Cottonera is the historic centre of Malta. It is composed of the three ancient cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea. These three harbour towns offer a great day trip destination for those who are interested in history and stunning views. They are also easy to visit because all it takes is a 15-minute bus ride from Valletta to get to the area. Although most of its ancient structures succumbed to the fatal blows of bombings during WWII, there is still plenty left to explore and enjoy.
First up is Vittoriosa – also known as Birgu – the oldest of Three Cities, as they are collectively known. With its towering fortification, the town is a looker even before you enter its walls. The Fort of St. Angelo is the town’s biggest attraction. The fort has been standing proud on site even before the Romans came here. However, it is almost always closed to tourists but you can always try to convince the guards to let you in. If it is not your lucky day, a good view of the citadel can be seen from Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta.
The town also boasts of the beautiful St. Lawrence Church. This was the biggest and most important church in Malta before the Cathedral in Valletta was built. This church has more to offer in the inside and well worth an exploration. You also might want to check out the Church Museum which displays a lot more than just religious relics.
Take scenic walks along the narrow alleyways of Il Collachio and find yourself surrounded with charming butter colored ancient buildings peppered with lovely potted plants. Be on the lookout for the Auberge d’Angleterre – a knight’s abode – and the lovely 13th century Norman House along the way. Also, try not to miss a stroll around Vittoriosa’s waterfront where the soaring Watch Tower on site makes for a great travel photo background.
While those who are interested in the Great Siege should check out the 1565 Museum and take a look at the 30 warring life-size Knights and Turks. Of course, your historical tour of the area will not be complete without stopping by the Maritime Museum where you will discover various exhibits on display from old paintings and photographs to navy uniforms and artillery. For a change of perspective, hire a dghajjes. Dghajjes, like the related Venetian gondolas, are descendants of Phoenician ships. and check out the town’s stunning vista as you cruise the Grand Harbour.
If you want a swim after leaving the Fort turn right instead of left and continue further along the length of the peninsula along a little-used path, up some stairs and then through an old little gateway. Virtually no one comes here, swimming at the base of this majestic castle with the stunning view of the Grand Harbour around you is just incredible.
Like the other two cities, Cospicua is surrounded by massive fortifications! In fact, in Cospicua you will see not one but two sets of fortifications. Historians say that after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the Knights were still living in fear of other “new” Muslim attacks. So they decided to strenghten their fortifications even further!
How did they do this? They built another set of fortifications … and this time round they made them even larger than the first ones they built!
When you get there, explore the fortifications surrounding the town and walk around the vibrant Dockyard. Check out the Bir Mula Heritage Museum for ancient artefacts and the grand Church of the Immaculate Conception for its impressive architecture.
Finally, there is Senglea. It is connected to Cospicua by a lovely road lined with historic city walls and ancient gates. The town is located opposite Vittoriosa and guarantees a scenic waterfront. Hang out by one of the cafes and restaurants at the town’s promenade and enjoy the wonderful views of the harbour. Be sure not to leave Senglea without visiting the Gnien il-Gardjola Gardens at the tip of the peninsula. This small garden is the perfect location to enjoy the stunning landscape of Valletta.