Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Birgu, is a very old locality on the south side of the Grand Harbour in Malta with its origins reaching back to prehistoric times. The town occupies a promontory of land with Fort St Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base.
Birgu is ideally situated for safe anchorage, and over time it has developed a very long history with maritime, mercantile and military activities. Prior to the establishment of Valletta as capital and main city of Malta, military powers that wanted to rule the Maltese islands would need to obtain control of Birgu due to its significant position in the Grand Harbour. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, the Angevines, the Aragonese and the Knights of St. John all contributed to the development of Birgu. But none more so than the Knights. Being driven out of Rhodes by the Turks, the Knights were granted Malta as their new home. When the Knights arrived in 1530, they made Birgu the capital city of Malta, since the former capital, Mdina, was inland and did not suit their naval requirements. Almost as soon as they took up residence, the Knights undertook a series of works designed to improve the fortification at Fort St Angelo and of the whole area of the three cities. These works give Birgu and for that matter the whole Maltese island its distinctive architectural character that can be seen today.
Birgu was never captured during the hostilities between the Knights and the Ottoman Empire. After the Siege of Malta in 1565, support for the previously impoverished knights flooded in from across Europe. As a result, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette was able to implement a long held goal of the knights: the building of a new fortified city on Mount Sceberras, the peninsula opposing Birgu from which the Turks had bombarded Birgu. The new capital city, bore his name, Valletta. In 1571, they transferred their convent and seat to the new capital and Birgu lost much of its importance. After the Siege, the Knights also gave Birgu the title Città Vittoriosa, Italian for "victorious city".
The parish church is dedicated to St. Lawrence. The saint's day is celebrated on August 10. This church was the conventual church of the Order when the Knights settled at Birgu. The Order settled in Birgu until 1575 when the Knights moved to Valletta. As a matter of fact in Birgu one can still find the old Auberges which were all located (except for the Italian Langue) in the Collachio. The Collachio was a confined place where only the Knights were allowed to enter. All these aspects and more can only be appreciated if one visits this unique city which is surrounded by fortified walls and high towers known as St. John and St. James Cavalier, and which are similar to the same named high towers at Valletta. During the visit one should not miss taking a look at the Inquisitor's Palace and the Guva in St.Angelo where Caravaggio was arrested.
Also in Birgu is the Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation run by the Dominican Order. This church is also known as St. Dominic's Church. The feast of Saint Dominic is held every last Sunday of August. It is organised by the Dominican Friars, the St. Dominic External Feast Committee and the Prince of Wales' Own Band Club of Birgu.
After the taking of Malta by Napoleon in 1798, and his eviction by the Maltese, the British were invited to Malta and the British Navy made Birgu its base in the Mediterranean, and remained there until 1979.