Birgu, L'Isla and the Surrounding Area

Fort St ElmoValletta (Site of Mt Scibberas)FlorianaManoel IslandDragut PointHamrunMarsa

In the above map (a WW2 relief model) you can see the outlines of many towns and villages. In 1551 almost none of these existed: there was no Valletta, no Senglea, and few fortifications (only Ft St Angelo, a small defended fort on L'Isla, and possibly a small watchtower at St Elmo). Nowadays, almost wherever you go in the area shown in the above map you see huge buttresses, curtain walls, sea defences, and concrete gunposts. From 1551 to 1798 (when they were kicked out by Napoleon) the Knights carried out a continual process of fortification of this area. They also built watchtowers all around the island and on Comino and Gozo. The Citadels at Mdina and Victoria (the Gozo Citadel) were massively strengthened too.

In 1800, the British and Maltese ejected the French, and Malta became home to the British Mediterranean fleet. The British continued the fortification work, and in the age of steam Malta became a major coaling station on the route to Egypt, Cyprus, India, Singapore and other parts of the Empire.

During WW2, Malta was bombed by the Axis powers - so much so that George VI, awarded the entire country the George Cross - the highest award for civilian bravery in the British Empire. Malta was instrumental in cutting off supplies to the German Afrika Korps in North Africa, and was the command base for the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. Eisenhower and Montgomery both lived on Malta for a while before the invasion. Churchill visited.

After the war, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth) lived on Malta with her husband, Prince Philip, who was serving in the Navy (at Ft St Angelo). In 1952 she became the last Queen of Malta. In the 1950s the people of Malta voted to become part of the UK, but the British Government refused. Malta became independent of the UK in 1964, it became a republic in 1974, and the Royal Navy left in 1979. Malta joined the EU on 1st May 2004.

A Dragut Point - used during the Great Siege of 1565 to bombard Fort St Elmo. The peninsular was known as Tigne in Lymond's time.
B Manoel Island. Deserted and unfortified in 1551 and 1565.
C Marsamxett Harbour - this is where the Turks anchored in 1551 and 1565.
D This is one possible location for Nick Upton's charge. We think it's currently the traffic roundabout in the centre of Hamrun. The other (supported by a non-Dunnett source) is at H.
E Floriana. This is at the rear of Mt Scibberas, and may be the site of the Spanish Knights engagement with the Turks while Nick Upton's charge was underway.
F Mt Scibberas (now the location of Valletta). No-one lived here in 1551 or 1565. It was from here in 1565 that the Turks took Ft St Elmo, bombarded Birgu with its fort (St Angelo) and Senglea and its fort (St Michael).

Ft St Elmo. This fort was built after Dragut's raid of 1551, and before the great siege. The Turks estimated that it would be able to resist them for 3 days. It resisted for over 6 weeks, with reinforcements being rowed across from Birgu under Turkish fire. When the Turkish fire became too strong, local Maltese swimmers passed messages back and forth. Eventually St Elmo was overwhelmed. Most knights were killed in the siege, but the Turks crucified the dead bodies and those few remaining living Knights rest and floated the bodies over the water to Birgu. Jean de Vallette responded by killing Turkish prisoners, and firing their heads from cannon into the Turkish forces on Mt Scibberas and on the heights behind Birgu.

In Lymond's time there may have been a small fortified watchtower and a chapel at St Elmo, but it is not certain.

H Marsa. Another possible location for Nick Upton's charge. There are wells here which the Turks used and the Knights poisoned in 1565.
J In Lymond's time this is L'isla, a fishing village where the chain across Galley Creek was anchored. By the time of the Great Siege it has been transformed into the heavily fortified Senglea (named after Claude de la Sengle, the Grand Master who founded it) with Fort St Michael at its head.
K Fort St Angelo. The Fort known by Lymond was extended and refortified between 1551 and 1565, and again after 1565. The chain went from here, across Dockyard Creek (Lymond's Galley Greek) to L'Isla
L Birgu. Adopted by the Knights as capital of Malta in 1530. Contained the Auberges of the various Langues, the Inquisitor's palace, the Hospital. The Grand Master's house appears to have been with Fort St Angelo.
M A Turkish battery was placed here in 1565 and bombarded Birgu almost constantly.
N Gallows Point. Today, this pensula contains Fort Ricasoli. This land was unfortified in 1551 and 1565.
O The Grand Harbour - the entire area of water on the south west of Mt Scibberas/Valletta, including Dockyard Creek and all the other inlets.
P Galley Creek (now Dockyard Creek). This is the piece of water protected by the chain, where the order moored its Galleys.

Updated 09 May 2003.
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