Beginning | Diagrams
| The Chapel |
The Cemetery and Hospital
The Unsuccessful Project |
precincts of Ghajnsielem one finds the famous and historic
Fort chambray. This fortress is built on the hill called 'Ras
it-Tafal' which is situated between the port of Mgarr and
that of Xatt l-Ahmar. It was built at the expense of a
Norman Count of the Order of St John, named Francois
Chambray during the reign of Grand Master Pinto.
The dream was to
build another Valletta. Not just a fort on a bluff, but a
full-fledged citadel. The knights long harboured the idea of
building a new town that would replace the Citadel and its
suburb Rabat as the new city of Gozo (just as a century and
a half before, Valletta has replaced the old city of Mdina).
They were convinced that its construction would augment the
safety of the Gozo-Malta channel, increase commerce between
the islands and attract new settlers to Gozo. The
project of the new town was approved by the Council of the
Knights of St John in 1922 and, on maps, the town was
christened Citta Vilhena, after the Portuguese Grandmaster
Antonio Manuel de Vilhena (1722-1736). Yet the project had
to be shelved due to lack of funds and it would have
remained on the paper were it not for the generosity of
Bailiff Jacques François de Chambray (1687 - 1756),
Lieutenant General of the Ships. In 1749, soon after his
appointment as Governor of Gozo, de Chambray offered to
finance the construction of the fortifications of the new
Notwithstanding consultations to improve the
original plan, works started almost immediately.
Until his dead he has spent 40,000 Scudi on the
project and he bequeathed one fifth of his property to
secure its completion. The
waning years of his life, he had all but dedicated
to the creation of the fortress and he did not
forget the fort even after his death. Work continued
after his death and the fortress was finished though
not according to the original plans in 1758.
By 1760, Fort Chambray, as the new town was
spontaneously called, was ready to attract settlers.
It was the best defended and the best provisioned on
The town was to have the Governor's Palace, a
parochial church and an administrative building.
Beside, each building block was to have a central
courtyard to shelter more people in an emergency.
The town however never materialised. An effort was
made to sell land to the public but, by that time,
fear of attacks from the sea had subsided and Fort
Chambray never became a city. The Knights did
however build a two-storied barrack block with eight
very large rooms.
250-year life, the fort experienced only one brief military
adventure. In 1798, it defended Gozo against Chambray's own
countrymen, the revolutionary forces of General Bonaparte. During the
remaining years of the Knight's rule in Malta, the fortress
never experienced any attack mainly due to the decline of
the Berber and Turkish marauders. During the first four
decades of British rule, the Fort's importance diminished.
It was in fact abandoned for several years but found a new
lease of life when several British regiments were stationed
there during the Crimean War and the First World War.
Diagrams and Plans
The Land Font
The Guardian Angel Bastion
in thumbnail to enlarge
Chambray's Main Gate
Click here to view
It is not
recorded that there was a chapel in Fort Chambray during the
rule of the Knights; knights stationed there probably
fulfilled their spiritual duties at the chapel of Garzes
Tower. Between 1800 and 1928, during the British stay at the
Fort, there were two chapels, one for Catholics and another
The small room
serving as a Roman Catholic chapel was situated close to the
Notre Dame del la Qala Bastion (Westside near the entrance),
next to the barracks raised by the Knights. It was dedicated
to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Graces with a single altar and a
bell on the roof. When members of the Society of Jesus came to
Gozo to run the Seminary (1866-1909), it was usually an
English Jesuit who said the mass and officiated in this
chapel. The Anglican chapel was close to Saint Anthony Bastion
(overlooking to the North of x-Xatt l-Ahmar) next to the
cemetery. It later served as a Catholic chapel for the inmates
of the hospital when the fort was handed over to the civil
Cemetery and Hospital
interesting to note that
three cemeteries associated with Fort Chambray, all starting
from around 1800. A Protestant burial ground within the Fort
itself near the doctor’s quarters, and two in the ditches
outside. One for Roman Catholics on the left and one for
Protestants on the right of the main entrance.
the Garrison Cemetery which was dedicated for the troops who
maintained and guarded Fort Chambray during the British
colony was ruthlessly demolished in the mid-1980s.
Chambray had also its own small hospital (called
Fort Chambray Hospital)
later used as civilian mental hospital.
Click here to learn more
about the three Cemeteries and the Hospital
Fort Chambray during
the 20th Century
Fort Chambray had
a long and tortuous history during the 20th century. Several
regiments were stationed there during the First World War as
the British started to built barracks within the walls.
In 1934 the government began using it as a mental institution
while during World War II, it used to be used as a hospital
with one section as a leprosy unit from 1937 till 1956.
In fact, some shelters could also be found in the
fortifications. According to Frank Bezzina (1982) there used
to be one under the main entrance, one for the sick males, one
for the sick females, one for the leprous, and one for Dr.
