THE GĦALLIS AND QALET MARKU TOWERS
None of the towers built by Grand Master De Redin was designed to resist an invading enemy fleet. Their use was primarily intended for signalling purposes and so their height was more important than their volume. The watchmen in the towers communicated by using red flags in daylight, and bonfires were lit at night to raise the alarm.
All these coastal watch-towers have broadly a similar plan. They are built on two floors with a turret on the roof. The walls consist of an outer and inner ‘skin’ of masonry with a solid infilling of carefully graded rubble. The external skin is made of coralline limestone (tal-qawwi), which is relatively resistant to weathering, while the inner skin is made of globigerina limestone (tal-franka). The latter is less resistant to weathering, but as it is easier to cut from the quarry than the harder coralline limestone, it was used to build the inner unexposed skin of the wall. Globigerina limestone was however used for alterations or restorations carried out in the past on the facade. The Għallis tower is around 12 meters high and 9 meters square at the base. In 1681 the towers were described as being in a deplorable state and the Università was asked to pay for their upkeep since the order was not directly responsible for coastal defences.
During the first 50 years of British Government in Malta, the Royal Engineer Office sent regularly Royal Engineers to inspect the state of the Coastal Towers. The general opinion was to try to maintain the coastal towers and block the entrances of those not in use, while the coastal batteries and redoubts had to be abandoned in view to decrease the expenses needed to maintain them. Most importance was given to St Paul’s Bay harbour and Marsaxlokk harbour and most inspections by the Engineers were conducted on St Georges Tower, Mistra Battery, St Paul’s Tower, Għallis Tower and St Lucian Tower. Towers to be kept for civil purposes such as for anti-smuggling were to be paid by the local government while the few which were deemed essential for the military defence of the island would be paid by the central government in Great Britain. This shows that the Għallis Tower was considered to be the most important of the De Redin Towers.
Following the news that the plague hit nearby Messinas, in June 1743 Grand Master Fra Don Emmanuel Pinto sent inspectors composed of Jurats (one from the Università of Notabile and one from each Università of the cities of Valletta, Vittoriosa and Senglea) to report on the conditions of the coastal towers which by this time had lost their military role but assumed other equally important roles against smuggling and stopping anyone from landing against permission especially for security and sanitary reasons. Qalet Marku tower was defended by a tower commander and two guards who were paid by the Università of Valletta, Senglea and Vittoriosa. The wooden ladder needed repair, the bell was missing and the ropes of the well needed replacing. The flag was still that of Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena. Water was seeping from the roof into the upper floor as the movements of the guns when they were fired on the roof caused the mortar to fall off. The apertures and beds also required attention. It lacked oil and a loud hailer. It was armed with one 4-pounder (French) bronze gun on its carriage, two swivel guns, four muskets, three ramming staffs, one brass ladle, two extractors, tow iron spikes to elevate the gun, one vice, four beds, ten iron cannon balls, one rotolo fuses, two rotoli lead bullets, ten rotoli gun powder, one swivel gun rammer, twelve stone bullets, ten rotoli hawser ladder with knots and two arm-stands.
Għallis Tower was manned by a commander and three guards. paid by the Universitàof Notable. Unlike the other towers it flew the Order of St John cross, a white Latin cross on a red background. The roof was leaking water and lacked mortar and the turret (the powder magazine or Santa Barbara room) on the roof needed a new door and lintel. The tower had a stone sentry box which was in risk of collapse. It was armed with a 4-pounder bronze gun and carriage, two swivel guns, four muskets, three rammers with their extractors and wool sponging attachments, one brass ladle, one wadding extractor, two hand-spikes, one vice, four beds, ten iron cannon balls, five rotoli fuses, twelve rotoli gun powder, two rotoli lead bullets, twelve stone bullets for muskets, thirteen rotoli hawser ladder with knots, two arm-stands and two swivel gun rammers with extractor attachments.
In a report on the condition of the coastal defences dated 11 February 1829 and written by Sir George Whitmore who headed the Royal Engineer Office between 1811 and 1829, Whitmore wrote that Għallis Tower was occupied by the Malta Fencible Artillery and was in tolerable repair. It s restoration required 422 square feet of masonry, 38 square feet of pavement, 32 square feet of roofing, 1114 square feet of pointing, a ladder of 22 feet, 3 doors, a shutter and a cupboard door. Qalet Marku Tower was unoccupied and required pointing and the renewal of the wood work. For its restoration there was need of 68 square feet of masonry, 30 square feet of roofing, 550 square feet of pointing, three doors, a trap door, a shutter, two cupboards and a cover to the well. The Qalet Marku tower was transferred from the Military Authority to the Civil Government after World War I.
Mizzi Group of Companies offered to sponsor the restoration of Għallis Tower in 1995. External plaster, Portland cement, weeds growing from mortar joints and rusted metal elements were removed from the walls of the tower. A power washer was used to remove the soot on the internal walls. This had accumulated due to repeated fires in the tower. A number of stones which had severely deteriorated were also replaced and a steel door was also fitted to protect the tower from further vandalism. Restoration of the tower was completed in November 1996.
After having completed most of the work on Għallis Tower, Din l-Art Ħelwa asked to be allowed to restore the Qalet Marku Tower, also known as St Mark’s Tower or Torri tal-Qrejten. This was probably the third of the thirteen towers built by De Redin. It was built between March 1658 and July of the following year, together with the other 12 towers, and the stonework cost around 408 scudi to erect. In 1714 an inspection was carried out which revealed its poor condition.Yet another inspection was carried out in 1743 which showed that the tower was not operational. In 1792, however, the Congregation of war (a body set up by the Knights to advise on defence matters) ordered that the tower be armed with a 3-pounder iron gun. Under British rule, the tower was also used for defence purposes, but some modifications to the structure were made. A doorway was opened at ground floor level (as in the case of Għallis Tower) and a series of roofing slabs were inserted to support the wall in the passage created within the wall. A small room was also built in front of the tower to serve as a guardroom, but all that remains of this room are its foundations. On the first floor there is also an inlet to a well dug underground. Round Table (Malta) One agreed to sponsor the restoration of the tower and work started in 1995. The external stonework needed little replacement of stone masonry. A main door in iron was fitted to protect the place from vandals. In October 1998 doors and window apertures were fitted.
The Għallis and Qaliet Marku Towers remain prominent landmarks on the coast-road from Salini to Baħar-iċ-Ċagħaq. In 2017 Din l-Art Ħelwa applied to the Planning Authority for the restoration of the external walls of Għallis Tower and these were conducted in 2022 thanks to GalMajjistral Funding. Permits for the restoration of Qalet Marku Tower are now also in hand and Din l-Art Ħelwa has applied for the restoration of this tower.