A Medieval City with a Great History

The parish of Birgu was the first parish erected in the Maltese islands together with that of Mdina, the old capital city. Birgu was the first maritime town and its primitive church San Lorenzo-a-mare was built by Spanish seafarers with the help of Spanish kings. Its destiny was bound with those of our islands for many centuries.

San Lorenzo-a-mare (St Lawrence by the sea) was the church dedicated to the Aragonese martyred saint after the occupation of the islands by Aragon in 1283. This occupation took place after a fierce battle in the Mediterranean and in our Grand Harbour between the Angions (Angouvins) then occupying Malta since 1266 and the Aragonese. The people of Aragon must have been very attracted by the sheltered site serving them as a haven at the back of the peninsula of Il Borgo or Birgu jutting out into the Grand Harbour with the castle of Fort St Angelo dominating the harbour. The word Birgu signifies a town or suburb behind a castle guarding it. This castle, Fort St Angelo built by the Arabs in the 9th century.The site where San Lorenzo-a-mare was built was known as Ta’ Hammuna. This area had been inhabited long before the Romans had conquered Carthage and our islands during the historical Punic Wars in 216/218 BC.

The meaning of the word Ta’ Hammuna could be attributed to the following: - most probably Hammuna was the name of the whole area before the word Borgo was given, an area which today covers about 175,000 sq. metres. The island of Kemmuna (Comino) between Malta and Gozo, a sheltered island, which was called Festja by the Phoenicians at first, but later this became to be known as Hemmuna. Today we know it as Kemmuna in Maltese. This is a word derived from the Arabic kemmen, which means hiding, or to hide. Sometimes this is written as kennen in Maltese that is to put under cover or in a shelter. The reason for this might have been because it looks like a sheltered island between two other larger ones, Malta and Gozo.

Another reason for this had been because the Arab Saracens used to regard this island as a sheltered area that had served them well as a haven helping them in their activities as corsairs and pirates. Ta’ Hammuna is in fact a sheltered place behind a promontory in the Grand Harbour, very ideal for bad weather in north winds and tempests. Although there are no documents to verify this it is quite evident that this is the most adequate sheltered area in the whole island for vessels entering the harbour. Probably this is what made Birgu an ideal maritime town. Thus, we might say that the words Hemmuna and Hammuna have the same meaning.

In the 11th century Birgu, being a well-developed area became a parish. Count Roger I of Normandy, a friend of Pope Urbanus II recognized and established the Diocese in 1090/1091, after the defeat of the Arabs by the great warriors. The Saracens had occupied the islands since the year 870 AD. Some historians of great reputation admit that this parish was the first on the island before that of Mdina during the Pontificate of Pope Urbanus II, when Bishop Gualtieri was made Bishop of Malta and resided in Sicily.

After the occupation of the Byzantines since 395 AD, Malta had passed under the Arabs Saracens in 870 AD. It was Count Roger of Normandy who liberated the Maltese from Arab rule though not completely in 1091. We were completely free by the arrival of Count Roger II son of Count Roger I in 1127, and from this date onwards the Maltese lived under Norman democracy. This is why historians argue and insist that the Borgo parish might have been erected in 1127 and not 1091. Whatever the year is, this parish of Il Borgo was documented as being the first one in the south of Malta.

In Mdina there was the Cathedral dedicated to our father St Paul built by the Normans and the precise dates of both Mdina and Borgo parishes are not known because documents are not available. Certainly the Borgo parish was established within the years mentioned. In Birgu since the occupation of the Phoenicians, there was a temple dedicated to their goddess Astarte. This was on the same grounds where St Anne’s church stands, built by the family de Nava in Fort St Angelo in 1430, the Head of this family de Nava was Giovanni de Nava the Captain of the Rod known as Il-Hakem who was responsible of the whole islands. Later the temple dedicated to Astarte was dedicated to Juno by the Romans.

Among the early ages we had chapels excavated in rock called troglodytes, and in Birgu we had a chapel of this sort in Fort St Angelo that still exists, and according to historians this belonged to that epoch. In this chapel there is a plaque that reads This was erected and dedicated to the Mother of God, by Count Roger I circa the year 1091. This was in fact the first chapel ever existed in Birgu and one of the earliest ones on the island. It had served medieval Lords and today it is dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin.

