Fort St. Angelo - as presented by Fra John Edward Critien
“The Castrum Maris or Castle-by-the Sea, as the Castle of St. Angelo was known for most of the later Middle Ages, was the main reason for the existence and survival of its suburb of Birgu.” So Prof. Godfrey Wittinger of the University of Malta opens one of the chapters in Birgu – A Maltese Maritime City, two volumes indispensable for the understanding of the history and heritage of this town.
St. Angelo is undeniably part and parcel of the town of Birgu. Its history sometimes coincided with and sometimes differed from that of the town itself but one cannot separate the one from the other.
The position I hold is that of Knight Resident of Fort St. Angelo. A position which came into existence in the year 1998 when the Government of Malta and the Government of that unique Subject of International Law and religious Order, indeed one of the most ancient religious Orders of the Catholic Church, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, reached an initial agreement for the concession of the upper part of the fort to the Order, for 99 years, for the furthering of its international and institutional functions. St. Angelo had been, together with the town of Birgu itself, the first home of the order on the island of Malta in the 16th century. To return here after half a millennium with new ambitions and aspirations has been an unforgettable experience. The Order has been very well received by the local religious and secular authorities and His Most Eminent Highness the Prince and Grand Master Frà Andrew Bertie proudly carries the privilege of being an Honorary Citizen of this town. He is, I might add, the only person upon whom this honour has been bestowed.
If architecture be culture, then Fort St. Angelo is a repository of the culture of this town. It is here that we find the very best examples of medieval Maltese architecture in the Norman style. It is here that the Rhodian Niccolo Flavari showed his skills in the reconstruction in 1530 of the Grand Master’s Chapel and the Magistral Palace. To the latter he added an imposing external staircase. It is in the nymphaeum facing the Palace that we see the introduction of renaissance architecture in Malta. All the most prominent military engineers of the Order had a say in the formidable fortifications of the fort. The result is a jewel of military architecture.
If music be culture then I must mention that at the very beginning of the 13th century the Castrum Maris hosted a Provencal troubadour, Peire Vidal, thereby putting Birgu on the cultural map of Europe almost as soon as Neo-Latin literature began to flourish.
Cultural manifestations including piano recitals, jazz concerts, string quarters and popular musicals are still organized or hosted here at the fort during the warmer summer months.