Valetta, Malta (1565 AD)
The Battle of Malta, more commonly known as the Siege of Malta, was one of the greatest military upsets in history. In it a tiny force led by the Knights Hospitaller undertook the defense of the island of Malta against an immense expeditionary force sent by the Ottoman Empire. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Ottomans in that it effectively halted their expansion across the Mediterranean Sean and towards Italy. The siege of Malta was also the last major battle in which the Hospitallers, the last of the major crusading orders, played a key role. The Battle of Malta was one of the key events in the turning of the tide in world history from the Muslim east to the Christian west.
The Christian crusades to take the Holy Land from the Saracens began in in the 11th century and came to its final end nearly 500 years on the island of Malta. Throughout this period the Hospitaller knights, the oldest and largest of the crusading orders, played a leading role. After the final collapse of the crusader kingdoms in 1291, Christians armies, under the leadership of the Hospitallers, fell back to a series of heavily fortified islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Over the ensuing centuries, these fell to the Ottoman navy one-by-one: Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete and so on.
Eventually the crusaders retained control of only the tiny island of Malta. Here, on this heavily fortified island which had played a small role in the history of the early church, is where the Hospitallers and what was left of their allies made their final stand. Unlike many other famous last stands in history, this one wasn’t.
In the 1550s, after the fall of Rhodes, the Hospitallers began to prepare for the inevitable Ottoman invasion of Malta. The grand master of the order, Parisot de Valette, recruited what strength he could in terms of volunteers and mercanaries, and ordered a crash program to strengthen the islands defenses. When the Ottomans arrived in May of 1565, the defenders were as ready as they could be.
Early on in the siege, the Ottomans captured the defending fortress of St. Elmo. After that, they had a more difficult time. Thanks to the brilliant command of de Valette, excellent intelligent and a tenacious defense, the Maltese held out until September. After a few last desperate assaults, the Ottomans at last retreated, when a force arrived from Europe to relieve the defenders. Many of the Turks, utterly unexpecting this fresh foe, were taken at unawares and massacred. The survivors were forced to flee to their ships and withdraw from the island. This ended permanently the the threat of the Turks to the Central Mediterranean and to Italy.
The Battle of Malta was fought primarily around the three major defenses of Fort St. Angelo, Fort St. Michael and Fort St. Elmo, all of which are still standing and can be visited. The most popular site associated with the battle is the Great Siege Monument, a giant pedestal and statue commemorating the defense of the island.
The Great Siege Monument is located in the city center of Valetta, the capital of the island, close to St. John’s Cathedral. The three fortresses are located in the immediate vicinity of Valetta and can be accessed on foot, by road or by boat. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the fortresses. The monument is an open site. Web: www.visitmalta.com (official tourism website of Malta).