The Malta Independent, 6th August 2008 –

Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, who reigned from 1601 to 1622, erected many fountains in Valletta for the provision of water to the inhabitants of the new city. The Wignacourt Fountain near the ruins of the Royal Opera House is one of them.

By the 16th century, Valletta had grown into a sizeable city. People from all parts of the island flocked to live within its safe fortifications especially as Mdina, until then Malta’s capital, lost much of its lure.

The ever-increasing population caused a serious water shortage as the only source of water in the city was from a natural spring very near the Grand Harbour. Grand Master Wignacourt did not take long to realise this inconvenience and personally provided substantial funds for an ambitious project to supply the city with water channelled from natural springs from the hilly regions of Mdina and Rabat, a distance of 16km.

Work commenced in 1610 under the direction of Natale Tomasucci, a Sicilian Jesuit from Messina. Underground channels were dug towards Attard without any difficulty. However, the uneven terrain in the Balzan and Hamrun areas caused serious problems and the project stalled. A noted engineer, Bontadino de Bontadini from Bologna solved the problem by the construction of an aqueduct, now an impressive landmark in Santa Venera.

A series of arches were erected all the way from Balzan to Hamrun supporting earthenware pipes. As the line had to cross a main thoroughfare near Hamrun, a large central arch was constructed with two small arches for pedestrians on each side.

This structure was adequately decorated with stone motifs, mainly the Fleur-de-Lys armorial emblem of Wignacourt. An inscription in Latin told us that the spirit of water flowed to give a new life to the city of Valletta.

Unfortunately, the whole structure was removed in 1942 during the war to accommodate a smoother flow of traffic. This area is still known as Fleur-de-Lys.

Further down, the channels were again dug underground to Floriana and Valletta down to Fort St Elmo. After five years of hard work the task was completed. Water first flowed in Valletta on 21 August 1615 to the great joy of the residents.

This Wignacourt Fountain, built in 1615, was originally situated just inside Porta San Giorgio, later Porta Reale, Kingsgate, now known as City Gate, on the site presently occupied by the Ta’ Francia Buildings opposite the Royal Opera House. It was later moved to the side of the Opera House in the late nineteenth century.

It consists of a stone basin into which a head of a lion spouts water, with two interlocking sea shells surrounded by a garland of flowers. It bears the coat-of-arms of Grand Master Wignacourt and of the Order of St John. On the lower part there is a radiating sun with the motto “Omnibus Idem” meaning “everyone is the same”.

This fountain was restored in 1986 by Din l-Art Helwa. It was then again moved another few metres during the restoration of St James Cavalier in 1999 as a Centre for Creativity.

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Mr Rizzo is Treasurer of Din l-Art Helwa