Birgu, Malta

To the Conquest of the Victorious City


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Church of Saint Lawrence
lost in history
Encounter under the Laburist Partit
Travel from Dghjasa
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victorious-birgu-malta-statue-sao-lourenco
Bronze Triumph
Fort San Angelo
MDCCXXII
Vittoriosa, ex-Birgu
The Marina of Birgu II
The Marina of Birgu
Victorious Malta
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Vittoriosa is the oldest of the Three Cities of Malta, headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller and, from 1530 to 1571, its capital. The resistance he offered to the Ottomans in the Great Siege of Malta kept the island Christian. Even if, later, Valletta took over the administrative and political role, the old Birgu shines with historic glory.

We wandered through Malta's yellow past. An unexpected foray into Misrah ir Rbha square in Vittoriosa reveals a delightful fusion of the island's temporal dimensions.

Three kids dressed in Maltese football club equipment appear from different corners.

At the time they had agreed or were used to, they greet each other, talk a little.

They end up sitting down, snuggled against one of the burgundy doors of one of the centuries-old buildings.

Above them, the image of a young woman seems to contemplate Malta's future.

It appears highlighted, in a poster, over the sign of the local headquarters of the Partit Laburista and the lit torch that serves as a symbol.

More towards the middle of the square, a white statue, tiny compared to the pedestal that supports it, holds a cross.

The figure honors Saint Lourenço, patron of Birgu and also of island of gozo.

A sequence of ramps and stairs takes us closer to the Birgu Waterfront, even before, to the church of São Lourenço, one of the main Catholic temples on the peninsula.

Along with that of the Annunciation that projects from its middle, overlooking the whole of the houses.

As we walk through the alleys and alleys that separate them, we witness the fusion of the city's day-to-day life with the intruder of tourist visitors.

A couple in light and light clothes, ideal for Malta's summer heat, study, in any book or guide, the context of the scenery that dazzles them.

As they do so, a priest, still clad in his cassock, passes from a dark corner to the sunny road that leads to the square.

Shortly after, another, in a dark habit, emerges from the sun. Disappear into the growing shadow and winding meanders of history, between Birgu and Vittoriosa.

The Yellowed and Holy Scenes of the Hospitaller Knights

If it weren't for the tourists and the almost immaculate cleanliness of the city, this play of light and darkness could almost take place in the Medieval Age and in the following centuries when the Knights Hospitaller took over the island.

The Inquisitor's Palace continues just two streets above the church of São Lourenço, others both below the Armory of the Knights of Malta. It is one of the few palaces used by the Inquisition still intact in both Europe and South America.

In Malta, it was inhabited and used for five centuries. Since, in 1574, Monsignor Pietro Dusina arrived from Italy, newly appointed the apostolic delegate and the first inquisitor of Malta.

Until the middle of the XNUMXth century, successive residents made an effort to improve and make the previously vacant palace into a dignified and welcoming residence.

There we find an open kitchen area.

And, on the first floor, the rooms and other sophisticated private areas. As it was supposed, these personal and humanized spaces coexisted with the Holy Office, the dungeons and the torture room.

We rummaged through them, curious as ever about the strange collusion of life and death, or at least the death sentence, far more dazzled and entertained than when we circled the Malta Maritime Museum, also located on the Birgu Waterfront.

There, we are especially excited about the models of warships used by the Knights of São João.

From Vittoriosa to Cospicua, and back to Birgu

If the museum exhibits and explains Malta's floating past, from its battles against North African pirates to World War II, the sub-arm of the sea in front welcomes dozens of embarked lives today.

Malta has several marinas, four of them around Valletta and their cities.

The largest are Msida – northwest of the peninsula on which the capital developed. And that of Birgu, situated between Vittoriosa and her “sister” Senglea, in one of the several recesses perpendicular to the island's Grand Harbour.

As we walk along the Xatt Il-Forn and Xatt ir-Rizq waterfront, we pass the moored vessels, from huge multi-million dollar yachts to small speedboats and sailboats, more conducive to a peaceful Mediterranean.

The further we go to the bottom of the secondary inlet and the marina, the more the boats' draft decreases.

At the Normal Bridge, the inlet narrows again to the Bormla channel.

In its terrestrial extension, a golden statue of the Madonna, (Our Lady, not the Louise Ciccone of “Like a Virgin”), blesses the other of the Three Cities that, without knowing how, we had already entered: Cospicua.

