about Birgu/Vittoriosa

Vittoriosa or Birgu, is the oldest of the three sister cities. Its origin lies in prehistoric times. There was a period when the whole island was divided into two administrative regions: Mdina attended to the needs of the interior area and of the countryside, whilst Birgu administered the eastern zone and the harbour approaches. 

Like Senglea, Birgu occupies a narrow tongue of land in Grand Harbour. At the tip of the promontory stands Fort St. Angelo, the stronghold commenced during the Arab domination, probably in the 11th century. 

The history of Birgu starts in 1530, when the Order of St. John established its Headquarters in what was still a small village, known as Borgo di Castello. At the time, Valletta did not exist. The Knights, who were aware of the warlike threats of the Ottoman Turks, began at once to strengthen the harbour defenses, particularly those of St. Angelo, and of other strategic but weak points.
 
Apart from improving the fortifications, the Knights also undertook some work for their own needs. They split Birgu in two quarters: The Collachio, which they reserved for their residence, and the popular quarter, for the rest of the people.
 
In May 1565, the Turks invaded Malta with a force of 30,000 men. That was the start of the siege which lasted well over three months. The indomitable Grand Master La Valette who directed the operations, made St. Angelo his headquarters. Many hundreds of Knights and Maltese lost their lives, but the Turkish losses were so great that they were constrained to call it a day and to abandon their plans to conquer Malta. The Knights were victorious. 
 
Birgu was never captured and in recognition of its stubborn resistance, it gained the title of Vittoriosa - the Victorious one - which name it retains to the present day. When peace returned, the Knights began the building of Valletta. Within a few years, the new city rose on Mount Sceb-er-ras; and in 1574, the Knights transferred their convent to their new capital. Birgu lost much of its importance, but it remains forever the victorious city with its unforgettable, historical past. 
 
During the Second World War, Birgu, like the other places on the harbour, was submitted to unceasing air attacks. Destruction was widespread, More than 60% of its buildings were wiped out. Churches, palaces and houses lay everywhere in ruins. Some of the scars were healed, but much was irretrievably lost forever. Another chapter was added to the city's glorious annals. 
 
Now Birgu is a tourist attraction with lots of history to discover and one of the most famous Yachts Marinas in Europe
 
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Places of Interest:
 
Fort St. Angelo
 

Fort St. Angelo is the jewel in the crown of The Maltese Islands’ military heritage. According to legend, the fort stands on the site of a fortified Roman settlement.

When the Knights arrived on the Island in 1530, the Fort became the seat of the Grand Master of the Order. It was to play a heroic role in the Great Siege of 1565, when, against all odds, it managed to repel a formidable Saracen armada. The epic resistance of the Knights during the three-month siege gave the Fort its legendary status.

In the 19th century, the British took over the Fort and in 1912 it was officially listed as a ship, first as HMS Egmont and then in1933 it was renamed HMS St. Angelo. More recently, the Government granted the Order of the Knights of St. John the upper part of the fort, comprising the magisterial palace and St. Anne's Chapel.

CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

 

The Inquisitor’s Palace

The Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa is one of the very few surviving Palaces of its kind which once could be found all over Europe. Fortunately the Maltese Palace throughout its five centuries of history always hosted officials representing the main powers on the island, who ensured its survival. It survived through the second world war and is today an architectural gem, representative of the chequered history of the Maltese Islands.

The palace was not built purposely as a residence for the inquisitors, it was erected in the 1530’s as the civil law courts of the order of St. John, and served as such until 1571, when the order went to Valletta. In 1574 Pietro Dusina arrived in Malta as the first general inquisitor and was offered the Palace as his residence. Up till 1798 various inquisitors improved the fabric of the building. The palace suffered extensive damage during British rule as it was used as a mess-house for officers of the army. The palace was officially opened to the public in 1966. Since 1995 it is being converted into a museum focusing on the religious values in Maltese identity up to the present day, especially as influenced by the inquisition.  

 

The Maritime Museum

Presently, the museum covers over 2,000 sq. m., some 30 per cent of the total floor area available.

