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          The Three Cities- A Guide for Locals & Expats

          The Three Cities- A Guide for Locals & Expats

          Located in the southeast of Malta, the three neighbouring cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua are some of the most picturesque, yet oft-overlooked, locations on the main island. Laconically known as Birgu, L-Isla, and Bormla respectively, it-Tlett Ibliet date back several centuries. Upon their arrival in Malta in 1530, the Order of the Knights of St John (also known as the Knights Hospitaller) replaced Mdina with Birgu (Vittoriosa) as the new capital of Malta, which, while certainly fortified by the Knights, had been settled since the Phoenician era. Senglea (L-Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla) were founded and developed simultaneously by the Order throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The entire area is often referred to as Cottonera by locals, although this can be understood to include the nearby town of Kalkara too, where one can find such attractions as the Esplora Interactive Science Centre, Smart City, and Fort Rinella. It’s advisable to familiarise oneself with the Three Cities’ multiple names when researching the area as they’re often used interchangeably. This region is highly recommended for those seeking to get a glimpse of authentic Maltese life, language, and culture, as it remains largely untouched, both physically and culturally, by modernization and western influence. Though boasting splendid sights in every direction, including looming bastions, colourful Maltese balconies, cobbled, labyrinthine streets, and quaint wine bars and eateries on every corner, one full day is all that’s required to properly explore all three cities, with the largest allotment of time best reserved for Birgu. The best way to get to the Three Cities is by public transport – regular bus or ferry from Valletta – or by the slightly pricier water taxi or hop-on/hop-off tour bus. If getting there by car, it’s advisable to park on the cities’ outskirts, as all three are much more suited to walking than driving. The guide below is best suited for those arriving by water transport. For those travelling by bus or car, it would be more sensible to start in Bormla/Cospicua and do the suggested stops below in reverse.  

          Birgu/Vittoriosa (Città Vittoriosa – Victorious City)

          Starting off with the oldest and grandest of the three, the peninsula of Birgu is a gem for lovers of history, with one of the island’s most beautiful churches having been built in the 17th century. Located on the gorgeous Birgu waterfront, home to the Vittoriosa Yacht Marina, St Lawrence’s Church is where visitors arriving by water transport usually start their tour. A one-minute walk to the right is the Maritime Museum, formerly the Royal Naval Bakery, and a minute’s walk to the left will take you to the Malta at War Museum. Right behind the church is a historical landmark of global renown – the Inquisitor’s Palace, also known as the Sacred Palace, which served as the headquarters for the Roman Inquisition in Malta, a decidedly gentler version of the Spanish Inquisition. The Palace served this purpose from 1561 until the French took over the island in 1798. Upon exiting the Palace, a two-minute walk down the same street will lead a wanderer to Victory Square, the heart of Birgu, where one can grab a bite to eat and just soak up traditional Maltese culture, of which there is no shortage in this time capsule of a city. A ten-minute straight shot from Victory Square is Birgu’s most prominent structure – the bastioned Fort St Angelo. Originally a mediaeval castle known as Castrum Maris, the Knights Hospitaller rebuilt it between the 1530s and 1560s and gave it its current name. It served as the headquarters for the Order during the Great Siege. A privilege available to those visiting in the beginning of October is the festival known as Birgu by Candlelight, aka Birgu Fest, where the city is lit up entirely by candles and is further animated by music playing on every winding street.  

          Bormla/Cospicua (Città Cospicua – City of the Brave)

          Heading out of Birgu will invariably lead one to Bormla. Just a nine-minute walk from Victory Square is the Bir Mula Heritage Museum, itself a historical house built on a site dating back to Neolithic times. This museum showcases the development of Maltese dwellings through the ages. The Immaculate Conception Church is another 6-minute walk deeper into Bormla, a church whose origins date back to before the Great Siege, although it has since been enlarged and embellished. One with no objections to walking can take the slightly longer, more scenic route along the Harbourside Promenade. A signature feature to look out for while walking through The Three Cities are the Cottonera Lines, also known as the Valperga Lines, a series of fortifications surrounding the area built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Surrounding an earlier line of fortifications known as the Santa Margherita Lines, they consist of bastions and curtain walls, and were built – though never to completion – with the intent of withstanding attacks by the Turks and other potential invaders. Those with some extra time on their hands can extend their tour by a further eight-minute walk down the same street the Immaculate Conception Church is located on, all the while following the Lines, passing through St Helen’s Gate and ending at the Cottonera Lines bus stop.   

