Sights in Vittoriosa (Birgu)

Sights in Vittoriosa (Birgu)

There is so much to see in Vittoriosa - the whole city is an open-air museum. The city is surrounded by an incredible flair of history, culture and modernity. The structure of the city equals that of a triangle. On the side facing to the inland there is a big city-wall with two gates. The most interesting way to enter the city is through the Couvre Porte. The side directed to the harbor entrance is also fortified. On the fortification, high above the sea, there is a nice promenade. From there you have a nice view on Valletta, the harbor gate and Kalkara. On the tip of the city is the Fort St. Angelo. The fort is stunning. The last side of the triangle, the side facing the Dockyard Creek/Senglea, has no fortification. There you can find the Casino de Venezia, Maritime Museum, St. Lawrence Church and a luxury hotel. In the city itself something is awaiting you around every corner. In the centre lies the Victory-Square - the square got his name after the Great Siege 1565 of the Turkish. It is said that the Grandmaster La Vallette was wounded during the siege on a fight at the fortification ’Poste de Castille’. The Turkish were already inside the city when the Grandmaster counterattacked them together with his personal body-guards.

The life follows a calm path in this city. The people are very friendly, helpful and always open for any conversation.

Bishop’s Palace in Vittoriosa

The Bishop’s Palace was built in 1452 by the bishop Cubelles. It was extended in 1542 by the bishop Cagliares. The palace also serves as Bishop’s Curia and since shortly as a school.

Church of the Annunciation

The Church of the Annunciation is not far away from the main entrance of Vittoriosa (Birgu). If you follow the main road the church will appear on the left side. The church is lead by the Dominican monks. The first church was built on that spot in 1528. Which was expanded in 1639? The expanded church outlasted a bit more than 300 years, when it was destroyed during the Second World War. However the church was reconstructed in the year 1960. The feast of St. Dominic takes place every year at the last weekend in the month of August.

The Church Close and St. Joseph’s Oratory

The area around the Church Close and St. Joseph’s Oratory is separated into three smaller squares. The Oratorium of St. Joseph is nowadays a small museum. Among others you can see the hat and sword of Jean de la Vallette or the ‘fake’ money which was used by the British, so, to prevent the legal tender money (English pound) falling into the hands of the Nazis in case of conquest. The area was a former grave for those who died during the Great Siege 1565. The church is dedicated to ’Our Lady of Damascus’.

Couvre Porte - traditional gate to Vittoriosa

The Couvre Porte is probably the most interesting way to enter Vittoriosa (Birgu). There are also two others way, however the flair of these isn’t the same. The Couvre Porte goes through the Poste d’Aragon, over a small bridge and through a gate into the Poste de France. From there another gate leads into the inner city. All together there are 3 gates. The Poste d’Aragon and Poste de France are fortifications. The Poste d’Aragon is well preserved. The form of it is similar to a ’V ’. The Poste de France lies behind a ditch, therefore you have to cross the bridge to reach it. The Poste de France is the last stronghold in front of the city.

Fort St. Angelo

On the tip of the peninsula lies the oldest fortified spot in Malta - Fort St. Angelo. It was already documented as Castrum Maris in 1274, but it is possible that it can be dated even earlier to that date. The fort was occupied by the Castellan during the middle Ages who represented the interest of his warlord (which resided in Sicily). It was the first settlement for the Knights of St. John when they arrived to the island in 1530. New fortifications were constructed to protect the fort against gun-fire. On the fort lies the ’House of the Castellan’ and the St. Anne’s Chapel. From 1912 till 1979 it served as a headquarter for the admiral of the British fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. At that time the fort was known as HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship).

The fort can only be reached over a small bridge which is on the side of the Dockyard Creek. From the top of the fort one has a nice view on Valletta and the Grand Harbor.

Freedom Monument

The Freedom Monument stands directly in front of the San Lawrenz Church (Parish Church of St. Lawrence) at the Dockyard Creek. It should symbolize the removal of the last British troops from Malta. On the 31st March 1979 the last frigate left the harbor of Malta. That marked the end of 180 years ongoing military-presence on the island. The statues should represent Maltese saying good-bye to the British.

