Containing some of the most interesting historic sites in Malta
If you look out over the Grand Harbour from Upper Barrakka Gardens you will see across the water Fort St. Angelo and a populated area close by. These are the historic fortified towns known as The Three Cities. The cities are now called Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua but they were formerly known as Birgu, Isla and Bormla.
Older than Valletta and home to the first knights, the three cities have a unique charm and character that distinguish them from all other towns in Malta. Here you will find unique architecture, the maritime museum, and some of Malta's most important churches and most interesting historic sites.
Fort St. Angelo
It is possible that there has been a tower of some kind on this spot since the Roman times. Certainly there was a structure here during the Arab conquest of Malta in the 11th century. It is with the arrival of the Knights in 1530 that Fort St. Angelo became an important seat of power and was chosen as the seat of the Grand Masters. During the Great Siege of 1565 the Fort withstood the ferocious attacks of the Turks.
Fort St. Angelo played a heroic role in the Great Siege of 1565. From its ramparts Grand Master La Vallette directed all the major battles fought between the knights and the Maltese against the Turks. It was a shot fired from the fort that killed Dragut, the feared Admiral of the Turkish forces. In the 19th century, the British took over the Fort and in 1912 it was officially listed as a ship, first as HMS Egmont and then as HMS St Angelo. More recently, the Government of Malta granted the Order of the Knights of St John the upper part of the fort, comprising the magisterial palace and St Anne's Chapel.
When the Knights arrived in Malta in 1530 they decided that the capital, Mdina, was not what they were looking for so they made their home in Birgu and stayed there until 1571 when they moved to the newly built city fortress of Valletta. There are many historical sites throughout Birgu that are linked to the Knights and the Great Siege.
Although changed by its many inhabitants through the years, the Inquisitor’s Palace is an example of an architectural style that was common throughout Europe. Inside it’s possible to view instruments of torture used by the inquisitors. The Palace is also the Museum of Ethnography and displays the religious values long held by the Maltese.
St. Lawrence Church, The Waterfront, Birgu
The majestic baroque Church of St Lawrence has a fine setting overlooking Dockyard Creek and on the inside is adorned with paintings by Mattia Preti. There has been a church on this site since the 12th century. The present church was designed by the Knights of St. John and was used by them until they moved to Valletta in 1571. On the feast of the patron saint on 10 August the church displays some of the riches used by the Knights. There is also a dramatic painting of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence.
Housed in the former British Naval Bakery this impressive building used to be the hub of the restocking process for the Mediterranean Fleet which was stationed in Malta for almost two hundred years. In 1992 the bakery was converted into a maritime museum of Malta's remarkable seafaring heritage. On display you will find a large number of paintings, uniforms and much more.
This area of Malta suffered terribly during the Second World War and this museum depicts what it was like during that time. The museum is situated in the underground tunnels that provided protection for the population from the constant bombing. There are period features to give a feel for how people survived such a time.
Not to be outdone by the developments at Valletta, Vittoriosa has seen major work on the waterfront area. The Cottonera redevelopment has attracted a number of trendy bars and the new marina has some very smart yachts at anchor.
The Norman House, Birgu
The Sicolo Norman House house at No. 10 Triq it-Tramuntana (North Street) in Birgu had been abandoned for some thirty years before it came into the possession of the present owner who has lovingly restored it to its present condition.The building has a distinguished window with palm motifs which is one of the most richly ornate windows surviving in Malta.
House No. 10 is presently a museum open to the public. Entrance is free although donations to assist in the ongoing restoration are very welcome.
The premises are normally open every weekday with the exception of Tuesdays and Thursdays. The proud house owner is often on site himself and is happy to meet visitors and answer their numerous questions.
Prior to the Great Siege in 1565 the Knights decided to provide protection for the citizens and as a result they built the walled cities of Senglea and Cospicua. Vittoriosa and Senglea survived the Great Siege but Cospicua was almost completely destroyed. As a consequence of this and the bombings of the Second World War, little remains of the historical parts of these two cities but it is worth walking from Senglea to see Our Lady Of Victories Church and the statue of Christ the Redeemer.