Malta Heritage Exhibition at the Malta Maritime Museum

Malta Heritage Exhibition at the Malta Maritime Museum

 

What was life in Malta like 450 years ago (in 1565) coming towards the end of the merry month of May? Settlements were small with villages dotted around the islands here and there and small concentrations of population around the great natural harbour area (Valletta had not yet been built). There were also people concentrations around the high hill capital city of Mdina and adjacent Rabat (in Malta) and in Gozo around the fortified Cittadella area (now Victoria).

 

a somewhat mis-shapen map of Malta and Gozo in 1565

a somewhat mis-shapen map of Malta and Gozo in 1565

Spring would have set in solidly with lush green and woodland expanses (sadly no longer in 2015!), crops in the fields and a riot of Spring flowers.

This is a picture of rural ideal – yet menace was in the air. In early May a massive Ottoman fleet of 200 galleons each with a crew of 600 mariners and artillery soldiers had left Turkish shores under the command of the feared Admiral Dragut and was crossing the central Mediterranean heading for the small islands of Malta and Gozo, accompanied by a flotilla of minor vessels carrying supplies and armaments.

The French Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette

Malta: Valletta – the Great Master Palace
portrait of the Grand Master Jean de la Vallette-Parisot (1557-1568), founder of Valletta
Photo by Giulio Andreini

Besides the 600 crew, each galleon was estimated to be carrying two double cannons, 8.000 barrels of gunpowder, 13,000 cannon balls and tons of muskets and gun shot.

feared Admiral Dragut described as a pirate corsair

feared Admiral Dragut described as a pirate corsair

The Ottoman strategy was multifold. As with many other powers they had recognised the vast potential and importance of the central Mediterranean location of the islands as a highly important logistical factor to the eventual subjugation of the whole of the Mediterranean basin. More importantly, Malta would then act as a powerful springboard into Sicily, the Italian peninsula and then gradually northwards to the subjugation of the whole of the European mainland.

Imperial power and greatness was the essential theme, but the religious factor was equally powerful. Memories of what was termed as “the humiliation” of the Crusades at the hands of the invading Christians still burnt sorely in Islamic minds, a humiliation that had to be “righted” and hence the basis of what today is commonly known as “a Jihad” or Holy War.

The vast Ottoman Empire in 1565 stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean

The vast Ottoman Empire in 1565 stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean

There were also old scores that had to be settled against the Hospitalier Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem who had formed an integral part of the Crusades. These had already been swept out of Rhodes some 60 years previously and now it was “payback” time to completely sweep them out of the Mediterranean. The whole European continent had perforce to be “converted” to Islam.

a vast Ottoman flotilla on the way to Malta

a vast Ottoman flotilla on the way to Malta

The Ottoman Empire was undoubtedly powerful and ruled most of what today is North Africa, the Middle East parts of Asia and also parts of Greece and most of the Balkans region. Previously, a large fleet had been sent from Constantinople to Sumatra to ensure its Islamic identity.

 

 

preparing defences in Malta

preparing defences in Malta

Europe waited in trepidation and Malta and Gozo more than most. The Knight administrators under the command of the Grandmaster Frenchman Jean Parisot de la Valette were determined not to be caught napping. Their scout vessels were monitoring the Ottoman flotilla progress on a 24/7 basis and alarmingly reported the fleet was being highly favoured by good weather and backing winds of almost five nautical miles per hour speeding their progress.

Administrative dilemma - should Gozo be abandoned

Administrative dilemma – should Gozo be abandoned

 

hefty chain laid across harbour mouth entrance

hefty chain laid across harbour mouth entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

De la Valette ruled with a strong hand and made no concessions. Amidst strong protests all farmers were ordered to round up their livestock and food stores and deposit them in fortified areas. Families suspected of having Islamic roots or sympathies were arrested and transported to Sicily. Great quantities of wheat, food supplies and of course armaments were ordered from the European continent, carefully logged and stored.

farmers ordered to place livestock within fortifications

farmers ordered to place livestock within fortifications

Unfortunately the number of Knights and their retinue of soldiers in Malta were greatly limited and besides women and children, most of the indigenous population was farmers and not fighting men.

