Valletta’s Saluting Battery
The lovingly and painstakingly restored Valletta Saluting Battery in the lower part of Valletta’s Upper Barrakka Gardens. Period guns dating to the nineteenth century British period facing the impregnable Fort St. Angelo and the Three Cities across the Grand Harbour.
The guns sit atop an elevated part of Valletta’s harbour-facing battlements and the location has served as a gun battery for almost half a millennium making it probably one of the oldest such locations still in operational existence.
Besides their defensive role, the guns in the saluting battery also used to perform a number of ceremonial roles marking anniversaries and feasts and also extending greetings to visiting vessels. Since the 1820s the battery has also been used as a time-synchronising device with its daily firing of the noon-day gun which was especially useful to commanders of vessels withing hearing range of the gun to synchronise their clocks and watches. This was not done for some frivolous reason, but for navigation purposes given that satellite tracking and gps devices were not even the stuff of dreams back then. At that time mariners used to estimate their location by taking readings of the sun’s altitude using devices such as sextants and for the navigation to be precise the readings had to take place at precise hourly times: thus the importance of properly synchronised timepieces. The practice of firing the noon-day gun was re-introduced a few years ago by heritage NGO Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna (http://www.wirtartna.org/) with the support of European Union funding and sponsorships from the Malta Tourism Authority and the Bank of Valletta, and is now carried out daily to coincide with midday. (http://www.salutingbattery.com/) Visiting cruise ships also occasionally commission six-gun salutes for the experience and entertainment of their clients.
The beautiful historic Grand Harbour, surrounded by the walled towns crowding around its perimeter appears calm and radiant in this picture taken during a sunny January day. The contrast between the blue sea and sky and the pale limestone buildings is very pleasant while the patch of lawn behind the cannon gives the scene a distinct British feel. The yachts and superyachts berthed off the Vittoriosa shore are the contemporary replacements to the warships which crowded the harbour until the departure of the Royal Navy in 1979.
As to the concept of a saluting battery: although protocol and etiquette ensured that this defensive feature evolved into an activity which was mostly ceremonial in nature, its origins were apparently more practical. Based on humanity’s inherent distrust in strangers, the concept of the salute evolved from the need by both host fortress and visiting vessel to send out a clear signal that no aggressive behaviour is being contemplated. What better way to do that than to fire off and empty your entire battery before your host/guest comes within range?!