Spotlight on: The Three Cities

Spotlight on: The Three Cities

A fascinating look into Malta’s past may be unravelled once you step into the allure of Cottonera. Cottonera, or the ‘Three Cities’,  provides an insightful look into Malta’s rich maritime and wartime history.

Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua (you might come across their laconic names: Birgu, L-Isla and Bormla respectively) have all served as a fortification and home to nearly every person to settle on the Islands. It wouldn’t be a surprise if The Three Cities legitimately lay claim to being the birthplace of Maltese history.

Since Phoenician days, their inlets have been in use as harbours; the docks have always provided a means of subsistence for the residents, but they have also left them vulnerable during times of strife between Malta’s rulers. Valletta’s palaces, churches, forts, and bastions are far more recent in comparison to the Three Cities, which served as the Knights of St. John’s original residence.

Although Vittoriosa has been inhabited since the Phoenicians, the present city was founded during the reign of the Order of Saint John. Vittoriosa was chosen as the capital of Malta when the Order arrived in 1530. After the attack in 1551, Senglea was built on the peninsula known as ‘L’Isola’. In Vittoriosa, Fort Saint Michael and Fort Saint Angelo were built on the sites of Senglea and Castrum Maris, respectively. Geographically, the Three Cities are immediately across Grand Harbour to the east of Valletta, the country’s capital.

The Three Cities, which have a combined population of over 11,000 are gradually rediscovering their former fame, drawing numerous locals who are interested in settling in their hospitable environment.

After being driven from Rhodes in 1522 and spending seven years in exile, the Knights were finally awarded Malta as their new base of operations. They established Vittoriosa as their capital, renaming the old citadel Castrum Maris Fort St. Angelo, adding new defences, and constructing many new structures including as churches, auberges, warehouses, and palaces. Initially, the Knights moved to Vittoriosa because of the Grand Harbour, but they in fact grew fond of the fortified city.

The cities were besieged during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565; after the siege, Vittoriosa and Senglea were awarded the names Città Vittoriosa and Città Invicta, respectively. Following the siege, Valletta was built, and in 1571 it took the position of Vittoriosa as the nation’s capital. After upgrading the defences under the direction of Grandmaster Nicolas Cotoner, Grandmaster Marc’Antonio Zondadari named the town of Bormla Città Cospicua in 1722. During World War II, the Three Cities were bombed mercilessly. They had to be rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s. Consequently, after the war, the Cottonera area lost a significant portion of its educated and professional population, and the cities later saw a resurgence of the working class. This caused the area to have higher rates of illiteracy, unemployment, assistance recipients.

As you meander around the Three Cities, you cannot help but be enthralled by the enormous bastions that have been recently restored to their former glory. The Three Cities are all distinct cities and have a lot to offer in their own right.The oratory of the parish church in Bormla, which has six kilometres of fortifications, is loaded with pieces of immaculate artwork. Senglea is home to two splendid churches, St. Philip’s, and Our Lady of Victories, as well as a picturesque park at the island’s tip that views out over Grand Harbour and has an example of a Gardjola guard post.

You too can discover the history of the Three Cities, explore the magnificent yacht harbour, or just relax at one of the many adjacent wine bars, eateries, or cafés that are located there. We promise you won’t regret it!

Check Out Senglea’s Fortifications

St Michael's baTIONS, senglea

Photo: Mandyy88 \ wiki commons

The Senglea fortifications, also known as ‘Is-Swar tal-Isla’ in Maltese, are a system of defensive walls and other fortifications that encircle the city of Senglea. After it was built by Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, the other defences were built over the course of the next 10 years, with Fort Saint Michael being the first to be built in 1552. Up to the 18th century, the fortifications were altered, but throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, a significant amount of them was destroyed. Senglea’s defences are now reduced to the seaward bastions and a section of the land front. The St. Michael Bastion is our particular favourite.

Admire St Helen’s Gate in Cospicua

St Helen's Gate, Cospicua

photo: Continentaleurope / wiki commons

The main entrance to the Santa Margherita Lines is called St. Helen’s Gate. It was built in the Baroque style in 1736, under the supervision of Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena, to a design by Charles François de Mondion. St. Helen’s Gate Baroque doorway is one of the most outstanding Hospitaller gates from the 18th century. The two half-columns that support the cornice on the portal’s façade are supported by two alternate grades of plain and rusticated hardstone masonry. The style of the gate is evocative to Mondion’s 1726 Main Gate for Fort Manoel. There are only two gates in Malta with life-size artillery piece representations, the other being Porte des Bombes. 

the Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen/ wiki commons

The Inquisitor’s is also known as the Sacred Palace (Maltese: Il-Palazz tal-Inkwiżitur). The structure, back then known as the Castellania, was constructed as a courthouse at the beginning of the 16th century. Due to several repairs and reconstructions carried out over the next decades, just a small portion of the original building is still in place today. After the inquisition was abolished in 1798, the palace performed a number of duties, including those of a military hospital, a mess hall, and a convent. It has been a museum since 1966 and has been known as the National Museum of Ethnography since 1992.

Explore the Cottonera Lines

Photo: Continentaleurope/ wiki commons

The Cottonera Lines, are a line of fortifications in Cospicua and Birgu, Malta. Due to concerns about an Ottoman invasion, they were built in the 17th and 18th centuries to serve as an extra barrier to protect the area around the inner harbour. The Cottonera Lines are comprised of nine curtain walls, seven majestic entrances, eight demi-bastions, two bastions, and eight other fortifications. Even if sections of the Lines are not currently in their best condition, they nevertheless provide some of the best views on the island, giving a clear view of the Grand Harbour, the South of Malta, and the hills and valleys that go all the way to Mdina.