Cospicua is, together with Birgu and Senglea, part of the Three Cities. These are three heavily fortified cities located at the Grand Harbour, just across the bay from Malta’s capital Valletta. Known as Bormla in Maltese, Cospicua has a long history and is well known for its large dockyard and the impressive city walls known as the Santa Margherita Lines and the Cottonera Lines. While its sisters Birgu and Senglea occupy a peninsula each, Cospicua is the city at the center, furthest into the bay.
The History of Cospicua
Cospicua was earlier known as Bormla, a name that is still in use in Maltese. The Order of Saint John began the fortification of the Three Cities during the 16th century, especially along the waterfront in the cities of Birgu and Senglea. In Cospcua the defense constructions began in 1638 with the Santa Margherita Lines. These fortifications protected the Three Cities from attacks coming from land.
The Santa Margherita Lines were completed in 1645 but extended again in the first half of the 18th century. In the meantime, the construction of another outer line of defenses had begun in 1670 with the Cottonera Lines. The construction was halted and severely delayed in the 1680s when the current Grand Master died. It took until 1715 before the construction resumed. Both the Santa Margherita Lines as well as the Cottonera Lines were completed in 1736. They then included several bastions and other defenses along the high walls.
The British did not only modify the walls in the 19th century, but they also expanded and modernized the Malta Dockyard. The dockyard had first been built by the Order of Saint John, but its importance increased during the British era. Its location in the Grand Harbour meant that it became a target of German and Italian bombings during the Second World War. Most of the dry docks and much of the overground services to the dock were damaged. The damages also extended to the city of Cospicua itself. The city had a population of around 12.000 inhabitants during the centuries prior to the war. It had, however, dropped to around 4.800 in 1948 and it has since not returned to pre-war numbers.
Sights in Cospicua
There are plenty of sights in Cospicua and they are mainly at the waterfront and the landside fortifications. In addition, there is plenty to explore in nearby Birgu and Senglea, which are within walking distance.
American University of Malta
At the waterfront in Cospicua is the American University of Malta. It is an American-style college of the liberal arts and was founded in 2016. It has around 140 students and is housed in two old buildings of the dockyard. The British Building dates back to the 1840s and the Knights’ Building is even older. It was commissioned at the end of the 17th century. The campus is today a part of the waterfront view of Cospicua.
Bormla Waterfront might not be filled with cafés and restaurants, but it is still beautiful. The narrow inner parts of the bay, along the docks that are today the American University of Malta, usually have mirrorlike water. It includes a small green park along the water and is one of the best places to relax and still be at the center.
Collegiate Church of the Immaculate Conception
The Collegiate Church of the Immaculate Conception is the parish church of Cospicua. It is a Roman Catholic church that was founded already in 1586. The current baroque-style church was completed around the year 1730. It watches out over the center of the city and the Bormla Waterfront.
The Cottonera Gardens is a green area right inside the city walls of the Cottonera Lines. The gardens include is both a recreational area as well as a wooded area that provides shade during the hot summer months. There is also a small playground in the garden.
The Cottonera Lines are the outer parts of the landside fortifications. These walls and bastions were built between 1670 and 1760 by the Order of Saint John. The walls are a must-see when visiting the town, just to get an understanding of their size. They do also include beautiful city gates such as the Notre Dame Gate.
Notre Dame Gate
The Notre Dame Gate is a part of the Cottonera Lines and was completed in 1675. It has been known by many names, such as the Cottonera Gate or the Żabbar Gate. Another name has been the Bieb is-Sultan, Maltese for the “King’s Gate”.
Saint Helen’s Gate
Saint Helen’s Gate is the main gate of the Santa Margherita Lines. It was completed in 1736. The gate has seen several changes over the centuries, one of the most significant being the addition of two openings for cars in 1947.
Santa Margherita Lines
The Santa Margherita Lines is the inner of the landside fortifications. It was first built between 1638 and 1645, but after a break, the final parts were completed first between 1715 and 1736. It was built by the Order of Saint John and does in addition to the five bastions also include three gates to the city.
Cospicua is similar to Senglea in the way that it in many ways is a fortified residential area. Finding the usual activities for tourists can be a bit difficult. Many times you will have to head to the nearby cities to find activities such as sightseeing tours and water activities. Even restaurants are easier to find in Birgu or Valletta, but there are a few also in Cospicua.