Those two populated areas, castle Fort St Angelo and Birgu itself, and their role in commerce were the reasons for this maritime town to become a parish earlier than other ones. In 1436 the Spanish Bishop of Malta Mello de Noto (1432-1445) established other parishes in Malta such as Gudja, Naxxar, Qormi, Siggiewi, Zebbug, Zejtun and Zurrieq.

The present church of Birgu dedicated to St Lawrence had also served the Inquisitors and Apostolic Delegates residing in their palace in Birgu, but the primitive one had served the Order of St John for 41 years until the Knights transferred their ‘seat’ and convent from Birgu to Valletta the new capital in 1571. The new church of St Lawrence (the present one) celebrated its foundation stone in 1681 by Bishop Michele Molina, it was inaugurated in 1697 by Bishop Davide Cocco Palmieri, was consecrated in 1723 by Bishop Gaspar Gori Mancini and raised to the dignity of a Collegiate by Pope Pius VII and Bishop Ferdinando Mattei.

Historical gems

In 1565 a Turkish fleet of about 200 vessels and 40,000 men entered Marsamxett harbour with the aim of dislodging the Order of St John from Malta, their new home since 1530. The defense of the island that followed checked the western advance of the Turks at the time of their greatest military power. The Knights of St John were staying in Birgu so they had to defend their building and their fortifications. The first attack of the Turks fell on Fort St Elmo at the tip of the present capital city, Valletta, and the Post of Castille in Birgu that was eventually the strongest Post. Fort St Elmo was expected to fall within a week but the heroic defenders consisting of the Knights and Maltese did withstand the heavy murderous bombardments and the attacks of the elite Turkish troops known as the Janissaries for more than a month, but the defenders fell down fighting hard to the last man.

The Knights of St John arrived in Malta in October 1530 because they had been forced out by the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent, to leave their former home in Rhodes in 1522. In Malta they resisted a further attack by the Turks. They built the new capital after the Great Siege of 1565 with massive fortifications in both Valletta and Vittoriosa. They also built the magnificent Cathedral of St John which was inaugurated and consecrated in 1578 and became their second Conventual church after St Lawrence church which was their first Conventual church when they arrived in Birgu.

Centuries later, Napoleon Bonaparte with a fleet of more than 450 ships on the way to Egypt, took Malta and abolished both institutions, the Order of St John and the tribunal of the Inquisition that ruled Malta for 268 years and 224 years respectively. Bonaparte landed with his fleet in St George’s Bay.

In 1091 Count Roger of Normandy crossed over from Sicily to the Maltese islands and landed, according to tradition at Mi[ra l-Fer]a. He entered the Grand Harbour when he recognized Birgu as the first parish for the south of the island during the Pontificate of Pope Urbanus II. The Arabs and their garrison surrendered to the great power of the great warriors of the time, the Normans, thus ended the 220 years of Arab dominion on our beloved islands.

Census of population in Birgu

In 1530 when the Knights arrived the population was 2500.

At the beginning of the 19th century it was 5800.

Before World War II in 1939 it was 7000.

In 1931 = 6573
1948 = 3820
1957 = 4240
1967 = 4020
1958 = 3570
1995 = 3006.

Today it is 3070.

List of historical places

Cavaliers, Bastions, Curtains & Forts.

St John Cavalier – St James Cavalier – French Curtain – San Salvator Curtain (1724) – Fort St Angelo Curtains – Bastion of Il-Presca (The Breach) – Fort San Salvatore (1724) – End of Cottonera and Valperga Lines (1670) – Firenzuela Bastions (outer defense fortifications) – D’Homedes Bastion (in Fort St Angelo) – Ferramolino Cavalier (in Fort St Angelo) – Castle Fort St Angelo.

Posts.

Post of Castille, Post of France, Post of Provence, Post of Auvergne, Post of Genoa, Post of England, Post of Germany, Post of Aragon.

Gates.

Gate of Auvergne, Gate of Aragon or Advanced Gate (1722), Couvre Porte (1723), Main gate or Gate of Provence (1727), San Salvatore Gate (1724), Admiralty Gate (1860).

Auberges.

Auberge of Italy in St Lawrence Str, destroyed in World War II.

Auberge of England in Majistrall Str (today used as a regional library)

Auberge of Germany in Victory Square, destroyed in World War II.

Auberge of Provence and Auvergne in Hilda Tabone Str.

Auberge of France in Hilda Tabone Str.

