28,000 square metres of secret tunnels discovered underneath Malta. Men-made tunnels built during the World War 2 below the Upper Barrakka Gardens. After 40 years, the time is still stuck down there, with old maps, guns, war remains and an atmosphere that take us back in time when soldiers studied the military strategies to implement in the long fight for the control of the Mediterranean Sea.
This location is a piece of our history. Since 2009 it’s been under restoration and will be entirely open to the public soon, integrated into the Military Heritage Park that will cover 500 years of Malta’s history. The long tunnels system survived the German and Italian bombardments during the WWII (from 1940 to 1942), and the cold war during which it was used, to control the Russian submarines movements.
Welcome into “The Lascaris War Rooms”: tunnels and chambers destined to organise and manage the defence of Malta during the Second World War.
In July 1943 General Eisenhower and his Supreme Commanders (Admiral Cunningham, Field Marshal Montgomery and Air Marshal Teddder) decided to invade Sicily in the so-called “Operation Husky” and the “War Rooms” were used as their Allied Headquarter.
But after the end of the war, things were not over and the secret tunnels continued to play an important military role. In 1956 the Suez Crisis led British and French to form an alliance and invade Egypt. The War Rooms became their strategic location. Few years later, in 1962, a Soviet missile against Malta was expected – we were during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and “The Lascaris War Rooms” stayed into full alert for several days.
Five years later (1967) Nato took control over the tunnels and turn them into the Mediterranean Fleet HQ. The Malta War Tunnels became the strategic Communication Centre for the interception of Soviet submarines in the Med for 10 years.
Since then (1979) the place was closed down and left abandoned for 40 years, until now. After humans, new guests arrived: water infiltrations, humidity, mould and rust, “feeding” of the military equipment. But despite that and the visit of several thieves, most of the equipment remained down there, under layers of dust and “oblivion”: telephones, beds, maps and so on.
Two of these old maps attracted the attention of Malta Heritage Trust that since 2009 started the restoration of the site with the collaboration of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna and Malta Airport Foundation.
The old wall map is around 20 metres high and it’s believed to have been used by Nato during its period of stay in Malta (1954 – 1971) and now it’s nearing its final restoration stages. The map was used for the planning and execution of combined operations by British and Nato forces in the Mediterranean. Under this map the researches found a second one dated back to the WW2 period.
Since the cost to restore the two maps won’t be covered by the €280,000 donation received from Malta Airport Foundation, Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna is still looking for sponsors to fund their restoration.
Hoping to make the site a main attraction in Valletta, which will be the European Capital of Culture in 2018, you can already visit part of the War HQ Tunnel with a tour that will take you on a two hour tour of the WW2 and Cold War HQ rooms and tunnels, including the St. Peter and Paul counter-guard and the Victorian Gun Powder Magazine. Visits are allowed twice a day and you can have more info here.
Have you ever been in Malta? Would you like to take a visit? This could be your opportunity.