Inquisitor’s Palace

The Inquisitor’s Palace was a quite small building at the beginning. Until the year 1574 it served as Castellania that was the court at that time. Afterwards it served as the seat for the 63 Inquisitors, the court and a prison. The Inquisition was supported by the Grand Master Cassière. An Inquisitor was a representative which was sent to Malta by the church to crash anyone who had any doubts regarding the religion and the church’s authority. They were also responsible to solve any dispute which might have arisen between the knights and the bishops. The institution lasted until 1798 when Napoleon burnt it down. Two of the 63 Inquisitors were elected as Pope: Fabio Chigi (1599-1667) as Alexander VII and Antonio Pignatelli (1615-1700) as Innocent XII. During the time of the British in Malta it served as accommodation for officers for a short period of time. After the war it was handed over to the Dominican Monks, since their church was destroyed during the war.

Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum lies directly in the promenade of the Dockyard Creek. It is composed out of some buildings, like the Palace of the Captain, the House of the General of the Galleys, the Naval Store and the Naval Bakery. The latter was built in the year 1844. You can find exhibits, paintings and other things in connection with the history of the seafaring.

Parish Church of St. Lawrence

The Church of San Lawrenz (St. Lawrence) lies at the Dockyard Creek behind the Freedom Monument. The church is huge and should have been the first church of the order in 1530. After only two years the church was totally destroyed by a fire. The new building in the Baroque style is from Lorenzo Gafa`, sometime around 1692. The church wasn’t completely finished by the early 1913, when the second tower was attached. The inside of the church is faced with red marble. Nice paintings scattered are all over the church, but the nicest one is the one behind the altar. The painter is Mattia Preti. It is said that this painting is the biggest which Mattia Preti has ever painted. Also impressive is the precious ornamented statue from the 16th century. The feast of San Lawrenz (St. Lawrence) is celebrated every year on the 10th of August.

Pjazza Vittoriosa (Victory Square)

The Victory Square lies in the centre of Vittoriosa (Birgu). The local residents know the square as ‘ Il-Pjazza’. On this square there are two statues. The white statue of St. Lorenz was constructed in 1880 and the green one which is representing the Great Siege of 1565 is known as the Victory Monument and was built in 1705. Also on the square there is a small cafe, often visited by local residents and Maltese in general.

Sacra Infermeria in Vittoriosa

This church was built by Lorenzo Gafa` in 1672. Attached is a convent which served as a hospital in the past, hence the name Sacra Infermeria. Since 1652 the Benedictines nuns live there. The nuns still hold on the strict cloistral solemn vows today. That means that they aren’t allowed to leave the convent.

Vittoriosa 1565 Museum

In the museum the Great Siege of the Turkish in 1565, is represented. The siege lasted 4 months. In the museum you can see life-size knights and Turks in action; La Vallette in his expression of thanks; Dragut’s Camp; the Torture Chamber and a video dramatization of the event.

Short history of the Great Siege:
Karl V., Spanish king and the Kaiser of Germany gave the island of Malta as fiefdom to the Knights Hospitaliers (Knights of St. John) in 1530 with the purpose to use their powers against the godless enemies. The Turks defeated the fleet of Venice which was the biggest at that time in the Mediterranean Sea in 1538. The only galleys that could still endanger the Turks were that of the Knights of St. John. A conflict was inescapable. The Turks arrived with a fleet of 200 ships in front of the gates of Malta. The only fortifications in Malta were that of Mdina (the old capital), Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea and the Fort St. Elmo (lies on the tip of Valletta). The Grandmaster La Vallette knew that he had to hold the Fort St. Elmo as long as possible to defeat the Turks. Every night new fighters were brought across the harbor and injured to the hospital. The fort was totally damaged at the end of May and the garrison wanted to give up. However, La Vallette ordered to fight to the last breath. The fort still held on till the 23rd June. On that day the whole garrison was killed. The Turks lost one fourth of their army. After the loss of St. Elmo the door was open for the Turks to enter the Grand Harbor. To protect the galleys of the knights they were moved into the bay between Birgu and Senglea (Dockyard Creek). The Turks tried a new strategy and moved 80 ships across the peninsula Sciberras (today known as Valletta). Now they could attack the peninsula of Senglea. However, La Vallette could hold Senglea. He built a bridge between Senglea and Vittoriosa, so that he could move the troops fast. The Turks were more than once with one foot already inside the city, but every time they were pushed off with the last reserves and the last power. La Vallette wounded himself when he tried to protect the city at the Poste de Castille. At the end the bridge between the both peninsulas was trimmed, so to show the attackers as well as the defenders that nobody will ever give up fighting. The morale of the Turks sunk. When finally the reinforcements from Sicily arrived, the Turkish army left and the expansion of the Turks was stopped. Since that day Malta became a stronghold against the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.