Birgu, Bormla and Isla, commonly known as the Three cities, were renamed to Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea respectively by the Knights of St. John following the against-all-odds success in repelling the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of 1565. They are situated on the other side of the Grand Harbour from Valletta. The Three Cities actually predate the Maltese capital and were the first home of the Knights. This historical area has largely retained their past architectural glory (even though very heavily hit during World War II) and is still relatively unexplored by tourists. Holy days and feast days are celebrated here like nowhere else on the island and are a unique sight especially in Easter processions when devotees carrying large statues of the ‘Risen Christ’ run through crowd filled streets.
Vittoriosa is the main draw of the three cities. Its old centre known as Il Collachio, is a mesmerizing network of beautiful alleys and lovely to explore while mixing with locals. There are a number of architectural gems in the area, of particular note is the Inquisitor’s Palace, an architectural spectacle and a rare surviving palace of its kind. Its presence left a deep impact on Maltese society, and together with the forts and other notable buildings in the area are testimony to the early mood and character of the Knights during their early presence on the Maltese Islands.
Another worthwhile outing a short drive from the three cities is Fort Rinella, purposely built to guard the biggest muzzle-loading gun ever made – the 100-ton Armstrong gun. Built in the late 19th century, the canon was the weapon of mass destruction of its time. Daily Victorian period historical re-enactments make it an overall recommended experience.
The buildings and roads in the area all represent an important part formed an important part of local history at the time.