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Spotlight on: Senglea

Senglea, also known as L-Isla, is one of the three cities, located in the Cottonera area in the east of Malta. The magnificent fortified city is the smallest of the three, which includes Birgu and Cospicia, and is, for lack of a better phrase, truly one of the jewels of the Maltese Islands.

The city is one of the oldest, dating back to the 16th century and is enclosed by bastions, overlooking jaw-dropping views, guarding the Grand Harbour even today, as it did centuries ago. The name L-Isla is derived from the Italian word ‘isola’, meaning island, as the peninsula was originally an island, joined by a land bridge. The harbour’s shipbuilding docks made Senglea the most prosperous of the three cities in the 18th century and many leading figures lived there, including Juan Buatista Azopardo, the founder of the Argentinian Navy. During the British Occupation, the Royal Navy extended the Knights’ shipyard to the other side of the city. The town prospered and boasted some of Malta’s most respected families, academics and politicians among its residents.

However, the presence of the naval dockyard ultimately contributed to its destruction as during the Second World War, it was one of the main targets of bomber attacks. Senglea suffered terribly, with the explosion of HMS Illustrious destroying most of its buildings. The War changed the city as its population left to take refuge in outlying towns and countryside, many never to return. In recent years, the rehabilitation of the yacht marina has attracted many back to the town, some 30% of its residents being foreigners, attracted to the authenticity of the place.

The city is more than heritage. Left largely untouched, Senglea offers authentic life as well as a glimpse into Malta’s maritime fortunes. Life flows through its narrow, picturesque streets and aged buildings. Many activities take place within the city, including the popular regattas, traditional boat races on the waters of the Grand Harbour, with Senglea being one of the major participants.

Photo: James Bianchi

some spots in senglea worth visiting

Gardjola Gardens

Photo: James Bianchi

Gardjola Gardens are a public park located at the end of the cape, the remains of the former fortifications in the city, with impressive panoramic views over Marsa, Valletta, the Grand Harbour and Fort St Angelo. The gardens were planned by Grandmaster De Le Sengle in 1551, with a guard tower built on the tip of the bastions. The tower, called ‘Il-gardjola’, has several symbols sculpted on it, such as an eye, an ear and a crane bird, which represent guardianship and observance protecting the Maltese shores. Check out the gardens, which are open everyday in summer from 8:30am till 11pm.

The Sheer Bastion

view from the sheer bastion

Photo: James Bianchi

The Sheer Bastion, as well as Maċina below, form part of the fortifications of Senglea, which were built by the Knights of St John in 1554, just before the Great Siege of Malta. The name Maċina itself is derived from the word ‘macchina’, a machine used to hoist and fit masts on galleys. The venue and its surroundings are rich with history and are also a tentative UNESO World Heritage Site. The panoramic views from the water’s edge building of the Grand Harbour, give way to stunning sunsets, super fireworks displays (pre and hopefully post COVID-19, when permitted) and illuminated views of the city.

Basilica of the Nativity of Mary


The building was, most likely, built by architect Vittorio Cassar in 1580, as a monument to the Christian Victory following the Great Siege. The main attraction of the basilica is a wooden statue of Mary, known as ‘Il-Bambina’, was carved in 1619. However, the sculptor is still unknown. Following the coronation of the statue in 1921, the church became a sanctuary. The basilica is also home to several manuscripts, which date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, including a diary written by Francesco Saverio Baldacchino. This sheds lights on the last years of the Knights in Malta, the French occupation of Malta and the early years of the British rule.

Our lady of Porto Salvo


In 1596, Senglea witnessed the building of a third church, this time at the far end of the pensinsula. The Porto Salvo church as built on the initiative of Fr Vincenzo Caruana, Senglea’s second parish priest. The church was dedicated to Our Lady of Porto Salvo, which refers to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St Elizabeth, a name that means a great deal to sailors and boatmen, who earned their living from the city. In fact, a number of local mariners contributed towards the building. Since 2008, the church and has been entrusted to a Salesian community.

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