Malta’s position in the Mediterranean and its natural harbours left it vulnerable to attack. The Knights of the Order of St John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, arrived on the island in 1530 and fortified the Grand Harbour. In 1565 Malta was beseiged for 36 days by 40,000 Ottoman soldiers – the fighting was bloody, with headless knights’ corpses being floated across Grand Harbour. The Ottomans were finally driven out when relief forces arrived, but the devastation of the Great Siege prompted the construction of five cities surrounded by 15 miles (24 km) of ramparts and bastions, with the city of Valletta became the fortified centre of governance. In Cospicua the Santa Margherita Lines were constructed in the early 17th century with seven bastions, six curtain walls and three gates. The 4-mile (6-km) Cottonera Lines boasted ten bastions and seven main gates, yet they were never completed as planned. Coastal forts, such as Ricasoli and Tigne, protected against seaborne attack. Despite being one of the most fortificed places in the world, the defences failed when the Knights were forced to surrender to Napoleon and the French in 1798.
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