Although Valletta is by far the most visited city on the island, the Maltese triptych should not be circumvented, the three cities being much older than the capital and having played a pivotal role in the history of Malta. In addition, from La Valletta, it only takes five minutes to cross to the other side of the Grand Harbour and start to explore at length. Moreover, you will get one of the most spectacular views of the harbor and the capital from the walls of Fort Saint Angelo in Vittoriosa, by far the most important bastion of defense of Malta.
So today I decided to make a virtual tour through the three Maltese cities and, as I just mentioned Fort Saint Angelo, I believe it’s only fair to start in Vittoriosa.
Its name does not need much explanation. Before the Great Siege of 1565, the fortified town in the South of the Grand Harbour was called Birgu, like the peninsula where it is located. The Christian victory over the Ottoman Turks was immortalized in the very name of the city – Vittoriosa (The Winner).
Between 1530 and 1550 Birgu was strongly fortified due to the imminent attack of the Ottomans and Fort Sant Angelo (former Castrum Maris) has undergone radical transformations to support a possible siege. In August 1565 the city was on the verge of being captured by the Ottomans, but thanks to the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette, the balance was returned in favor of the Christians and the St. John’s Knights managed to prevent the advance of the Ottoman Turks.
During the Second World War, the city was heavily bombed due to its proximity to the Grand Harbour, and a number of remarkable buildings were forever lost.
Currently, Vittoriosa counts less than 2500 inhabitants, and the main attraction is the Fort Saint Angelo itself (which I highly recommend you to visit), a colossal construction that Malta has been striving for years to add to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Descending from Fort Saint Angelo, the first town you will come across is Cospicua, inhabited since the Neolithic times. The city was also fortified by the Knights of St. John starting 1638 and the works were extended for a period of approximately 70 years. The Order of the Knights is also responsible for building the Dockyard, which has been used assiduously during the British rule in Malta.
A number of churches are to be found in Cospicua, among which the St. Theresa Church, the Chapel of St. Paul or the Church of St. Margaret. If you have time available, you can visit the Museum of Ethnography and Anthropology – Bin Mulah (from which derived the old Maltese name of the city – Bormla).
Cospicua counts just over 5,000 inhabitants and is the most populous of the three cities.
The third of the three cities is Senglea, known as the Civita Invicta (Undefeated City) due to its resistance during the Great Siege of 1565, which ended in victory for the Christians.
However, Senglea owes its name to the Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, who built the city. In 1676, almost the entire population of the city was decimated by the plague. Another disaster struck the city during the Second World War when several buildings collapsed under the bombardments, and most of the inhabitants were killed.
Basilica of Senglea is the most important monument in the city, hosting one of the most revered statues of the Virgin across the island – Marija Bambina. With an area of 0.8 km2, Senglea is the smallest town of Malta and has a population of about 3,000 inhabitants.
If you are passionate about history, the Maltese triptych will not disappoint you. I guess there is no need to tell you that very few tourists decide to visit the island in the winter months, Malta being particularly promoted for the summer season, despite not really having so many beaches ready to support the mass tourism. But whether it’s the beach or the sun, or simply the Mediterranean air, you can expect the island besieged by the Europeans starting early May.
Those mostly interested in the cultural aspects of Malta, in its stories and its cities, are also less sensitive to a particular season. In addition, in Malta, the winters are mild, with the lowest temperatures oscillating around 10 degrees Celsius, with plus. And if you’re lucky, like I have been, you can enjoy even days with 18 degrees Celsius. It is true that there is also a risk of rain and the wind can be very strong, but even that is not enough to spoil a winter vacation in Malta.