Built in secret during the Cold War, this was Malta’s trump card to survive a nuclear attack.
In the 1950s, Malta was still rebuilding itself after the devastation of World War II, and the memory of starvation and hardship during the Siege of Malta between 1940 and 1942 was still raw. As the Cold War escalated and a new threat of nuclear war loomed, the British forces who still governed Malta at the time decided to arm the Maltese Islands with a civil defence system to ensure a ready and uninterrupted supply of bread would be available, in case other food supplies dried up in the event of an attack.
The British colonial office ordered the construction, or rather the excavation, of a network of eight underground flour mills between 1954 and 1955, with seven dotted around Malta and one on the island of Gozo. The mills were located in what were then rural areas, but still within easy reach of major towns. The ones in Malta were constructed in Xemxjia (just outside St Paul’s Bay), Mellieha, two in Mgarr, San Gwann, and a double mill in Siggiewi at Buskett woodland. The Gozo mill was located in Xlendi, behind Mount Carmel Church. Each mill was self-sufficient for power required to run them.
The threat, thankfully, never materialised, and most of these mills now lie derelict and barred, but three are known to be still intact - and the one in Xlendi was recently restored and is open to the public on special request.
The excavation of these mills was a huge undertaking. The Xlendi mill was dug out of the cliffs. A 30m long entrance tunnel leads to a large chamber divided into three floors housing the storage, grinding and milling equipment. At the rear of the mill is the silo, which can store up to 1,000 tonnes of wheat. This is connected to the milling machinery by mechanical augers. An 80hp diesel engine and alternator supplied power.
Contact Munxar local council to arrange a visit to this fascinating and unusual example of Malta’s industrial heritage.