Malta, one of the smallest nations in the world, has recently seen the completion of the restoration of its historic 1855 Delimara Lighthouse.
Favored by tourists because of its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as its seven Megalithic Temples that are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world, Malta is a 122-square mile southern European country in the Mediterranean Sea. It also boasts a number of lighthouses that are managed by the Malta Maritime Authority. But the Delimara Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in Malta with a Fresnel lens, which is believed to be a third order.
Dr. Stanley Farrugia Randon, who was the Restoration Team coordinator of Obo Din l-Art Helwa, did extensive research on the lighthouse. In his report, which he shared with Lighthouse Digest, he wrote, “The Delimara lighthouse consists of a rectangular block made of two stories and a central octagonal tower. There are three doors at ground level. The door on the left side leads to a squarish room which in turn leads to a flight of stairs on the left, and another much smaller room on the right hand side. The right side door leads to a squarish room which in turn leads to another smaller room which was used for storage of fuel. On the right hand side of the ground floor is a small room which was constructed in two phases, the first one measuring only 1.2 metres while the second enlargement brought the room to the present size and this addition is communicated through a doorway to the front room.
“The upper floor is practically identical to the lower floor except for the absence of the added small room on the right of the lower floor. The central door opens into a corridor which is situated in front of the entrance to the tower, and in turn the corridor leads to the two front rooms on each side. The base of the tower is slightly set back to give room to the corridor.
“At one point a room was added on the roof of the lighthouse and the roof of this room was constructed with steel beams and stone slabs. In 1984 it was decided to replace the badly corroded laddar and railing on the outside of the lantern housing. The material used for the construction of the lighthouse is globigerina limestone, but the upper courses of the coping built on the summit of the tower to secure the lantern housing was made of hardstone.
“The lightsource at the Delimara lighthouse was provided by a pear-shaped paraffin tank made of brass. Half rounded rods which end in a shape of a lion paw reinforce the tank. This style is typically Victorian and was in vogue mostly at the time the Delimara Lighthouse was built. Indeed this Victorian Cabriole style was mostly used in furniture. This could indicate that this tank is the original one used when the lighthouse was constructed in the 1850s. Here we should mention that in between 1850 and 1896 the system used was different. The tank has a hand pump to pressurize the fuel supplying the three co-centric wicks that were located just above the tank. An identical tank, but which still has all its original features complete with the three co-centric wicks , is conserved at the Maritime Museum at Vittoriosa. Presumably, this is a spare unit from the Delimara Lighthouse.
“The Delimara lighthouse sustained damages during World War II and indications of shrapnel are still easily identified on the outside elevations. Indeed, damages involved breakages to a number of glass panes.”
By Dr. Stanley Farrugia Randon
In March of 2006 Communications and Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea, on behalf of the then Malta Maritime Authority chairman Marc Bonello, presented Din l-Art Helwa with a cheque to assist in the restoration of the lighthouse which was also officially entrusted to the association by the authority. Restoration started soon after and was planned in three phases with the final aim of offering visitor accommodation in the historic site.
The first phase of restoration involved the restoration of the exterior and included repairing damage to the walls, roof, and tower. All cement accretions added in previous years were removed and the mortar joints were plastered with a hydraulic lime-based mix. The external apertures required extensive maintenance and any missing timber apertures were replaced. The second phase involved internal works such as plumbing and electricity, maintenance of internal apertures, and the installation of a kitchen and bathrooms. The first two phases were completed by the first months of 2008.
The third and last phase included the restoration of the light mechanism and its housing, the glass prisms, and the lantern mechanism. The latter phase was made possible thanks to a sponsorship by Gasan Mamo, a firm that uses a lighthouse as their logo. This final stage took another five years as works were delayed due to financial constraints and a number of meetings to decide on the best way to proceed.
The glass panes had to be removed one by one and this was not an easy job. Many were broken and others were replaced by wooden pieces. The structure had to be freed from its base of coralline limestone, to which it was attached by an iron ring and hold-down bolts on the inside. Unfortunately, many of the coralline limestone stones were cracked by the corroded bolts, and the ring was also in a bad state of preservation. These had to be replaced. The housing was then hauled down with a crane followed by the mechanism with the precious lenses.
When the aged white paint on the cast iron housing and copper parts was removed, this brought to light other problems in the structure which were not evident before. The housing was found to be made of cast iron, which is brittle in its nature. It was found to be broken in different parts at its base, and this was probably intentionally done when the housing was originally fixed to the stone base as the pre-drilled holes did not match the bolts which were prepared for it in the stone. Joints and corroded holes were filled and in some areas a blacksmith was asked to replace extensively corroded and missing parts.
The cast iron was painstakingly cleaned and then given a protective layer to prevent corrosion. Glass panes protect the lens mechanism all around, but it is shielded above by copper sheets which form a protective canopy. Rain water is drained away by gutters that are also made of copper. Both the cast iron and the copper components had corroded extensively, possibly affecting each other due to galvanic corrosion. Copper hooks were manufactured and placed on the interior of the landward side of the housing. It is thought that these served to hang something to prevent the light from the lantern from lighting the landward side. Extensively corroded parts had to be replaced.
The whole mechanism and housing were finally placed back in February, 2014.
When the kitchen and bathrooms were fitted, it was found that the lighthouse had no drainage system and not even a cesspit (septic tank). Everything used to be drained into the sea. Since there are no drainage pipes passing in this area of Delimara, a cesspit had to be constructed. Once this was completed, the lighthouse was finally ready to be lived in again.
Julian J. Mama, Managing Director at GasanMamo, said, “Seeing the lighthouse restored and back to its former glory makes every penny and the time spent on the restoration worthwhile.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2014 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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