Sunday 30 March 2014

Castle of St. Peter, Bodrum

In 1306 the Order of St. John had by the conquest of the island of Rhodes secured  de facto independent status. The sovereignty of the Hospitaller state was in theory only limited by their subjection to the pope. In reality the independent power of the Order was compromised by its dependence on the manpower and resources  transferred to Rhodes from its properties scattered across the countries of Western Europe.

The Order was constantly obliged to justify its continued possession of these properties and associated incomes , after the fall of Acre and the loss of the Holy Land, its raison d'etre. One of the best ways it could do this was by the 'appearance' of continued a military offensive against the 'enemy'. In effect the Order was vulnerable to pressure, from the papacy, to take the fight to the Turks.The Hospital's possession of their castle at Smyrna fulfilled these expectations. In 1390 Pope Clement VI granted indulgences worth 3000 florins a year at a time when the Order's debts were 38 500 florins, due to the breakdown in discipline following the Schism in the Church. This valuable revenue stream was threatened when Tamerlane captured Smyrna and the Hospitallers were left without an outpost on the Muslim held mainland.

In 1407-08 the Hospitallers began work on a major new castle on the mainland, at Bodrum, opposite the island of Lango (Cos). By giving the new castle the same dedication to St. Peter of the Freed, the Order showed that it was intended as the replacement for Smyrna. Bodrum whose strategic importance was negligible was conceived as a propaganda and fund raising project. With Smyrna lost it was proof that the Order was still engaged in warfare against the Turks, by retaining another foothold on the mainland. The Castle of St. Peter also offered valuable publicity by claiming that it was refuge for Christian slaves escaping from Turkish rule, a point emphasized by travellers in their accounts of the dogs which had been specially trained to act as guides for escaping Christians. As a propaganda exercise the castle of St. Peter was highly successful, attracting tax exemptions, financial contributions and papal indulgences which would probably not have been forthcoming if they had been solicited for the defence of Rhodes alone.

The site chosen for the Castle of St. Peter was a waterless, uninhabited peninsula; there was no question of depriving the Muslim's of a port or valuable trading centre. Bodrum's distance from any population centre was no doubt calculated to reduce the threat of an attack, and its position opposite Lango meant that the castle could be readily supported and resupplied. Master Fra' Philibert de Naillac, founder of the castle made an inspection of the progress on 17th March 1408 when it is recorded that he signed an official document there.

The rocky peninsula was a naturally defensive site, surrounded by the sea on three sides and only connected to the mainland on the north. The castle is almost square in plan, fortified by double curtain walls, except on the eastern side. As the Order was a naval power, confident of repulsing attacks from the sea, the main defences of the castle were concentrated on the land front. The earliest phase of construction at St Peter's, the inner castle, was largely completed during the magistry of of the founder, Fra' Phillibert de Naillac (1396-1421). This consisted of an outer wall incorporating three strong towers surrounding two strong towers in the middle of the enciente at the highest point of the castle.

One of the oldest parts of the castle was the garrison chapel built in the Gothic style between 1402-1437 and later restored by the Spanish knights in 1519. All the material used in the construction of the chapel came from recylced ruins of Hellestenic buildings nearby, which unknown to the Knights was the site of Halicarnassus, and the green stone blocks from the Mausoleum, one of the wonders of the ancient World, have been identified in the fabric of the castle. The ready supply of building materials may well have influenced the decision to build the castle at Bodrum.

One of the oldest towers is the round Snake Tower, named after the carving to the left of the entrance that indicates this tower was used as a hospital. Above the entrance on the first floor are the arms of the Order flanked by those of Master de Naillac and the German engineer Fra' Heinrich Schelegeholtz. The German Tower nearby is also part of the earliest construction work and like the Snake Tower was incorporated into the curtain wall. Several of the towers at the castle were named after the nations that sponsored their construction. Just as the Order of St. John was a microcosm of Europe so was the garrison of this castle and most of the Langues at the Convent built a tower named for their own nation within the fortress.

An indication of the prestige inspired by the Castle of St. Peter can be inferred by the number of coat-of-arms incorporated into the fabric of the fortress, placed there to record the contributions of the great and the good towards the defence of this, the remotest outpost of Christendom in the East, built on the shores of the 'infidel'.In all there are two hundred and forty nine coat-of arms on the castle walls and votive figures such as the Virgin and Child, St. Peter holding the broken wheel and St. Catherine facing a figure of St. Mary Magdalene holding a bell and also several inscriptions in Greek and Latin.

