The Three Cities
In 1530, the Knights Hospitallers, or Knights of St. John, having been expelled from Cyprus were granted the island of Malta as their base. They set about creating Three Cities - Birgu, Isla and Bormla - as their new home. They built palaces, churches, auberges to house their knights, and massive walls, including two rings of bastions known as the Margherita and Cottonera Lines. They also built three forts, Fort St. Elmo, defending the entrance to the Grand Harbour, and Fort St, Angelo anf Fort St. Michael to defend the Three Cities themselves.
In 1565, Suleiman decided to destroy the knights once and for all whilst also gaining a new base from which to possibly launch another assault on Europe. He sent an invasion force of over 40,000 men to besiege just 500 knights and less than 6,000 soldiers, about half of which were Maltese irregulars. The Great Siege of Malta, as it came to be known, lasted from May until September 8th. Against all the odds and despite the destruction of Fort St. Elmo and numerous ferocious assaults, the Knights and Malta held out. By the end of the siege, only 600 defenders remained, almost all of them wounded. Just 15,000 of the attackers survived to return to Constantinople.
Learning the lessons from the great siege, the Knights' Grand Master, Jean de Vallette, decided to build a massive walled city across the harbour, which was named Valletta in his honour. In 1571, the Knights moved to their new capital city, leaving behind them their three tiny cities, now renamed Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.
In the second great siege of Malta, 1940-43, the Three Cities suffered considerable damage during air raids and were left largely uninhabited. However, much of the population returned and quickly got on the job of repairing and rebuilding their ravaged cities. With continued improvements, particularly to the waterfront areas, the Three Cities are a must to any visitor who wants to delve further into Malta's history, stroll round the waterfront, explore the museums and other attractions or relax one of the many bars and restaurants.