixed. It says:


1 Stanley Fiorini. “Id-Dejma, il-Mahras and the defence of the Maltese islands in the late medieval and early modern times”, George Cassar (ed), Sacra Militia Issue 2 May 2003, Five Star Printing Design Ltd, Malta, 2003, p 20
2 Stephen Spiteri. Fortresses of the Cross: Hospitaller Military Architecture (1136-1798), A Heritage Interpretation Services Publication, Malta, 1994, p 492
3 Ibid.



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.