Not much happens on Manoel Island these days, a small island off Gzira which houses 18th century fortress Fort Manoel, but one event scheduled for this Sunday promises to re-introduce the area to the general public.
An open day is being organised at Fort Manoel this Sunday 8th March between 9am and 5pm, with two guided tours scheduled on the day: one at 11.30am in English and another at 2.30pm in Maltese.
The Fort shares its name with Knight of St John Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, during whose leadership it was built. Plans for its construction had been abandoned multiple times over a period of two centuries, but the project was eventually greenlit when it became clear that nearby Forts were endangered by Manoel Island’s open space.
Fort Manoel is shaped like a star and has four bastions: St. Helen, St. Anthony, St. John and Notre Dame Bastion, with the first two bastions facing Valletta. The fort was first attacked by a French cavalry when Napoleon took over Malta, bombarded less than two years later by the Maltese during the uprising against the French occupation and eventually it was passed on to the British military before being decommissioned in 1906.
It was subsequently abandoned and fell into disrepair, but parts of it – including the piazza and the chapel – have been restored in recent years. The fort featured in several audiovisual productions, the most noteworthy being Game of Thrones were it doubled for the capital of the Seven Kingdoms: King's Landing.
Rumours prevail about a ghostly presence spotted roaming the Fort in the past century. Nicknamed the Black Knight, he is said to resemble Grand Master de Vilhena and was first spotted during the ‘40s after a WWII bombing caused severe damage to the Chapel of St Anthony of Padua. It was later discovered that the crypts underneath the church had been vandalised with the remains of knights buried there left scattered. The Black Knight’s apparitions stopped after the bones were reburied, but a second vandalism in 1980 is said to have brought the Black Knight back.
While we’re not sure whether these claims were ever verified, you can reach your own conclusion this Sunday. The event and tours are both free of charge – what’s there to lose other than one of your nine lives?
Will you be going?