The Mġarr ix-Xini Tower is the largest of the handful of coastal watch-towers erected by the Hospitaller knights of St John on the island of Gozo. This tower is still to be found guarding the entrance to the small bay of Mġarr ix-Xini in Ta' Sannat, on the island’s south-west shoreline.
Although, at first glance, it appears similar to the other coastal towers built around the shores of Malta and Gozo by the Order of St John in the course of the seventeenth century, Mġarr ix-Xini Tower has various unique features that distinguish it from its sister structures. Mġarr ix-Xini tower is documented as having been built in 1661, a year after Grand Master Martin de Redin’s death. Although there are no escutcheons or inscriptions on the tower itself to link the structure to this Grand Master, who it must be remembered, had erected the network of thirteen coastal towers in Malta (1658-9), the Mġarr ix-Xini tower follows the same typology of De Redin’s other watch-towers closely enough to imply that it was designed by the same hand.
Mederico Blondel, the Order’s new French resident engineer during the period 1659-98, is known to have been involved in its construction and, as such, is considered by most historians as the architect responsible for its design and construction, possibly also of those built in Malta. Still, this does not in itself fully explain the fact why this tower, like all Hospitaller watch-towers, was very heavily influenced by the towers built along the Sicilian littoral in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indeed the earlier Lascaris watch-towers, which pre-date Blondel’s involvement by a good 20 years already reflect this heavy Sicilian influence. The Sicilian connection in Hospitaller coastal tower design, therefore, had already been established well before the arrival of this French engineer. Blondel’s original contribution in the design and layout of this tower, therefore, seems to have been conditioned by Sicilian ideas. Indeed, Blondel may well have been implementing, perhaps modifying, an existing design.
Unfortunately, however, nothing is known about the architects of Grand Master Lascaris’ earlier coastal towers and how the design of these Sicilian-style towers came to be imported to Malta. This is an area of study that still requires more detailed research and investigation.
Up until the construction of the Mġarr ix-Xini Tower, the bay and its adjoining stretches of coastline had been watched over by two small lookout posts all’anticha, both of which were both unfortified and unequipped with any kind of defensive ordnance to resist any form of incursion into the bay. The construction of the strong bombproof tower, however, now provided a solid platform for mounting guns, which, as Blondel advised, could easily mount three guns – two mansfelde and a demi-culverine. The parapet enveloping the terrace battery was to have 8 ‘cannoniere,(embrasures) come si puol vedere nella pianta’. The Order would eventually provide the tower with two 6-pounder iron cannons, although these fail to appear in any of the detailed artillery inventories that were compiled throughout the course of the eighteenth century.
The Mġarr ix-Xini Tower was jointly restored during the year 2000 by the Ministry for Gozo and Wirt Għawdex. An old cobbled passage way that used to lead to the tower from Mġarr ix-Xini bay or from Xewkija has been carefully unearthed, making a visit to the tower a pleasant walk.
Author: Dr. Stephen C Spiteri Ph.D for Militaryarchitecture.com