Water and Water Storage during the Knights of St. John


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Aqueducts in Malta


Previous to the arrival of the Knights of St. John in Malta, the water was said to be salty and sedimentary. The Maltese used to store water in cisterns and ditches. Though there were regulations stating that every house should have its own well, the water shortage still ensued. Though Grandmaster Martino Garzes was the first to propose to find a way to secure water in Malta, it was Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt in 1615 who managed to execute the idea. The aim of the plan was to send spring water from Rabat to the new Capital. Thanks to the engineer Bontadino de Bontadini, a 16km aqueduct was erected which ran through Attard, Lija, Balzan, Mosta, Zebbug, Hamrun, Qormi, Floriana and finally Valletta. This could supply water to around 30,000 people. However, mostly the citizens of these villages used to be able to take the water supply while the people inhabiting the rural areas used to rely on the local underground cisterns.

Where were the reservoirs in Valletta?

Valletta had five valleys and various reservoirs were planned by the knights to be situated at the bottom of the valleys so that there would be enough water in the case that a siege would occur. Though the knights found a fresh water spring, nowadays under the Archbishop’s Palace, it appeared to have dried up and therefore they could not use it. Outside St John’s, beneath the guns there lie two large water reservoirs. Furthermore, there is another reservoir on the side of Republic Street which has a narrow passage that guides you to an additional reservoir almost adjoining Republic Street. It is three storeys high. Another reservoir can be found under the Great Siege monument and also half of Republic Street in front of the Law Courts. Nevertheless, the largest reservoir in Valletta is without doubt the one at St. Elmo since it can only be crossed by using a boat.

Other Water Supplies

There was a ditch which separated Fort St. Angelo from Birgu which proved a difficulty for the enemy to attack the island from that point and it was also known as the Boat chamber. There were fresh springs in Marsa consisting of 3km inland, which were the nearest to where the Knights were residing, that is in Birgu. They were used by the fleet, thus Birgu used to depend mostly on rain water stored beneath the houses and in public regions. In order to prevent the contamination of the water supply in Malta, the Knights devised a public drainage system joined through pipes which sent the sewage on the exterior of the city walls. Cisterns were water-proofed and were vital for Malta since it had and still has dry weather. Many houses had wells which were excavated in solid rock. The rainwater was then drained through the pipes. There was a cistern at St. Agatha’s Tower which could control around 41 metres of water. Other public water cisterns were situated in: Fort Ricasoli, Floriana, Valletta, Fort St. Elmo, Fort St. Angelo, Vittoriosa, Bormla, Senglea and Cottonera.

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