Of the three walled towns that make up the Cottonera there’s no doubt that Vittoriosa (better known as Il-Birgu in Maltese) steals the show with its museums and well-preserved medieval ambience. But to give the cold shoulder to the other two townships that make up this trio of walled cities is to miss out on a slice of real Maltese life.
While Cospicua is awkwardly hedged in between the other two and is a no-nonsense working town and the commercial centre of the area, Senglea is a much better defined mini city, with walls on all sides except for its pleasant waterfront facing Birgu, and easily makes for an hour’s pleasant strolling.
Senglea owes its name to Grand Master La Sengle who originally built the town around what was then Fort St.Michael in order to relieve the overcrowding at Birgu. Indeed during that particular siege Senglea remained unconquered. It was not so lucky during Malta’s second siege…
Senglea’s proximity to the Naval Dockyard proved its undoing. The city was heavily bombed and virtually destroyed in the Luftwaffe’s blitz on HMS Illustrious in January 1941. The town’s much loved Basilica was also obliterated. Although the wounds of war have healed and the town has been rebuilt, the social fabric of the place was broken; most of the well-heeled families who evacuated the Cottonera in the war never returned and today Senglea is considered one of the poorer areas of Malta.
What it may lack in financial well being is more than made up by the town’s ambience and sense of gritty resilience: the city walls are still there and the church – well worth a visit - has been lovingly and splendidly rebuilt. Its ramrod straight main street is a delight of faded elegance with some examples of beautiful palazzos which somehow evaded the destruction. The old Fort St. Michael is no more but in its place is a much visited small garden with an awesome grandstand view of Valletta. The garden also contains a beautifully decorated sentry post – one of the most photographed objects in Malta. From the garden a series of steps lead to Siren Street – probably the city’s quaintest street with views across the water to Fort St. Angelo – and eventually to the town’s waterfront.
The sunny waterfront facing Birgu is another delight of the town with a smattering of cheap and cheerful eating places and an assortment of small sea craft which make for a colorful location.
Senglea was awarded a European Destinations of Excellence award in 2010 - a sure sign of the area’s slow but steady regeneration. The town will soon have its first boutique hotel as well. Senglea is served by a regular and frequent bus service from Valletta and is also a popular stop on the touristic hop on hop off coaches.
Author: Steven Bonello