Siege of Malta – Quran versus the Cross

siege of malta

Malta is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. A beautiful, tranquil place with gorgeous historic buildings. But back in the 16th century, it was all that stood in the way of the seemingly invincible Ottoman Empire, a Muslim realm centred on what is now Turkey. The Ottomans were determined to dominate Christian Europe but the rulers of Malta decided to stop them in their tracks. These were the Knights of Malta, successors to the legendary Knights Hospitaller. Their defiance would lead to the bloody Siege of Malta in the decisive year of 1565.

DISCOVER: Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller – what’s the difference?

The Siege of Malta – last stand of the Knights Hospitaller

The Crusades in the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries had spawned and encouraged orders of holy, military knights. Most famous was the Knights Templar but there was also the Knights Hospitaller. In terms of structure and aims, they weren’t that different from the Templars. But unlike the Templars they were not crushed in the 14th century.

However, as the Crusades faltered and Christian forces lost Jerusalem and then Acre, the Hospitallers found themselves forced out of the Holy Land and on to the island of Cyprus, then Rhodes and finally Malta. This island hopping across the Mediterranean was the result of the Ottoman Turks relentlessly pushing them westwards.

By the early 16th century, the Ottoman Empire stretched down deep into Arabia, covering the Levant, north Africa, Asia Minor, and the Balkans. Every Christian ruler in Europe from the Holy Roman Emperor to the Tudor monarchs of England had to negotiate with the Ottomans. And wondered whether they were unstoppable. Even the Pope in Rome feared the Turks taking Malta and using the island as a stepping stone into Sicily, southern Italy, and then the eternal city itself.

Malta and the knights

When the Knights Hospitaller first arrived in Malta, they viewed it as a barren rock with little long-term promise. Legend had it that the apostle St Paul had been washed up there and lived in a cave. It seemed a desolate and unforgiving place. Yet this would prove to be an impregnable fortress providing the knights with their greatest historical moment.

Because in 1565, against all the odds, the Knights of Malta saw off an Ottoman invasion at great cost on both sides. Christian Europe could scarcely believe what had happened and showered the knights with wealth. You get an idea of just how much money headed their way when you visit the Maltese capital Valletta today. It’s sumptuous palaces and glorious cathedral.

I visited in May this year and thoroughly recommend that you book a holiday if you can to this incredible island that mattered so much in European history.

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