Comino

Comino

Home to the Blue Lagoon

The Island of Comino has been known as being inhabited by farmers during the Roman period. However for most of its history it has been sparsely populated or abandoned entirely. In the middle ages the island was popular with pirates and marauders using its rugged coastline to stage raids on hapless boats crossing between Malta and Gozo. The Knights of Malta used Comino as a hunting and recreational grounds and were fiercely protective of the local game which consisted of wild boar and hares. If caught, poachers were given a penalty as a galley slave for three years.

In 1416, the Maltese people petitioned their king, Alphonse V of Aragon, to build a tower, to serve as an early warning system in case of an invasion. The purpose was to deter pirates, smugglers and corsairs from using Comino as a hiding place and staging sorties on the islands of Malta and Gozo. Two years later a special tax on imported wine was levied, to raise funds for this project. However, the monies were diverted and the Island remained undefended for another two hundred years. In 1618 St. Mary's Tower (it-Torri ta' Santa Marija) was erected by the Knights of Malta on the orders of Grandmaster Wignacourt. It was designed by Maltese architect Vittorio Cassar. Funds for its construction were raised by means of the sale of Comino brushwood. Located roughly in the centre of the southern coast it formed part of a chain of defensive towers. The Wignacourt, Lascaris, and De Redin towers, installed at vantage points along the coastline greatly improved communications between the Islands of Malta and Gozo.

Comino Tower
The Tower is a large, square building with four corner turrets, located about 80 metres above sea level

The Tower is a large, square building with four corner turrets, located about 80 metres above sea level. Its walls are 12 metres tall, 6m thick. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Comino served as a place of imprisonment or exile for errant knights.

Knights who were convicted of minor crimes were occasionally sentenced to the lonely and dangerous task of manning St. Mary's Tower. During times of crisis its garrison numbered up to 60 soldiers. By 1791 its armament included two 12-pound iron cannon, one 10-pound bronze cannon, one 4-pound bronze cannon, and two 3-pound bronze cannon.

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During the French Blockade (1798–1800), St. Mary's Tower served as a concentration camp for suspected spies. In 1829 it was abandoned by the British Military. For several decades it was deemed to be the property of the local civil authorities, and may have been used as an isolation hospital. The Tower saw active service once again during both World War I and World War II. Since 1982, the Tower has been the property of the Armed Forces of Malta. It now serves as a lookout and staging post to guard against contraband and illegal hunting of migratory birds at sea. In the past, whenever the seas were too rough for the Gozitan priest to make the crossing to Comino for the celebration of Holy Mass, the local community would gather on the rocks at a part of the Island known as Tal-Hmara, and gaze across the channel towards the Chapel il-Madonna tal-Blat (Saint Mary of the Rocks), located at Hondoq ir-Rummien, Gozo, where Mass was being celebrated. They followed along with the progression of the Mass by means of a complex flag code.