Where Are the Three Cities?

The Three Cities in Malta at sunset.
The Three Cities in Malta at sunset.

The Three Cities is the name given to three fortified cities in Malta: Birgu, Cospicua, and Senglea. The Three Cities are situated in the southeastern region of Malta, around the Grand Harbor. The Three Cities have a combined population of approximately 10,810 people and occupy an area of about 0.58 square miles. The fortification of these cities was completed between the 16th and 17th centuries by the Knights Hospitaller, an order of the Knights Templar, to secure them from invasions. The fortifications were achieved through the construction of the Cottonera Lines, fortified walls that surrounded the Three Cities. The Three Cities experienced destruction during both the First World War and the Second World War, primarily caused by massive bombing. During the wars, the island nation was part of the British Empire which had stationed a fleet of Royal Navy ships in the Grand Harbor.


Cospicua is the largest of the Three Cities in terms of both population and area. It covers an area of 0.3 square miles and has a population of approximately 5,400 people. The city is located in a region that been inhabited for thousands of years, with its earliest residents traced back the Neolithic period. Cospicua was a crucial naval base for the British during the world wars and was heavily bombed in the Second World War. Virgin Mary is recognized as the patron of Cospicua, and therefore the city is also known as “The City of the Immaculate” (Belt I-Immakulata). The city hosts an annual feast in honor of its patron, which is held on December 8th.


Located in Southeastern Malta, Senglea is the smallest of the Three Cities in terms of area, as it covers only 0.08 square miles. However, Senglea has a population of 2,780 residents, which is higher population than Birgu. The city was named after its builder, Claude de la Sengle. Like Cospicua, the city was also an important naval base for the British Royal Navy during the world wars and was devastated by heavy bombing that killed scores of people. The city is sometimes also referred to as “Civitas Invicta,” which means "Unconquered City, since it remained unconquered during the Ottoman Invasions in the 16th century.


Situated on the island’s Grand Harbor, Burgu is the least populated of the Three Cities, with a population of about 2,630 inhabitants. Birgu has experienced a huge population decline since the 18th century, as the city’s population stood at about 6,100 people in 1901. However, Birgu is the second-largest of the three cities based on area, covering an area of 0.2 square miles. The city is the oldest of the three, as it was established during the Middle Ages. Fortification of the city began in the early 16th century, as the island kingdom prepared for an invasion by the Ottoman Empire. St. Dominic and St. Lawrence are the city's two patron saints, and feasts in their honor are organized annually in the city.


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