We reversed course, towards the opposite end of the peninsula and Birgu, the one enclosed by the Fort of St. Angelo.

The Entry into Malta of the Order of Saint John of the Knights Hospitaller

The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, as they were called in full, settled in Malta in 1530, after the increasingly powerful Ottoman Empire expelled it from the island of Rhodes.

Malta was one of the territories that the Spanish Emperor Charles V granted to the Hospitallers, along with the island of Gozo and the city, today Libya, of Tripoli.

Even before taking control of the island, in 1526, the Hospitallers sent a delegation of eight knights representing each of its administrative divisions, identified as Tongues.

When they arrived, despite the fact that the local population was basic and difficult to defend, they decided to build the capital of Malta there.

Mdina, then, had satisfactory fortifications. However, it was situated in the interior of the island, which nullified the naval power that the Knights Hospitallers increasingly required.

On the other hand, the Hospitallers knew that the Ottomans would not give up on annihilating them.

They fortified Birgu to the height of that notion.

In place of the old Castrum Maris, they built Saint Angelo Castle. They separated it from the village with a narrow channel that could only be crossed by a drawbridge.

Once finished, they decided that the castle would be the fortified apartment of the Grand Master of Malta, the first to domiciled on the island, on the order of the 40th, if counted from the genesis of the Order.

The 49th Grand Master to reside there, Jean Parisot de Valette, had little rest. Obsessed with dominating the Mediterranean, the Ottomans returned to the charge. In 1551, they failed to conquer Malta.

The Great Siege of Malta and Birgu Resistance

They took Tripoli.

In 1565, in a second, better-prepared attempt, they besieged the island. The siege lasted almost four months, from May to September of that year. Birgu's location in the heart of the Grand Harbor meant that the main clashes took place there.

the defense Birgu and Malta were in shambles. However, Valette's military prowess and providential reinforcements from Sicily dictated the Ottomans' retreat.

The Knights Hospitaller and the Maltese emerged triumphant, but barely.

Valette yearned for almost total impregnability for Malta. He had the capital passed to the top of Mount Sceberras, on the peninsula north of Birgu. He came to be called Valletta.

Today, it remains the same.

In 1571, the Knights Hospitaller moved in force to Valletta. Until then, the church they called theirs was that of São Lourenço. When, in 1577, the Co-Cathedral of São João de Valletta was ready, they started to use it.

Due to the decisive role he played in the resistance to the Ottomans, Birgu received the title of City Vittoriosa. On the other hand, he lost the political protagonism he maintained. He dedicated himself mainly to trade and nautical services.

The tranquility that lived for almost two centuries was broken, once again, for the worst reasons of war.

From Napoleon's Expulsion to Post-War Reconstruction

We reach 1798. Napoleon put Valletta's invincibility to the test. And he won. Only two years later, with the precious help of Great Britain, Naples and even Portuguese forces, the French withdrew.

Malta became a British protectorate. Birgu, hosted the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, a kind of preamble to the function of a large marina that it continues to play, all these years after the British left the island (1979).

It would not be the only preamble or foreshadowing worthy of note. In 1806, the large warehouse that was kept there exploded and the accident took the lives of another two hundred people.

During the 2nd World War, due to its proximity to the Naval Shipyards, Vittoriosa was bombed countless times. Several of its most iconic historic buildings were razed to the ground.

This was the case of the Clock Tower, a watchtower erected in the medieval period, with unobstructed views over the Grand Harbor where enemy ships and fleets were expected.

The Albergue d'Allemagne, one of the buildings where the Knights Hospitallers were staying, was also razed to the ground.

Fort Saint Angelo just returned to the Hospitallers

Finally, we faced Fort Saint Angelo. We intended to visit him. But we find ourselves barred by the fate that Malta's history has in store for it. Recently, the Government of Malta reached an agreement with the Order of the Knights of St. John, returning to the island.

A part of the fort was ceded for 99 years for the exclusive use of the Hospitallers. It thus forms a kind of independent state over which Malta has no jurisdiction.

Other sections of the fort belong to Heritage Malta, an organization in charge of the island's historical heritage. A recovery for tourism purposes will be foreseen.

No solution, no view, we leave it for a next time.

We ended up admiring it later, from the Viewpoint of the Upper Barraka Gardens, from where the suffering but triumphant Vittoriosa insinuates herself again.

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