Auberge of Aragon in Hilda Tabone Str.

Auberge of Castille and Portugal in Quarter Front Str corner with Hilda Tabone Str (partly destroyed in World War II).

Palaces.

Inquisitor’s palace in Main Gate Str (enlarged and modified in 1660)

Bishop’s palace built in 1542 in Bishop’s palace Str (enlarged in 1620).

Bettina palace in St George’s Str (where Lady Bettina, aunt of the unique Maltese cardinal Mauritio Sciberras Testaferrata, lived).

Universita` palace built in 1538 in Kunsill Popolari Str (where the Popular Council erected in 1536 used to meet).

Armoury palace in Torri ta’ San Gwann Str.

Treasury palace built in 1545 at the Vittoriosa wharf.

Bakery palace built in 1840 at the Vittoriosa wharf.

Maritime Museum at the Vittoriosa wharf (see Bakery palace).

Palace of the Captain General of the Order of St John built in 1680 at the Vittoriosa wharf.

Scamp palace at the Vittoriosa wharf (see Palace of the Captain General) today used as the Casino di Venezia.

Palaces of the Galleys’ Captains built in 1659, two in number at the Vittoriosa wharf.

Knights Hall in Torri ta’ san {wann Str (see the Armoury).

Magisterial Palace in Fort St Angelo.

Castellan palace in Fort St Angelo (see Magisterial Palace).

Castellania (ex Civil Courts) in Main gate Str (see Inquisitor’s palace).

Monuments

Great Siege Monument built in 1705 in Victory Square.

St Dominic statue made in 1877 in Main gate Str.

St Lawrence statue and column made in 1880 in Victory square, the latter built by Mr Poulson an English architect.

Granite pillar in St Anne’s chapel in fort St Angelo (ex monument to Astarte by the Phoenicians and Juno by the Romans).

Cemetery Monument in Fort St Angelo.

Churches.

Holy Trinity church built in 1462 and destroyed in World War II, but was re-built after the war, in Centenery Str.

Our Lady of Monserrat church (see Holy Trinity church).

St Philip’s church built in 1651 in St Philip’s Str.

Our Lady of the Angels church (see St Philip’s church).

Carmelite church built in 1611 (partly destroyed during World war II) in St Lawrence Str and seen from the wharf.

Annunciation church, a 16th century building and the Dominican convent (both destroyed during World War II) re-built in 1960, in Main Gate Str.

St Anne’s church built in 1679 in Santa Scholastica Str.

Santa Scholastica nunnery known by the locals as Abazia (see St Anne’s church).

St Lawrence Collegiate church built 1681-1697 (the parish church of Vittoriosa, at the wharf.

Greek chapel of Our Lady of Damascus built in 1550 in Church close.

St Annes chapel (a medieval building in 1430) in Fort St Angelo.

Nativity of Our Lady chapel, excavated by the Normans in 1091 (ex parish of Fort St Angelo and the first chapel built in Birgu).

Residences.

Conventual Chaplains’ residence in Pope Alexander VII Str.

Golcher House (first sea merchant) in Hilda Tabone Str.

Superintendent of the Holy Infirmary residence built in 1532, he was in charge of the first military hospital of the Order of St John, in Aimer Str.

Where the wounded Grandmaster La Vallette found refuge, in Fosse Str.

Residence of the Greek Papas in Desain Str (today occupied by the Vittoriosa F.C.)

Residence of the Public executioner in Pacifico Scicluna Str.

Residence of Sir Oliver Starkie (1530) who was La Vallette’s secretary, in Majistrall Str close to the English Auberge.

Residence where Mro Frendo lived (he directed for the first time the National Anthem in 1923) in Lbic Str.

Residence where Dr. Paul Boffa was born (1890-1962) he was Prime Minister in 1947, in Bishop’s Palace Str.

Residence where Archbishop Sir Michael Gonzi was born, in Quarter Front Str. close to the Armoury palace.

Statues and niches in Birgu

St Lawrence and a column (1880) in Victory Square

Great Siege statue and a column (1705) in Victory Square

St Dominic in a niche (1877) in Main gate Str

St Philip Neri in St Philip’s Str

Our Lady of Mount Carmel (1611) in St Lawrence Str

Freedom Monument (1979) at the wharf

St Paul in a niche (1697) at the façade of St Lawrence church

St Lawrence in a niche (1697) at the façade of St Lawrence church

St John Baptist De La Salle in De La Salle College (in the yard close to the entrance door)

Holy Crucifix in De La Salle College (in the yard close to the entrance door)

St Joseph in a niche in Barracks Front Str corner with Hilda Tabone Str

Our Lady of the Rosary in a niche in Majistrall Str corner with Pacifico Scicluna Str.

