Martello Towers

Martello Towers have a long-standing history throughout the world. Throughout the 19th century, these small defensive forts were established in several countries belonging to the British Empire.

Originally, the tower design was inspired by a round fortress at Mortella Point in Corisca belonging to the Genovese defense system. In February of 1794 British warships attacked this tower unsuccessfully. However the tower did eventually fall to the land-based forces after two days of incessant fighting. Impressed with the effectiveness of the tower against modern warfare techniques, they decided to copy the design, adding their own twist. Misspelling the name, “Mortella” became “Martello.” Standing up to 40 feet high, it allowed for a platform housing a single artillery piece and the round structure and thick mason walls provided ample resistance to cannon fire.

The interior of the tower was divided into three floors, with some housing a basement for extra measure. The magazine and storage rooms were located on the ground floor. On the first floor, fireplaces were built into the walls for cooking and heating purposes; divided into several rooms, this is where the garrison of one officer and twenty-four men would live. Within the fort, a well or cistern provided the garrison with fresh water; this well could be re-filled with an internal drainage system which linked it to the roof, allowing rainwater to replenish the hold.

Each tower roof had at least one, possibly two, cannons on a central pivot, which the company could easily rotate 360 degrees. The Martello towers, founded in Canada, were specially built with cone-shaped roofs that could be easily removed so as to protect against the snow. Today, permanent roof additions have been used in the restoration of the towers for easier maintenance.

Construction of these towers continued up until the 1850’s, when the British realized the weakness of the towers against the new artillery weapons. The Empire built Martello towers in several countries throughout the world including: the British Isles, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. Within Canada a total of sixteen were assembled, only eleven of which still survive.

Quebec City itself had four towers to its name; three are still remain standing. Keeping its watch over the St-Lawrence River, Tower No. 1 stands on the Plains of Abraham. It has been dutifully restored into a museum and can be toured throughout the summer months. Close by is the site of Tower No.2; currently, this tower has also been restored and features an 1812 Murder Mystery Dinner. Tower No. 4 is a residential home on the northern side of the Upper City.  Tower No. 3 no longer exists after its demolition in the early 1900’s.