Beaches in Cospicua
There are no official beaches in Cospicua. Instead, there are a few places where some people might consider swimming possible. The closest official beach is a bit north at Rinella Bay.
Hiking to and from Cospicua
Hiking on Malta can be great but you can expect the risk of having to take a detour, ending up on a road, or having to turn back. Always be prepared with plenty of fluids and sun protection.
To the East
Following the coast, first to the north and later to the west, will eventually take you along a more rural path. If you walk about 10 kilometers you will eventually end up in the town of Marsaskala.
To the West
If you decide to hike to the west, there is a more urban path. Walking around the Grand Harbour will take you to the capital of Valletta. You can either walk around the peninsula or continue across to the next bay and the waterfront path towards Sliema.
Shopping in Cospicua
There are a few shops in the Three Cities, most of them are in Cospicua. If you want more shopping, you probably need to walk to either Fgura or Żabbar. There is also the possibility to take the ferry across to Valletta where there are more shops.
Excursions from Cospicua
With Valletta only a short ferry ride away the rest of the island is within easy reach for day trips. Some of the more easily accessible towns are just a short walk away and others are reachable by public transport.
Fgura is a town right outside the walls of the Three Cities. The main street has many small shops, usually more oriented towards the locals than to tourists. From here it is also easier to find local busses to either Valletta or to towns such as Marsaskala.
Marsaskala is another coastal resort town to the east. This former fishing village has grown into one of the larger towns in South-Eastern Malta.
From our visits:
- Marsaskala – Exploring Malta
- Malta Highlights – November 2021
- Marsaskala, Malta – Sant’Antnin Family Park
- Marsaskala, Malta – Exploring the Playgrounds
- Marsaskala, Malta – A Week When the Coronavirus Strikes
Marsaxlokk is an old fishing village famous for its traditional colorful boats and the daily market. This is one of the main tourist attractions in the eastern part of Malta. The colorful fishing boats, Luzzu, are an addition to the Maltese culture dating back to the early 12th century.
From our visits:
- Marsaxlokk – Exploring Malta
- Marsaskala, Malta – A Hike to Marsaxlokk
- Birżebbuġa, Malta – A Walk from Marsaskala
The Three Cities – Birgu, Cospicua, and Senglea
Cospicua is part of the are the Three Cities, the other two are the cities of Birgu and Senglea. These two cities are within easy access for excursions from Cospicua as they are just a short walk away.
From our visits:
- Birgu (Vittoriosa) – Exploring Malta
- Senglea (Isla) – Exploring Malta
- Marsaskala, Malta – A Hike to Senglea
- Birgu, Malta – The Three Cities
Valletta, the capital of Malta, is one of the places that most people visiting the country will try to see at least once. It is also that city that you will see across the Grand Harbor each time you look out over the water. Its high walls and other fortifications make it an impressive sight and the view of the sea is never far away. The capital is just a short ferry ride away from Cospicua and the Three Cities.
From our visits:
- Valletta – Exploring Malta
- Valletta, Malta – A Carnival in Town
- Valletta, Malta – A Kid Re-discovers the Island
The town of Żabbar is just a short walk away from the Three Cities and even though it is not the most touristy town on the island it still has a lot to discover. With the many traditional Maltese balconies, the Gallarijas, lining the streets and with fewer tourists, it is also easier to just stroll around. In addition, the fortifications of the Three Cities are right at the outskirts of the town and so is the large Park ta’ San Klement, with a playground for the kids.
From our visits:
Cospicua with a Kid
In comparison with neighboring Birgu and Senglea, there are more open spaces for kids to play in Cospicua. There is, however, also a lot more traffic to be aware of. Finding activities for kids might still be challenging, there are a few playgrounds and if your child likes ships then there is always the Three-City ferry between Cospicua and Valletta. Going back and forth might be pleasant also for adults.
Read more about Malta with kids:
Playgrounds in Cospicua
We have not been able to find many playgrounds in Cospcua and the ones we have found have been really small. To find a larger playground, one option is to head outside the city walls. Right between Cospicua and Żabbar is the Park ta’ San Klement, which has a lot more space and activities for kids to enjoy.
In addition to a lot of space, there is a smaller playground at the Cottonera Gardens. We have not been able to visit this one ourselves, but photos from others show it is in quite bad shape.
x-Xghajra ta’ Bormla
Between Cospicua and Birgu is the park x-Xghajra ta’ Bormla. The park includes a smaller playground that can satisfy the smaller kids.
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