The Storage of Wheat and Granaries during the Great Siege

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When were the granaries built?

One of the motives for which Valletta’s underground exists is due to the Turks. The Knights of Malta were not quite advanced in regards to tunnelling in order to perform a surprise attack on the Turks. One of the Knights’ main goals was to conserve the grain in the case that a siege would ensue. Therefore, during the 16th century the first granaries were built by the Knights of St. John in Malta.

What were silos?

A single grain storage pit could keep around 60 or 80 tons of wheat, and if they were properly taken care of would serve for four years and more. A silo or “fossa” as known in Maltese, consist of bell-shaped reservoirs covered up with some huge stone cap, fastened with mortar when all the wheat is placed in the silo. The inside is deep and wide to support the weight of all the wheat that was put in. The stone caps were either circular or of a squarish shape. This was important as the wheat had to be kept in dry surroundings, but also easy to take when needed.

Where were they built and how many were there?

Beneath the churches in those times, once could find reservoirs, sewage systems, charnel houses and military tunnels. However there were also a great number of granaries. Publius Square was initially constructed by the Grand Master Marino de Redin during 1657 and 1660 so that grain could be stored underground.  There are 76 flat stone caps with lids where the grain used to be kept. Though the silos at Floriana are the easiest to see, there were other places were the granaries which were imported from Sicily could be found.

At St. Elmo there were seventy pits which could be easily found if one passes through the main gat to Valletta and continue going downhill as far as one can go. On the other hand, at the Auberge de Castille there were fifteen pits. The granaries which lie in Castille are still there though they were obstructed due to the bus terminus being situated in the vicinity. In Birgu and Senglea there were twenty four ditches underground where they stored the grain while other granaries could also be found in Vittoriosa.

Why where they built?

The main reason for the construction of the granaries was to preserve the wheat and grain so that if a war or a siege would occur they would not run out of food. The various locations were the granaries were situated helped, so that if one site was bombed, there would still be more available at the other locations. The British later on, also used this idea as they saw that it would be quite useful. Even nowadays the wheat is kept in dry environments so as to preserve it if it is not needed immediately.

See the spanish translation.