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The name Birgu possibly derives from the word borgo, or suburb. Some scholars have speculated that the name may be a derivative of the Greek word Πύργος – pyrgos meaning tower; or from the Arabic word برج - burj with the same meaning – an obvious reference to Fort St. Angelo that majestically dominates the Birgu peninsula.
The land that today is Birgu seems to have been inhabited since antiquity. Archaeologists have retrieved evidence that a temple to the goddess Astarte stood where the Chapel of St. Anne, within Fort St. Angelo, is today. This temple would later be re-dedicated to the deity Juno by the Romans.
Count Roger is believed to have been the founder of the Parish of St. Lawrence in 1090 or 1091. Fort St. Angelo, then called the Castrum Maris, or Castle by the Sea was already in existence in the 13th Century and eventually passed to the Nava family.
The primordial church dedicated to St. Lawrence - San Lorenzo a Mare - was built by Spanish seafarers at ta' Hammuna in 1283.
Birgu and the Knights of Malta
The Knights arrived in Malta in October, 1530 and chose to settle in Birgu as the location of the harbour suited their maritime requirements. An area within Birgu was designated as theirCollachio and was exclusively accessible to the Knights after sundown. Birgu was never conquered during the Great Siege of 1565 when the Ottoman Turks under Targut Reiss (Dragut) launched a massive attack on the Island; this earned Birgu the title of Citta' Vittoriosa.
The reconstruction of the fortifications after the Great Siege was slow and until 1568 the walls of Birgu and Senglea were still fragmented as most of the resources were being chanelled towards the building of Valletta. The fortifications were upgraded with the construction of the Santa Margherita Lines between 1638 and 1735 and the Cottonera Lines, consisting of eight bastions between 1670 and 1680, also known as the Valperga Lines after Maurizio Valperga.
A new church dedicated to St. Lawrence was inaugurated by Bishop Cocco Palmieri in 1697. The gridiron outskirts of Birgu – Bormla – were designed in 1718 by Francois de Mondion.
Birgu experienced merciless shelling during the areal attacks of the Second World War and it is estimated that as much as 40% of the buildings, including unique historical and architectural monuments were tragically turned into rubble.