By the mid-16th century, Malta was the headquarters of the Knights of St John, a quasi-military order that became the scourge of the Turkish Ottoman Empire as formidable seafarers. The otherwise unremarkable star-shaped Fort St Elmo at the tip of Valletta's old town, guarding both Marsamxett and Grand Harbour, took its place in history during the 31-day Great Siege of Malta in 1565, which saw the deaths of 1,500 Knights of St John at the hands of the Turkish invaders, with 8,000 Ottoman warriors killed in the process. Although this battle was lost, the heroic stand of the knights enabled them to win in the end.
Although it is always possible to walk around the exterior and admire the sturdy bastions and defensive walls, guided tours focusing on key points of the siege are also sometimes available. In the interior, Fort St Elmo houses Valletta's National War Museum, where travelers can take a look at a special collection of 20th-century World War memorabilia.
Most Sundays, although oddly not in the peak summer months, the colorful and historic In Guardia parade takes place around Fort St Elmo at 11 a.m., with up to 90 local men dressed in period costumes and armor creating lots of loud bangs and gun smoke.
Fort St Elmo is just off Republic Street, a 15-minute walk from the
Valletta bus station. It is in a pedestrianized area of the city and for drivers, there is designated parking outside the City Gate. The fort is open most Sundays for guided tours only. The National War Museum is open daily and is found in the Lower Drill Hall.