• St. Elmo breakwater bridge, Valletta – Restoration
  • St. Elmo breakwater bridge, Valletta – Restoration
  • St. Elmo breakwater bridge, Valletta – Restoration
  • St. Elmo breakwater bridge, Valletta – Restoration
  • St. Elmo breakwater bridge, Valletta – Restoration

St. Elmo breakwater bridge, Valletta – Restoration

Photos above: Courtesy of Ms.Audrey Camilleri

History – St.Elmo bridge, Valletta

bridge history

The foundation stone of the breakwater in the Grand Harbour was laid by King Edward VII on the 20th April 1903 when Malta was under the British rule. Traditionally, in earlier times, the wide entrance to Grand Harbour was protected by a heavy chain which ran across the mouth of the harbour from Fort Saint Elmo to Fort Ricasoli, and which served to keep enemy ships out of harbour. However, by the turn of the twentieth century, better protection was deemed necessary by the British Admirality – not only from intruders and torpedo attacks, but also from the rough seas which could cause havoc within the harbour, especially when a strong North-Easterly wind Grigalata) was blowing. A strong wind blowing from this direction also made it very difficult for ships to negotiate the entrance to the harbour. In 1900, the British Admirality commissioned plans for the building of a new breakwater across the mouth of the harbour. Tenders were issued by 1902, with one of the conditions placed being that any artefacts found during the dredging of the sea-bed and its excavation be handed over to the Admirality.

The estimated cost at the time was to amount to £1,000,000. To avoid stagnation of the water inside Grand Harbour, the larger (West) arm of the breakwater – that is the one extending from Saint Elmo Point – was to be separated by 70 meters from the fore-shore by a steel foot-bridge. The planned two-span bridge would then enable anyone walking onto the breakwater from its Valletta side to reach the small light-house at the end of the arm. The tower on the St Elmo arms was to be 14m high, and was completed by 1908.

Erection of the original bridge


The tender was awarded to S. Pearson and Son who employed close to 500 men in the building of the breakwater, and these included those working at the Gozo quarries and at Mistra. The underwater work was obviously carried out by divers using standard diving suits or carrying out the work in diving bells. They were supplied with air from the surface, which was pumped to them using a manually operated pump. The first blocks in the building of the breakwater were laid in 1905. From a socio-economic point of view the building of the breakwater was very important for Malta, as it created jobs at a time when there was massive unemployment and when poverty was threatening the livelihood of many Maltese families. The project did not only provide jobs for the Maltese, but also for skilled workers from neighbouring countries – mainly coming from Sicily, Italy and Spain. The British Admiralty declared the work on the breakwater complete in 1910.

During World War II the foot-bridge on the Valletta side of the breakwater was destroyed when, at dawn on the 26th July 1941, the E-boat unit of the Italian Regia Marina attacked the breakwater in a savage, but futile, attempt to gain access into the harbour. The Italians paid a heavy price, as all the attacking vessels were destroyed in the counter-attack which involved guns on Fort Saint Elmo and Fort Ricasoli, as well as those further afield.

The construction of the new bridge


Following the upward trend of cruise liners visiting Malta, the plan was to regenerate the Valletta Grand Harbour. The St. Elmo Bridge was part of this plan and a tender was issued on 18 September 2009 for “The Design, Fabrication and Erection of a Steel Foot Bridge”. This project was expected to cost €2.8 million and was to be financed by the Malta Maritime Authority. The bridge, a 190-ton and 70m long structure was fabricated in La Coruna, Northern Spain. It was shipped to Malta on board the Storman Asia as a whole structure to be placed on site. The local contractors Vassallo Builders and Bezzina & Cole Architects, were entrusted with the erection of the bridge.

The lighting project for St.Elmo bridge

To design the lighting of this bridge the tender called for “a qualified electrical engineer with professional recognition; demonstrating experience in the last 5 years in designing specialised/architectural lighting systems”. The onus fell on Ing. Anthony Magro of Calleja Ltd. The challenge of this project was to achieve a design which was both aesthetically pleasing whilst being engineered to the highest standards to ensure reliability and maintainability of the system as a whole. The Tender specifically stated the types of lighting projects required the following:

1. Normal pedestrian security lighting for bridge walkway

Photo above: Courtesy of Ms.Audrey Camilleri

2. A subdued lighting system for the external sides of the bridge

Photo above: Courtesy of Ms.Audrey Camilleri

3. Enhanced architectural lighting

Photo above: Courtesy of Ms.Audrey Camilleri

  • Project: Valued at: €190,000
  • Product: - Targetti Lineos RGB controlled via DMX interface through a central DMX controller & Osram linear flex protect
  • Brand: Targetti & Osram
  • Client: Vassallo Group / Transport Malta
  • Custodians: Ing. Anthony Magro
  • Realised: July 2012