Above the main entrance to the English Tower in the south-eastern corner of the castle are the arms of King Henry IV of England (1399-1413) with above them the helmet, cap of dignity, lion and baldragin and with smaller shields on either side of the arms of the Order and other members of the royal family who were among the most generous benefactors of the tower. Work had begun on this tower during the reign of Henry IV under the supervision of an English Knight Fra' Peter Holt. The tower is a three storey building with two entrances. the main entrance on the northern side opens into a large  hall that occupies the whole floor and was probably used as a refectory. The second entrance is outside the curtain wall, by the waters edge and leads into two interconnected dungeons.

At the highest point of the castle, in the middle of the enciente are the two towers which together served as the keep or inner stronghold. The taller of the towers is the French Tower built between 1427-1431 and to the West, the Italian Tower completed in 1436. The arms of Fra' Angelo Muscetola appear several times on this tower, he was the first known captain of the castle. The Order usually appointed a Knight to the captaincy of St. Peters for a period of two years. The building with a cross vaulted ceiling that connects the two towers was added in 1518.

Once the inner castle had been completed the Hospitallers continued from time to time to augment its defences. However the castle was not a major irritant to the Turks and nor was it intended to be. The idea as far as the Turks were concerned was to maintain as low a profile as possible; the bravado and belligerent posturing was strictly for the Western audience. Indeed on 14th December 1409 the Captain was ordered to remain strictly on the defensive inside the castle and to desist from the provocative and dangerous practice of skirmishing with the Turks. The restraint that the Hospitallers were expected to show on land were however abandoned at sea and the Order used St. Peter as a forward base for its 'piratical' activities. Early in 1412 the galieta armed by the men of the garrison was able to seize a Turkish galieta at Lesbos because the peace with the Turks held good only on land.

It was in the aftermath of the First Siege of Rhodes that the defences of the castle were considerably strengthened, in response to the growing danger from the introduction of gunpowder. Because St. Peter was built on rising rock, the walls could not be lowered to reduce their vulnerability to canon fire, but they were strengthened with gun ports and interior covered passages. The inner castle was enclosed within an outer curtain wall on three sides and heavy gunpowder defences which contrast with the medieval walls. On the northern side is a strong tower named after Grand Master del Caretto (1513-1521) and in the east corner is the tower named after Fra' Jacques de Gatineau, captain of St. Peter (1512-1514).At the bottom of this tower is a dungeon reached by a long light of steps with an inscription above the entrance that reads 'Inde Deus Abest', ' God does not exist in this place' and where iron manacles are still fixed into the walls.

Once the castle had been strengthened entry into the castle was by passing through a sequence of seven well defended gates. facing the country, carved into the lintel above the outermost gate is an inscription in Greek which carries the warning that anyone who spied on the castle would be punished. on the inside of the gate are the arms of Fra' Jacques Gatineau, of the Order and Master de Balnchefort (1512-13) above the inscription "Faith, in the name of the Catholic Church shall be defended by Gatineau here." Next a drawbridge leads across the moat to a stone ramp. Through the second gate and across a small courtyard the third gate leads to the bottom of the western moat. The forth gate leads from the moat through a vaulted staircase and onto an open ramp rising along the inside of the curtain wall. A stone bridge leads across the moat to the fifth gate and a small courtyard. An inscription above the sixth gate reads in Latin "Lord, protect us in our sleep, save us when awake. Without your protection, nobody can protect us." Finally the royal arms of France adorn the Gothic gateway that leads at last into the inner castle.

During the Final Siege of Rhodes the castle was defended under the captaincy of Fra' Bernadino de Airasca and considerable reinforcements of men and munitions were sent from Bodrum to Rhodes. When the Master surrendered and left Rhodes on 1st January 1523 he sent instructions to the captain and garrison of St. Peter to abandon the castle and they arrived in Candia (Crete) in the middle of January

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Castellany of Amposta, Zaragoza

The earliest donation to the Order in Aragon was the the royal donation of Aliaga, in 1118. Royal patronage was exemplified by the famous will in 1131 of Alfonso el Ballatador when he bequeathed his kingdoms, Aragon and Navarre, to the Hospital, to the Templars and to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, in equal portions. It seems that the childless monarch believed they would be in the best position to continue the fight against the Moors. However at this death in 1134, the barons disagreed. In Navarre they elected Garcia Ramirez and in 1137 Aragon passed to the Count of Barcelona, through his marriage to Alfonso's niece.

