The Three Cities
The Three Cities. Even the name is fascinating and full of mystery. The Maltese also call them Cottonera, a collective name for three medieval fortified cities in the North of Malta, founded by the Knights of the Order of Saint John in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Three Cities are Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua). Birgu is the oldest of the Three Cities and existed well before the arrival of the Knights. It also the most popular town among the Three Cities due to its historical and cultural wealth. You can find them to the East of capital city Valletta, right across Grand Harbour.
With over 11,000 inhabitants combined, the Three Cities are regaining their past popularity, attracting many investors who are buying property and turning it into state of the art homes. This revival has also attracted the tourism industry, with boutique hotels, restaurants and wine bars popping up along the narrow winding streets and alleys of the Three Cities.
The Birgu Waterfront project, which includes a magnificently restored fort, museums, a yacht marina and several places for entertainment and fine dining has proved to be a great success with the Maltese and visitors alike.
What makes the Three Cities worth visiting?
The Three Cities are special in many ways. Their history, tightly related to the order of the Knights, their location, overlooking the Grand Harbour and their contemporary revival to a new found glory make them so unique in what they offer.
All of the three are insanely rich in history, having been the first fortified cities built by the Knights of St John when they arrived in Malta in 1530. The Knights had been thrown out of Rhodes in 1522 and after seven years of wandering they were finally given Malta as their new home. They settled in Birgu, making it their capital, repurposing the ancient fortress known as Castrum Maris as Fort St Angelo, also building new fortifications and countless new buildings including churches, auberges, warehouses and palaces.
The Grand Harbour was what made the Knights settle in that area. Trade and controlling the harbour were tremendously important and much can be learned by visiting the Malta Maritime Museum right on the Birgu Waterfront.
While walking around the Three Cities, you cannot help but admire the imposing bastions, restored to their former glory. They are quite a sight, especially at night.
Individually, each of the Three Cities has much to offer. Birgu is the most popular, and also the one boasting most attractions, such as the Maritime Museum, the Malta at War Museum the Inquisitor’s Palace and of course Fort St, Angelo.
Bormla, with its six kilometres of fortifications is home to an impressive parish church with an oratory full of works of art. Isla hosts two astounding churches (namely St Philips and Our Lady of Victories) and has a lovely garden at its tip overlooking Grand Harbour where you can find a great example of a Gardjola watch post.
Between the three, you’re in for some truly spectacular sights. Dive into the history of the Three Cities, take a stroll around the beautiful yacht marina or just relax in one of the many cafeterias, restaurants and wine bars.