An ongoing building rehabilitation and restoration programme is linked with the opening of the new hall or sections devoted to specific maritime themes or chronological periods. After the museum’s inauguration in 1992 by means of a hall of 600 sq. m, another 800 sp. M. hall was inaugurated in November 2000 dedicated entirely to the Royal Navy in Malta. The former hall was then dedicated to the Order of St. John period. In October 2003, another section was opened spread over two levels of 250 sq. m. each dedicated to marine engineering. Five smaller halls and sections are devoted to ancient shipping, navigation, the merchant navy, Maltese traditional boats, and Maltese customs and water police. These are just token displays of the museum’s collection on the subjects, which will eventually move to larger halls when rehabilitation and restoration works are completed. Other halls would be dedicated to port facilities, maritime-related sports, and the Armed Forces of the Malta Maritime Squadron. 

 

The Malta at War Museum

The <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Malta at War Museum in Birgu, is undoubtedly Malta’s best presented testimonial of the great ordeal suffered by the Island during the Second World War. The site focuses on the daily life of wartime Malta telling the story of how this spec of an island managed to withstand one of the fiercest onslaughts in modern history. It offers a unique experience to the visitor through a combination of original film-footage, expert guiding and much in the way of original artefacts and memorabilia, all of which are nicely presented in a new modern setting.



The museum is housed in an old 18thcentury military barracks built in the historic walls of Vittoriosa (Birgu). Throughout the blitz, these premises served first as a Police headquarters for the whole of the Three Cities and later combined all the essential wartime civilian services. Right underneath, some 40 feet into the live rock is a huge maze of tunnels and galleries which doubled as an air raid shelter for scores of people, and as an underground Civil Defence centre. In its hey-day the latter was equipped with a surgery, a birth-room, a chapel and various underground offices from which work by the various wartime government bodies housed in them went on unabated.

 

Notre Dame Gate

Notre Dame Gate was builkt in 1675, on the design of Romano Carapecchia. It had three openings, a drawbridge and spacious guardrooms located at ground level. It was intended to provide a controlled passage into the fortifications. It was the only gate in the Cottonera Fortifications with an outer work, designed in 1715 by engineer Louis de Tigne and his French colleagues. This formed a massive solid tenaille high enough to shield the entrance to the gate. It was demolished early in the 20th century. A bronze bust of Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner was placed high up on the facade together with a marble tablet. The latter commemorates his initiative and contributions in the erection of these formidable fortifications for the defense of the Three Cities. For this reason it is popularly known as Bieb is-Sultan. The gate served as an important outlook post during the French occupation. When the French surrended, the Grand Master's bust was discovered in time, ready to be whisked away, on board the French Atheniene.

Lately, the gate has been passed on to the NGO Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna. This Organization has established its headquarters there and is conducting extensive restorations.

 

Marina Wharf 

Birgu, with its ancient maritime tradition, has been Malta’s principal city-port for untold generations, and during the centuries its wharf has developed into a hub of shipping, as well as mercantile and commercial activity. Since time immemorial visitors approaching Malta by sea had perforce to pass by this wharf and their initial impression of the Islands and their inhabitants was coloured by their first glimpse of the Vittoriosa Marina buildings. It was precisely for this reason that the Order of St John lined the Birgu Marina with such majestic constructions. These buildings had two storeys, with the ground level comprising of warehouses, while the first storey was used for residential purposes.

  

  During the time of the Order, the Grand Marina witnessed various religious processions from St Lawrence Church to St Angelo while anchored galleys fired salvos and salutes.

The British requisitioned the entire Vittoriosa Wharf – hiving it from the rest of the city. They integrated it into the Dockyard establishment under the name of the VictuallingYard, and there they built a 250 metre-long Grand Colonnade that stretched from St Angelo Gate up unto the ship stores. The upper floors of the wharf buildings were retained as offices and lodgings for Dockyard officials.   

