Vittoriosa, or Birgu in Maltese, is a very old city on the south side of Valletta's Grand Harbour, and one of the so called Three Cities - the other two being Cospiqua and Senglea. The Three Cities are the cradle of Maltese history. They have provided a home and fortress to almost all the people who settled on the Islands.
Vittoriosa sits on a peninsula with Fort St Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base. Before Valletta was established as capital, any military powers that wanted to rule the Maltese islands would need to take control of Birgu. Its significant position in the Grand Harbour is ideal for safe anchorage, and throughout its history it has always played a vital role in Malta's maritime, mercantile and military activities. Today the City is a slice of authentic Maltese life and offers a heritage of Malta's maritime fortunes.
The City has its origins dating back to medieval times. When the Knights of the Order of St. John were driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire, and were granted Malta as their new home, they made Birgu the capital city of Malta. The former capital, Mdina, was too far inland and did not suit their naval requirements. The Knights arrived in 1530 and the city was fortified in 1551. In 1554 it was strengthened further in preparation for an attack by the Ottoman Empire. This included the construction of the Castle of St Angelo connected to the city by means of a drawbridge.
During the Siege of Malta in 1565 Vittoriosa became the site of the battle between the Knights and the Ottoman Empire. After four months of successful defense by the Knights under Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, the city was almost captured by the Ottoman army in August 1565. It was then recaptured by the Knights and further forces arrived a month later. When the siege was over a new capital city was built and named Valletta. It was then that Birgu was given the title Civitas Vittoriosa, "victorious city", to honour the part played by the city in defeating the Ottomans.
Vittoriosa lost much of its importance when in 1571 the Knights transferred their convent and seat to the new capital. After the taking of Malta by Napoleon in 1798, and his eviction by the Maltese, the British Navy made Vittoriosa its base in the Mediterranean, and remained there until 1979.
The City contains many important architectural riches. The Knights `auberges' (inns of residence), palaces and churches here are older than those in Valletta. The narrow streets are laden with beautiful townhouses with imposing facades most restored to their former glory. The part of the Vittoriosa waterfront which faces Senglea has now been developed into one of Malta's most picturesque yacht marinas and also home to modern apartment blocks with the most amazing views over the harbour, a casino, and a brand new hotel.
The waterfront marina, is fast developing into a picturesque dining out area, well situated close to the Maritime Museum as well as the moorings.