On a bright but breezy morning in mid-March we headed to the harbour town of Isla to admire what is probably one of the best views on the island from the vantage point provided by a solitary guard-post. It had been years since we had last visited this spot – and I know that’s hard to believe on an island which is 20 miles long by 15 miles wide (and that’s probably stretching it by a few miles) – but it’s the truth.
We went there for the view but an impromptu history seemed in order because, a long time ago, fierce battles were fought on the now-placid water of this natural harbour. In the summer of 1565 a vastly outnumbered groups of Knights led by intrepid Frenchman Jean de Valette, defended this island for themselves, for the Maltese and, it is said, for Christendom, against the might of the Ottoman empire under the command of the infamous corsair Dragut.
Under the sweltering heat of a Mediterranean sun one side attacked, and the other side defended, with a fervour that resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives, including that of Dragut. In the end, the Knights prevailed and the Turks sailed away with a greatly diminished fleet. The Great Siege of Malta was over. And that’s the end of the history lesson. You can read more here if you are so inclined.
There was not much here when the siege was fought and won. But over the years, thanks to the vision of ruling Knights, it grew into the harbour that we see today. Grand Harbour we call it. And it is grand with its fortified walls and forts and sweeping vistas of the sea and sky. It’s a familiar view but it gets me every time. It gets me somewhere between my heart and a happy place.
I think those Knights of old and their military engineers were trying to make a statement when they envisioned this harbour. A statement of majesty and military might. It is what they stood for, after all. It was their way of assuring their sovereignty over this island. Their way of assuring that the massive bastion walls rising almost vertically out of the sea would strike fear into the heart of any potential foe. And in the precise architecture of this military extravaganza, they gave us a gift that keeps on giving. A gift which always gets me – somewhere between my heart and a happy place.
Location: Gardjola Gardens, Isla (March 2015)