Across from the grand harbour sits Vittoriosa, Cospicua, and Senglea, known as the three cities, the most historical footprint of the Knight’s presence in Malta. Ex Parisian, Eric Tenin, chose to settle down in Senglea and here, he tells us why.
Words by Eric Tenin | Extract taken from March's 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
The first time I entered Senglea, I knew it was going to be a memorable experience. It’s like I had made a jump back in time to the “real” Malta! The architecture, the little shops, the ornate churches, the narrow streets and steps - everything takes you back several hundred years. There’s a story on every corner and the locals are happy to tell you more. In 2015, when I moved here, a lot of Maltese didn’t really understand why a Parisian would choose Senglea as a place to settle down in Malta. The area had the reputation as being “rough”, totally run down and not very pleasant to live in. I was a bit hesitant from what I had heard, however when I discovered it was one of the rare areas in Malta that felt like it still had its soul, I didn’t think twice.
Of course, don’t expect to find a block of shiny brand new flats with square walls and direct parking access from inside the building. This does not exist in Senglea, and that is precisely what helps keep its charm. Here, all you’ll find are palazzi, houses adorned with intricate carvings, Maltese balconies (gallariji), arches and buildings of many eras. It’s hard to believe that Senglea, (it was called Isla at that time, a name that is still in use nowadays), was once the hunting land of the first Knights of Malta. In fact, Senglea owes its name to Grand Master Claude de La Sengle, a French Knight of the order of St John, who turned it into a fortified city in the mid-16th century to protect it against its enemies.
For there is beauty and history among these walls, there is also a lot of suffering. Located by the sea and opposite to Birgu, Senglea was exposed to all sorts of assaults. First the Ottomans during the Great Siege in 1565 (La Sengle was right to fortify it!), then against the French, when Napoleon conquered Malta in 1798, and more recently, during World War II. Photos of Senglea after the war are impressive.
On a happier note, what I like first about Senglea is that it offers a unique view of Valletta, the Grand Harbour and Fort San Angelo; a skyline you can never be tired of, especially when the setting sun bathes the stone with its orange light. If you want front seats, all you need to do is go to the tip of the peninsula, where the Gardjola Gardens and its famous watchtower (il-gardjola), is located, and admire the scenery. It’s also the best spot to watch some of the major events that take place in the Grand Harbour that I enjoy every year: the always mind-blowing International Fireworks Festival, the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the Pageant of the Seas. But my favorite event is undoubtedly the bi-annual “Regatta” where rowers of several coastal cities fight for “the Shield”. You have to experience the crowd cheering for their favorite team at least once!
Of course, like many cities and towns in Malta, Senglea has an important religious “feast” that brings out both the devout and not so devout on the 8th of September. In Senglea this is the feast of Maria Bambina which also falls on the national Victory Day holiday, which marks the end of the two sieges in Malta.
Being near the sea, Senglea also has a wonderful waterfront. Here amongst the luzzu traditional fishing boats and their dedicated owners, you can take a stroll and enjoy a drink or a local meal among the locals. You may also want to “hail” a traditional taxi boat known as a dgħajsa tal-pass for a harbour tour or simply to go to Valletta.
If you want to explore and understand what the “real Malta” is like, definitely put Senglea and The Three Cities on your list of places to visit. You’ll certainly enjoy one of the crown jewels of Maltese heritage.