I have mentioned in other tips on my various Malta pages the admirable Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, a charitable body that administers several sites on the island namely The Saluting Battery and Lascaris War Rooms in Valletta and the Malta at War Museum in nearby Birgu / Vottoriosa. The fourth site is the subject of this tip, Fort Rinella.
Fort Rinella is a Victorian artillery emplacement pointing out over the sea for the purpose of controlling the very strategic shipping lanes off the island. I had heard that there was a re-enactment in the afternoons beginning at 1200. The fort is open Tue - Sun from 10.00 till 17.00 hrs. and I almost went early one morning but I am really glad I didn't. Whilst it is interesting enough of itself, it is not spectacular and there are very limited things to see. As the title of this tip suggests, you really do need to go there for the "show", actually several re-enacted display which are excellent as I hope to explain.
I arrived too late to see the 1200 display of 19th century military signalling and was invited to have a wander round by myself until the second demonstration began at 1300. I was speaking to an Englishman in 19th century artilleryman uniform and there were others similarly attired scurrying about the place carrying all sorts of military equipment here and there. These men are the reason you should visit.
I was there off-season and midweek and there were only about a dozen of us visiting and we were invited to walk up to a filed outside the Fort where there was a fairly large artillery piece sitting. The chap in the costume had been giving us an excellent running commentary on the history of the Fort and the display we were about to see. His colleagues were trotting about "at the double" in a completely historically accurate recreation of the loading and firing of the piece, an 8" howitzer. I do have to warn you that it goes off with a fairly hefty thump despite only being charged with a fraction of what the original charge would be. Apparently, the local people don't like it at all but the nearby horses seemed totally unfazed by it.
Next came the first piece of audience participation. For a donation of €10 to the charity, visitors were allowed the opportunity to actually fire the piece themselves. Obviously, the re-enactors prepare the weapon (it is live powder after all) but you get to actually pull the string to make it go bang. I have uploaded a video demonstrating one of the party doing just this.
After that demonstration we returned to the Fort, effectively the guardhouse where a lady had opened a small kitchen serving hot and cold drinks and a few light snacks. It was slightly odd seeing the re-enactors serving up cups of tea and coffee to visitors but this is where they really came into their own. It was extremely relaxed and we just started chatting to them, asking all sorts of questions. I can understand them using a prepared script for the demonstrations but in this informal chat session they all demonstrated an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things referring to the military history of the period, it really was most informative. I ascertained that none of the re-enactors had any military training at all and the Englishman told me he was working htere as he had a passion for historic weapons and horses. As I mentioned, the re-enactors here really were excellent.
Next, we were taken out to the back yard where we were treated (and that is the correct word) to a wonderful talk on long arms trhough the ages, delivered by a Frenchman which seemed a little incongruous to me but he really knew his stuff. At various points, another of the re-enactors would fire the appropriate weapon as a demonstration. Again, I have uploaded videos to demonstrate this. As with the field gun, visitors were invited to fire one of the pieces for a donation of €5 to the charity. I have fired more than enough weapons in my life, so I let others have the experience. I have to say, the look on the elderly woman's face when it went bang was priceless but she did it, bless her. There was also an excellent drill display. Again, I was assured it was historically accurate but it is certainly considerably different from the British Army drill of today. I know retired Sergeants who would be appalled!
With this display over, we were invited to go and see the monstrous Armstrong gun featured in the main image on this page. When I say monstrous I am not joking, it weighs 100 tons. Well, the gun itself is 100 tons, the carriage is a further 53 tons or thereabouts. It can hurl a huge projectile eight miles out to see but was actually never used in anger. I dread to think what it must sound like when fired. I love military history but I have never seen an artillery piece on this scale before. Obviously you could not hand load a thing this big so we were next taken on a tour of the interior of the gun emplacement where the charges were prepared and then sent up on hydraulic rams to be stuffed down the barrel of the monster above. Again, facts and anecdotes were plentiful from the re-enactor guiding us.
Once we had fully examined the magazine we were shown into a cinema in the bowels of the Fort and shown a very intersting film about Malta in the War. When this was over (about 20 minutes if memory serves) we made our way out. The ever helpful re-enactors told us to wander about and take more photos if we liked and were more than happy to chat, even though they were "setting down" after the displays.
I realise I have told you little about the history of the Fort and so on but that is all well covered in the attached website and I thought I would rather tell the reader about the experience I had which was probably the best thing I did on a month on Malta. I really cannot recommend this place highly enough but, as I say, you have to go for the demonstrations, you won't be diappointed.
Should you wish to go, here are the logistics. I have given opening time details above and here are the prices.
Family group: €25 (2 x Adults plus 3 children u/16yrs).
Children u/16yrs: €5
I do strongly recommend you buy the Heritage Pass for all four sites mentioned which costs € for adults. It is well worth it.
Regrettably, by the very nature and age of the building it will not be fully accessible for mobility impaired travellers, although I think the howitzer and drill and musketry displays would be feasible. Contact the site for more info.
Coming down from this road on your way to Xghajra/Zabbar make a turn downwards and on your left one can see this little small quaint garden which I managed to take a photo of. I am not very sure what the name of this garden is however when I will find out I will amend this tip so that I can keep you all informed. !
However this garden really impressed me as it looked so so sweet , peaceful and nicely decorated with a small fountain in the middle and loads of plant and greenary !
However then to my disappointment there was a mattress on the side of the garden just off the pavement ! It seems that it is very hard for 'us' Maltese at times to really appreciate our beautiful island !
Whenever i pass by Bighi hospital I always remained impressed at the buidling I don't know why but its architecture fascinates me.
This was once a hospital built by the British during the War to host sick and injured patients.