or il-Kottonera, is the term used to
describe the suburb which grew out of and behind Fort Saint Angelo
and Fort Saint Michael, at the southern shores of Malta's Grand
Harbour. This area, also referred to as 'The Three
Cities', lies behind the (inland-facing) Cottonera lines;
fortifications built during the reign of the stern Grand Master fra
As pointed out by historian
Horatio C.R. Vella in his translation of Jean Quentin
d'Autun's work Insulae Melitae descriptio, when the Order of Knights
of Saint John first arrived at Malta in the year 1530 -- besides
the Moorish, walled city of Mdina -- all they found in terms of
defences was a feeble fortress (sic) "on the eastern
side of the harbour, looking towards the North... falling into
ruins, hardly keeping itself together" (sic).
This fortress from the Arab period was being replaced by an
impregnable castle by the Order -- Fort S.Angelo. The
hamlet of Birgu already existed at this time, but the population in
the whole area was miniscule.
During the time of Grand
Master Claude de la Sengele, the harbour defences were strengthened,
particularly with the addition of Fort S. Michael on the opposite
side of the Porto delle Galere or Galley Creek (later
known as Dockyard Creek).
Citta' Vittoriosa (or
"Victorious City" from the Latin "Civitas
Victoriosa"), is the town which evolved in the shadow --
and protection -- of Fort Saint Angelo. It was so named
by Grand Master La Valette following the Great Siege of 1565 when it
stood firm against the invader's prowess. It is also
known in Maltese as 'il-Birgu', a derivative of the European
terms Borgo, Borough or Burgh, meaning 'suburb'.
It is the oldest of the Three
and to this day it retains most of its historic buildings, despite
the destruction which rained down on the port area during the Second
World War. Vittoriosa was the seat of the Order until
the new city of Valletta was built.
Senglea (honoured by
the Order as "Civitas Invicta" or the Unconquered
City") -- nowadays more commonly known as 'l-Isla' --
was the second promontory in the Grand Harbour to be fortified
(whilst providing habitation). This was done in anticipation of an
expected Ottoman invasion, which became a reality a few years later.
This town suffered much
greater destruction than Vittoriosa during World War Two, especially
since it was in the heart of the nation's only Dockyard, thereby
having been laden with the ill-fate of becoming a prime enemy
target. The city was practically rebuilt from the ground
up after the war.