To compensate the Hospitallers for their loss they received instead the port of Amposta at the mouth of the Ebro. Although it was not on the front line of the Reconquista, Amposta was the Order's first military enfeoffment in Aragon. This donation led to the establishment of  an Aragonese priory in 1149, which in 1154 became independent from Saint-Gilles, and was known as the Castellany of Amposta.

However in 1280 the Order was forced by the King, to relinquish Amposta. In response the Hospitallers moved their headquarters in Aragon to Zaragoza  although they continued to style their prior, Castellan of Amposta. The prioral palace at Zaragoza included the Tower of La Zuda, part of which  which had been gifted to the Order by Alfonso II back in 1180.

The tower of La Zuda had been built by the Moors on top of the Roman city walls that daated rom the 3rd century AD. La Zuda was the keep of the governor of Saraqusta's palace. When on 18th December 1118 the city surrended to Alfonso, el Ballatador, the King occupied La Zuda which was to become the royal residence of Aragon until the 13th Century, when they moved to the Aljafaria Palace.

Royal patronage of the Hospital in Aragon continued into the 14th century when Don Sancho, an illegitimate half brother of James II, after serving as Admiral of the Order at the conquest of Rhodes, in 1328 received the Castellany of Amposta. So when Pope Clement V ordered the transfer of the Templar's properties to the Order of St.John, in Aragon at least, there was royal acquiescence. With the transfer of the Templars estates in Catalonia to the Order of St.John, the Hospitallers became lords of almost all of Catalonia on the west bank of the River Ebro.The accession of so many  estates led to the creation of a separate Priory of Catalonia in 1319, although the part of Catalonia on the east bank of the Ebro remained part of the Castellany of Amposta, and became the personal estate of the Castellan himself.

The most famous, and controversial  Castellan of Amposta was the extraordinary Fra' Juan Fernadez de Heredia. Born in 1310, he was the  penniless scion of a family of marcher barons from the Aragonese frontier with Castile. His father had a place at court in the household of the Infanta Leonor and the young Juan became a childhood friend of Infante Pedro, heir to the Aragonese throne. Fra' Juan joined the Order of St. John in 1328 at the age of eighteen. While still in his twenties he was appointed to the former Templar commanderies of Villel and Alfambra which his family had somehow managed to wrest from royal control. Fra' Juan was able to benefit from the order's rule that whoever brought a property back to the Order was entitled to hold it for life.

Fra' Juan Fernandez de Heredia

Heredia's career was secured in 1346 when his old friend, by now King Pedro IV, in clear violation of the Order's rules on seniority and promotion, appointed him Castellan of Amposta. Fra' Juan's estates as Castellan included all the estates in Catalonia on the east bank of the Ebro including the castle of Miravet. As Castellan of Amposta he was the most powerful magnate in the kingdom of Aragon. Heredia used his position as Castellan to distribute rich commanderies to his relations and to increase his own landholdings in the kingdom.Fra' Juan soon showed the administrative flair for which he was to become famous by ordering the complilation of the Cartulary of Amposta in which all its possessions were recorded meticulously, in six volumes.

From time to time the Castellan was entrusted with delicate diplomatic missions by the King, to Castille (1348), Navarrre (1351) and Avignon where he was visiting the Papal Curia when he was urgently summoned home. King Pedro's half brother was threatening to invade  from Castille and the Castellan was needed to oversee the kingdom's defences. The following year (1352) Heredia was back in Avignon, on this occasion to do homage for Sardinia on behalf of King Pedro in front of the pope. It would be a meeting that would change his life. The new pope, Innocent VI (1352-62) was  to form as high an opinion of Heredia's abilities as King Pedro.

Innocent soon showed the Castellan his favour by using his influence (at the expense of the Hospital) with the Master to demand that Heredia be appointed to the vacant Priory of Castille (27 March 1354). However the king of Castille, an implacable opponent managed to prevent him from taking up the appointment.

