The Cittadella (Maltese: Iċ-Ċittadella), also known as the Citadel, is a small fortified city and citadel which lies in the heart of Victoria on the island of Gozo, Malta. The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, and in the Medieval era it was known as the Gran Castello. The Cittadella has been on Malta’s tentative list of UNESCOWorld Heritage Sites since 1998.
Archaeological remains show that the area presently occupied by the Cittadella was first inhabited during theBronze Age. The settlement was further developed by the Phoenicians, and during the Roman era, it became theacropolis of a city known as Glauconis Civitas.
During the Medieval period, the settlement was transformed into a castle, which became known as the Gran Castello. Over time, the Cittadella became too small for the growing population, and the suburb of Rabat developed around the southern part of the walled citadel. In the fifteenth century, during the rule of the Crown of Aragon, the city’s fortifications were strengthened. The fortifications which surround the town mainly served to protect the village communities from foraging corsairs who raided the Maltese islands in order to take slaves.
The largest of these raids took place in July 1551, when a force of 10,000 Ottomans invaded Gozo and besieged the Cittadella. The city, which was under the control of Governor Gelatian de Sessa, capitulated after a few days of bombardment. Gozo’s population of 5000 to 6000 people had taken refuge within the Cittadella, and these were all taken as slaves when the city fell. Only a monk and 40 old people, which had been spared by the invaders, and about 300 others who managed to escape by scaling down the city walls escaped slavery.
After the invasion, the damaged fortifications of the Cittadella were repaired, but were not modernized. In the late 16th century, the architects Giovanni Rinaldini and Vittorio Cassar proposed plans for the renovation of the city.The entrance and southern walls were eventually completely rebuilt starting from 1599, and they turned the city from a small castle into a gunpowder fortress. In 1603 works reached an advanced state, and work was complete in 1622. On the other hand, the city’s northern walls were retained in their original medieval form. Various bastions, cavaliers, batteries and polveristas were built in the city.
Gozo’s population stayed within the walls of the Cittadella between dusk and dawn until this curfew was lifted on 15 April 1637. The city was the only fortified refuge against attack for the island’s inhabitants until Fort Chambray was built in the 18th century.
In the 17th century, the Cittadella’s defences were criticized and plans were made to demolish the city in 1645. Mines were actually built under the bastions to destroy them if necessary, but the demolition was never done.
In June 1798, the Maltese islands were occupied by the French, but the Maltese revolted after a couple of months of French rule. The Gozitans rebelled on 3 September, and the French garrison withdrew to the Cittadella, until they capitulated on 28 October after some negotiations. A day later, the British transferred control of the Cittadella to the Gozitans, who set up a provisional government led by Francesco Saverio Cassar and briefly administered the island as the independent state La Nazione Gozitana.
The fortifications of the Cittadella were decommissioned by the British on 1 April 1868.