The siege of the island of Malta, the headquarters of the Order of the Hospital, by forces of the Ottoman Empire, lasting over three months (28 May-8 September 1565). The successful defense of Malta was hailed as a major triumph of Christendom against the Muslim Ottomans.
No sooner had the knights of the Order of the Hospital taken possession of Malta and Tripoli in 1530 than they embarked on an intensive program of harassing Muslims on land and sea as they had done from their previous Mediterranean base, the island of Rhodes: looting their towns and villages, raiding their ships, seizing their merchandise, and taking their men into slavery. These activities obstructed the Ottoman Empire’s designs of westward expansion and interrupted its lines of communication with the Barbary corsairs. Sinan Pasha’s raid on Malta, his sack of Gozo, and his capture of Tripoli, all in quick succession in 1551, was a foretaste of the Ottoman reaction to the program.
On 18 May 1565, an Ottoman armada of 180 vessels and 25,000 men reached Malta. The fleet was under the command of Piali Pasha, with Mustafa Pasha responsible for the land forces. Ten days later the siege of Malta had begun. Defending the island’s three strong centers of resistance (the forts of St. Elmo, St. Michael, and the heavily fortified St. Angelo, with its hinterland of Birgu and Bormla) were 500 knight brethren, 1,200 soldiers of various nations, 4,000 arquebusiers, and around 3,500 Maltese irregulars. The initial focus of the siege was Fort St. Elmo. On 2 June the besiegers were joined by Dragut with 45 vessels and 25,000 men. Fort St. Elmo fell on 23 June; the siege of the fort had taken more than a month, and cost the Turks some 6,000 men. This also gave the Hospitallers time to strengthen their other defenses.
Fort St. Michael was the Ottomans’ next target, and this formed the second major stage of the siege. Batteries were placed on St. Elmo promontory, Marsa, and Corradino Heights. On 2 July a Spanish relief force of 700 men (known as the piccolo soccorso) reached Malta, too late to save St. Elmo, but in time to save the island. This help was countered by the arrival on 8 July of Hasan Pasha with 28 ships from Algiers. Several savage assaults were made on the fort. Others were as fiercely directed at Birgu and St. Angelo all through July and August. On 7 September a second relief force of 12,000 troops sent by Philip II of Spain (the gran soc- corso) reached the extreme north of Malta. The next day, a thanksgiving Mass was sung at the conventual church of St. Lawrence in Birgu. Even two centuries later, the French Enlightenment author Voltaire (1694-1778) claimed that few events were more widely known than the siege of Malta of 1565.