Just a short stroll from our doorstep sits one of Malta’s most notable historical landmarks - the Fort of St Angelo. Located on the very tip of Birgu’s peninsula, it was fortified in 1530, when the Order of Saint John came to the island. The site, which has been occupied since pre-history and was a prominent place of worship in antiquity with the building of a temple dedicated to the goddess Astarte, was rebuilt in 1530 and became the residence of the head of the Catholic military order.
Beneath the fort itself lies a prison, the ‘guva’ which was greatly feared and housed many high-ranking offenders within the order. It was chiseled out of stone underneath the fort and could only be accessed through a trapdoor in its ceiling. The oval-shaped prison is situated opposite the Chapel of Nativity and was originally a water cistern.
One of the most notable prisoners who served some time in the guva was the infamous artist Caravaggio, who was confined there in the early 17th century following a brawl in Valletta in which he injured a knight of a senior rank.
However unbelievable it may sound, Caravaggio managed – with the help of others, undoubtedly – to get out of the guva after a month, climb the Fort’s ramparts, and scale down the exterior wall of the fort, possibly with a rope or a rope ladder. He then probably got into a boat waiting for him in the harbour and left the island that was guarded by the most skilled warriors of Europe. All of the artist’s biographers acknowledge that we have no idea how he planned and executed this endeavour, or with whose support. The one documented fact is that, somehow, in October 1608, he reemerged in Sicily, unscathed.
Fort St Angelo in Birgu is open Monday - Sunday, 9am to 5pm, excluding public holidays.