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.
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:
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.
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.