In 1355 Innocent despatched Heredia on a mission to the Convent at Rhodes to enforce the administrative and disciplinary reforms he was trying to impose on the Order. It can be imagined what the brethren thought of Heredia at the best of times let alone in his role as the advocate of reform; he was the father of four illegitimate children and held one of the highest offices in the Order, the Castellany of Amposta in violation of all the rules on seniority and promotion, and what is more, did not pay his responsions to the Convent. Heredia informed the Convent of the pope's intention to remove the Convent from Rhodes to a more exposed position on the mainland. In the end this proposal came to nothing. However at the general chapter of the Order held in 1357, the Order passed statutes that attempted to curb Heredia's abuses by appointing new officers known as general receivers to whom all responsions were to be paid, in place of the priors, and by whom they would be sent to Rhodes.

However the pope further rewarded Heredia by instructing the Master to nominate him as Prior of Saint-Gilles, which he managed to take control of in January 1357, in a further violation of the Order's rules. Heredia now combined the two most powerful and prestigious offices of the Order in the west. An unprecedented abuse of power.

Next his patron Innocent sent the Castellan and Prior on a diplomatic initiative to try and prevent the coming clash of arms between England and France. Heredia had few illusions and the prospects of success and took the precaution of asking the pope for permission to fight alongside whoever was most willing to accpt his ofers of mediation should the other side reject it. Fra' Juan found that the King of France was the more anxious to secure peace and informed the King of England that he would fight for the French. Within days, the English, led by the Black Prince defeated the much larger French army at Potiers (19 September 1356). Heredia fought with conspicuous bravery and towards the end of the battle he was credited with saving the French king's life. He himself was so severely wounded that for a while his life hang in the balance. At first the Black Prince wanted to have him executed for having flouted his neutrality, but settled for a ransom of 10 000 francs. At the subsequent truce concluded between England and France at Bordeaux (march 1357) Heredia was given much of the credit.

As a consequence of the truce bands of unwanted soldiers roamed southern France. The pope at Avignon felt threatened, and turned to Heredia who was appointed Captain-General of the Comtat-Venaissin (1357) and the following year Captain- General of Avignon itself with responsibility for the defence of the papal city, a position  that he was to hold until 1376.

Only when his native Aragon was at war with Castille (1359) was Heredia grated a temporary leave of absence from Avignon. So anxious was Innocent VI that he return, he was threatened with excommunication should he fail to do so. On his return Heredia was rewarded with the Governorship of the Comtat-Venaissin, for his part Heredia showed his gratitude towards his patron by refortifying Avignon with splendid new walls at his own expense. A gift of staggering generosity. Fra' Juan was now at the height of his powers.

The accumulation of so much power naturally aroused suspicion and hostility, not least amongst his fellow brethren in the Order of St. John. Fra' Juan created outrage by accumulating a fortune at the expense of the Order and using it to provide for his children and relations. Not only did he hold the Castellany of Amposta and the Priory of Saint-Gilles simultaneously in violation of the Order's rules, but added further to the injury by refusing to pay his responsions. The Master sent the Grand Preceptor and the Marshal on a mission (1359) to seek the pope's approval before moving against Heredia. But Fra' Juan was too close to the pontiff to be seriously threatened. The issue was sidetracked by the appointment of cardinals whose submission (1361) not only exonerated Heredia but confirmed him in all his offices and cancelled all of his debt to the Order.

Only with the death of his patron Innocent VI (1362) did Heredia's position become more exposed, but it was not until the election of Fra' Raymond Berenger as Master (1365) that things became uncomfortable for him. Fra' Raymond was a Provencal knight who resented Heredia's disloyalty to the Order and his possession through papal patronage of an office, the Priory of Saint-Gilles that had always bee n held by a Frenchman. So Fra' Raymond decided to travel to Avignon in person where he found in the new pope Urban V a more sympathetic ear. Heredia thought it wise to withdraw to Aragon (1369) and he was stripped of the Priory of Saint-Gilles and his theoretical possession of the Priory of Castille.

