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Knights of Malta, the champions of Christian EuropeIn the winter of 1522, order of johns was expelled from their native territory, the Rhodos island, by an Ottoman army. More than 40 years after the event, Suleyman the Great sent a fleet against their new locations, the shabby island of Malta. Again, johns were forced to fight for survival in the Mediterranean.

On the morning of June 23, 1565, thousands of Ottoman pounce the fortress of St. Elmo on next main port of Malta. Behind the walls were waiting 1,500 warriors of Johns order. They were under siege for more than a month, constantly bombarded and with lack of supplies.

They were hopeless against Ottoman plague that within a few hours managed to kill all but nine intrepid who managed to swim to the fortress of St.. Angelo, the other side of the harbor. Several knights were killed crucified on trunks that were activating the port intrance. The defenders of the fortress of St. Angelo responded to the challenge by decapitating prisoners and loading cannons with heads that were fired to the Ottoman camp.

Third fortress John, St. Michael and the Birgu capital were attacked. On August 18 the wall of the capital fell with the help of a mine, and Ottoman troops stormed inside. But in this time reached the long awaited reinforcements from Sicily, and the Ottoman forces were defeated in a strong counterattacked whose author was Grand Master of the Order John, Jean de Valette. Shortly after, arrived in Malta several reinforcements and the enemy forces commander, Mustafa decided to withdraw in haste.

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The interrupted siege  was celebrated as a great victory for Christianity, victory bells echoing across Europe. Malta was named the ‘island of heroes’, and the world looked upon Jean de la Valette bravest of all. Admirers from all Christendom sent money to Knights of St. John to be able to build a new fortress in Malta, a fortified town to be named Grand Master.

Order John was founded in Jerusalem in 1023 and its members provided medical help and protect the pilgrims who gathered there. During the Crusades, johns received orders from the Pope to deal with the protection of passengers in the Holy Land.

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When the last of the Latin Empire of the East was conquered by the Muslims in 1291, hospitable initially fled to the Cyprus island. But there they found that they had no chance to act as independent order. Instead, the Knights occupied Rhodos island, building fortresses until in 1309 when they gained control of the entire island.

After the powerful Templar order was abolished in 1312 following the battle with the French crown, the pope decided to transfer part of their goods to hospitality, which have become the most influential and powerful religious monks – soldiers order in Europe. Knights persevered in efforts to defend the poor and needy at the same time being engaged to build a fleet to oppose the growing power of the Ottoman Empire and North Africa pirate forces.
During the fifteenth century, the Ottomans pressure was felt increasingly louder, and in 1444, respectively 1480, the island was invaded massiveby Muslim forces . The last invasion, Knights withstood a siege of three months, succeeding to clear all Ottoman assaults.

Order continued to work as a Christian outpost in the eastern Mediterranean, which at the end of the century was almost exclusively under Ottoman control. Johns fleet pose a constant threat to the Ottoman transports. In 1522 Suleyman sultan sent no less than 100,000 troops in Rhodos to finally escape the danger of the 700 knights and their troops, a force totaling about 7,500 soldiers.

After six months of bitter fighting and famine, johns found themselves forced to capitulate on Christmas Day of 1523. Suleyman, who appreciate the combat capabilities of the brave knights, personally ensured that they leave the island in peace with their intact honor. In search of new territories, among other, knights lived in Sicily and Crete. They were looking for an opportunity to rebuild its former glory and to continue the fight against the Ottomans and barbarian allies. Muslim pirate outposts in North Africa were those who devote specifically to capture vessels under the Christian banner.

In 1530 the order received an offer from St. Imeriu Roman-German Emperor, Carol the Fifth. He wanted to give them permission to reside on the island of Malta and make it their base of operations, provided they give in their turn… a hunting hawk every year.

Grand Master of the Order then, L’Isle Adam, hasn’t proved very interested. Knights had lived on the fertile Rhodos island and now had to face a place with a poor defens and without water resources. The natives lived in very simplevillages and Mdina was the only city on the island. Many of the knights still hoped to receive military support to regain their native island.

But finally they have realized that they have no choice but to accept the king’s offer. Once in Malta, Knights of St. John settled in Birgu resort, which they fortified it and to which was added the fort of St. Angelo, that became the headquarters of the order. They adopted the name, Knights of Malta ‘and raised churches and palaces. The order Hospital offered access to the best medical care in Europe since then.

Meanwhile, conflicts with the Ottoman fleet and the pirates continued. In addition, the Knights received their commission to ensure the defensive of Tripoli in Libya too. So they watched over an important passage from the Mediterranean, where African pirates reigned supreme. Johns unfortunately were unable to stop them from plunder, raids on European cities or kidnappings that resulted in huge ransoms or enslavement.

Instead, undertook several actions to punish Muslim maritime forces. Only under command of Master Jean de Valette about 3000 Hebrew and Muslims were taken as slaves. In the sixteenth century, both Suleyman and the barbarians leader, Turgut Reis were sick of Maltese invasions, so in 1550 they conquered Tripoli and besieged for first time Malta unsuccessfully. In 1559, a fleet of Spanish and Maltese Christian tried to regain Tripoli, but the Battle of Djerba was a catastrophic defeat for them.

Afterwards, everyone was expecting another attack against Malta, but it has also left waiting several years. During this time, the Knights have strengthened some fortifications, recruiting more troops and to got supplied. It allowed for the cities to withstand sieges in summer 1565, less that of St. Elmo, which fell when the Ottomans cutted the supply lines. Otherwise, the Maltese performance brought them fame throughout Christian Europe.

A few years later the Knights entered the Holy League, a coalition of Christian fleet at the call of Pope Pius V were forced to help depressuring Famgusta Venetian city located in Cyprus. At Lepanto, on the coast of Greece, the Ottoman fleet suffered a defeat in one of the bloodiest battles in the Mediterranean. Legendary captain Romegas, one of the Knights of Rhodos who fought in the siege of 1565’s, was the one who led a decisive attack and was among those who attended the victory parade held in Rome.

During the fighting, the Ottoman fleet lost 211 of the 251 ships. For now the Knights of Malta were regarded as kings of the Mediterranean. They also managed to find pirate hideouts and save Christians prisoners. In the same time captured muslims and demanded important ransoms.

There was a great period in the history of the order, a period characterized by an architecture and thriving culture in Malta. Capital Valetta was rebuilt from scratch. It was performed a network of streets and alleys so that the sea breeze to pass through the city. Advanced systems were created for water supply and order continued to thrive with great fleet and top medical system.

Jean de la Valette died in 1568, shortly before the newly-built city to become the headquarters of the order. A few years after his death was built the St. John Cathedral, where the painter Caravaggio spread his masterpiece ” The Beheading of St. John ”. Caravaggio came in among the knights, but after conflicts with the leaders was stripped of the title. He was imprisoned in the fortress of St. Angelo, but managed to flee to Sicily.

In 1798 a invading fleet under the command of Napoleon started to Egypt. The aim was to promote French trade to break UK contacts with India. On his way to Africa, Napoleon desired to make a stop in Malta to stock, but when the grand master pointed out that the port is allowed entry to all vessels one by one, the french fleet attacked .

After only one day of fighting, the knights capitulated to the french power. Napoleon took the order goods , forcibly recruited members who were french and forced the johns to leave the island. Thus ended the Knights ” empire ” of St. John in Malta.

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