  

Bettina Palace

This Palace takes its name from Lady Bettina Testaferrata Dorell who once lived there. Cardinal Fabrizio Sciberras Testaferrata – the only Maltese citizen to be elected Cardinal – was born in this house.

Towards 1842 St Emily de Vialler lived in this place along with a congregation of nuns. In the 1800’s Palazzo Bettina was reputed to be haunted
 

 

Bishop's Palace

The Palace was built by Bishop Cubelles in 1542, and enlarged in 1615 by Bishop Cagliares, the last bishop residing in Vittoriosa before moving to Valletta.

                  

The Palace also served as the Bishop's Curia, and more recently as a school.

 

 

 

 

Gate of Provence

This simple main gate into town was restored in the early 18th century. Two other entrances into this City, the elaborated carved Advanced gate and the Couvre Porte Gate, are to the left and behind the Poste D'aragon

                                                             



Palace of the Universita'

The Universita Palace was erected in 1538 to house the institution which took care of the needs of the town including the regular importation of wheat 

 

Norman House

Although the house has almost fallen down through neglect, the firsl floor 15th Century twin siculo-normanwindow and frieze are still in reasonable repair. The only other pre-1530 relic in Vittoriosa is a 14th century window inside Fort St. Angelo     

                                                                

 

Sagra Infermeria

The large building almost at the edge of Victory Square was one of the first L'isle Adam constructed in 1531 . In the mid 1600's , and after the new Sacra Infermeria in Valletta was operational, the hospital was transferred to the Benedictine convent where it is today.

                                                    

 

Poste de Castille

On August 7, during the 1565 Great Siege, 4,000 Turkish soldiers attacked the Poste de Castille and came close to breaching defenses

 

Collegiate Church of St. Lawrence

This parish Church seems to have been the second oldest in Malta after the Cathedral at Mdina. San Lorenzo-a-mare (St. Lawrence by the sea) was built by Spanish seafarers with the help of Spanish Kings by the end of the 13th or early 14th century. From 1530 to 1571 it served as the conventual church of the Knights of St. John, while the Annunciation church was the parish church. In April 1532 it accidentally caught fire, was destroyed and the re-building of a new church was taken in hand without delay, with some modifications done later. From 1798 to 1939 further modifications were done to its architecture, including many rich decorations in the interior. It became the seat of a collegiate chapter in 1820. The Roman architect Romano Carapecchia was responsible for the additional extra bays supporting the bell towers. The second belfry was constructed as late as 1913. The original dome of Gafa' in this church was destroyed during WWII, the present one being built by Prof.Galea and inaugurated in 1954. Other losses suffered during the war include the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament built in 1786 by Baroness Francesca Viani. Space for the building of this chapel was taken from her palace garden, and the space that was once occupied by the chapel of St.Roque. This chapel was re-built in 1951. The sacristy, and the Chapter Hall, were also destroyed during the war and re-built in 1947. The vaulted ceiling too suffered damage due to blast during the war, the cracks were repaired and new painting attached. The painting of The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence done by Mattia Preti in 1689.

      

 

The statue of St. LawrenceUpon entering the church from the main door, the chapel on the right is occupied by the niche of St. Lawrence, the patron Saint of Vittoriosa.

  

The Statue is carried processionally annually on the saint’s feast, on 10thAugust.

 

Side Chapels

On the left side of the church is the chapel of St. Catherine which is decorated with gilded reliefs. It was responsibility of the Ropemakers Guild. The painting atop the statue of St. Catherine is rarity: it is by Filippo Paladini. The atrium leads to the chapel of St. Joseph which was under the care of the Confraternity of Carpenters. It is fitted with an altarpiece showing the flight to Egypt, assumed to be by Domenichini. On the opposite side to the atrium is the chapel of the Holy Crucifix. This crucifix was brought from Candia, Crete, in 1696. The two chapels adjacent to the main altar also belonged to two Confraternities, that of Our Lady of Charity and that of the Immaculate Conception.

