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Vittoriosa or Birgu, is the oldest of the three sister cities. Its origin lies in prehistoric times. There was a period when the whole island was divided into two administrative regions: Mdina attended to the needs of the interior area and of the countryside, whilst Birgu administered the eastern zone and the harbour approaches.

Like Senglea, Birgu occupies a narrow tongue of land in Grand Harbour. At the tip of the promontory stands Fort St. Angelo, the stronghold commenced during the Arab domination, probably in the 11th century.

The history of Birgu starts in 1530, when the Order of St. John established its Headquarters in what was still a small village, known as Borgo di Castello. At the time, Valletta did not exist. The Knights, who were aware of the warlike threats of the Ottoman Turks, began at once to strengthen the harbour defences, particularly those of St. Angelo, and of other strategic but weak points.

Apart from improving the fortifications, the Knights also undertook some work for their own needs. They split Birgu in two quarters: The Collachio, which they reserved for their residence, and the popular quarter, for the rest of the people.

In May 1565, the Turks invaded Malta with a force of 30,000 men. That was the start of the siege which lasted well over three months. The indomitable Grand Master La Valette who directed the operations, made St. Angelo his headquarters. Many hundreds of Knights and Maltese lost their lives, but the Turkish losses were so great that they were constrained to call it a day and to abandon their plans to conquer Malta. The Knights were victorious.

Birgu was never captured and in recognition of its stubborn resistance, it gained the title of Vittoriosa - the Victorious one - which name it retains to the present day. When peace returned, the Knights began the building of Valletta. Within a few years, the new city rose on Mount Sceb-er-ras; and in 1574, the Knights transferred their convent to their new capital. Birgu lost much of its importance, but it remains forever the victorious city with its unforgettable, historical past.

During the Second World War, Birgu, like the other places on the harbour, was submitted to unceasing air attacks. Destruction was widespread, More than 60% of its buildings were wiped out. Churches, palaces and houses lay everywhere in ruins. Some of the scars were healed, but much was irretrievably lost forever. Another chapter was added to the city's glorious annals.

Present day Birgu is the home of 3,500 inhabitants, most of whom work in the Drydocks and in offices across the water in Valletta. ta.

Text courtesy of the National Tourism Organisation - Malta.