From a quarantine island to the setting of a world-class renovation project: this is the story of one of Malta’s most overlooked isles.
A little isle in the limits of Gzira, Manoel Island is a place full of historical significance. But while most of us visit it when the occasional circus or luna park hits the scene, few actually know its history and the bright future that is currently being drafted for it.
The story of Manoel Island started when Grandmaster Lascaris built the Lazzaretto quarantine hospital on it in 1643. Known then as il-Gzira ta’ l-Isqof (literally ‘the Bishop’s Island’), the isle served as a detached and contained area where travellers could serve out their period of quarantine. Unfortunately, there was a time when the Islands regularly suffered from devastating outbreaks of the plague, cholera and other fatal diseases. The local population would succumb to illnesses brought over by travellers on ships from across the Mediterranean and beyond.
In 1726, the island was given its current title when the Portuguese-born António Manoel de Vilhena, a Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights of Malta, built Fort Manoel there. Considered to be a feat of 18th century military engineering, the monumental fort is as awe-inspiring today as it must have been at the time it was built, and for over two centuries this structure was an integral part of Malta’s strategic defences.
Unfortunately, following the end of World War II and the departure of the British from Malta, Manoel Island fell into disarray with vandals making it one of their favourite targets. Nevertheless, after a public tender in 1992, Midi plc took over the all-important task of restoring it – a project which is still in the works today.
Known for their extensive project at Tigné Point, Midi have already restored Fort Manoel and will soon commence on the job of giving the Lazzaretto hospital a new lease of life, with parts of the hospital being turned into apartments, offices and a casino.
This project is extensive and will cover most of the island (including the areas that are currently closed to the public). In fact, it will also include:
- A Mediterranean Marina Village which will cover 30% of the site
- A waterfront full of catering, retail and recreational facilities
- A public park
- Circa 2,000 car parking spaces
- A fully-fledged yacht marina protected by a breakwater
- The restoration of other historical monuments dotting the island.
According to estimates, all this will commence in two years’ time once the work on Tigné Point is finished. This project, however, shouldn’t take as long to complete because Manoel Island is not a high-rise development. Then again, there are many factors that may affect when it will commence and how long it will take, including FDA permits.
So, yes, next time you take a trip along the bridge leading from Gzira to Manoel Island looking for that elusive parking spot in the Sliema area, keep in mind what the island’s seen and how awesome it is set to become!
Were you surprised to find out the above about Manoel Island? Do you think it is important to know what’s going on around the island? Let us know in the comments’ section below.