For most people, the Great Siege of Malta of 1565 was such an important event that it overshadows any event that occurred during the Order of St John’s tenure on the island. It comes without saying that the siege was a turning point for the Order, but one should also be aware that this was not the only time the Ottomans lead a devastating attack on the islands. Compagnia San Michele has lately been given the opportunity to hold an event at the Citadel in Gozo. We found it very appropriate to depict a pivotal moment in Gozo’s history and shed light on a lesser known Ottoman raid on the islands.
In summer of 1551 a fleet of 10,000 Ottomans landed in Malta. Lead by Sinan Pasha, they first made an attempt to capture Birgu and Fort St Angelo but meeting considerable resistance, they marched across the island towards Mdina. By the time the Ottomans got to the fortified city it had already gathered sufficient defences to withstand a siege.
The Ottomans, whose intent was to raid and loot not put up a long siege, turned their attention to the island of Gozo, which by comparison to the sister island was weak. Before short the castle succumbed to the bombardments and the governor of the Citadel sought to negotiate the terms of surrender to Pasha. The governor was willing to open the city gates on condition that they are to leave a hundred of the city nobles on the island. Pasha did not agree with these terms and agreed to leave only forty. Following this negotiations, the city gates were open and the Ottomans flooded into the city, they first seized the governor and other officials of the city. It is said that about three hundred people managed to escape by climbing down the fortified walls to escape being taken into slavery. All the other defenders and inhabitants were taken captive, and in a cheeky move Sinan left forty sick and elderly inhabitants. The raiders took to the sea again, burning everything along the way. They set sail to Tripoli which until that point in time was in Hospitaller hands, and besieged and took that city too.
During our event in Gozo we decided to portray the aftermath of the siege. Our members represented a small garrison sent some weeks later from Malta to retake control of Gozo after the attack. What they found was at Cittadella was a city in ruins, with those inhabitants who had escaped quarrelling between them for control of what land remained. A fund was established to collect ransom money for those taken captive, but the ugly truth is that the Order had abandoned Gozo, that the raid had provided the Order with the opportunity to hand over the now vacant land to their supporters and benefactors and that the little money raised was insufficient to ransom most of those taken captive. Recreating such an event almost five centuries later, whilst fully understanding the despair, the separation, the legal complications, the military incompetence and the betrayal of those who were meant to defend the innocent lives of simple civilians is what our hobby seeks to achieve. History might at times seem tedious, full of details, impersonal. Recreating the daily life, to the best of our abilities and based on the information we have, gives us insights and emotions that generally history books tend to omit.