          L-Isla/Senglea (Città Invicta – Unconquered City)

          L-Isla is another peninsula parallel to Birgu, so for those following this guide’s suggested route, it will require a short, nine-minute walk back from Bormla’s Immaculate Conception Church, or a slightly longer one from the Cottonera Lines bus stop (roughly thirteen minutes) …or a very short bus ride. This journey will take you to Senglea’s first stop – Fort St Michael, another important player in the Great Siege, following which it was rebuilt as St Michael Cavalier; only a part of its base can be seen today, having been partly demolished in the early 20th century. Three minutes further down, the next stop would be Senglea’s Basilica, known both as the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories and the Basilica of the Nativity of Mary, built in 1580 by architect Vittorio Cassar to commemorate the Christian victory in the Great Siege. On the way to L-Isla’s last and greatest offering, one can make a quick stop at the peninsula’s oldest building – St Julian’s Church, built in 1311, a three-minute walk from the Basilica – and, five minutes further along the road, the Church of St Philip, or Our Lady of Portu Salvu (“safe harbour”), a famous 16th century church built for the spiritual needs of the local fishermen; L-Isla is known for its fishing tradition to this day. Right beyond this church, three more minutes of walking will be rewarded with Senglea’s crowning jewel – Gardjola Gardens. While the Gardens themselves may not be spectacular, the panoramic view of the Grand Harbour and the City of Valletta certainly is. The iconic gardjola (turret or vedette), featuring various symbols representing observance and guardianship, is another reason why many make it a point to stop at these Gardens when visiting L-Isla. 

          Alternative route

          If short on time or energy, a €2 traditional boat ride from outside the Maritime Museum in Birgu to the parallel peninsula of L-Isla will shave off several minutes from the tour of the area. In this scenario, however, it’s advisable to take the suggested stops for L-Isla above and flip them, starting in Gardjola Gardens and ending at Fort St Michael. This route also means that the last city to be visited will be Bormla/Cospicua, and the suggested stops for this city should also be reversed.   

          Buying or Renting Property in the Three Cities

          While visitors can avail themselves of the boutique hotels dotting this charming region of Malta, those with more permanent intentions might want to consider buying or renting a home. From modern, luxury seafront apartments to maisonettes, to traditional un/converted houses of character to grand palazzos with links to nobility, there’s something for everybody’s taste and budget in this ancient Mediterranean hub.  

          For the thrifty thrill-seekers

          By far the most economical of the Three Cities is Bormla/Cospicua. . An up-and-coming city, Cospicua has benefited greatly from recent infrastructural investments poured into its development and refurbishment. Those on a budget who are seeking charm without compromising excitement should opt for this, the liveliest and most cosmopolitan of the Three Cities.  

          For the lovers of tranquillity

          Those who value their peace would probably be best suited for a life in L-Isla/Senglea. Quieter than its sister cities and a plethora of quaint cafes lining its long promenade, people desiring to be immersed in quiet history on a daily basis should find contentment here. The staggering harbour and/or fortification views from many parts of the peninsula are, no doubt, an added bonus.  

          For the Romantic

          For those who have a little more to spend and a flair for the dramatic, the oldest of the Three Cities is probably the most charming and has the most going for it in the way of aesthetics and family activities, such as museums and festivals, thanks in no small part to its dynamic Local Council. With its growing international renown, Birgu has even served as a scenic backdrop in some foreign films.  Regardless which of the Three Cities one chooses, one need never worry about connectedness. Be it transportation, shopping centres, health services, basic amenities such as banks and post offices, and even street markets, the Three Cities are all self-contained and therefore self-sufficient. They’re also ideal for those who love outdoor activities, with open spaces and stunning views all around. Moreover, their location in the south makes them a smarter financial choice than other more northern cities.    Excel Homes understands the process of finding the right home in the right city can be overwhelming. We’re here to help with every step of the way. Contact us now.  

          Buy Property in The Three Cities

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