Everyone knows where the Floriana Granaries, known as ‘il-Fosos,’ are situated – whether you have been to this popular square in Floriana during the famous Isle of MTV event, or for a concert by Elton John, or possibly during the Pope’s visit, you must surely be aware of it as an important landmark.
While the Floriana Granaries are a prominent venue for events and media-related promotions, not to mention political rallies, unfortunately most people are not aware of their importance as part of our cultural heritage and history.
Most of the Granaries in Floriana were commissioned as an underground storage facility by Grand Master Marino de Redin between 1657 and 1660, even before the city of Floriana itself was built. At the time of the Knights of St. John, while Malta was under constant threat of attack by the Turks, there wasn’t enough grain or wheat produced in Malta to cater for all the population, and Malta had to import a lot of cereals from Sicily. It was very important for Malta to have an abundant storage of grain always available, in the event of a siege, as well as in case of other calamities, such as a plague.
The granaries in Floriana are to be found in a huge square, directly in front of the Floriana Parish church. There are actually 76 underground bell-shaped reservoirs covered up with huge stone caps, today sealed with mortar. The stone caps are either circular or squarish. A single storage pit, or trench (which is the English translation for the word ‘fossa’) can hold from around 60 to 80 tons of wheat, and is designed for the wheat to be kept dry, which is essential.
Although the largest number of ‘fosos’ is to be found in Floriana, there are also a number of other underground silos around Malta, mainly in Valletta and Birgu.
During the Second World War, the Floriana Granaries were targeted by the Germans, who wanted to destroy the Maltese’s storage of provisions. The Parish church of Saint Publius in fact, received extensive bomb damage at the time, yet amazingly enough, the granaries themselves were spared.
The underground silos remained in use until 1962, when modern storage facilities were built above ground.
Nowadays, the area known as ‘il-Fosos’ is a popular open space normally used for open-air concerts, featuring important local artists such as Joseph Calleja or Federica Falzon, as well as internationally-acclaimed singers, such as Claudio Baglioni and Rod Stewart. They were used when Pope John II celebrated Holy Mass during his visit in 1990, as well as in 2011 when Pope Benedict XVI was here.
Past, present and future; the Floriana Granaries span all three, being not only a testament of Malta’s glorious regime under the Knights of Saint John, or a media-related venue, but also a reminder of the ventures of the past transposed into our day-to-day lives. Although we might not be aware of their original meaning in the scheme of things, or treasure their worth in historical value, we still cannot but feel something every time we walk near them. It could be cultural pride, the memory of an incredible event, or the anticipation of a future one – the ‘Fosos’ still continue to influence and shape our lives to this day.
For more information about granaries in Malta and Gozo please consult this paper by David Dandria here