Almost 500 years ago, an Italian architect laid the foundation for what was to become a world wide monument of the British Empire.
Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino, a Genovese architect, designed and built the world’s first Martello Tower, in 1565 in the island of Corsica.
Martello Towers are essentially small forts, mostly used to protect a strategically important coastline. They exist in all shapes and forms, but typically share a few basic characteristics, such as the mortar bound, extremely thick walls – able to resist fierce cannon fire from a potential enemy.
They were usually round in shape, standing 10-15 metres high, and were typically equipped with some form of heavy artillery in the top section, along with quarters below, capable of holding 15-20 soldiers including food and water supplies.
Martello towers in Mauritius were built by the British during the rule of the British Empire, and due to their design and intended function, many of them still stand today. They were typically built with some form of masonry, and a durable mortar along with metre thick walls allowed them to truly stand the test of time.
The name Martello itself is derived from the Corsican defense structures of Mortella, built by the Italians in the 16th century.
Martello towers built by the British Empire in the 19th century were also inspired by the very same Italian original, and they share the same basic architecture as the original Martello tower in Corsica – or Torra di Mortella in Italian. The original tower is located in the commune Saint-Florent, Haute-Corse on the island of Corsica.
The Martello Tower located right next to La Preneuse beach is arguably the best preserved one in Mauritius.
With its metre thick walls and hideaway location, just behind the hill by La Preneuse beach, the Martello tower at La Preneuse is effectively protected from open waters, and many believe that this has saved the tower from decay.
Today, many of the Martello Towers in Mauritius are open to the public, and the one in La Preneuse is now a staffed museum, easily accessed from La Preneuse beach.
The Martello towers form an integral part of the history of Mauritius, and most primary and secondary schools in Mauritius arrange trips to Martello towers across the island.
For this reason, and if one is planning on visiting a Martello Tower (regardless of the location), it might be worth checking with the respective tower staff in advance.