Despite its small size, Malta is an island that fascinates all of its visitors. Dozens of colored balconies, beautiful narrow streets and buildings from the era of the Crusades are just some of the reasons to persuade someone to visit this tiny country. Places like Valletta or Medina attract many visitors, but there is one that a lot of people haven't heard of, but maybe have seen it, which is also amazing. Ready to learn more about Birgu?
Birgu, known also as Vittoriosa, is situated on the northeastern side of the island, just across from the capital Valletta. Together with Senglea and Cospicua, they form the so-called Three Cities, a historic area that has been inhabited for several centuries and is surrounded by high walls. It's easily accessible, since it's served both by public transport and by the ferry from Valletta, on a route that lasts a little bit more than five minutes, gives you the have a very good view of the area and costs just 1.5 euro.
Unlike its famous "neighbor", Birgu is a very peaceful district, ideal for relaxation. Something that I was able to realise for the first time (and definitely not the last one) during the last and sunny Sunday of March. The first thing that someone sees when comes here, the small bay with the boats and the yachts and Valletta in the background, prefigures what you are going to see here. The seaside promenade ends near the Forti Sant 'Anglu, where some episodes of the 1st season of Game of Thrones TV series were shoot. It's a very nice place for those who want to walk not only next to some vessels, whether small or large, but also magnificent buildings with traditional Maltese architecture. Although many people may think that the route does not offer anything special, in fact I think it's the best way to see how Birgu looks like. Moreover, in the middle of it, there is the church of St. Lawrence, built by the Order of St. John in the 17th century. It is one of the dozens highly decorated churches in Malta, which was heavily damaged during the Second World War but restored to a large extent and today is one of the most historic in this area.
But the real beauty of this neighborhood lies in its innermost. I believe it is really worthy to lost wandering onto the streets. Each one of them, starting from the small square of Birgu has something special to show you. It is also a city where a lot of knights or aristocrats used to live in the past. You can easily understand this from the various buildings or inscriptions that you will find almost everywhere. In the former French Auberge a part of the Birgu town council is housed, while strong is the presence of the British, Italian or Portuguese nobility in the region. In Hilda Tabone Street there is also the beautiful Palazzo Vittoriosa, a luxury property of the 16th century with 15 rooms and a value exceeding 4 million Euros.
One of the most impressive sights of Birgu is the Inquisitor's Palace (Palazz tal-Inkwiżitur). In a country that has always been deeply religious and had very strong relations with the neighoboring country of Italy, The State of Vatican City had great influence. In the Middle Ages when strict principles were laid down by the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope established here in 1574 and for about 250 years a place that will judge those who were believed to be sinners. The sins varied (from conversion to Islam to bigamy, but not murder or theft). The aim of this process was the repentance of those who were judged as guilty, so they were rarely condemned to death or very heavy penalties. The palace was both the residence of the Inquisitor that was appointed by the Pope, and the building where the interrogation and the torture were taking place. Today it has turned into an ethnographic museum, where within one hour you can learn a lot of things not only about the presence of the Roman Catholic Church here, but also about the history of Malta. From how life was during the previous centuries to Christmas and Easter customs, if you are in Birgu it definitely worth a visit.
Before completing your visit in Birgu, you should walk to the northwest side of it. There, behind the walls, just a few hundred meters away, Valletta comes out as you have not seen it before. Nearby, you will find the traditional Maltese Tal - Petut restaurant. Unfortunately I didn't have the chance to have a lunch there till now, but the locals highly recommend it both not only for delicious Maltese dishes but also for its friendly atmosphere. Moreover, a place that may not seem so fascinating but has a nice variety of dishes and desserts, is the Cafe du Brasil in the central square. Of course if you want to have a more expensive or international course, there are plenty of restaurants in the marina, which may not be as picturesque as the more traditional ones, but offer a great sea view.
I hope now to have convinced you if you ever come to Malta, to pay a visit to Birgu also!