Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Wignacourt's Aqueduct

Water is scarce in Malta. The island has low rainfall and there are few springs. So successive Grand Masters introduced policies to ameliorate the shortage. When Valletta was being planned, regulations were enacted to prevent houses from having gardens or courtyards and every house had to have its own well. These measures ensured that water would not be wasted on gardening and that in the event of a siege there would be an adequate water supply.

Even after the implementation of these regulations, the supply of water continued to be a problem for the residents of Valletta. The nearest fresh water spring was at Marsa at the end of the Grand Harbour, three miles away by boat, and in the event of a siege, the supply would be denied to the city.

 Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt (1601-22)  undertook to pay for the cost of the  construction of an aqueduct  to Valletta. Even so the Council decided that that the profits generated by Commander Fra' Paul Lascaris Castellar (a future Grand Master) from the Order's bakeries should also be used to help finance the project. On 9th January 1610 the Council decreed that the project should go ahead.

Water was to be conveyed from the springs at Dingli through Valletta to Fort St. Elmo. As far as Attard the water flowed through underground channels. From Attard to Hamrun the water was carried along a pipeline carried above stone arches. From Hamrun the pipe returned underground until it reached Fort St. Elmo.


The sixteen kilometer long aqueduct  was started in 1610 and completed in 1614. The cost was 434 605 scudi of which only 40 000 was contributed through the bakeries. The shortfall was paid by Grand Master Wignacourt after whom the aqueduct was named. Originally two Italian engineers had been appointed to carry out the work, but they were sacked and replaced by the Maltese engineer Giovanni Attard who completed the project.

The water began to flow on 21 April 1615 from a temporary fountain specially constructed on Piazza San Giorgio (Palace Square). To witness the great occasion the Grand Master, the Prior of the Conventual Church, all the Knights resident on the island and a large number of Maltese were assembled. The fountain was moved to St Philip's Garden, Floriana. Other fountains were built along the route of the aqueduct.

At Fleur-de-Lys there used to be a beautiful arch but  it was badly damaged in the war.  The remainder was demolished to permit modern traffic to pass. On the arch there was an inscription in Latin that read, "So far Valletta was dead. Now that the spirit of water revives her, as once the first spirit floated on the waters; now that water has been led to her, the spirit returns."

Fleur -de -Lys Arch 

Near the Sarria Church in Floriana is the fountain that bears Wignacourt's coat-of-arms.


Several fountains were built in Valletta. One of them used to be just inside the Porta Reale (Main Gate). The most splendid fountain of them all was at the Marina. On it stood the bronze statue of Neptune, which has been removed to the courtyard of the Magistral Palace. On the four sides of the base were bronze plaques recording the Grand Master's victories over the Muslims.

The Wignacourt Aqueduct not only supplied the city of Valletta with enough fresh water for drinking water but also enough  to fill the storage tanks and reservoirs and also water for the fountains which adorn the city.