But Fra' Juan remained Castellan of Amposta and his prestige was undiminished in Aragon where he formed a close relationship with Infante Juan, heir to the throne. Heredia used his position at court to outmaneuver the Master and when the Priory of Catalonia became vacant he managed to get nominated to the dignity, once again holding more than one high office, in violation of the Order's rules.

When Urban V died (1370) Fra' Juan had already returned to Avignon and was installed in the papal palace before the new pontiff had been chosen. Gregory XI (1370-78) was to become a friend of Heredia. It had long been the new pope's wish to return the papacy to Rome, after its seventy years in exile. When the great day approached it fell to Fra' Juan Fernandez de Heredia the honour of escorting the pope on the long and dangerous journey. After embarking at Marseilles, Heredia himself took the helm of the galley on which his holiness had embarked. The papal party finally arrived at Rome on 17th January 1377. Heredia's loyalty was rewarded by the ultimate prize when he was appointed by the pope to the Mastership of the Order of St.John

This increase in prestige enabled two further Spanish knights to assume the magistry. Fra' Antonio de Fluvia, who served under Naillac as his Lieutenant, was to succeed him as Master (1421-37) and Fra' Raimundo Zacosta who was Castellan when he was elected Master in 1461. At that time the King of Aragon was trying to put down a rebellion by the Catalans and as the Castellany with its vast estates was an important player, he imposed a knight loyal to him in the post, Fra' Bernado de Rocaberti.  However the Master supported his countrymen which led the King to sequester the Order's commanderies. Only after Zacosta's death were relations repaired and the Order recognised Rocarberti as Castellan.

The tower of La Zuda  in Zaragoza was rebuilt in the second half of the 16th century by Castellan Fra' Francisco Iniguez. The palace of the Castellan of Amposta occupied the western corner of the great square of del Pilar in Zaragoza, the largest urban square in Spain. The last major rebuilding of the palace was the construction of the Baroque church of  San Juan de Los Panetes, completed in 1725 by Castellan Fra' Vicente de Ora that replaced the Medieval chapel.  The leaning tower beside the church, like the tower of La Zuda, dates from the 16th century.

After the fall of Malta King Charles IV took the opportunity to impose his rule on the Spanish priories. In January 1802 he annexed them to the Crown by royal decree. After the hiatus of the French Revolution the King appointed his brother Don Francisco as Castellan. The anti-clerical regime of Queen Isabella confiscated the property of the Church and banished the Castellany of Amposta to history.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Halston Commandery

The commandery of Halston in Shropshire was founded between 1165 and 1187 when Roger de Powis, lord of Whittington granted the hospital part of his demesne. The grant was later confirmed in a charter given to the Hospitallers by King John. An early gift to Halston was the Hospital of Oswestry which was transferred to the Order in 1217-18. The commandery also owned the church of Kinnerley which came into their ownership before 1248.

Following the conquest of Wales by the Edward I, the commandery of Dogynwal (Yspytty Ifan in Denbighshire) was joined to Halston, by 1294. Halston  then became the administrative centre for all the Hospitaller estates in North Wales. It also included property in the neighbouring lordship of Ellesmere which included the church and its parochial rights which had been granted to the Order by Llewellyn the Great sometime before 1225.

A fascinating insight into life on the Commandery of Halston was given by the report of Prior de Thame into the state of the Order in 1338. In charge was the commander, Fra' Phillipe de Lude and his colleague, Fra' Alban de Nevill both of whom were serving brothers and full members of  the Order. As was the usual practice the management of the estates and the administration of its courts was in the hands of a professional seneschal. The running of the household was the responsibility of a chamberlain. Both these officers were in receipt of a salary paid in addition to their maintenance.

The household staff also included a porter, a baker, two pages, a cook and his assistant, and the commander's two servants. There were  two farm bailiffs whose job was to supervise the serfs working in the fields. Two chaplains also lived at Halston, one who looked after the commandery chapel and the other who ministered at the chapel of the Whittington Castle. Both had their board at the high table and were each in receipt of a salary of £2. A retired priest also had his board and lodging, by virtue of holding a corrody at Halston. There were also the two clerks whose job it was to collect the frary. who  resided at Halston. One seventh of the annual income of the commandery at Halston came from these frary collections made in neighbouring churches from voluntary contributions from the faithful.

