Bormla lies just outside both Birgu and Isla, and therefore was an important first line of defence. The first stone of the bastions designed to surround the town of Bormla, known as the Santa Margherita or Firenzuola Lines, was laid on the 30th December 1638. Designed by the Italian engineer, Fra Vincenzo Maculano de Firenzuola, a Dominican friar, this system of defence would protect Bormla itself and the approaches to the fortifications of Birgu and Isla.
However, construction was soon stopped due to lack of funds and was only completed 70 years later, during the reign of Grand Masters Ramon Perellos, Antonio Zondadari and Antonio Manoel de Vilhena. Until 1700, only three bastions from the original design had been built. French Engineer Charles François de Mondion was then responsible for the construction of the fortifications as they stand today.
The Santa Margherita or Firenzuola Lines, are made up of seven bastions, two of which were demi-bastions, six curtain walls, three gates and a number of sally-ports (bastion tunnel-exits) which led to the ditch. In the mid-19th century, under the British rule, two of these bastions, St Frederick’s Bastion and St Raphael’s Bastion, were pulled down to make way for the construction of a shipyard.
The French military engineer François de Mondion designed St Helen’s Gate, Bormla’s main gate, which at the time was known as Porta dei Mortari. It is one of the most refined gates in the Baroque style.
In 1722, Grand Master Zondadari conferred the title of Città Cospicua to Bormla for its majestic fortifications. In 1776, the Knights ordered the construction of a dock in Bormla to service their ships of the line. This marked the start of the relationship which Bormla still has with the shipbuilding industry today. It is also the reason why Bormla was heavily bombed by the enemy during World War II.
During the British rule, no changes were made to the fortifications as built by the Knights. In around the mid-19th century, the St Clement’s Retrenchment was built in order to better control the stretch of land between the existing two lines of fortifications. Another fort was built nearby, within Bormla. Known as Fort Verdala, it was an addition to the Firenzuola Lines and was mostly used as fortified barracks (accommodation for soldiers).
During World War I, these barracks housed high ranking German officials taken as war prisoners. Amongst them was Franz Joseph Prinz von Hohenzollern, a relative of the German Kaiser, brother to the Queen of Portugal and considered a national hero in his country. There was also Karl Doenitz, who later in history, during World War II, was head of the U-Boats naval force and later of all German naval forces. Following the death of Adolf Hitler in 1945, he was appointed President of Germany for just 20 days until the country surrendered to the Allies.