arriving by air will probably first notice it in the
livery colours of Air Malta, the national airline; lie
will see it again and again during his stay on the Island:
carved on the facade of Baroque palaces, in the form
of exquisite filigree brooches, and embossed on many
a kitsch, plastic souvenir. It is the eight-pointed
cross, or, as it is better known, the Maltese Cross.
As a military order, the Knights took part in the crusading
wars, but when Acre fell in 1291, they were driven off
from their last stronghold in the Holy Land.
After a short slay in Cyprus, the Knights, with the
assistance of the Genoese, occupied Rhodes. This was
to lie their home for the next two hundred years.
In Rhodes the Knights perfected the base for their
organization that was to make them the most efficient
sea-borne warriors of their day.
After wandering for seven years the Knights, and the
Rhodian refugees that had attached themselves to them,
were offered the Island of Malta for a home by the Holy
Roman Hmperor, Charles V. To the relief of the Maltese
Nobles, the Knights decided that Mdina, the capital
city, was too far inland and they set about establishing
themselves in the small village' that had grown up behind
the old Castel a Mare.
In Birgu the Knights organized themselves along the
lines thev had evolved during their stay in Rhodes.
Their philanthropic origin was not forgotten and amongst
the first buildings to be-set up was a hospital.
The Order could be described as a multi-national force
divided into Langues according to the nationality of
its members: these langues, or tongues, were: Auvergne,
Provence, France, Aragon, Casthe, England, Germany and
Italy. Each langue had its own Auberge, or headquarters,
as well as a specific duty traditionally assigned to
it; each langue was also responsible for the defence
of a particular post, such as a section of a bastion
As if to prove the inadequacy of the defences of the
islands, in 1547, and again in 1551, the Turks launched
two attacks against the islands, the latter being particularly
calamitous. Ravaging the Maltese countryside and ignoring
the fortified towns, the Turks then turned their attention
to the island of Gozo
That same year the'Turks drove the Knights out of Tripoli.
These attacks stung the Knights into feverish activity
to improve the islands' defenses in anticipation of another,
and possibly bigger, attack.
and carried away the entire population into slavery.