The only building at Halston which dates from the era of Order of St. John is the commandery chapel. The timber framed building is now the private chapel belonging to Halston Hall. It is one of only two timber framed ecclesiastical buildings in Shropshire and never became a parish church. The chapel now stands in splendid isolation, surrounded by ancient yew trees in the parkland to the south of the mansion.

The pattern of the timber framing is close studding divided by a mid-rail. At the east end a framed chancel forms a rectangular extension. The corner posts of the chancel and the east end of the main body of the chapel have beautiful jeweled feet.  The side windows have moulded window frames and mullions with ogee mouldings matching those on the rafters. At the west end, the entrance to the chapel is through an added on brick tower.

The chapel was refitted in the 18th century with  wonderful carvings in the  interior. However the original roof was covered over but was retained; it has three main trusses each of tie-and-collar beam construction with v-struts. These timbers have been carbon dated to a felling in the winter of 1437-8. Halston Chapel is one of the least visited and most atmospheric monuments of the Order of St. John left in England.

Thursday 20 March 2014

St Andre, Luz-Saint-Sauveur

The late 11th century church of St. Andre in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, at the bottom of a deep gorge in the Pyrenees was  built by the St. Andre family and donated by them to the Order of St.John in the early 14th century.

The Order used the church to provide spiritual and temporal sustenance to villagers, and to pilgrims travelling  the Camino  of St. James to Santiago de Compostella.

At the beginning o the 14th century the Order threw up the fortified walls around the church to provide protection to the villagers and pilgrims from Aragonese bandits who posed a considerable threat at that time.

The church of St. Andre at Luz-Saint-Sauveur remained a property of the Order of St. John until the French revolution in 1798.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Narangia Castle, Lango (Cos or Kos)

Lango (Cos or Kos) is the second largest island, after Rhodes, in the Dodecanese archipelago. It had been a part of the Byzantine Empire, held by a duke until 1290 and was inhabited by a largely Greek population. Although Venetian expeditions against the island were defeated by the Greeks, with Turkish help, in 1283 and again in 1284, there had been a degree of Venetian penetration, unlike on Rhodes.

However Vignolo de Vignoli the Genoses pirate was to claim that he had been granted Lango and the nearby island of Lerro by the Byzantine emperor and in May 1306 sailed to Cyprus to visit the Convent of the Order of St. John with a proposal to mount a join conquest of Lango, Rhodes and other islands. De Vignoli's suggestion was well received by the Order, looking for new opportunities in the aftermath of the fall of Acre (1291).

A small force of Hospitallers and Genoese landed successfully on Rhodes in June 1306 but the town itself  held out, with the help of reinforcements from Constantinople.  It was to surrender eventually in August 1309. However in June 1306  two Hospitallers with fifty armed men managed to land successfully on Lango and  went on to capture the town and the castle, which had been in Greek hands.

However in October 1309  intelligence from Crete reached Venice indicating that Lango had been captured by a Venetian force. When Master Fra' Foulques de Villaret reached Rhodes from the West with an invasion force in mid 1310 it seems that the Hospitallers retook Lango and Lerro later on that year. However in the turmoil surrounding  the deposition of Master Fra' Foulques de Villaret in mid 1317  the Hospitallers lost control of Lango between mid 1317-1318, probably as a result of a rebellion from the Greek population.

On 1st March 1319 Pope John XXII at Avignon granted the commandery of Lango to the German knight Fra' Albert von Schwarzenburg, should he recover it from the Turks who he evidently believed to be in possession of the island. Later it was understood that it was the Greeks who had taken back control. Fra' Helion de Villeneuve, master of the Order (1319-1346) retook Lango in 1136.

The main stronghold on Lango was the castle of Narangia built on a rocky island at the entrance to the Mandraki or harbour of the main town.  Originally the castle was separated from the mainland by an inlet of the sea crossed by a drawbridge. The original castle, rectangular in plan with four circular corner towers was built by the Venetian Fantino Guerini, governor of Lango (1436-53) and completed in 1478 by the Genoese  governor Edoardo de Caramdino (1471-95).

 The entrance to the original castle and now the inner enciente is known as the Carmadino Gate, his name is engraved on the lintel. The castle incorporated masonry from Askeplion and other ancient Hellenistic buildings. The ceiling of the corridor uses ten granite columns that probably came from an early Christian basilica that was destroyed by an earthquake in 469.