 

Annunciation

A church on this site in the 15th Century was first dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. In the 1520's it was given to the Dominican Friars of Rabat who took possession on the 4th February 1528. When the Order of St.John settled down in Malta in 1530, the parish priest of Birgu began to administer the sacraments from this church, as St.Lawrence parish church was taken over by the Knights of St.John.

    

 

The foundation stone of the present building was laid in June 1638 by Inquisitor Fabio Chigi later Pope Alexander VII and consecrated by Bishop Mgr.Balaguer in August 1657. In the beginning of the 16th century its dedication was changed to the Annunciation. The church was restored in 1806 and in 1865 and was without a dome until 1925 when this was built by architect Gustav Soler from Birgu. In 1941 the church and convent were destroyed by enemy action, the present church being re-occupied by the Dominican Friars in December 1954 after it was rebuilt. It was blessed by Archbishop Gonzi in 1960. 

 

The Statue of St. Domnic

Saint Dominic, also known as Dominic of Osma, often called Dominic de Guzmán and Domingo Félix de Guzmán  was the founder of the Friars Preachers, popularly called the Dominicians or Order of Preachers (OP), a Catholic religious order. 

                                                          

The Statue is carried processionally annually on the saint’s feast, on the last Sunday of August.

 

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Chapels

Holy Trinity
Also known as Our Lady of Monserrat, was built by the noble Lucrezia Gauci Falzon near the Marina wharf of this town in 1784. The coats of arms of two founding families with the year 1462 inscribed on them, were inserted in the facade of this church. It served as a temporary chapel for the Carmelite Friars before they moved into their newly built church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1611. Sometime about 1685, this church was rededicated to The Holy Trinity. It was completely destroyed by enemy action in WWII but rebuilt in 1962-3 and nowadays is used for religious associations' meetings.

Nativity of Our Lady
A small chapel dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady (Our Lady of Victory), exists in fort St Angelo. Four Grandmasters were buried here who were afterwards disinterred and reburied in the crypt of St.John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

St.Anne
In Fort St Angelo a temple to Melitta, also known as Hammuna or Astarte existed from Punic times (one of the pillar supports dates from that time). Most probably Malta has its name rooted in this place. The Romans dedicated this temple to Juno, remains still existing when the Knights took Malta. A 1274 document gives a detailed inventory of this church. Its altar piece, painted in 1461 presented Our Lady flanked by St John the Baptist and St Philip. The present chapel was built by the family De Nava owners of the fort (then called Castrum Maris) in 1430. The Knights of St John afterwards dedicated it to St.Anne. Early in the 20th century the British used it as a store and then as a school, then in 1935 they consecrated it in the Anglican rite and it became the Anglican Chapel of HMS St.Angelo.In recent years, the Maltese Government granted the Order of St.John the right to occupy the upper part of the Fort, comprising the Magisteral Palace and St.Anne's Chapel, restoration works on these parts of the Fort being completed in the last decades.

St.Anne
Commonly known as St.Scholastica because of the Monastery.A Benedictine monastery of Mdina was transferred to Vittoriosa and when the Knights of St.John moved their residence to Valletta, the hospital 'Sacra Infirmeria' they had at Vittoriosa was given to the nuns as their monastery. In 1679 the church and part of the monastery were rebuilt, and the church was consecrated by Bishop Labini on the 29 September 1788. The relics of the martyr, St.Veneranda, brought from Rome in 1728, are venerated in the church. Dedication date: 29th Sept. 1787 

Our Lady of Sorrows(also known as the Crucifix Chapel)
The confraternity of the Crucifix built their oratory on the site of the old cemetery and dedicated it to Our Lady of Sorrows around 1720. On Fridays during Lent they held processions with statues representing scenes from Our Lord's passion. While on Friday before Palm Sunday, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was solemnly celebrated, including a procession with her statue. These processions had already been introduced before 1759. This Oratory received considerable damage during the war and had to be rebuilt. The statues of the good Friday procession are kept in this chapel.

Sacred Heart Of Jesus Tal-Hawli
This Chapel was opened to serve as a centre of pastoral activity among the residents of the locality. 

