The Knights Hospitaller had been driven out of the Holy Land, when Acre fell in 1291. In 1309, they captured Rhodes, becoming the Order of the Knights of Rhodes. In 1522, they were forced to leave Rhodes, having been defeated by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior.
With no place to call home, the gift of the island of Malta, by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V in 1530, must have seemed a blessing. The downside was, Malta was arid and infertile, fresh water was scarce. The inhabitants were poor. Yet it was home.
The Knights of St.John had a fight on their hands, for in 1565, Turkish forces tried to capture Malta, by sending a fleet of eighty-one ships and 30,000 soldiers.
On the 18th May they sailed into the Bay of Marsaxlokk, where the mighty army disembarked and set up camp on the Plain of Marsa.
The Turks set their sights on capturing the Fort of St.Elmo, which stood on the Sceberas Peninsula. The fort resisted capture until the 23rd June 1565. The victory was a small one for the Turks, as they had lost 8,000 men in the siege against the fort. The Turkish commander, Dragut Rais, lies among the dead.
The Turks captured four knights, beheaded them, and nailed them to crosses and floated them across the harbour to Fort St.Angelo. Grand Master la Valette replied by beheading Turkish prisoners, and firing their heads from cannons, landing among Turkish forces.
The Turks attempted the capture of Birgu (Vittoriosa) and L’Isla (Senglea), but suffered heavy losses.
On the 7th September, 8,000 Sicilians arrived in North-east Malta, the Turks withdrew from Malta.
Grand Master la Valette, fearing another siege by the Turks, built new fortifications and a city on the Peninsula. On the 28th March 1566, the foundation stone was laid. Walls built, with a huge ditch across the peninsula. In 1568, la Valette died, aged seventy-three, and the city was named after him.
In 1574, the knights built the hospital; Sacra Infermeria in Valetta. In 1676 Grand Master Cottoner founded the School of Anatomy and Surgery.
Grand Master Antoine de Paule created additional fortifications across the peninsula to the south of Valetta, based on the designs of Pietro Paolo Floriani in the mid 1600’s. In the 18th century a suburb of Valetta was built between the two lines of fortifications, and called Floriani after its designer.
1693 was a bad year for Malta, for it was devastated by an earthquake.
By the end of the 17th century, the Turkish threat against Malta ceased, as the Turkish Empire was in decline.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s French fleet anchored off Malta on route to Egypt. He asked for water for his ships, but the knights refused.
On the 11th June 1798, Napoleon’s forces landed on Malta, and captured the knights… French knights were permitted to stay on Malta; all others were forced to leave. Napoleon forces seized all the treasure from the churches, before leaving six days later, leaving 4,000 men to guard the island.
On the 2nd September 1798, the Maltese rose up against the French at Mdina. The French withdrew to Valetta and the Maltese people appealed to the British for assistance. A blockade was imposed on the island…
The French forces at Valetta, surrendered on the 5th September 1800.