The ‘lookout’ that protected the Maltese from enemy attacks

Between the Wignacourt, De Redin and Lascaris towers, a total of 29 towers were constructed in the 17th century to protect the Maltese Islands. Before the Order of the Knights of St John, there had existed other buildings from where the coast could be guarded to protect the Maltese Islands from enemy attacks. These buildings used to be called, in Maltese, MAĦRAS, loosely translated as ‘lookouts’, and they were constructed in the 14th or 15th centuries.

As far as is known, only one example still stands of a maħras – a building that served as a guardpost in the middle ages. This building is in St Paul’s Bay. When, in 1610, Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt built a tower which was named after him, he did not build it to replace the maħras, as had probably been the case with other towers. he built it some distance away.

Din l-Art Ħelwa officer Stanley Farrugia Randon stated that “it had not been his (Wignacourt’s) intention to fit it out with cannon to defend the island. It was only intended to convey a message to the Maltese people, the majority of them farmers and herdsmen, that an Ottoman fleet was attacking the island, thus giving them time to arm themselves and fight, or flee.”

Farrugia Randon explained that watchmen in the maħras would resort to a bonfire to deliver the message that they had seen danger approaching the coast. He added that this message would also be spread through the pealing of bells from chapels in the vicinity, so the people would be alerted.

The maħras in St Paul’s Bay is known as Ta’ Tabibu, and it probably got its name from a previous owner who had transformed it into a farm. This particular maħras is also known as It-Torri tad-Dejma (Guard), as Maltese volunteers who were members of the Dejma used to post a guard in those days and defend the Maltese Islands.

“There are several Slaleb tad-Dejma (Guard Crosses), and these were often found close to some chapel. The chapel would be warned about Ottoman forces attacking the country and would ring its bell, after which soldiers would gather near the Cross to defend the country.”

To date, the building is in private hands and needs restoration.

A Planning Authority spokesman told Television Malta the building is not scheduled. However, because it has architectural and historical value, it has been included in an inventory to be legally protected.

The surrounding area is archaeologically and ecologically important and has been given a Grade 2 scheduling for its ecological importance.