A small niche with a statue of St Lawrence in Barracks Str

Our Lady of Lourdes in glass in a niche in Fosse Str

The following are statues that do not exist any more in the given location.

Christ the Nazaren in St Lawrence Str, near the Ballette, where the Auberge of Italy once stood (destroyed by World War II)

Our Lady of the Rosary in front St Anne’s church (Sta Scholastica) destroyed by World War II.

St Joseph at the façade of the Auberge of France, in Hilda Tabone Str (today found in the church for Peace at Hal Far)

St Michael at the main entrance of Fort St Angelo, destroyed by World War II, the empty niche still could be seen today.

A large niche with a painted Crucifix near the old prison at the wharf, this marks the space where a small chapel dedicated to St Andrew once stood.

Other Historical building

Holy Infirmary (first hospital of the Order) (1532) in Sta Scholastica Str.

Medieval houses of the 13th century, in Tramuntana Str, in Lbic Str, in Pacifico Scicluna Str, in Antient Str.

Siculo-Norman window, unique in Vittoriosa in Tramuntana Str, another one in Fort St Angelo in the Magisterial Palace.

Building with Melitan moulding (Renaissance period) in Fosse, Bishop’s Palace, Tramuntana & Sta Scholastica Str. At the façade of the Auberges of England and France, and at the façade of the Conventual Chaplains’ residence.

Granneries for wheat (belonged to the Universita` palace) in Main Gate Str.

Order’s Bakery & sailing factory (Treasury Palace) at the wharf.

Oratory of St Joseph (1832) in Church close.

Oratory of the Holy Crucifix (1720) where the Good Friday statues are kept, in Church close.

Church Museum in Oratory of St Joseph.

White Building (built by the British after the war, now demolished) at the wharf.

Old Prison, at the wharf.

Order’s timber store of the fleet, now demolished, at the wharf.

Storage building of the fleet of the Order (five large storage buildings) at the wharf.

Freedom Monument (1979) at the wharf in front St Lawrence church.

First British Naval hospital (see Armoury) in Torri ta’ San Gwann Str.

Gunpowder room (Polverista) in Fort St Angelo.

Gunpowder magazine (Polverista) in St Edward Str.

Tennaille (tongs) in Fort St Angelo.

Old ‘enteinte’ (arco solarium) in Fort St Angelo.

Slave dungeons in Fort St Angelo (beneath the cavalier of Fort St Angelo).

Slave dormitory in Fort St Angelo.

Horse stables in Fort St Angelo.

The Quarters (Il-Kwartieri) the Armoury as used under the British during World War II and later.

Sites

San Lorenzo-a-mare (first church of St Lawrence) at the wharf where the present church stands.

St George’s Greek chapel, in main Gate Str.

Sta Agatha Greek chapel (see St Nicholas chapel) in Victory Square.

St Nicholas Greek chapel (formerly dedicated to Sta Agatha) in Victory Square.

St Andrew’s chapel (marked by a large niche with a Crucifix) at the wharf near the old prison.

St Anthony’s chapel (ex parish of the Order of St John) in Centenery Str (destroyed by the war).

Magisterial Palace (built by Grandmaster La Vallette) in Old Governor’s Palace Str.

Governor’s Palace (see Magisterial Palace) in Old Governor’s Palace Str.

Auberge of Germany (destroyed in World War II) in Victory Square.

The Order’s arsenals (shipyards) (see Maritime Museum) at the wharf.

The Public execution site (before the 16th century and during the Order of St John) marked by a Crucifix in a small niche in Victory Square.

Jews’ Ghetto (the Jews’ Headquarters) near Old Governor’s Palace Str.

Medieval vedette (the historic clock tower of the 17th century) in Victory square (destroyed in World War II.

Siculo-Norman bell tower (Annunciation church) in Main Gate Str.

A graveyard of the Great Siege of 1565, in Church close, where the Oratory of St Joseph stands today.

The Administrator’s Palace of the arsenals of the Order (see White Building) at the wharf.

