Comino is a small 3.5km sq island. It is nearly at exactly the same distance between Malta and Gozo. Comino is renowned for its solitude and beautiful Cyan waters. With an official population of 4, the island is a nature reserve and bird sanctuary. Peace and beauty are its main assets.
At first glance, Comino strikes you as having a rather barren appearance. Its most visible landmark is the tower. It is situated at its highest elevation and is visible from all parts of the island. The island is a sanctuary of natural beauty. Its clear glittering sea with shades of blue and green provides the best swimming in the Mediterranean. There are rocky reefs, small sandy bays and navigable caverns beneath the coastal cliffs. Last but not least, there is the famous Blue Lagoon – a natural sea pool of unique azure colour.
History of Comino
The history of Comino is best known by the pirates. The pirates used to hide their biding time to raid Gozo or escape from their persuaders. The Knights were more interested in Comino as a hunting ground. In 1530, the island was home to wild boar and hares. The Grand Masters went to great lengths to ensure their game on Comino was protected.
Anyone found breaking the embargo on hunting could expect to serve three years as a galley slave. 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.
Places to visit
St. Mary’s Tower
There are several places of interest on the island. The most prominent is certainly Santa Marija Tower – a landmark for miles around.
The fort arrived some 200 years late. Back in the middle ages, in 1418, the Gozitans had petitioned their ruler, the Viceroy of Sicily, to have Comino defended. King Alfonso V of Aragon gave permission for this tower to be built. Money was raised by the local government, the University, and through the taxation on imported wine. Unfortunately, the money was used to fund Alfonso’s military exploits and the tower remained unbuilt.
In 1618 Alof de Wignacourt financed and built the Santa Maria tower in Comino. Its main aim was to guard the Gozo-Malta channel and deter enemy shipping from finding shelter in the caves of Comino. The tower, armaments and provision for the Santa Maria Tower in Comino cost 18,628 scudi. The Maltese architect Vittoro Cassar (1550-1607) made the designs. The chosen site was Ras l-Irqieqa, on the south-western side of the island, at a height of 230 feet above sea level. Its walls are 18 feet thick, the tower being 65 feet above the ground.
The Santa Maria tower rests on a plinth that is 110 feet square and 25 feet high. Other defensive facets are the scarp musketry gallery at the base of the walls, the fausse braye and the glacis. It was only after the construction of the Santa Maria tower in 1618 that Comino was partly brought under cultivation, not with so much success.
In 2000, the Malta Maritime Authority reached an agreement with Din l-Art Helwa, a national heritage organization, to fund the entire restoration of the Santa Maria Tower. This shall be carried out in two main phases; the outside restoration, including the missing parapet and damaged walls and turrets, and the internal part of the Comino Tower. Restoration works were completed by 2004.
The Blue Lagoon
Cut inside the distant end of Comino, the Blue Lagoon is a massive lake. It attracts sun worshippers by the thousands. More often than not, when one speaks to a local and mentions a visit to Comino, the first thing that springs to mind is the hypnotic blue water of the Blue Lagoon. Whilst Blue Lagoon is not the only attractive site in Comino, it is the reason for which many travellers visit Comino every summer. Simply put, the Blue Lagoon truly leaves you speechless. And even as repeat visitors, this feeling always remains.
Across the lagoon is the islet of Cominotto. Here you also satisfy your sandy cravings. It has a small sandy beach that is a favourite spot to lie down and have a rest after a swim across the lagoon. When on Cominotto you can also climb up to the small cliffs on the other side to see a nice view of Malta and Gozo. It’s best to do this in the morning when the sun isn’t that hot (remember you’ll probably be barefoot after the swim across).
A tiny Roman Catholic chapel dedicated to the Sacred Family Upon its Return from Egypt is located above Santa Marija Bay. The chapel was built in 1618, and enlarged in 1667 and again in 1716. It was originally dedicated to the Annunciation. It has been desecrated and reconsecrated at least once in its history when Comino was devoid of residents. The earliest record of a chapel on this site dates back to the 12th century. It can be seen in a navigational map of the period, located in the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. Mass is celebrated in the chapel on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings for the residents, hotel staff and tourists.
St. Mary’s Battery
St. Mary’s Battery was built in 1716 at the same time as various other batteries around the coastline of mainland Malta. It is situated facing the South Comino Channel. It is a semi-circular structure with a number of embrasures facing the sea. The Battery still houses two 24-pound iron cannons. It remains in a fair state of preservation mainly due to its remote location. Its armament originally included four 6-pound iron cannons.
Up to 1993, the Santa Marija Battery was in a total state of abandonment. Its two twenty-four pounders lying off the gun carriage on the paving. We read that these “were found too heavy to cart away and were left abandoned on site below the second-third and sixth-seventh embrasures. Both barrels had their cascabels sawn off and one of them has also one of its trunnions missing.” The Battery underwent restoration in 1996 by the Maltese heritage preservation society, Din l-Art Ħelwa. St. Mary’s Redoubt, an additional defensive structure, was also constructed in 1716 on the northern coast of Comino, however, it was subsequently demolished. The Knights also constructed army barracks on Comino. In the early 20th century the barracks were periodically used as an isolation hospital.
A clear azure sea, just beneath the precipice on which the battery is perched, awaits the visitor.