Category Archives: Maltese History

Love Maltese History? A Spotlight on Fort St Angelo

Fort_St Angelo

Fort St Angelo

Fort St. Angelo is the jewel in the crown of Malta’s rich military heritage. It stands majestically at the
tip of the promontory of Citta Vittoriosa or Birgu, as it is popularly known, dominating the Three Cities on the South Eastern of the Grand Harbour. The Families of De Guevara and De Nava were associated with the castle for many years and the latter family had to hand over the castle to the Order of St. John, when the Knights landed on our shores in 1530.

Soon after their arrival in Malta the Knights set about strengthening the then half-ruined Castle of St. Angelo and repairing the Fort’s defences. The church of St. Anne as well as the Castellan’s house, both in the fort, were restored and remodelled by the Order’s Ingeniere e Soprastante dell Opere, the Portugese Fra Diego Perez di Malfriere. The castle soon became a veritable fortress and, thirty five years later, in 1565, was to repulse a formidable Turkish Armada which besieged the island for three months. It was the headquarters of Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette who led the local force of some six hundred Knights and a few thousands met-at-arms against the repeated onslaught of the Muslim invaders. The epic resistance of the defenders of the Fort during the Great Siege, are the archetype of all that symbolizes the character and determination of the Knights of St. John and the Maltese.

The Fort underwent various changes during the rule of the Order of St. John and the other defence works were concluded by the Spanish military engineer Carlos de Grunenburgh, in about 1689. This outline still survives today. In 1912 the British Royal Navy moved into Fort St. Angelo and the fort was turned into a naval headquarters and rechristened HMS St. Angelo. During the Second World War the fort was extensively damaged by air attack and between 1940 and 1943 it suffered sixty-nine direct hits. It continued to be used as a base ship for the Mediterranean until the British Services finally left Malta in March 1979.

In the historical agreement reached with the Maltese Government in 1998, the Order of St. John, was granted the right to occupy the upper part of the Fort, comprising the Magistral Palace and St. Anne Chapel. Intensive restoration works of these areas are being carried out.

The Church of St. Anne in Fort St. Angelo
The 15th century Chapel of St. Anne, in the precincts of Fort St. Angelo, is where the Knights first worshipped on their arrival in Malta. It is said that the original chapel was built by De Nave family one hundred years before the coming of the Knights in 1530.

The histographer of the Order Iacomo Bosio, writing in 1594, says that the present chapel was built on the site of the previous chapel thus: “The church consists of an entrance bay, a square central section of four quadripartite-vaulted bays, another quadripartite-vaulted bay in line with the entrance and, finally a small bay which seems to have supported a half-dome. The four middle bays are sustained by a central column composed of red granite known as syenite and may have formed part of a temple.”

The ‘Guva’ in Fort St. Angelo
The ‘Guva’, or underground cell, was the Order’s most sever place of confinement for convicted knights. It principally served as a place of punishment but occasionally also housed knights awaiting trial. It consists of a bell shaped hole excavated in the ground-rock, without steps, from which it was virtually impossible to escape. The base is roughly oval shaped (from 3.3 meters at its narrowest to 4.2 meters at its widest) and it is 3.4 meters high. Niches and shelves cut in the walls were probably used for candles, laps or lanterns. Sad graffiti decorate all the wall surface and the names incised indicate that the guva was in use soon after the knights’ arrival in Malta. One graffito by Fra Jeronimo Palan is the earliest, dated August 7, 1532.

The only guva known today, rediscovered in 1913, is in Fort St. Angelo in Malta, and is five meters awat from the facade of the little church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The archives indicate that other guvas existed; with at least two or three in Gozo, but their whereabouts have not yet been identified.

EU Celebrations

EU Celebrations

EU Celebrations

Fort St. Angelo was the centre of attraction in a spectacular display of lights, music and fireworks which was transmitted live on television to millions of viewers, to celebrate Malta’s entry into the European Union on the 1st May 2004.

If you would like to know more about the History of Malta and would like to visit some interesting places during your holidays in Malta, contact Our Concierge & Transport Desk and they will surely be able to assist you. And if you would like to book a superior room for your relaxation break, check out what this Luxury Malta Hotel has to offer.

Photos courtesy of Mario Galea, www.viewingmalta.com & http://www.cc-advocates.com.

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Do you love Maltese History? The Story of Caravaggio in Malta

 

caravaggio

Chalk portrait of Caravaggio
by Ottavio Leoni , circa 1621

Michelangelo Merisi was born in the town of Caravaggio (about 30 kilometres from Milan) in 1571. Caravaggio was, in fact, the first great representative of the Baroque movement. He was the archetypal rebellious artist and led a turbulent life. His life, it is said, matched the high-drama of the chiaroscuro style that his paintings became famous for.

