The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

A Tour of the aqueduct

Malta Independent Sunday, 9 April 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna is organising another interesting educational tour for the general public. These tours help increase public awareness about the least known facets of our history and national heritage. The next tour will focus on the intricate history of the historic aqueduct built by the Order of St John to feed Valletta and its suburbs with a constant supply of water.

Since the laying of the first stone in 1566, Valletta thrived and grew in the first 50 years. It lacked nothing but water. This had to be supplied from the numerous cisterns scattered around the city and when these ran dry, water had to be brought from the springs at Marsa by boats. This was unacceptable because in case of a siege the city would have to depend on providence for its water. Various Grand Masters sought to remedy this situation and numerous experts were consulted. None succeeded.

Grand Master Wignacourt was determined to succeed where others had failed. In 1610, Padre Tomasucci, a hydraulic engineer from Palermo was commissioned to draw up plans for this project. Tomasucci identified the various springs in the Rabat plateau and sought to tap them into an underground water conduit all the way down to Valletta. The steep gradient from Rabat to Attard was thought sufficient enough to force the water over any inclinations found along the way to Valletta. It was not to be. At the first hills at Attard the water stopped flowing and Tomasucci left the island early in 1612 in despair because he had not solved the problem.

In July 1612, a new hydraulic engineer, Bontadino de Bontadini, was commissioned. In the meantime, the Maltese capomastro Giovanni Attard had already proposed that the solution was to carry the water over an arched aqueduct where the terrain was not suitable for underground conduits. In fact, the first segment of arches were already laid by the time Bontadini arrived who agreed with the capimastri and the work continued. Bontadini's main input into the project was the appliance of the pozzolana to cement together the globigerina limestone conduits and render them waterproof.

The aqueduct was embellished with a triumphal arch at Santa Venera and various fountains. It also supplied directly water to various gardens belonging to the Order such as those of San Anton. Three water towers (still extant) were constructed at Santa Venera, Hamrun and Floriana to regulate the flow and supply of water.

All major palaces, the Sacra Infermeria, the sacristy of St John's and main administration buildings were connected to this water supply. Numerous fountains were erected around the city to commemorate this event of which only two remain and none in their original place. Massive feasts and solemn festivities were held on 21 April 1615, the day when the supply of running water to Valletta was inaugurated.

FWA’s tour will cover the full length of the aqueduct from Rabat to Valletta stopping at all important points to see or visit important buildings or architectural features such as water fountains, water towers and commemorative features.

The tour will leave from in front of the Phoenicia Hotel at 1.30pm today and will end at around 5pm. The commentary will be in English and a historical hand-out on the subject will be circulated to all those attending.

Participation is free to all but prior booking is necessary on telephone numbers 2180 0992, 2180 3091 or 9987 4153. An administration fee covering transport and other expenses will be charged – Lm2.50 per adult (FWA members Lm1.75) and Lm1.50 per child up to 16 years FWA members Lm1).

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