Ruggiero, who at that time was the superintendent of
the then Chambray hospital.
Nationalist government laid plans to develop the fort as a
tourism establishment including a 320-bed hotel. But the 1971
Labour government scrapped those plans and refurbished the
mental hospital. Then in 1979 the mental patients were moved
elsewhere and suddenly the fort was allocated for tourism.
Hardly any development was made but before the 1987 elections
Labour Party activities were held there. Just before the 1987
election the Labour government transferred the fort to Mr
Zammit Tabone who headed Fort Holidays, a company with a
capital of just Lm5,000 and no employees.
The Unsuccessful Project
A new era for fort
was suppose to
start in the
early 1990's when a
develop the Fort and surrounding area into a holiday complex
was given to Fort
Development Limited under
emphyteutical grant. Fort Chambray Development Limited (which
was owned by an
Italian company controlled by Roberto Memmo) had a 51%
shareholding in the development while the remaining shares
belonged to the government. The project
consisted of 236
residential units, a hotel, commercial establishments,
refurbishment of the old barracks into a commercial centre and
restoration works. Unfortunately several problems had cropped
up and the project ran out of funds.
Unfortunatly, Roberto Memmo,
invested a mere half-a-million Liri in the project; all
spent in the early days. At that time, Roberto Memmo was
being investigated for his close ties with the infamous
Masonic lodge P2 founder Licio Gelli and with Michele
Sindona who spent several years in an US prison. Memmo, who
set up an art foundation in 1972 and is a renown patron of
the arts, also owning many important art works, was being
investigated for money laundering activities all over the
world. He is also the owner of one of the finest yachts in
the world: Zaca.
the government sealed its deal with Memmo, Maltese
investors, through Forti Ltd, invested about Lm6.5 million
in an attempt to complete the project but had to continually
contend with Memmo’s idiosyncrasies. Soon after making his
minimal investment, Memmo’s attitude to the project changed,
and he proved to be a continual headache for the Maltese
investors and a thorn in the side of the government whenever
it got involved in negotiations. Memmo reportedly was always
changing his mind, and would often lead his partners to
believe an agreement had been reached to push the
development forward only for the Italian to change his mind
at the last minute. Memmo continued to be difficult to the
last days, and it was mainly through the efforts of major
investor Paul Abela that what proved to be extremely
difficult negotiations were brought to a positive end.
Among the former shareholders and
directors of companies involved in the development were
Charles Demicoli, Joe N Tabone. It was pointed out in the
media that Tabone was a former auditor of the developing
company and Demicoli a director of Malta Government
Investments Ltd, partners with Memmo in the project. The shareholding of the
holding companies changed some 10 times and ultimately, the
shareholders of Forti Development Ltd and Fort Chambray Ltd
were Paul Abela, the Fenech family and Alex Grech and family.
In December 2001, the Planning
Authority issued a number of enforcement notices since several
conditions of the contract were being violated. All works
stopped in July 2003 as Fort Chambray Development Limited did
not renew any development permits. The state of the Fort was
still in various stages of completion while the
projected hotel has not even been started. Public Investments
Minister Austin Gatt later admitted that the whole project was
a "sad story of an unsuccessful project".
In 2004, Public Investments
Minister Dr Austin Gatt signed an agreement with the respected Gozitan
businessman Dr Michael Caruana and his family (known as
'Tal-Billi') to hand over Fort Chambray. Under the new
agreement, Dr Caruana and his family became the sole
shareholders in the development and agreed that they will not
transfer it to any third party until the development is
completed. The new contract set the termination date to 2092
with a ground rent of Lm12,000 per annum and a premium of
Lm1.5 million. This time, the government has decided to sell
its 49 per cent shareholding in the project (gaining around
Lm3.7 million). No hotel will be built under the new
grant was later redeemed for an undisclosed sum. This means
that all those who invest in Fort Chambray will now
buy a property as freehold. Phase 1 which consisted the
construction of 80 apartments and villas overlooking the
Mgarr Harbour area was completed early 2007 and the units
were immediately launched on the market.
Phase 2 will consists of an additional number of villas and
apartments, this time overlooking the Xatt l-Ahmar Area.
Phase 3 will be dedicated for tourism purposes.
In October 2007 the Alternattiva
Demokratika strongly condemned the developers following an
application (PA02024/07) for additional alterations and
going against the original development briefs. The
application asks MEPA to:
- Build more floors on the existing building
- Demolish the historic British Barracks which is an
important part of the Fort.
- Erect seven-storey towers and five-storey hotel while
This means that the only
historical military building left in this fortified city
will be demolished and the five-storey building will
dominate the front bastions and thus completely lose the
notion of a bastion itself. Unfortunately the architectural
and historical contexts seemed to be ignored once again.
Let us hope that the new
plans would not lead to further rape of Fort Chambray while
leading economic growth in Gozo and restoring this prestige location to its former
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