The Ceremonial Laying of the Foundation Stone of Valletta – 28th March 1566
On Thursday, March 28, at 11 am, Grand Master Jean de Valette ceremoniously placed the foundation stone of the on which the fortified town that was to become Valletta, the new city. The site chosen was probably close if not part of where St John’s Cavalier stands today.
The Grand Master De Valette and his Knights Gran Croce approached the site where the ceremony was to be held. Francesco Lapparelli, the Pope’s military engineer who designed the plans of the new city, was also present for this ceremony. He had designed the city in a grid pattern in order to facilitate the fast manoeuvring of troops and armaments, as required whenever the city was under attack.
Coins and medals bearing the name of the Grand Master De Valette were placed in the cavity that was to receive the foundation stone. A design of the eight pointed cross of the Order was also engraved on the foundation stone. An inscription in Latin containing some eighty words, stated the Order had decided to build the new town, as a response to future Ottomans aggression of the kind that had been suffered up to a few months earlier.
And the Grand Entry of the Order into Valletta 18th March 1571
Following the laying down of the foundation stone, thousands of workmen, mainly Maltese, but also many foreigners were engaged in the building of the fortification walls. By mid-1568 the fortifications had to a great extent been completed. Soon after, many public buildings started to be constructed. First on the priority list were food stores, water cisterns and a bakery. The church of Our Lady of Victory was built to serve as a small parish church. The Grand Master’s Palace was to be built in a modest size and with very austere architecture.
In June 1569 plots of land were being transferred to private individuals at the rate of two tari per square cane (12 tari were worth one scudo). In the same year, regulations were enacted to ensure that property owners would not infringe on the rules set by the town planners. By 1571 the work on places of habitation had progressed at a fast pace and a few houses started to be lived in.
On 18th March 1571, just about six years after the initiation of the project, Del Monte and his Knights celebrated mass at St Lawrence church in Birgu. Then the Grand Master and his retinue crossed the Grand Harbour on his magisterial barge to be met at the Porta della Marina on the Valletta side by the city’s governor. The latter bade him welcome and all proceeded to Our Lady of Victory church and eventually to the new palatial residence. As from that day, Valletta became Malta’s new capital.
Convoy MW10 To Malta – March 20-23, 1942
One keeps commemorating the Santa Mari Convoy of August 1942. Not all realise, however, that Britain and its allies organised 16 other convoys, to help alleviate the dire needs of war torn Malta in the Second World War. One of these convoys was organised in March of 1942 from Alexandria, Egypt. It was code named, Operation MG 10.
This convoy departed Alexandria on the night between March 19 and 20. The convoy carrying some 26,000 tons of supplies, consisted of the British auxiliary tanker ship Breconshire, the merchant ships Pampas and Clan Campbell, as well as the Norwegian merchant ship Talabot. On its way to Malta, this convoy was well guarded by four destroyers, (Escort), and four destroyers (Hunt class), together with four cruisers. At a certain point, the cruiser Penelope and the destroyer Legion left Malta to enhance protection to the convoy. Right from the start the enemy got wind of the operation and soon attacked it. In this first skirmish, the destroyer Heythrop was hit by a torpedo fired from an enemy submarine.
Closer to Malta, the Italian fleet dispatched its battleship Littorio, and its two 8-inch battle cruisers Gorizia and Trento, together with the 6-inch cruiser Giovanni Delle Bande Nere and ten destroyers. These, however, found it difficult to penetrate the defence provided by the British naval escort and had to give up the attack.
The first of the vessels to reach Malta on the morning of March 23, was the Talabot. This vessel was badly hit during some of the air attacks and on arriving in Malta had to be scuttled for safety as she was carrying a large amount of explosive material. The Breconshire was disabled by bombers 8 miles outside the harbour. Yet she eventually limped into Marsaxlokk Bay, but was hit and sunk on March 27. The Clan Campbell was sunk by enemy action when twenty miles away from Malta.
In this operation, only 5,000 tons of the original cargo reached Malta. As a result of lack of tenacity shown by the Italian fleet, General Kesselring resolved that he should take over the attrition of the defences in Malta. In order to do so he ordered more devastating attacks on Malta by the Luftwaffe from Sicily. As a result, these attacks crippled Malta during the months that followed.
31st March 1979 – End of the British Military lease in Malta
In 1814, Britain claimed Malta as its colonial possession. For the most part of the next 150 years the aspiring Maltese politicians were loyal to, but also often at loggerheads with a succession of British governors over innumerable issues of administration. Nevertheless, the people at large never questioned their colonial masters’ right to govern them.
Politicians first strove for better representation in an administrative council. Then they demanded autonomy, which they obtain in 1921. 1955 saw the attempt for political integration with Britain. Following the failure of talks, there was a ‘Break with Britain’ resolution and soon afterwards, the two major political parties began to seriously consider independence. This was achieved, approved by a referendum and acquired in September 1964. Both the British as well as the Maltese government agreed to an extension of British military presence on the islands. In this manner, the Maltese government sought to gain a breathing space in order to build and diversify the local economy from one that had been based almost entirely on a military presence to one that was to become a free market economy.
With the Labour Party in government in 1972, this agreement was renegotiated and extended by seven years. Once again the agreement gave further chance to breath life into Malta’s ailing economy. By now many foreign firms were being wooed to Malta to open their production lines here. Also growing, albeit slowly, was the tourism industry.
The last British naval ship to leave Maltese waters was HMS London on Saturday, March 31. The President of Malta Anton Buttigieg and his wife Margery Patterson waved goodbye to the ship’s crew from on top of the Valletta bastions. Thus a long era of British military presence in Malta came to an end.
March 12, 2020
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