The Commander’s Palace of the arsenals of the Order (see White Building) at the wharf.

The Gunpowder (Polverista) known as l-Im[arraf, near Admiralty Gate and the Three Gate area.

Draw bridge in Fort St Angelo, (today replaced by a permanent concrete one).

Anglican chapel (destroyed in World War II), at the wharf and very close to Fort St Angelo.

De Guirall Battery, at the tip of Fort St Angelo.

A cemetery in Fort St Angelo.

St Catherine’s chapel, near the Auberge of Italy, in St Lawrence Str.

Small clinic near the Auberge of Italy, in St Lawrence Str.

The Order’s Grande Marina, at the wharf.

Where Sir Nicholas Upton was killed (1551) in Church close, buried in St Lawrence church.

MiscelleniousGranite bollard marking the limit of the Collacchio, in Victory Square.Il Collacchio in Hilda Tabone Str.Il Piazzetta in Old Governor’s Palace Str, (where edicts by the Knights used to be read).Holy Infirmary Sally Porte in Old Prison Str.Jews’ or Bighi Sally Porte in Old Prison Str (Bighi Sally Porte was called by the British).

Church close (behind St Lawrence church) used to be known before as the Church centre.

Galley Creek (Porto delle Galieri) between Birgu (Vittoriosa) and Senglea (Isla).

Boat chamber, separating Fort St Angelo from Birgu, at the wharf (also known as the Wet ditch).

Wet ditch (moat) (see Boat chamber).

Where the Lord was found (1837) near Admiralty Gate, in the Three Gate area.

La Vallette relics (Hat and Sword) in Church Museum at the Church close.

The Three Gate area (Advanced Gate, Couvre Porte, Main Gate) the former gate is the Gate of Aragon, and the latter is the Gate of Provence, (all in Couvre Porte Str).

Carnival dancing floor (Il Ballette 1535) first Carnival in Malta organized by the Italian Knights, in St Lawrence Str.

Fort St Angelo original bridge (the only permanent link with Birgu.

Fort St Angelo original Main door, at the wharf in Fort St Angelo.

Fort St Angelo cracked bell, on a bell cot on top of Ferramolino Tower (saluting & alarm) in Fort St Angelo. It was the bell giving signals of alarm when the Turks arrived before sieging Malta on 18th May 1565. It was the same bell to give the good news by its sound on 8th September when the mighty Turks disembarked and left the island.

Grunnenburg coat-of-arms (above Main door of Fort St Angelo) at the wharf.

Slaves’ dungeon (medieval prison) in front of the Nativity chapel in Fort St Angelo.

Connections with Great Britain found in Vittoriosa

1 Two monuments in Victory Square, the statue of St Lawrence whose column was designed by an English architect, Mr. Poulson, and the Memorial to the Great Siege of 1565 (1705), this bears British Arms.

2 The Inquisitor’s palace was used as Barracks by the British Army when Lord Nelson forced the French out from the island in 1800.

3 The Armoury palace also known as Knights’ Hall, it was built by the Order of St John, and became the first British Naval hospital in Malta.

4 The Maritime Museum was formerly a British Naval Bakery built in 1840.

5 Several mementos of the U.K. are found in the Church Museum.

6 The present Grandmaster of the Order in Rome is a Scott, Sir Andrew Bertie who visits Malta and Vittoriosa frequently.

7 Fort St Angelo had served both the fleet of the Order and the British Navy that was known as HMS St Angelo, until the end of the British Forces in Malta on 31st March 1979.

8 The Auberge of England in Majistrall Str remains a symbol of the links between the U.K. and the Republic of Malta. This Auberge is the only one in Malta as there is no English Auberge in Valletta because the English Langue (language for short) was suppressed by King Henry VIII in 1540, years before the Order had moved to the new capital, Valletta.

9 Sir Richard Salford, an English Knight, visited Malta and he recommended that the islands should be the base of the Order after their loss of Rhodes by the Turkish empire. Charles V of Aragon was the person behind all this. Later, Sir William Weston commended the vessel which was carrying Grandmaster L’Isle Adam to Malta on October 26th 1530. Sir William died of a heart attack later in 1540 when Henry VIII disassociated the English Langue from the Order of St John. Sir William was buried like many others in the Conventual church of St Lawrence but his grave is not marked.

