To the romantic, Malta smells of thyme and fig; to the cynic, tar and goat – but, whatever a traveller's disposition, he can't deny that the country's place in Mediterranean history is unique. Malta's past is bold and bloody. In 1530 the emperor Charles V gave the Knights of St John their home after they had been forced out of Rhodes by Suleiman the Magnificent. The knights used Malta to raid the Ottoman fleets, sending gold and silver back to their protector, and in 1565 Suleiman finally tired of this and set out to destroy the 'Monks of War'; and so began the Great Siege. For months the attackers pitted themselves against the walls of modern-day Valletta. They succeeded in storming Fort St Elmo, where the mostly French knights fought with extraordinary heroism.