The Cultural, Architectural and Ecclesiastical Heritage of Birgu – Malta
Birgu, the maritime city that proudly flaunts another proud title Città Vittoriosa, is packed with history. As you wander down its beguiling streets, layers of different cultures unfold, stretching from the Roman period to the medieval overlords in the impregnable castle known as the Castrum Maris (Fort St. Angelo), to the glorious Knights’ phase when Birgu, the seat of the mighty order of St. John, was the pride of Europe as it basked in the glamour of a momentous victory after the bitter siege of 1565.
As you stroll along this walled city, girdled by mighty fortifications and lofty cavaliers, memories of its past haunt you, notwithstanding its present vibrancy, with its magnificent churches, band clubs, a premier league football club, bars, taverns and restaurants mingling with the gentle populace of a proud, yet humble city. Exercising its various roles throughout history as it stands majestically in the shadow of the Castrum Maris, Birgu was for a time the hub of Malta’s cultural, civil, ecclesiastical and social life, particularly during the Knights’ sojourn when three prestigious institutions, namely, the mighty Order of St John, the Inquisitor, in the guise of Papal Legate, and the diocesan Bishop, had their residence in Birgu.
There is sufficient evidence today to confirm Birgu’s historic past represented by the extant first Conventual Church of St Lawrence with its artistic treasures, the re-built Church of the Annunciaton (Il-Lunzjata) and the old hospital of the Order (La Sacra Infermeria) built in 1533, now the residence of the cloistered nuns of Santa Scolastica. It also displays the unique Inquisitors’ Palace and the pristine auberges, particularly the Auberge d’Angleterre and the Auberge de France, reputedly designed by the great European military engineer, Bartolomeo Genga of Urbino.
The architecture, the long-standing maritime activity, the fortifications, the artistic heritage, as well as the author’s own recollections of the havoc wreaked during the Second World War; are all explored with evident ardour…Most deservedly, Vittoriosa is now fast becoming a jewel within the Maltese harbour area, increasingly attracting both Maltese and foreigners to reside within its comforting walls and sea-lapped shores.