The French Grandmaster dispatched many letters to the main European royal houses pleading to be immediately supplied with legions of soldiers but most of these were unanswered and seen to be exaggerated under the circumstances (very much today’s scene of illegal immigration and the ISIS Islamic Caliphate threat and currently with the wonderful heritage site of Palmyra under threat of complete destruction).

 storing arms and wheat

storing arms and wheat

In Malta and Gozo lists of able-bodied men were compiled and a form of military training commenced. A huge chain was laid across the great harbour (later the Grand Harbour) to stop the inward progress of the Ottoman flotilla once it arrived and a decision had to be taken as to whether to abandon Gozo completely and bring all its inhabitants to Malta as a means of limiting defence and bolstering personnel deployment. In the eventuality it was decided not to abandon Gozo.

 

 

A painting by Cali of the death of Admiral Dragut

A painting by Cali of the death of Admiral Dragut

Tension ruled supreme. Some requests to be supplied with troops were answered and small contingents of Spanish, Neapolitan and Sicilian troops were sent to Malta. The invasion was imminent and the prospects of a long and bloody siege were awaited as the vast Ottoman flotilla came closer and closer.

Admiral Dragut was confident that his vast array of trained mariners and fearless soldiers would easily conquer the two islands without too much bother.

However, he was mistaken on two counts which at the end of the day proved to be enormous military incompetence.

It was the wrong decision and the wrong timing to invade Malta and Gozo at the end of Spring and beginning of Summer. The Mediterranean sun was heating up and was to prove a crucial factor, particularly towards the end of August and early part of September when the sirocco hot, sultry and humid weather set in. When the Turks landed they were restricted to the marshy lowland coastal stretch at Marsa and the Ottomans were subsequently plagued by mosquito invasions with resultant wholesale malaria and peripheral diseases, as well as the heavy and sultry marsh air.

statue dedicated to Dragut in Istanbul

statue dedicated to Dragut in Istanbul

Dragut’s second major error was to completely underestimate the obdurate defence and resistance by the Knights and the islands’ population who were prepared to fight to the death.

By 8th September 1565 the Ottoman fleet had began its retreat in major disarray having lost thousands of soldiers and sailors and Dragut was dead as he was struck down by a random cannon ball.

More about the actual cut and thrust of what became known as The Great Siege of 1565 in later articles.

Needless to say, these events will be greatly commemorated in Malta and Gozo from now until September with Malta Heritage mounting many exhibitions and the statal television and radio station TVM giving daily bulletins of the siege as it unfurled including a facebook page in Maltese and English entitled “The Great Siege of 1565” carrying daily postings.

ALBERT FENECH

 

 

 

 

About Lyn

LYN FUNNELL CV (well, sort of!) Lyn had very successful careers as an Air Hostess, Sales Rep, (she was one of only a couple of women. She beat all the men regularly, becoming the Top Rep in the UK, and 2nd in the world.) And then Catering took over. She did everything from the washing-up, to Silver Service Waitress, and Chef. A few times, she had to cook the meal, dash round the other side and Silver Serve it! In between all this, she wrote as often as she could, building up a reputation as a published short story writer, (Horror and a twist in the tale,) and a Poet. She has appeared as a Performing Poet, and a Demo Chef. Then she discovered the world of the Food & Travel Writer. And that’s what she has continued doing to this day. Her main hobbies are Cookery and entering Competitions. She has won many prizes, including holidays and a moped. She enjoys entering Competitions, submitting her original recipes. She was first in many Competitions, including the Good Housekeeping Millenium Menu, Fruits of France, Bernard Matthews Turkey Recipe, and appeared on BBC’s The One Show Spag Bol contest. She was one of three Finalists, coming 2nd, which makes her Britain’s Spag Bol Queen! Now she runs B-C-ing-U! and loves it! After several years of being messed around by Editors, and having loads of contacts, Lyn formed her own online Magazine, vowing to treat her writers fairly, and to do everything possible to further their careers, publicise their books, etc. She now has a band of excellent regular writers, and the Magazine’s going from strength to strength! Lyn’s online published books; Adverse Camber A collection of my published poems. The First Book of Short Stories The Second Book of Short Stories The Third Book of Short Stories. Many of these stories have been previously published. St Anthony of Padua. The Patron St of the Old. A story of one woman’s terrible ordeal in a Home, and her family’s rescue of her. The Girl Who Watched. A Cuban girl is attacked by an English journalist & what follows! Willy the Whizz & the Wormhole. Suitable for Young Adults, aged 15-95! Get Out Of Debt And Stay Out – Forever! Unsympathetic, hard-hitting, realistic solutions to your problems. All these books are published by Andrews UK Ltd www.andrewsuk.com No, I didn’t pay them to Vanity Publish! They’re all available from Amazon, and many other online publishers. LYN FUNNELL.