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Built by the Knights of the Order of St. John in 1675, Notre Dame Gate serves as the primary entrance into Cottonera. Among the seven gates that punctuated the 9 km long continuous defensive line surrounding the Three Cities, this gate stands out. It comprises six levels, featuring four expansive bombproof barrack rooms, a spacious terrace above them, and an imposing gatehouse that once housed the lifting machinery for the portcullis gate. The architectural style of Notre Dame Gate reflects a lavish baroque design typical of the era in which it was erected. Adorning its facade is a bronze effigy of Grandmaster Cotoner and a sizable marble inscription commemorating the sponsorship and construction of the Cottonera Lines by the same Grandmaster.


Notre Dame Gate holds a unique distinction among historic gates, having acquired several names over time. Originally named "Porta della Maria Vergine delle Grazie" as desired by Grand Master Cotoner, it was eventually shortened to "Porta Cottonera." During the British period, the name transitioned to "Cottoner Gate," and later in the 19th century, it was changed to "Żabbar Gate." However, colloquially, the Maltese referred to it as "Bieb is-Sultan," owing to the bronze bust of Grand Master Cotoner standing high above the gate, a name that is still relevant to this present day.

Built in 1675, Notre Dame Gate served as the main entrance to the fortified conglomeration when approached from the east. Positioned in the middle of Notre Dame Curtain, flanked by Notre Dame Bastion and St. James Bastion, it faces the ancient town of Zabbar. The gate remains the highest point in Cottonera, offering breathtaking vistas of the island.

The architectural design of the gate is typically baroque, adorned with Corinthian pilasters, heavy mouldings, fascias, symmetrical niches, and apertures. A prominent balustrade, trophies, and finials enhance its decorative features. A massive marble inscription denotes the foundation of the fortified lines, crowned by a heavy bass-relief depicting a trophy of arms and two putti surrounding an alcove sheltering a bronze effigy of Grand Master Cotoner.

The bronze bust of Grand Master Cotoner was cast around an iron armature at the Order's Ferreria (Foundry) by Pietro Sanchez, the chief founder of the time. The bust, signed by Sanchez, is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship, showcasing the grandmaster in his middle age, dressed in armor, with a perpetual gaze towards the Zabbar Parish Church.

Placed above the gate in 1673, according to correspondence from the Holy Inquisitor Ferrante Pallavicino, the gate served in military use for nearly 300 years, witnessing the presence of the Hospitaller Knights, French Republican, and British troops. The British 24th Regiment of Foot (South Wales Borders), known for their involvement in the Zulu wars, left notable graffiti during their stay in 1874.

Following the construction of the Cottonera Military Hospital in 1870, the gate began serving as an adjunct to the medical establishment. During World War I, wounded troops were accommodated at Notre Dame Gate. Despite receiving a direct hit during World War II, the gate suffered minimal damage compared to the extensive loss in the Three Cities.

Today, Notre Dame Gate serves as the headquarters of the Malta Heritage Trust – Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna.

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The Monumental facade of the Notre Dame Gate, built by Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner during his sovreignity (1670s). Vittoriosa (Birgu) Malta     



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Monday - Saturday: 09.00am - 04.00pm
(Except on 24,25 and 31 Dec, 1 Jan, Good Friday and Easter)​   ​

Admission is only available through pre-booking

Notre Dame Gate, Cottonera Street, Birgu, Malta

Entrance Fees (incl. guided tour)