 The Turks laid siege to the castle in 1457 during  the magistry of Fra'  Jaques de Milly. On 3rd June a  fleet of one hundred and fifty seven ships arrived off the coast and landed 16 000 soldiers. However after twenty three days they lifted the siege and sailed away. The Turks launched another concerted attack  in 1477 at the beginning of the magistry of Fra' Pierre d'Aubusson but this too was repulsed.

However in the aftermath of the Siege of 1480 when the Turks used gunpowder artillery and after the damage caused by the earthquake of 1493 the knights decided to strengthen Narangia Castle. Work began on the construction of an outer enciente, on three sides of the original castle in 1495 under the direction of magister and hero of the siege Fra' Pierre d'Aubusson (1476-1503), continued under Fra' Amoiury d'Amboise (1503-1512) and was completed in 1514 by Grand Master Fra' Fabrizio del Caretto (1513-1521).

The design of the outer enciente is adapted to the technological challenges produced by new era of gunpowder artillery.  The walls are low and very thick designed to withstand bombardment and in each of the four corners are massive bastions, or platforms for playing the defensive artillery.

 Before the outer enciente had been completed in 1506 seven Egyptian flutes , extremely fast long narrow galleys with large sails attacked Lango. A pair were sent ahead as scouts, but two of the Order's galleys appeared from behind a promontory, cutting them off, whereupon, the Mamelukes beached their vessels and fled inland. The brethren put a crew aboard the flutes, and managed to lure the other Egyptian vessels into a bay where the remainder of the Order's galleys lay in wait, and all the flutes were captured and their crews sold into slavery.

The Bailiff of Lango was supposed to maintain a garrison of twenty-five Hospitallers, ten Latin men-at-arms, one hundred Turcopoles, a doctor, an apothecary and adequate medical supplies. The Bailiff was also expected to maintain a galley with twenty six oars, fully manned and equipped, ready to sail as part of the Order's battle fleet. With the division of the brethren at the Convent into national langues the administration of Lango became the prerogative of the Langue of Provence in whose charge it remained until 1356. In that year the monopoly was abolished and its government thrown open to the whole Order. Every knight who went out to Rhodes to serve had to spend a year on Lango, or provide a proxy in his stead as part of his accumulation of seniority, vital for his eligibility for promotion.

Although Lango was not on a major sea route, shipping did sometimes pass by and the island was on the route from Constaninople to Alexandria. The strategic value of the island lay in its favorable position from which the Hospitallers could control the neighbouring islands. The island also provided a forward base from which the Order could mount forays against the mainland. The Hospitallers used a system of fire and smoke signals which allowed them to communicate news of enemy sightings from Lango to Rhodes and in the other direction. Lango is a fertile island that produced grain, wine, olive oil and fruit in abundance. This produce made a great difference during the famine of 1347 when it was exported to Rhodes.

In June 1522 as the Emperor Sulieman began the siege of Rhodes he also sent troops to besiege Lango and the fortress of St. Peter (Bodrum), to prevent them form sending reinforcements to Rhodes. At the end of December 1522 the Knights were forced to capitulate and withdrew from all their outlying castles and they left Lango for the last time in January 1523.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Fort Ricasoli

The entrance to the Grand Harbour is flanked by two promontories, on one side the tip of the Scibberas peninsula and on the other Gallows Point or the Rinella Peninsula. The strategic importance of these promontories was recognised soon after the Knights arrived: in 1552 Fort St.Elmo was erected to command the entrance to the Grand Harbour. Gallows point was left unfortified and during the Great Siege of 1565 the Turks erected a gun battery there which they used to bombard Fort St.Elmo.

In the late 1630's the Order's engineers proposed that  the peninsula was fortified. However the Knights resources were already stretched with the construction of the Sta. Margherita Lines, so nothing further was done beyond the construction of a tower in 1629 whose purpose was not defence but to prevent the escape of slaves. The peninsula was popularly named for the gallows which stood at the entrance of the Grand Harbour, symbol of the Knight's justice to those arriving at Malta. It was not until 1670 that work began on fortifying the peninsula.

