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Where Modern lives with History

When, in 1565, Laparelli was commissioned by Grand Master La Valette to draft the master plan of a new fortified city to strengthen the defenses on the island of Malta, the only existing building on the Sciberras Peninsula was Fort St. Elmo. Here is a brief account of the circumstances that led to the founding of this city, which, as Sir Walter Scott once said, is "a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen". 1551 saw a raid on the Grand Harbour when four Ottoman ships entered the harbor and laid havoc in the very heart of the Knights' domain. This event brought to light the urgent need to build a fortress at the tip of Mount Sciberras to guard both harbors. Military engineer Pedro de Pardo arrived on 6th January 1552, and such was the fear of another attack that the foundation stone was laid on 14th January in a ceremony with much pomp and regalia. Between 1500 and 1750, privateering was rife in the Mediterranean and several Maltese families under license of the Knights were engaged in this activity. In mid-1564 numerous merchantmen were captured by the Order’s notorious seafarer Romegas, and high-ranking Ottoman individuals, including the governors of Cairo and Alexandria, as well as the former nurse of Sultan Suleiman's daughter were taken prisoners. As a result of Romegas’ exploits, the Turks initiated a casus belli, and by the end of 1564 Suleiman was determined to eradicate the Knights of Malta. At dawn on Friday 18th May 1565, an overwhelming armada of 193 Ottoman vessels appeared on the horizon. Complementing this was an army of 30,000 men made up, among others, of Janissaries, Spahis, volunteers and Corsairs from Tripoli and Algiers. The armed Knights and Maltese, together with Spanish and Sicilian volunteers totaling 8,500 including lay men, women, children and slaves of the order, prepared for the onslaught. A dispute arose between the leader of the land forces, Mustafa Pasha, and the supreme naval commander, Piyale Pasha....

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