Since May 18, 1565 when the Turks landed in Malta with the aim of occupying the island and exterminating the Order of the Knights of Saint John, battles of terrifying intensity took place. Although the Turks, after fierce fighting and many losses, captured the small fort of Agios Elmos, they had nothing else to show for it. However, with continuous attacks against the other two fortresses of the knights, those of Agios Michael and Agios Angelos, they had managed to cause serious bleeding to the defenders, despite their own heavy losses.
On August 7, however, it seemed that victory was finally smiling on the Turks. After a stormy attack the Turks, who had caused a breach in the wall of the fortress of Saint Michael, led by their leader Mustafa Pasha and his elite janissaries as the vanguard, had managed to penetrate. All seemed lost and the Christians began to retreat before the Turkish crowd. Mustafa, sword in hand, led the janissaries to victory, in the name of Allah, the "prophet" and Sultan Suleiman, the so-called "magnificent". A fireball from a Christian musket struck Mustafa in the turban. The Pasha suffered nothing but the hole in it.
The janissaries saw the intervention of the "prophet" in saving their leader and rushed with greater intensity. Suddenly, however, as they had conquered the rift and there were few defenders between them and the city, fire and thick black smoke appeared from their camp! Mustafa, seeing the fire, hesitated. What had happened? Could it be that Christian reinforcements had arrived and his army was in danger of being caught between two fires? He couldn't know. Brave himself he had personally led the attack on the rift but at the same time he had lost the "big picture" of the field that a commander must have. He had to make a quick decision and decided to call off the attack and rush to his burning camp. The Christian pilgrims in the breach could not believe their eyes and praised God for their good fortune!
Malta had miraculously escaped the infamous "prophet's" teeth! But what had happened? It was all due to a single man, the knight with Greek roots Vigenzo Anastagi (corruption of Anastasis). Born in Perugia, in 1531, but originally from Ravenna (with distant Greek roots from the time of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasios, while a member of the family had married the daughter of the general Belisarius), Anastagi had joined the Order of Saint John in 1563, two just years before the Turkish attack, wanting to fight against the enemies of Christianity. After the landing of the Turks in Malta, Grand Master de la Valette sent him to Sicily to gather and ask for reinforcements, as he had special ties with the great Italian island.
Anastagi, since he had returned on August 2nd, was in Mdina and was assigned the command of the cavalry of the knights, which, however, numbered only 100 men. On August 7, 1565, Anastagi and his horsemen marched from Mdina to the forts on the coast. They saw the fortress of St. Michael drowned in smoke and explosions. The horsemen came as close as they could and watched. After inspecting the area, Anastagi was surprised to find that the Turkish camp was almost unguarded. Only a few guards, wounded, sick and helpers were in it.
He immediately decided to act. He ordered his men into battle formation, and with the name of St. John for a yacht, he rushed at their head, sword in hand. The Turks in the camp did not expect an attack. Even those present were watching the fierce battle in the forts. Surprised they saw the Christian horsemen charging and panicked they started to flee. Possibly they believed that the horsemen were the forerunners of a larger Christian force. Anastagi and his men did not feel sorry for anyone. Their swords "worked" wildly. Turkish bodies were being cut in two, heads and other human parts were flying in the air! Most horsemen "cut" while others dismounted and set fire! In a little while the tents and valuable provisions of the Turks became the object of fire. It was then that Mustafa saw the fires and smoke and ordered a retreat just moments before his final victory.
Anastagi and his men, after dismembering and burning every inanimate object and sending to the "prophet" every living thing they met, disappeared again, galloping towards Mdina. When Mustafa and his men arrived at the camp they saw only fire, death and destruction. Furious with rage, the Turkish Pasha swore to take Malta and put to the sword every man, woman, and child, except the grand master, who intended to take him in irons to his sultan. However, the damage had been done and despite the pasha's great words, the victory had definitively escaped his hands. About a month later, humiliated, having lost about 30,000 men, he would withdraw from Malta. Anastagi had saved Malta. Between 1571-76 the great Greek painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) created the portrait of the glorious knight, saving his form over the centuries.
Anastaghi's portrait by El Greco.