September 2015 Eventlecture

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The Great Siege of Malta, 1565: Lecture 3 of 3

THE GREAT SIEGE OF MALTA: The Final Stages & Aftermath

Robert Blythe

A number of people, including some younger ones, attended Robert Blythe’s lecture on 15 September.  He introduced his talk with a summary of the main events of the siege.  The Turkish Armada set sail from Constantinople on 22 March 1565, arrived at Marsaxlokk on 18 May then transported their
supplies and munitions to Marsa.  The assault on Fort St Elmo resulted in its fall on 23 June 1565, shortly after Dragut’s death on 18 June.


In July, the Piccolo Soccorso arrived to reinforce Birgu.  The Turks attacked Birgu and Senglea, which were virtually destroyed. In August the knights attacked the Turkish camp. In early September, the Turks attacked but failed to take St Michael, St Angelo and Mdina.  The Gran Soccorso arrived on 7 September and the Turks were forced to retreat, losing thousands more men.                                                                    





Robert Blythe speaking at the MHA      Photo:  Lewis Zammit


 Don Garcia de Toledo arrived on 14 September and discussed the condition of the island and its fortifications.

 “There hardly remained one stone upon another” - Fra Sancho de Condono

 The countryside was littered with dead bodies and disease was rampant.  Malta had lost a third of its inhabitants.  The knights had lost a third of their numbers and nearly all the survivors were maimed, wounded or crippled.  Estimates of the Ottoman losses vary from around 30,000 at the time to about 10,000 claimed by modern historians.

Repairs began immediately for fear of a Turkish return. Their earthworks and trenches were destroyed.   Senglea and Birgu were rebuilt, along with their bastions.  The Forts of St Michael and St Elmo were rebuilt. 

The defence of Malta received world-wide fame.  It raised the Knights’ status, and highlighted the strategic importance of Malta.  La Valette appealed to the wealth monarchs of Europe and money poured in to develop a fortified city on Mt Sciberras.

By December, Pope Pius IV had sent his architect Francesco Laparelli to Malta.  Laparelli claimed that the new city could be defended by 5,000 soldiers, as opposed to 12000 infantry and 200 cavalry, and requested 5000 men to build it.

Unlike Maltese mediaeval cities with their narrow, winding streets and alleys, Valletta was laid out on a grid pattern with straight, wide streets, designed to optimise the sea breezes. La Valette laid the foundation stone on 28 March 1566. 

Fortifications were a priority.  Ramparts and a large moat, 800 metres long and 20 metres wide surrounded the city. 

La Valette died on 2 August 1568, Laparelli left Malta in 1569 and died of plague in 1570.  Girolamo Cassar took over as chief architect and Valletta became Malta’s capital city on 18 March 1571.

Meanwhile, also in 1571, the Knights faced the Ottomans again at the Battle of Lepanto, as part of the Holy League, a coalition of southern European Catholic maritime states led by Pope Pius V, and headed by Spain. Although they had fewer ships, the Holy League virtually wiped out the Ottoman fleet.

 The lecture recording and PowerPoint, including some excellent archival pictures, can be found here:

  PodcastFall of St Elmo and the arrival of the Piccolo Soccorso (13 min 49 sec)


 Audience at Robert Blythe’s talk.   Photo: Lewis Zammit





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