The design of the fortification was the work of Antonio Maurizio Valperga as part of his scheme for the fortification of the whole harbour. Work began in June 1670, thanks to the generosity of the Knight Fra' Giovanni Francesco Ricasoli who donated 20 000 scudi towards its construction.  The Council decided to name the fort in his honour. Work proceeded rapidly and by 1693  was almost complete.

Fort Ricasoli  had its most potent defences along the narrow land-front at the neck of the peninsula that was protected by three powerful bastions from which thrust forward two long pointed ravelins. It therefore took the form of a crown-work. The rest of the enciente was defended by curtain walls that followed the irregular cliff edge of the peninsula.

In September 1686 the Council issued instructions for the construction of the governor's house. This was built above the main gate, a fine Baroque edifice with spiral columns facing Kalkara Creek. The governor's house was destroyed and the gate badly damaged in the bombing of 1941.

In 1696 work began on the chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas which was dedicated two years later.

During the winter of 1697-8 the final touches to the fort were added, the arms of the Order, of Fra' Nicholas Cotoner and Chevalier Ricasoli were fixed above the entrance, the governor was appointed,  artillery installed and the garrison moved in, the latter provided for by the Cotonera Foundation set up for the purpose by Nicholas Cotoner in 1674. In 1716 the garrison was 2000 .

Fort Ricasoli served two vital, tactical purposes. Its guns covered the approaches and entrance to the Grand Harbour and it also had to be able to withstand a direct assault on the land-front. Even so its defensive capabilities remained open to criticism. The engineer de Tigne was particularly critical of the land front and produced a number of proposals for strengthening it. But it was only under the threat of a Turkish invasion in 1722 that his advice was taken to strengthen the covert-way and glacis.

Because of the fort's exposed position it was decided to reface the sea wall in 1761. Later on in the 18th century the fort underwent a further extensive programme of renovations and repairs.

Shrove Tuesday, Valletta

The climax of the Carnival in Malta was the Coccagna. This involved long beams set up against the guard-house opposite the Magistral Place in Valletta. From the beams were hung rope ladders, while the whole edifice was covered by fresh branches still in leaf. To these were tied live animals, baskets of eggs, hams , sausages, wreathes of oranges, and all sorts of other delicacies and provisions. The Coccagna was crowned by a globe made of linen surmounted by a figure of fame holding a flag emblazoned with the arms of the grand-master.

The great crowd that assembled in the square waited for the signal from the grand master. When this was given an official called the Gran Visconti made a flourish with his wand and the crowd surged forward to attack the Coccagna. The provisions of the Coccagna became the property of whomsoever seized them and they were able to get them safely through the crowd. This gave rise to furious fights.  The first to reach the figure of fame received a reward when he returned the standard to the grand-master. When the linen globe was broken it released a flight of doves.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Carnival, Valletta

Carnival was introduced into Malta by Grand Master Fra' Pietro del Monte (1568-1572). It became one of the most eagerly anticipated festivals of the year. On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday people came from the countryside into Valletta where they headed for Palace Square and congregated under the grand-master's balcony to wait until he grated them il Carnivale. A Knight of the grand-cross made known their request and the moment it was granted groups of Battilo roamed through the city accompanied by bands of strolling troubadours. These were Maltese dressed in white, covered with ribbons and armed with swords and small shields who staged mock fights which culminated in lifting up a small child who waived a banner back and forth.

 For the next three days the country people crowded  into Valletta for the festivities. They wore exotic costumes and finery and the Knights took to the streets to join them in the revelries. For these three days all inhibitions were left behind, hidden behind the masks, worn for these three days only. In the throng lords were dressed as servants and servants as lords. However the sbirri moved through the crowds on the lookout for for dangerous weapons, which had to be set aside. They also kept an eye out for women dressed as men, men dressed as women and for slaves wearing masks at all.

When in 1775 the Pope died and the Bishop requested the Grand Master Ximines to cancel the Carnival, he declined. Said the then Bailiff de Rohan: "One should not deprive the public of this fleeting recreation to which it looks forward so jealously and so avidly."

During these last three days of Carnival a large stone was suspended from a beam at the corner of the Castelania, the building where the punishment of miscreants was usually carried out:  this was to signify that on these three days, the sword of justice remained sheathed, just as the Romans never punished criminals during Saturnalia. Carnival culminated in the evenings at the ball given at the theatre, where the Knights had the privilege of dancing unmasked.