The Ritirata

The MICAS project footprint extends further down along the Polverista Curtain to the La Vittoria Bastion, the adjacent Ritirata and San Salvatore Counterguard with its spectacular arcone, or skew arch. The MICAS indoor galleries will be housed within the Ritirata, an inner line of defence consisting of an inner trench and parapet that guarded against the loss of the outer defences, and as its Italian military term denotes, provided a safe passage for  defending troops in retreat.

Pietro Floriani designed the new fortifications intended to guard Valletta from the landward side in 1635. It had become clear however that there were weak points in his design, particularly on the bastion of Provence, also known as the San Salvatore Bastion. The Italian military engineer Count Antonio Maurizio Valperga was tasked in 1670 with reinforcing the fortifications to the north of the Polverista Curtain. Valperga constructed a new casemated bastion known as La Vittoria and a bassoforte or counterguard named la Conceptione, also known as the San Salvatore Counterguard. Valperga also enlarged the dry moat of the Ritirata to protect the inner bastion of San Salvatore. These new alterations provided better enfilading cover fire by the defending guns in case of an attack. Valperga also suggested a breach in the San Salvatore Counterguard in the form of a large vaulted skewed arc. The resultant arch is a spectacular and iconic construction that spans around nine meters over the Ritirata ditch. It is attributed to the Maltese capomastro Giovanni Barbara and is considered one of the finest examples of a masonry  skewed arch.

Barbara’s construction is an oblique arch which required highly skilled and precise stone cutting to determine the shape and exact position of each stone. The stones could not be uniformly cut at right angles given the twist and turns of the structure and towards the ends of the arch these had to be cut on the diagonal. A brilliant piece of military engineering, the skewed arch has an internal vaulted gallery that would allow those troops defending the Floriana fortifications to retreat back to Valletta through three countermine tunnels in the adjoining bastion. The arch would subsequently be blown up by the retreating troops so as to isolate the enemy on the outer walls.

This dramatic historical landscape will soon house the MICAS indoor galleries, where outstanding and  cutting edge, international and local contemporary art will be displayed. The galleries are set to open their doors in 2021. This cultural infrastructure project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and through local state funding.

The nearby earthen parapet of the San Salvatore counterguard will also host the MICAS outdoor galleries and sculpture garden. MICAS will offer new experiences and engagement with contemporary art as well as open new leisure trails and spectacular harbour views for visitors and the neighbourhood communities.

Reference

Spiteri Stephen C.( 2008) The Development of the Bastion of Provence, Floriana Lines in   ARX- Online Journal of Military History 3 / Issues 1-4

Selected Papers http://www.militaryarchitecture.com/Arx/arx1_4_2008.pdf

The Ritirata showing Barbara’s skewed arch. This site will house the MICAS indoor galleries. Image courtesy of ipostudio architetti, Florence.

Image showing the San Salvatore Bastion and its Counterguard together with the skewed arch, Ritirata and La Vitoria bastion to the left.Image courtesy of ipostudio architetti, Florence.