250 years ago, on the tiny unspoiled Mediterranean island of Gozo, The Knights of the Order of St John had a dream. They wished to build a new fortress town to replace The Citadel in Victoria as the Island’s Capital City. They believed that this new city would protect the island because of increased fortification. They were also convinced that this would increase commerce between the islands and attract new settlers to Gozo.
The project for the new fortress town was drawn up and plans were approved. Unfortunately they had to be shelved for around 25 years because of lack of funds. Works on the fortress recommenced solely thanks to the generous benefactor Jacques de Chambray.
Jacques de Chambray (1687-1756) was born into a noble family from Evreus in Normandy, France, and arrived in Malta at thirteen years of age. Later on, he entered the Order's navy, and proved to be a natural commander and a true buccaneer in the traditions of the Order's long history. This made him very wealthy, and following the capture of one of the greatest Turkish flagships, The Sultana, in 1749, he retired from active service to enjoy his wealth and status. At the same time, he made an offer to Grandmaster Pinto to use his fortune to undertake the building of the new fortifications and city at Ras-et-Tafal, Mgarr. The offer was accepted, and works on the fortress began.
Until his death, Jacques de Chambray had already spent 40,000 Scudi on the project and he had bequeathed one fifth of his property to secure its completion. Work continued after his death and the fortress was finished in 1758, albeit with many alterations from the original plans.
Fort Chambray, as it was christened, was ready to attract settlers by 1760. It was the best-defended and the best-provisioned on the island. The town was to have the Governor's Palace, a parochial church, and an administrative building. Besides, each building block was to have a central courtyard to shelter more people in an emergency. The town, however, never materialised, as its need as a refuge in case of attacks was rapidly disappearing due to the increasing presence in the Mediterranean of powerful naval frigates of Dutch, British and French powers.
By 1755, the plans for the City had been scaled down, but the Fort was almost complete. In 1761, the Fort was lightly-armed, and an effort was made to sell land to the public; however, this was not succcesful as the Gozitan people once again began to feel more secure in their existing homes.
The Fort experienced only one brief military adventure in its lifetime. In 1798, it defended Gozo against Chambray's own countrymen, the revolutionary forces of General Bonaparte. The surprise arrival of Napoleon caused Gozo's population, for the only time, to rush to the new Fort with their animals and possessions, but after a token show of resistance to the powerful French forces, they surrendered the Fort to the French commander.
During the first four decades of British rule, the Fort's importance diminished. It still continued to be garrisoned and maintained; however, as the years rolled by, it began to be used solely as a barracks. It did, however, find a new lease of life when a squadron of some 500 British men were stationed there during the Crimean War and the First World War. From thereon in it served many purposes. In the period between the World Wars, the Government started using the Fort as a mental institution and on the onset of the Second World War it was turned into a hospital with a special section for those afflicted with Leprosy. In 1971 the mental institution was reopened and this was its function for seven years, until the Government planned to allocate the Fort for Tourism purposes.
A large complex was planned with a hotel, commercial outlets and complete restoration – however Fort Chambray once again fell victim to a severe lack of funds and for a second time its development ground to a halt.
Now, finally, Fort Chambray is being given a new breath of life. It is to become a lush and luxurious real-estate haven. New residential units are currently being crafted in stone by local tradesmen using traditional methods. The design has been adapted to create a traditional local village environment; whilst also being an up-market and unique development.
Surrounding the residential units will be landscaped gardens, open spaces, picturesque piazzas and a traffic free environment. The historical and cultural importance of the site, the beauty of the Fort, the stunning views of Mgarr Harbour, Malta and Comino, the warm Mediterranean climate and the professional restoration which is currently underway, all add up to a magnificent real estate opportunity. Fort Chambray now has the potential to become your home.