Vittoriosa, Senglea, Cospicua - Birgu, Isla and Bormla in Maltese - are medieval towns that sit on two peninsulas jutting into Grand Harbour. Their history is marked by alternating periods of greatness and decadence. After the devastation caused during World War II, the three cities are now furtunately witnessing rekindled interest by private individuals and investors.
Vittoriosa, nestled in the shelter of the high and impregnable walls of Fort St Angelo encircled by among the finest rtifications in Europe. It is the oldest the Three Cities and the richest in historical sights. Because of its strategic location in the harbour, it has been under attack on several occasions. The Great Siege of 1565 and World War II, in particular, reduced its majestic palaces and splendid churches to ruins.
For a long time, until the founding of Valletta in 1565, Vittoriosa was Malta's only seaward facing town. Its intimate links with the sea isolated it oomewhat from the rest of the rural island on the one hand and, on the other, made it less insular and more open to interaction beyond its shores. In its heyday, Vittoriosa was a busy port of call on the sea route between Europe and Africa, as its deep sea barbour, providing excellent safe anchorage and berthing, was among the finest in the Mediterranean.
Not much is known about Vittoriosa's early history, although its name (Birgu) , probably a corruption ofborgo (suburb) suggests late medieval origins. Before the Knights' arrival, the town's most important building was probably the parish church of St Lawrence which was devastated by fire in 1532 and subsequently rebuilt. Vittoriosa owes its glorious era to the Knights of St John. On their arrival they chose Vittoriosa as their seat and work started immediately to reorganise
the town and erect numerous palaces and churches, among them seven auberges, an arrnoury, a hospital, the Law Courts, Universita` (Town Hall), and the Bishop's Palace. They also strengthened Fort StAngelo and built thick, defensive walls around the citY. The main street -today's Main Gate Street -divided the town in two, both physically and socially. The Eastern area, or Collachio, separated by simple stone bollards, was the Knights' 'exclusive' area and containing the more important buildings. The western area or luori collachio was inhabited by the locals.
After seeing to the rebuilding of Vittoriosa, the Knights put into action a plan to withstand any possible invasion by moving the entire Maltese population into the fortified towns, giving birth to Sengtea and Cospicua, The Knights founded Senglea on Vittoriosa's adjacent peninsula. The organisation of the town, in stark contrast to Vittoriosa was designed along a grid-iron layout of streets, which reflected the Knights' concern with modernising their image, When the Ottomans tried to invade in 1565, Cospicua was heavily destroyed, but Senglea and Vittoriosa withstood the fierce repetitive asSaults, A plan to amply fortify the Three Cities was immediately unveiled after the Turkish assault and this saw the Three Cities enclosed, on the land-front, by two sets of semi-circular fortifications: Margarita lines and the longer Cottonera lines, which, at almost eight kilometres are the longest walls ever built in Malta.
It is worth walking around the inner mouth of the creek through Cospicua and on to Senglea. These two towns do not provide many attractions apart from Our Lady of Victories Church in Senglea, in which a statue of Christ the Redeemer -very dear
At a glance
To see for yourself Vittoriosa's gradual restoration to its former glory.
Fort St Angelo, the Inquisitor's Palace and the Vittoriosa Waterfront.
If you're after shopping, clubbing or a dining experience.
WHAT CAN I GET?
A desire to invest in one of the beautiful properties in the Cities' meandering alleys.