Culture
Secret history of: Manoel Island
With a history that dates back to 1592, Manoel Island has an exceptionally interesting (and spooky) past.

Lisa Borain

The secret history of Manoel Island

Wikimedia Commons

It was 1592 when Manoel Island was first used to build an isolation hospital in response to an outbreak of the plague and cholera - a dark past indeed! Lazzaretto Hospital was pulled down only a year later, after the disease had subsided and replaced with a permanent one some 50 years later.

Fast forward to the 18th century under the Order of Saint John: Portuguese Grandmaster António Manoel de Vilhena built Fort Manoel, which has had various uses over the years. At its peak, the fort was considered completely impenetrable and was home to around 500 men, which is quite impressive, considering the island is only 0.3km squared in size.

Mike Watson Photography - viewingmalta.com

After it was used to protect Malta's coastline, Manoel Island was taken over by the British Military in 1800, and remained under their jurisdiction until Independence in 1964. The fort was also used as a hospital and as a Royal Navy base during WWII.

Due to a direct hit from Luftwaffe bombers in March of 1942, the Chapel of St Anthony was destroyed, and the island was left abandoned for years until restoration began in the early 21st century.

Folklore and rumours have it that the fort is haunted by an apparition called the Black Knight, who wears the full armour and regalia of the Order of St John. British and Maltese soldiers who stayed there, as well as workmen and tourists have sighted his presence over the years, and some say that it's the ghostly figure of the Grandmaster Vilhena.

Peter Vanicsek - viewingmalta.com

In the 1940s, the knight began to appear out of thin air near the ruins of the Chapel of St Anthony of Padua, which had just been bombed. When the rubble from the ruined chapel began to be cleared, the workmen reported that the knight was supervising their work.

A friend and colleague of the architect who devised the plans for Fort Manoel, René Jacob de Tigné was buried in a crypt, amongst other knights beneath the fort. When the crypt was opened, it was found that it had been vandalised, and the remains of the knights which had been buried there were scattered around. It is said that after the crypt was restored and the bones were reburied, the Black Knight stopped appearing. In 1980, the crypt was vandalised yet again, and the Black Knight reportedly began to appear again!

15th October 2020


Lisa Borain
Written by
Lisa Borain
Lisa is a copywriter/editor with an adventurous interest and penchant for all things Malta.

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