Birgu Vittoriosa is the oldest of the fortified "Three Cities" that include Senglea (also known as Isla) and Cospicua (also known as Bormla). Senglea and Vittoriosa are each on a small peninsula that juts out from the southern shore of Grand Harbour and across the bay from the city of Valetta; the tip of each peninsula is guarded by an ancient fort. Cospicua is the larger of the Three Cities, and located behind the other two. Birgu Vittoriosa history and the history of the other two cities embody what is called the cradle of Maltese culture and heritage, and most of the Vittoriosa sights and things to do in Vittoriosa Malta involve this long and rich history.
The Knights of Malta (also known as the Knights Hospitaller) made Birgu Vittoriosa their first headquarters in 1530 after being driven from Rhodes in Greece and Bodrum in Turkey by Suleiman the Magnificent. The Knights' living quarters (called auberges, the French word for inns) were built here, and many of these sixteenth-century houses are still standing. They protected their domain with Fort St. Angelo (the oldest fortification in the country) and Fort St. Michael in Senglea. They also built a large hospital, as this was the calling of their order and the source of its name. To protect their kingdom, they enclosed much of it with medieval walls and watchtowers as well as a moat around the fort. One of the things to do in Vittoriosa Malta is to simply stroll along the waterfront, exploring the impressive city walls and the massive fort with its bastions and watchtowers. The views are quite spectacular and a leisurely walk around the entire peninsula will take only about 30 minutes.
One of the most important events in Birgu Vittoriosa history is the Great Siege of 1565 when the outnumbered Knights repelled the vastly larger forces of the Ottoman Empire. This fierce and bloody battle was celebrated throughout Europe; Voltaire famously wrote: "Nothing is more well known than the Siege of Malta." It ended Europeans' perception of the invincibility of the Ottoman Empire, and was the beginning of Mediterranean dominance by Spain, then France, and finally England.
Vittoriosa history is shaped by the Christianity of the Knights, who built many churches and cathedrals, all decorated with magnificent religious art, statues, and monuments. You will find these everywhere on both Malta Island and Gozo Island, but Birgu Vittoriosa and Valletta boast more than any other place. The most prominent of these is the grand St. Lawrence Church, completed in 1696 and dominating the waterfront. There are numerous other churches, chapels, and convents in the city.
Possibly the most rewarding things to do in Vittoriosa Malta are taking tours of the city's many fascinating museums—there are perhaps more of these than there are churches. Fittingly enough, the Malta Maritime Museum is housed in a building completed in 1845 to serve as the bakery for the British Navy. Displays here trace the beginnings of sailing in Malta by ancient Phoenicians through the Knights, and more modern times. The grand Inquisitor's Palace is today the National Museum of Ethnography, one of the few remaining such Inquisition palaces that were once spread throughout Roman Catholic Europe. The Vittoriosa Parish Museum contains artifacts and exhibits especially about the Three Cities, including photographs and documents concerning the significant role they played during World II.