Exploring Malta’s Cottonera Lines

Last week I had an opportunity to visit a historical site here in Malta that isn’t open to the public, and I’d like to share a few photos with you.

It’s right around the corner from where I live. I drove through it many times on my way to and from Birgu, but I had no idea what it was apart from its name: the Notre Dame Gate.

The Notre Dame Gate of the Cottonera Lines, which once guarded the Three Cities

The Notre Dame Gate of the Cottonera Lines, which once guarded the Three Cities

This massive baroque gate, decorated with a bust of Grand Master Cotoner, was actually just one small part of an approximately 5 kilometer line of fortifications surrounding the Three Cities area of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua: The Cottonera Lines.

The structure was begun by Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner (1608-1680) of the Knights of Malta in 1670.

The Knights knew from their experience in the Great Siege of 1565 that the Three Cities and Grand Harbour area needed better protection. And when the fortress of Candia in Crete was retaken from the Ottomans in 1669, attention was turned to improving fortifications on Malta.

The Cottonera Lines consist of eight bastions, two demi-bastions and nine curtain walls, with seven monumental gates giving access to the cities inside. It apparently gave shelter to some 40,000 people and their livestock.

Today most of the Lines lie in ruins, but you can still see their outlines clearly on this highlighted Google map image I found online:

A google map highlighting the Cottonera Lines

A google map highlighting the Cottonera Lines

The Notre Dame Gate was just one access point through the walls. But it was one of the largest and most ornate. Originally intended for traffic coming from the villages of the southeast, it has a main gateway for vehicles and two others for pedestrians. A bust of Grandmaster Cotoner sits above the gate, and you can still find graffiti from the time of the Knights, and from British soldiers of a more recent era.

Today traffic from Zabbar to the Three Cities passes through one of the pedestrian tunnels under the gate — and that’s how I knew it, from brief glimpses sitting behind the wheel of my car.

As you can see from the photos, it has one of the best views on the island, commanding a clear line of sight of the entire South, the Grand Harbour, and the hills and valleys all the way to Mdina.

Climbing the Notre Dame Gate - entrance to the interior

Climbing the Notre Dame Gate – entrance to the interior

Grand Harbour from the Notre Dame Gate

Grand Harbour from the Notre Dame Gate

The Marsa Docks and Valletta from the top level of the Notre Dame Gate

The Marsa Docks and Valletta from the top level of the Notre Dame Gate

The remains of the Notre Dame Curtain Wall

The remains of the Notre Dame Curtain Wall

Romina from Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna shows me the best view of the island

Romina from Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna shows me the best view of the island

Mementos from a later visitor to the Cottonera Lines during British rule

Mementos from a later visitor to the Cottonera Lines during British rule

This gate — and several other important historical treasures, including the Lascaris War Rooms — is overseen by the Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna (The Malta Heritage Trust), of which I am a member.

Thanks to FWA for giving me access to this currently closed site

Thanks to FWA for giving me access to this currently closed site

I’d like to thank Mario Farrugia of FWA for giving me access to this site, and for allowing us to shoot photos for my blog.

 

Photos (except for the Google map image) ©Tomoko Goto 2013

 

 

Comments

  1. Terence Chapman says

    I walked the outside perimeter of the Cottonera Lines and, while very impressed with the massive structures, I was appalled at the state of the defensive ditch and surrounding land. The ditch was blocked at intervals by rickety semi-abandoned-looking ‘farms’ and aviaries and also filled along one section by a rubbish dump! Apart from the main tourist areas in the north of the island, much of Malta is strewn with rubbish and fly-dumping. The work to restore the ancient fortifications is excellent and I realise that it can’t all be done at once, but I do hope that the Cottonera Lines will eventually be restored and the area cleaned-up. It could be another jewel for tourists and military archeologists and historians, but the Maltese need to clean-up their habits.

    • Ryan Murdock says

      I agree, it’s such a shame to see the outside world used as a garbage dump. The Cottonera Lines is a historic gem, I hope it gets restored and preserved like some of these other sites are finally seeing. There are so many abandoned WWII structures too, such as Ft. Campbell near the Selmun palace – but it’s the same thing there, piles of garbage, empty beer bottles, and human turds.

      IMO history – and the ability to actually go out and WALK through so many eras of history – is the greatest resource of the islands. But for some unfathomable reason the gov’t seems to want to promote the puking underage drinking and tiresome club scene of Paceville as the big tourist attraction.

  2. RICHARD MUIR says

    Ja, I was over in Malta as a tourist in mid October this year. The history is fascinating and I visited quite a few sites. I hiked quite a large section of the Victoria Lines and was very disappointed at the amount of rubbish that lined the route. Apart from being a major historical site, the walking route is incredibly scenic and could become a major hiking trail, even for ramblers with no interest in history. Shot-gun shells litter the route and a lot of the moats are dumping grounds.

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Hi Richard,

      I just picked up a book about the Victoria Lines actually, and am planning to walk the length. It passes very close to my place. Got any advice for me, or tips you could share?

      I was out yesterday to a very remote spot near Bahrija, looking for Roman and Bronze Age sites. The guns were silent – I guess because it was Christmas day – but as you say, there were rusted shotgun shells everywhere, and the countryside is full of ratty looking hunter’s shacks and keep out signs. It’s unfortunate that in such an overbuilt island, one of the few natural places of great beauty has been taken over by aggressive squatters with guns.

      As for the litter, that is sadly the case with so many sites here. The Maltese seem to view the outside world as a garbage dump. I can’t count the times I’ve seen people casually throw litter out of their car while driving. And any empty lot or rural area is guaranteed to have a pile of old mattresses, car parts, whole cars, etc dumped on it (which makes no sense to me, because large items can be picked up for free with one phone call, and garbage is collected 6 days/week). Sadly, there seems to be no interest in changing that Third World mentality.

      • Hello Ryan,
        bit slow with a reply here but now resident on Island. Guess you’ve walked the Victoria Lines by now. Reckon a walking tour would go well in this area. What are your thoughts.
        cheers Rich Muir.

        • Ryan Murdock says

          Hi Rich,

          Yes, I walked a section of the Victoria Lines over by Mosta last Easter, but still haven’t done the whole thing. http://ryanmurdock.com/2015/04/malta-victoria-lines/

          We moved across the island not long after and don’t get over that way often.

          The Cottonera Lines would be even more interesting to try to hack your way around. I’m not sure how easy it would be, I’ve heard chunks of it have been taken over by people, and other parts are badly overgrown.

          Hope you’re all settled in and enjoying island life. Which area did you choose?

Speak Your Mind

*