Raid on Żejtun
|Raid on Żejtun|
|Part of the Ottoman-Habsburg wars|
Church of St. Gregory (then Parish Church of St. Catherine), which was sacked by the Ottomans
Order of Saint John|
|Commanders and leaders|
Alof de Wignacourt|
|5,000–6,000 men||c. 6,000–8,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
c. 50 - 60 captured
c. 20 injured
The Raid on Żejtun (Maltese: L-aħħar ħbit, that is, The last attack) was the last major attack made by the Ottoman Empire against the island of Malta, which was then ruled by the Order of St. John. The attack took place in July 1614, when raiders pillaged the town of Żejtun and the surrounding area before being beaten back to their ships by the Order's cavalry and by the inhabitants of the south-eastern towns and villages.
The Ottomans first attempted to take Malta when in 1551 they sacked Gozo, but were unable to take over Malta. In 1565 they made a second attempt known as the Great Siege of Malta, but were repelled after four months of fighting. The Ottomans stayed away from Malta following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, but began to make incursions to the central Mediterranean once again at the end of the century. In 1598, 40 Ottoman vessels were sighted off Capo Passero in Sicily, triggering a general alarm in Malta. Similar emergencies occurred in 1603 and 1610. Due to this, the Order began preparing for an Ottoman attack. The obsolete Cittadella of Gozo was rebuilt, Valletta's water supply was secured by the building of the Wignacourt Aqueduct, and construction began on coastal watchtowers.
Two hours before dawn on 6 July 1614, a considerable Turkish force of sixty ships (including 52 galleys) under the command of Khalil Pasha tried to land at Marsaxlokk Bay, but were repelled by artillery fire from the newly constructed St. Lucian Tower. The fleet laid anchor at St Thomas' Bay in Marsaskala, and managed to land 5000 to 6000 men unopposed.
The villagers retreated to the fortified towns of Vittoriosa and Senglea. The Turks did not manage to take them into slavery, but proceeded to sack and set fire to the surrounding towns and villages. The cannons of Valletta and Mdina sounded the alert, while Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt ordered all slaves to be imprisoned, and all knights to move to their guard posts.
The Ottomans first sacked the Church of Our Lady of Graces in the nearby village of Żabbar (then part of the parish of Żejtun). Some of them went to attack St. Lucian Tower, while the rest of the force pillaged the village of Żejtun, which had been abandoned by its inhabitants after they heard about the attack. The Ottomans burnt the farms and fields of the area, and they also damaged the Church of St. Gregory, then referred to as the parish church of St Catherine. The attack is described in a commemorative plaque engraved close to the main altar of St Gregory's, which states that:[clarification needed]
In the early hours of Sunday, July 6, 1614, a Turkish army landed from 60 galleys, disembarking six thousand men in the place called Ghizira in Saint Thomas’ creek. The Turks raided the nearby casali, arriving right up to the farmlands held under the feud of Bulebel. They sacked these townships, burnt farmland and did much damage to the main church of Saint Catherine’s and all the others. Many were caught and killed, and they were made to retire back to the quays. No Christian was captured, but twenty were injured in the attack. From that day until September 11, 1614, all those born in this parish had to be baptised elsewhere. Extracted from the second book of baptisms for this parish.
The Order sent a cavalry regiment to attack the invaders, under the command of the knight de Compremy, but they were almost defeated by the Ottoman raiders. The knights Castellan de Castellet Cornetta and Andrea Marconeral along with some 20 other knights and Maltese were wounded in this attack. Marconeral, who had shown courage in the attack, died of his wounds two days later, and de Compremy was also killed. Men from the Order's fleet under knight Mendes were subsequently sent to repel the invaders. Meanwhile, a militia force of around 6000 to 8000 Maltese men was assembled and it fought the Ottomans. A member of the Maltese militia, Clemente Tabone, was noted for the courage he showed during the attack. A canon shot from Khalil Pasha's galley announced the raiders' withdrawal back to their galleys. Several Ottoman raiders were killed in the fray, and around 50 to 60 of them were captured and enslaved.
The Ottomans returned to their ships and after a failed attempt to make another landing at St. Paul's Bay, they sailed to Mellieħa Bay to take on water and attacked the village and its sanctuary. The day after, the fleet sat sail for the Barbary coast, going to Tripoli on a punitive expedition against a local insurgent. The fleet then suppressed a Greek uprising in the southern Peloponnese before returning to Constantinople in November 1614.
The attack confirmed the need of coastal watchtowers, and the construction of a tower defending St. Thomas Bay was approved on 11 July 1614. The new tower, however, could not communicate with St. Lucian Tower. In case of attack or the landing of enemy forces in either bay, some intermediate signalling station was needed to allow the dispatch of reinforcements.
Following the attack, the Order added two transepts and a dome to the 15th-century parish church of Saint Catherine's. A narrow passage with two small windows looking at the towers of these forts was built high up in the thickness of the transept walls. The finding of human bones in a number of secret passages of this church was, for many years, linked with this attack.
In 1658, a member of the Żejtun dejma, Clemente Tabone built a chapel dedicated to St. Clement. It is often stated that this was done in commemoration of the deliverance from the attack, and it is believed to stand close to the location of a battle with the Turkish raiders. However, the exact link between the raid and the chapel is not proven by primary sources.
Today the attack is remembered as a defining moment in the history of the town of Żejtun. A play on the attack was written in 1996 by Trevor Zahra, a local playwright. One of the main roads into Żejtun, which passes close to the site of the battle with the Turks, was renamed Triq l-Aħħar Ħbit mit-Torok, in memory of the attack.
St. Thomas Tower, which was built soon after the attack to protect St. Thomas Bay
St Clement's Chapel, Żejtun, built in 1658 possibly to commemorate the deliverance from the attack
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