St. John’s Gate, which is part of the Cottonera Lines is a beautiful high gate situated between the late St Paul’s Gate and St. John’s Bastion. These gates, together with seven other gates, provided access through the Cottonera Lines. The seven gates, namely, Our Saviour’s Gate, St James’ Gate, St Louise’s Gate, Notre Dame Gate, St Paul’s Gate and St. John’s Gate were designed by the French Engineer Mederico Blondel. St. Paul’s Gate was taken apart together with the adjacent fortifications during the extension of the Naval Dockyard in the beginning of the 20th century.
The Cottonera Lines is one of the largest projects of military architecture undertaken by the Knights of Malta. They were designed by the Italian Papal Engineer Antonio Maurizio Valperga in the 17th century. The Cottonera Lines are a five kilometre stretch of massive fortifications that include eight bastions that join the extremities of the front lines of Vittoriosa and Senglea. The lines extended from the Post of Castille in Vittoriosa to Fort St Michael in Senglea.
These fortifications were intended to encircle Vittoriosa, Cospicua, Senglea, the San Salvatore Hills, as well as the half-finished Santa Margerita Lines of Cospicua. The scheme was designed to provide shelter to 40,000 people including their livestock. It was approved on the 2nd April 1670, and the foundation stone was laid on the 28th August 1670 on the site of St Nicholas Bastion.
The Cottonera Lines get their name after the Grandmaster Nicolas Cotoner who never so them completed. Before the death of Grandmaster Nicolas Cotoner, only the main structures had been laid down. Grandmaster Gregorio Carafa, who superseded Grandmaster Nicolas Cotoner, had to suspend and virtually abandon the project because of a lack of funds. Also priority had to be given to the Floriana fortifications and as a result the planned ravelins and cavalier, together with the ditch and covert way, were never built. This site and foundations were later used by the British upon which to construct the entrench work and Fort Verdala.
An underground tunnel lies below the fields in the proximity of St. John's Gate. To date we do not have any confirmed information about this tunnel, but we can describe what we saw.
On the extremity of the tunnel which ends near “Triq Għajn Dwieli”, there is a date inscribed above the entrance. The date reads “1870-71” and it is assumed that this refers to the years during which the tunnel was constructed. The tunnel is long and straight with a ninety degree turn in the last 30 meters or so. There are a number of vertical wells which lead into the tunnel from the fields above. It takes around fifteen to twenty minutes to reach the other extremity of the tunnel which ends near “Triq Bormla” in a circular pit. The circular pit once had some sort of staircase leading out of it which is now no more. Another, shorter tunnel is located under “Triq Għajn Dwieli” and ends in the French Creek. Both these tunnels are connected via a trench cut in the rocks. These tunnels seem to be some sort of rain water draining system which collects water from “Triq Bormla” and drains it into the French Creek.
Author: Pierre Axiaq