Birgu (Vittoriosa)

Birgu (Vittoriosa) occupies one of the promontories facing Valletta across the Grand Harbour and it has an impressive history. At the end of the promontory stands the imposing bulk of Fort St. Angelo which was largely rebuilt in the 16th century by the Knights of the Order of St. John and became the residence of the Grand Master Philippe d’Isle Adam. To honour the significant role played by Birgu in the defence of Malta during the Great Siege, Grand Master Jean de La Vallette renamed it Citta Vittoriosa (the Victorious City). Layers of history lie beneath the fort’s foundations, dating back to the Phoenicians who erected a temple there which was succeeded by a Greek shrine and then a Roman temple. Over this temple in 828 the Arabs built a castle later known as il-Borgo del Castello (in Maltese, Birgu, meaning town and in Italian suburb, borgo). In Medieval times Birgu probably had as much of a cosmopolitan flavour to it as it does today; it welcomed Venetians, Pisans, Genoese, Aragonese and Castillians who introduced the cult of St. Lawrence, the patron saint of Birgu. Birgu was the first home of the Knights when they arrived in 1530 and in consequence is studded with many impressive examples of baroque architecture particularly around the knight’s Collachio area. These include the knights’ eight auberges (inns of residence), an armoury and hospital. With the arrival of the British in 1800, Birgu experienced an economic revival. By World War II, Fort.St. Angelo had become the headquarters of the British Fleet in the Mediterranean. Today almost 500 years since the Order of St. John first set foot in Malta, Fort St. Angelo has once again become the official residence of the Order’s Representative in Malta, thereby renewing Cottonera’s longstanding association with the Order. Birgu’s history as a maritime hub has also been revived with the recent establishment of a modern marina stretching along the length of its promenade.

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