Our Lady Of Carmel
The original church was built by the crews of the Order's galleys who helped the Carmelite Fathers and the Tertiaries in 1611. These people considered the church as their own and used it for their religious duties. The White Friars stayed here till 1653 when it was handed over to the Congregation of the Oratorians of St Philip Neri. In 1671, these were already carrying out restoration work on this site. In 1886 it was occupied by the Franciscan nuns who came from Mdina. When it was destroyed during World War II a substantial part of the original in St.Lawrence Street was still standing and was kept after rebuilding. The wall and facade are now identical elevations to the original. 

St James
A chapel of this dedication existed in the Inquisitor's prisons in 1780, but by 1866 when the courts were transferred to Valletta, the prisons and chapel fell into disuse. In the latter part of the 20th century the building and the chapel were restored and the chapel is now refurbished for touristic purposes. 

St.Joseph Oratory
Known as Our Lady of Damascus (Tal-Griegi) because of a small chapel within the oratory itself. The parish priest of Birgu in 1554 agreed to leave at the disposal of the Greek community a church dedicated to St.Catherine, near St Lawrence cemetery. The Greeks had come to Malta with the Order from Rhodes. However by the end of the 17th century the Greek community at Birgu had ceased to exist. A new 'Damascena' church was built here on the site of the old one during the first decades of the 18th century. Its building was ready by 1722. Its main altar was thenceforth exclusively reserved for the Latin rite while the Greek rite could still be celebrated on a side altar. The oratory suffered great damage in the Second World War but was restored afterwards. It is situated very close to the parish church of St.Lawrence. 

St.Philip & St.James
Also known as Our Lady of the Angels, this church was first built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1561. Rebuilt by Canon Giovanni Habel in 1624, the original altar piece of this church included the coat of arms of Bishop Leonardo Habel, uncle of the founder. Canon Habel was buried here in 1642. Bishop Balaguer handed over this church to the Congregation of the Oratorian Fathers. These, in 1657 were already caring after its needs. It was enlarged in the 1750s to a cruciform plan with the addition of a transept, a choir and a cupola to the original quadrangular church. When the Oratorians left Malta, the church was taken over by the parish. It suffered damage during WWII but although it was repaired, it is kept closed nowadays.  

'Where the Lord was found'Chapel
In 1837, during a cholera epidemic, the ciborium of breads of the Holy Sacrament was stolen from the church of St.Therese in Bormla by a certain Paul Galea. After hiding the solid gold ciborium, he snapped off the cross on the lid and tried to sell it. This way he was caught and the Sacrament traced to the foot of the bastions near the gate of Aragon. A chapel was hewn out of the bastion in the place to commemorate the occasion. Mass is still celebrated here once a year. 

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Auberges:

Auberge D'allemagne

The German Auberge was given a new facade after it was bombed by the Axis in World War II. The large squat bollard infront marks the beginning of the Collachio , the knights living quarter.

 

Auberge D'auvergne et Provence

This was the shared home of the knights of these two langues. Atfer the 1571 move to Valletta, each built their own auberge

 

Auberge de Angleterre

The old English Auberge is being restored as a government museum. The house next door was the private residence of Sir Oliver Starkley, Master de Valette's secretary who has the singular honor of being interred next to his master in St. John's Co-cathedral

 

Auberge de France

This is the forst and grandest of the Auberges. The window at the top of the right of the building was a later addition and ruins the otherwise calm symmetry of the facade. The auberge was until recently a museum of political history and it is believed the site of the auberge d'Aragon was to its right.

 

Auberge d'Italie

The Auberge of Italy was built outside the Collachio owing to the naval and maritime commitments of the Language. The Pelier of Italy held the prestigious post of General of the Galleys.

Next to the Auberge, the Italian Language had its own hospital. This stood beside the hospital supervisor’s residence and a small chapel dedicated to St Catherine. It is believed that in front of the Auberge the Italian Knights raised a platform called Il-Ballet. On this dancefloor they organised Malta’s first ever Carnival revelry in 1535.