In 1606 whilst working in Rome, one of his many brawls resulted in Caravaggio killing a young man called Ranuccio Tomassoni. With a price on his head, Caravaggio fled and headed for Naples where he would be outside the Roman jurisdiction and under the protection of the Colonna family. After just a few months, despite a successful period in Naples where he was given a number of important church commissions, Caravaggio left for Malta, the headquarters of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, arriving on the island in July 1607.

Portrait of Wignacourt

Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. Caravaggio

Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt invested Caravaggio as a knight of magistral obedience so taken was he at having an artist of such calibre as official painter of the Order. It was during this time that Caravaggio was commissioned to paint ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’ and ‘St Jerome Writing’, both of which are on display in St John’s Co-Cathedral. This period of relative calm in his life was short lived, and by late August 1608, Caravaggio was arrested for causing trouble once again, this time badly wounding a high ranking Knight in another fight. Imprisoned at Fort St Angelo, disgraced and unable to paint, he used his inventive powers to plan his escape. Caravaggio’s incredible break-out took place in October 1608 and once again he was on the run. The Council, informed of his escape, immediately expelled him from the Order.

 

St._John's_Co_Cathedral

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608)
St. John’s Co-Cathedral

After a nine month stay in Sicily, during which time he was trying to secure a pardon from Pope Paul V, Caravaggio returned to Naples and the protection of the Colonna family. His style and technique as an artist was still evolving and he enjoyed a productive time in his second spell in Naples. An attempt was made on his life, and an incorrect account of his death was reported in Rome. Although Caravaggio survived the attempt, his face was left seriously disfigured.

In an attempt to build bridges, Caravaggio painted ‘Salome with the Head of John the Baptist’. He depicted his own head on the platter and sent the work to de Wignacourt as a plea for forgiveness.
In 1610, Caravaggio took a boat north to receive a pardon, thanks to powerful allies in Rome. What happened then is shrouded in mystery. The artist was reported as dead in a private newsletter (an avviso) dated 28th July. Three days later, another newsletter declared that the artist had died of fever. His body, however, was never found.

The Grand Hotel Excelsior is located outside Valletta, the capital city of Malta and offers superior Accommodation in Malta with great harbour views. So if you would like to experience some of the rich history of Malta during your holidays, contact the Concierge Team at one of the top Luxury Malta Hotels and they will help you enjoy a memorable Malta Experience. 
 

Photos courtesy of www.viewingmalta.com

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Things to do In Malta – BIRGUFEST

Birgu, also known as Vittoriosa, is a town situated on a peninsula in Malta’s natural harbour. Throughout Maltese history, Birgu can easily claim to have been the Island’s former maritime capital. Birgu is located in the southern part of Malta forming part of the Three Cities which is a collective description of the three fortified cities of Birgu, Cospicua and Senglea.
Of the Three Cities, Birgu is the oldest and takes primacy over the others as it stands on one of the first inhabited sites in the Grand Harbour.
Birgu played a key role in Maltese history, and its importance peaked during the Order of the Knights’ period. It achieved resounding fame during the Great Siege, which marked the Order’s first significant land victory in its five hundred years of existence. It was on this occasion that Birgu earned its name Vittoriosa meaning victorious.
During the Second World War, Birgu, like the other places on the harbour, was submitted to unceasing air attacks. Destruction was widespread with more than 60% of its buildings were wiped out. Churches, palaces and houses lay in ruins after the devastating attacks.
Now Birgu is a tourist attraction with lots of history to discover and one of the most famous Yacht Marinas in Europe. The historic Vittoriosa Waterfront contains the former Palace of the General of the Galleys and the Order of St John’s treasury. The area was refurbished in the early 2000s, and both buildings are used for other activities: the former is now a casino, while the latter is home to the Malta Maritime Museum. A second museum, the Vittoriosa 1565 Museum, is also located in the own and is dedicated to the siege and the battle in 1565.
This year the Birgufest will once again host locals and visitors alike, for another edition of the candle lit magical evening, together with a variety of traditional music, choirs, local and foreign bands. For the young at heart, concerts by renowned local bands will rock the main square of Birgu on Friday and while on Saturday the people of all ages can relax to a concert of mixed music including jazz.
If you would like to immerse yourself into the rich history of Malta and learn more about old Maltese traditions and customs then the Birgu Festival is one that you would not want to miss! Join thousands of others and head to Vittoriosa for this fascinating festival which will be held on the 19th-20th of October 2012.
Should you wish to experience this event kindly contact our transport desk on transport@excelsior.com.mt and they will organise your transfers. And for more information on Things to do in Malta during your holidays kindly contact the concierge desk at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Malta.
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