MEMORIES FROM MALTA  The Martello Towers – and yet more identical features between Malta, Kent and Sussex



Since humanity acquired the acumen of mobility and then enhanced it with maritime voyaging, a time-span of many, many hundreds of years, islands and coastlines worldwide have not been able to rest in peace. The threat of an “invader” has always been imminent. 

The need for constant scrutiny and surveillance in order to raise the necessary alarms to continue to protect life and limb as well as your patch of rock and grasses has always been there.


The soonest such threats could be detected were limited to the human eye. The alternative was to build high towers that could be manned to give a further horizontal vision and enable any alarm to be raised as soon as possible. 

The towers were solidly built and highly impressive and constructed in appropriate localities giving the best vantage views. They were militarily mounted on a 24-hour basis and as soon as a threat was perceived, enormous fires were set alight to enable the rising smoke to be seen for miles and this acted as a warning an invasion could be imminent.

Martello Tower in Rhineland, in Germany

A few weeks back I mentioned the Sound Mirrors which more or less had the same function for the same purpose, reflecting light and sounding alarm. 

The towers have remained and been constantly renovated as landmarks and for their historical heritages but, of course, now have no other use.

Dymchurch in Kent

Today, one can rest in the comfort of one’s bed and at the touch of a techno button see the whole world and developments within a few minutes. 

Let’s go back to the mid and late middle Ages. Genoa in Italy needed security and protection and thus a solid round tower was constructed in nearby Corsica at Mortella (Myrtle) Point. The designer was Giovan Giacomi Paleari Fratino, known as “El Fratin”) and this was completed in 1565.

Rye in Sussex

Contrastingly, in September of 1565, easterly across the Mediterranean, the Knights of St John and the Maltese successfully repelled and defeated the five months of continual invasion seige by the Ottoman Empire forces!

Since the 15th century, the Corsicans had built similar towers at strategic points around their island to protect coastal villages and shipping from North African pirates. The towers stood one or two storeys high and measured 12–15 m (39–49 ft) in diameter, with a single doorway five metres off the ground that one could access only via a ladder that the occupants could remove.

Martello Towers around the world

Local villagers paid for the towers and watchmen, known as torregiani (tower watchers) who would signal the approach of unexpected ships by lighting a beacon fire on the tower’s roof. The fire would alert the local defence forces to the threat.

Slowly but steadily the construction of such solid towers spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world – including Great Britain. Around the British Isles 140 Martello Towers were built and no less than 72 line the Kent and East Sussex coasts, these being the most vulnerable and direct areas of invasion from the European mainland.

Seaford in Sussex

Malta does not have any Martello Towers because the British never built any and they did not need to because in the late Middle Century, Malta built its own surveillance towers which were mainly identical and served the same purpose.

Still highly perturbed by the Ottoman invasion 100 years earlier, in 1658 the Grandmaster of the Knights of St John, De Redin, had no less than 13 towers constructed around the coasts of Malta and Gozo, compact fortresses whose main functions were surveillance over the sea.


These still stand today and are much treasured and looked after and played a great part in marine surveillance during World Wars I and II.

However, the British Authorities did adopt one of the towers and it is as such considered to be a Martello Tower.

ghajn-tuffieha-tower in Malta

All past history of course because as I said above, nowadays the pressing of a few buttons will reveal the world’s situation within minutes.

De Redin’s Towers remain as a testimony of the cultural and history legacy of the Maltese Islands – continually under threat because of their Central Mediterranean location.




Hamrija in Malta


  • Albert Fenech

    Albert Fenech was born in Malta in 1946. His family moved to England in 1954 where he spent boyhood and youth before in 1965 returning to Malta. He spent eight years as a journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking a career in HR Management Administration with a leading international construction company in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees, Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued international freelance journalism/ broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He has written in a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books. For the last eight years he had been writing a “Malta Diary” with pictures for Lyn Funnel’s international travel magazine.

One thought on “MEMORIES FROM MALTA  The Martello Towers – and yet more identical features between Malta, Kent and Sussex

  1. The Martello Tower where I live in Eastbourne on the Sussex south coast has never been used since built in 1806 as a building of aggression. I feel sorry for those poor 12 soldiers and their sergeant who had to defend the coast from Napoleon who never came. Nothing to do, boring life, they even had to ignore he smugglers – not my job, guvnor.

    However the one two miles down the road in Sovereign Harbour was so dilapidated in the 1860s used by the Navy for target practice. Been re-built in the last 20 years.

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