On what has become an annual event each February, the lovely M&M drove us around the island of Malta on a mystery tour. One of the stops was an old fort in Birżebbuġa in the south of the island.
Il-Fortizza ta’ Bengħisa (Fort Benghisa), dates back to the part of the twentieth century. The southernmost fort on the island, it was built by the British as one of a series of forts designed to protect Marsaxlokk harbour. We visited Fort Delimara last year and may well have also seen Fort Tas-Silġ too. I don’t think I’ve seen Fort San Lucian or the Pinto and Ferretti batteries … and to be honest, unless there’s a story attached, I’d pretty much forted out. Not for nothing was Malta once known as Fortress Island.
What makes it interesting today is that it’s now private property. Back in 1973, the government rented part of it for less than €100 a year. In both 1981 and 1996, two more plots were rented out for an annual rent of €177 and €419, respectively. The three tenants are into animal husbandry. I’m sure Fort Delimara was rented as a piggery and is now rented to Heritage of Malta for €764 a year – a lot more money. I read that Tas-Silg fort is rented for an annual sum of €232 to the Island Sanctuary as a dog shelter. I’d like to live in a fort… for a while… just to see.
But in 2011, the government stopped accepting rent for Fort Benghisa, presumably with the intention of getting rid of the tenants but there’s still people living there – or at least some well-fed chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.
There was a serious-looking NO ENTRY sign that was less than inviting. I took a few steps inside to see the graffiti we’d come to look for, regimental stamps dating back to the British days. It was a quick in and out though – I wasn’t hanging around.
Back outside the main gate though, the stone walls bore closer scrutiny. There we saw crude etchings of bomber planes and crosses and what might have been submarines… with names attached. Fascinating stuff. I wonder where these chaps are today and if they ever come back to check and see if their names are still there.