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Malta owes much of its cultural heritage to the Knights. Every one visits Mdina , the first medieval capital of Malta and Valletta the present capital which was built after the victory of the Knights over the Turks in 1565. However, there is an area which has just as much importance and that is the Cottonera – the towns all have a long maritime history
When you arrive in the Three Cities you will immediately notice how relatively unspoilt they are. They are surrounded by some of Malta`s most splendid fortifications. Together the Three Cities and the neighbouring town of Kalkara are known as the Cottonera after the line of medieval fortifications built by Grand Mater Nicolas Contoner in the 17th Century . Vittoriosa (Birgu) was the first home of the Knights. They did not like the architecture and soon started to erect new buildings, many of which are still standing. They also started to strengthen Fort St Angelo and build strong fortifications which are some of the finest in the world. The area where the Knights built most of their palaces (Auberges) is called the Collacchio. Here you will find some excellent restaurants and wine bars. It is pleasant to wander round the narrow streets much of which have been pedestrianised. The rennovation of Fort St Angelo and the fortifications around Vittoriosa was completed in 2015. Work continues on the Foss gardens which surround the city.
On the waterfront the buildings have been beautifully restored. Some have become bars and restaurants. What was once the British Navy bakery is now a very impressive Maritime Museum . There is also a yacht marina. The Waterfront is ideal for sitting al fresco and watching the sun set over Valletta`s fortifications opposite or to have a rest during the day after visiting one of the museums or a stroll round the town. You will also be able to book a tour of the area with the "Rolling Gekes" who provide golf buggy type vehicles which carry 4 people and which are accompanied by recorded tour guide information
The other two towns of Cospicua and Senglea ( L-Isla) were built as fortified towns to house the entire population in case of invasion. They suffered heavy damage during the siege of 1565 and again in WWll
Walk through Senglea till you reach the attractive public gardens called Gardjola Gardens . Along the main road some of the splendid pre war houses still remain but Senglea had many direct hits during the war and so many buildings were lost. When you look out from the gardjola (watch tower) in the garden at the end of the main road, you will see splendid views of the entire Grand Harbour and Valletta opposite. The Parish Church of Our Lady of Victories was destroyed during the war and was rebuilt. It`s feast day is 8th September – the same day the ottoman forces were defeated in the Seige of 1565 and on the 8th September 1943 Italy surrendered to the British Forces. On this day you can enjoy watching one of the bi-annual regattas held in Grand Harbour (the other being on March 31st). The Waterfront here is quiet and serene and is ideal for lounging about. It has recently been rennovated and there are now exxtended outdoor seating areas for the many waterfront restaurants. Access to the waterfront by car is restricted at the weekend making the entire waterfront largely pedestrianated enhancing the dining experience.
The third town is Cospicua (Bormla) which is less splendid but still has a a rich history. The area at the head of the creek was established by the British as a dry dock but the entire area has now been converted into a green space making it a pleasant place for a stroll. In fact it is now possible to walk along the waterfront from Kalkara to Senglea. This has to be one of the most pitureque walks any one is ever likley to take. The ferry to Valletta stops here twice an hour. The journey takes just over 5 minutes.
The towns were heavily bombed during the war and practically all of the population fled and most did not return. Many of the lovely houses were taken over by dock yard workers and converted into flats . Gradually the area is returning to its former status.
As the whole area went through a long period of abandonment, it escaped the modernisation of the Sliema area.
In pre-bus days, the most popular form of transport between the three cities and Valletta was the dghajsa – the traditional water taxi service. Today you can still catch one of the few remaining authentic harbour taxis. Leaflets about the service can be picked up from the Local Councils and from the Tourist Information Offices at the Airport, City Gate in Valletta and Palazzo Spinola in St Julians.
Visitmalta.com is the official tourist board site and they have a number of very interesting free downloads about the area - http://www.visitmalta.com/ebooks.
They also have video clips of the area - http://www.visitmalta.com - e-books and downloads. Another site with good clips is www.supercities.eu . The Times of Malta newspaper ( Link : www.timesofmalta.com ) has a web cam (Link : http://www.timesofmalta.com/webcam ) that shows the Grand Harbour with the fortified cities in the back ground while the site www.visitmalta.com has a web cam taken from the opposite side of the Grand Harbour. Another video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3WYyN...
Malta at War Museum - Couvre Porte, Vittoriosa - During WWll miles of tunnels were constructed all over Malta and used as air raid shelters. Today these vast underground shelters in Vittoriosa are a labyrinth and have been furnished with items used daily in those far off days – and the exhibition makes you realise the frightening life the Maltese led during the War. Also you will learn how the air raid shelters were excavated by hand, often by ordinary people using very simple tools and how the people lived in them. The museum shows a film commissioned by King George Vl and narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier to honour the heroic stand of Malta (DVD`s available) Bus 1,4,6, from Valletta – direct transport from hotel and back - 99495734 for booking or ask concierge
Free transport to Fort Rinella , kalkara - www.wirtartna.org (Malta Heritage Trust)
Maritime Museum - The Waterfront, Vittoriosa – set in the building that used to be the British Forces Bakery. The Museum shows a display of naval and maritime activities in and around Malta. The exhibits include anchors and emphorae from Roman ship wrecks , a section dedicated to the British era and an entire engine of a steam ship. Obviously there is also a section dedicated to the Knights.
Fort St Angelo - In the 9th century the Arabs built a small fortress there, the Normans turned it into a castle. As soon as the Knights arrived in Malta they started strengthening the fortifications and the British called it HMS St Angelo. Quite a varied history. It suffered sixty nine direct hits during the war. It's rennovation was completed in November 2015 and is now houses a conference centre which hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in the same month. Plans to open sections of the Fort as a tourist attraction are currently being considered (January 2016)
Folklore Museum – in the Inquisitor`s Palace. You can see the judgement hall, the private apartments and the dungeons
www.wirtartna.org – a local Heritage Trust