Underground Air-raid Shelters
The shelter complex at Couvre Porte, Vittoriosa is one of the several hundreds found scattered in the Maltese islands. It is one of the largest underground wartime complexes with over 1.5 kilometres of corridors and tens of cubicles. Most of the rooms overlying this shelter were once used for accommodating the Cottonera Police District Head Quarters. Entrance into the shelter is from one of these rooms protected by a bomb-proof hood. These hoods were devised to stop falling debris from blocking stairs or door ways into shelters as a result of bombing. The entrance was also fitted with an anti-gas door, designed to stop war gases from entering into the shelter. This consisted of a tilted wooden frame and a rolled blanket stiffened with wooden slats. To seal off the doorway one was to unroll the blanket and let it stretch on the door frame.
The shelter contain a niche carved into the live rock to host the holy sacraments from the nearby destroyed parish church. A birth room was also installed in the shelter following a government decree in 1942 that required all major public shelters to have a birth room for use by expectant mothers.
One of the cubicles found within the shelter was reserved to the shelter warden. Air raid shelters were placed under the charge of a Shelter Supervisor or Air Raid Warden, usually recruited from the ranks of the civil service, the local professional class or the clergy. Their role was that of regulating life in a shelter. As an inducement for their voluntary position, these were offered by government the free use of a cubicle both for them and for their family.
Due to the shortage of fuel resulting from a naval blockade run by the Axis powers, the provision of electrical power was both erratic and in short supply all over the island. Therefore to light up the shelters bowls within the rock faces were hewn to be filled with water on which a thick layer of oil or diluted fat was to float and a wick fitted into a float was then to be set alight to provide the light.
Living and sleeping within the shelter took lace either in a public dormitory or private cubicles. The communal dormitory was fitted with bunk-beds that were used on a first-come first-serve basis. Private cubicles were excavated on a private basis by individuals or families at their own expense. This was only allowed following the provision of enough shelter space to the entire community. Occupiers of private cubicles were not allowed to close them off in any way thus restricting the free flow of air, hence only gated screens or curtains were allowed to cut them off.
The museum stands on an original wartime air raid shelter which can be visited as part of your tour.