The stunning tower, ‘Torri Xutu’ in Wied iż-Żurrieq is restored to its former glory
Dotting the Maltese islands at strategic intervals are some 27 watchtowers, commissioned by five different Grand Masters during the 17th and 18th centuries so as to provide the archipelago with a robust defence system.
While some of the original structures were either demolished or collapsed, many of these towers have stood the test of time to become iconic features of the Maltese coastal landscape.
The majority of the small coastal towers are set on two floors: The lower was used for ammunition and the upper one having accommodated the soldiers on duty. Towers such as Wignacourt in St Paul’s Bay also housed a kitchen and a toilet, and others such as San Luċjan and St Thomas are bigger and even more complex.
Dominating a Natura 2000 site in the picturesque Wied iz-Zurrieq area, is one of these relatively small yet historically important structures; Torri Xutu.
Having proudly looked out in the direction of the islet of Filfla since the reign of Grand Master Lascaris, Torri Xutu was not only used during the times of the Knights of St John, but went on to lend itself to the Coast Police as an observation post when the Mediterranean was in the throes of World War II.
While the 17th-century tower succumbed to neither enemy attack nor fury of the elements, Torri Xutu’s proximity to the sea, coupled with its abandonment in 2002, took a visible toll on the once-impenetrable defence structure.
Aiming at rehabilitating the tower to its former glory and turning it into one of the top points of interest in the southern part of the islands, back in 2015, the then newly established Malta Airport Foundation committed its financial support to a restoration project spearheaded by Din l-Art Ħelwa.
As part of this project, Torri Xutu was fitted with interactive monitors providing visitors with information about the tower and its stunning surroundings, a bespoke staircase allowing the safe access from the first floor to the second, a new lighting system, and new wooden apertures. An almost completed second phase of the project has seen landscaping works gradually turn the boundary area around the tower into a manicured spot, where one can pause to take in the beauty of Wied iż-Żurrieq.
Speaking of financial support, one might wonder who funded the construction of the watchtowers back in the day while Grand Master de Redin, for instance, was set back just over 6,428 scudi for the construction and woodwork of 13 towers, under the reign of his predecessor Jean Paul Lascaris, watchtowers were paid out of the people’s taxes.
In addition to this, it was the locals who manned these look-out posts; an onerous responsibility given that the number of guards needed exceeded the number of men available for the task. Besides guards, there would be a bombardier trained in the firing of cannons stationed at respective towers.
Although the roofs of small towers, such as the ones in Lippija, Qawra and Għajn Tuffieħa, were reinforced by wooden beams, they were not robust enough to carry the weight of a cannon and withstand its recoil. Torri Xutu brought about a shift in how these coastal towers were constructed and, in fact, served as a prototype for the towers built under the watch of de Redin.
Having a vaulted upper floor, Torri Xutu was furnished with enough structural sturdiness to carry a cannon on its roof. Essentially, this meant that the tower could defend itself and act as a relay station signalling enemy approach.
Being located in one of the most idyllic spots in the southern region of the island, a visit to Torri Xutu should be high on the itinerary of history buffs and nature lovers alike.