10 Sir Oliver Starkey, an English Knight, was present during the attacks of the Turkish invasion, he was the right hand and secretary of Grandmaster La Vallette during the Great Siege of 1565. He was buried besides La Vallette in the crypt of St John co-Cathedral in Valletta where all the early Grandmasters are buried, he was the only person to be buried there under the rank of a Grandmaster. Starkey’s house still could be seen from outside, it is next to the Auberge of England in Majistrall Str Vittoriosa.

11 By the year 1600 there was only one English Knight serving in Malta. The English Langue within the Order of St John had been re established in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor by the year 1557. But again the English Langue was suppressed in the following year, in 1558 by Queen Elizabeth I because Mary’s reign was very short, only five years.

12 Sir Nicholas Upton, Governor in Town took part in the attacks by Dragut in 1551, Dragut’s attempt was to capture the island of Malta. Sir Nicholas was also buried in St Lawrence church (the primitive church). This is marked by a marble tablet close to St Lawrence church where a cemetery once existed for the victims of the Great Siege of 1565, but his grave is not marked.

13 Count Roger I of Normandy who liberated the Maltese from Arab rule in 1091 and recognized Birgu as the first Parish for the south of the island, was the cousin of William the Norman also known as the Conquerer of England.

Castle Fort St Angelo

Fort St Angelo is an important gem in the rich military heritage of Malta. It stands proudly at the extreme tip of a promontory guarding Birgu (Vittoriosa) dominating the Grand Harbour. It was built by the Arabs in the 9th century after their occupation of our islands in 870. Some historians insist that it stands on the site of a Phoenician temple and later on a fortified Roman settlement. The temple was dedicated to Astarte by the Phoenicians and later it was dedicated to Juno by the Romans. However, this temple was the first form of building in Birgu before the location was inhabited.

After the year 1283 when Aragona occupied our islands the Castrum Maris or Castello a mare (as it was known by the Aragonese) was occupied by noble members from Aragona, but it was occupied earlier in 1266 by the Angions (Anjevins). The Castellan was concerned with the Universita` of Mdina (the old capital of Malta) and he was also responsible of all the residents of Birgu. The noble families de Nava and de Guevara were highly associated with it for hundreds of years, and the former family built St Anne’s church in 1430. Giovanni de Nava was the head of the family responsible for the whole island and not only for Birgu. This church was modified and enlarged about 100 years later by the Order of St John in 1530. This family, de Nava had to surrender the whole castle to the Order in 1530 for an annual pension, when the Order reached our shores by a feudal agreement of Charles V to whom the islands belonged since 1283.

The Order soon fortified the whole place and changed it into a very strong castle to face and take the brunt of the Ottoman soldiers. It soon became a fortress and in 1565 it had to repulse a formidable armada that created a Siege on our forefathers for four months from the 18th of May to 8th September 1565. The fort was the Headquarters of Grandmaster La Vallette that led his force of few thousands of men against the onslaughts of the Turkish invaders. This fort under went changes during the 268 years when the Order of St John ruled our islands. Many defense works were added by the military engineers, such as the German Grunenburgh in 1689 and the Italian Ferramolino. The main Gate at the Birgu wharf still dominates the castle with the emblem of the engineer Grunenburgh above it.

After the year 1800 the British took over the fort and added other structures. In 1912 the fort being an establishment of the Royal Navy was officially listed as a ship, first under the name of HMS Egmont, later in 1933 it was named HMS St Angelo. It took its original name after Angelo Melfi probably, who ruled it for few months. During the ruling of the Order many prison cells were built including others underground within the same castle.

During World War II it was seriously damaged by enemy action because of its position in the Grand Harbour and close to the dockyards. According to military records during the attacks it suffered from 69 direct hits. The Maltese Government granted the castle to the Order of St John (SMOM), the upper part only comprising the most important part such as the chapel of St Anne which was known as the private chapel of the Grandmaster, and the Magisterial Palace. Restoration works on these parts of the fort are carried out and the present Grandmaster Sir Andrew Bertie visits the fort regularly. This top part of the castle was leased to the Order of St John for 99 years.

The lower part of this fort facing south east is open to visitors. The middle part used to be opened to visitors every Saturday morning, but now it is opened to visitors every day. The whole area is separated by a wet ditch (moat) from the rest of Birgu. This ditch was excavated by the knights after their occupation of the islands.