Gozo: Calypso’s Isle (1)


This is my fourth post about our holiday in Malta in early September and I’ve decided to do it in two parts. Both posts will be about the lovely island of Gozo, which we visited on the Wednesday of our week.

Here’s the map again, just to show where Gozo is in relation to Malta:


Gozo is the second largest of the three main Maltese islands, and just a 25 minute ferry crossing away from Malta – or 15 minutes by seaplane. The island has been described as ‘Malta’s prettier little sister’ because it’s greener and more rural than Malta. Gozo also boasts an impressive number of historical sites and cultural events and has still-thriving agricultural and fishing industries.

The island has long been associated/equated with that of Ogygia, the home of the nymph Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. The story tells of how Calypso – who possessed supernatural powers – fell in love with Odysseus, holding him captive for several years before releasing him to continue his journey home.

Our day involved a guided tour, for which we were picked up by coach from our hotel in Bugibba and taken to the ferry port at Cirkewwa on the north-west of Malta to make the short ferry journey over to Gozo with the The Gozo Channel Line.


At the port of Mgarr on Gozo, we boaded our next coach and our first stop was the most famous site on the island: the Ggantija Temples at Xaghra.

The Ggantija Temples (commonly called The Giant’s Tower in the past) are the earliest of the megalithic temples on the Maltese islands and possibly the oldest, free standing megalithic structures in the world, dating from around 3,600 years BC – older than the pyramids of Egypt. Today the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a view of the outer wall:

Outer temple wall

Ggantija consists of two separate systems of courtyards, not interconnected, known as the South Temple and the North Temple. The South Temple is the bigger and earlier (3,600 BC) of the two, the North Temple being a later addition (c. 3,000 BC). The North Temple has a five-apse structure, the South Temple has four.

Ggantija Temple structure

These are some of the photos of the site we took as we walked around it:

The stone spheres (top right photo above) were thought to have been used as a method of moving the great slabs of rock. The entire temple complex was built out of two types of rock: the harder Coralline limestone for the outer walls and the softer, golden Globerigina for the doorways and floor slabs -though some of the floors were just covered with beaten earth (torba).

Many of the slabs were once covered with the spiral and pitted designs common to all the Maltese temples. These are some seen in the Archeological Museum in Valletta, from the Tarxien Temples on Malta, which show how some of the stones at Ggantija there would have been decorated:



At Ggantija, the spirals can now hardly be seen, although they were visible when the temple was discovered in 1826, suggesting there must have been a roof of some sort to preserve them.

The huge megaliths of the outer wall were positioned alternately, one vertically and one upright, and the space between the outer and inner walls is filled with earth and rubble. It is thought that it was this that has given Ggantija the stability to survive 5,000 years.

In the South Temple, the great court measures twenty three metres from apse to apse and the walls here are eight metres, the highest of all the temples. Arches weren’t used at this period, and since the span of the apses was quite large for any stone roofing to be used, it is thought that the roofing material would have been wood or animal hides.

Here is a picture of the interior I found on Wikipedia:

Engraving of the temple made in 1848, title: 'Gozo (Giants' tower)'. Photographer: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2013). Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons
Engraving of the Ggantia megalithic temple in Gozo made in 1848.  Title: ‘Gozo (Giants’ tower)’. Photographer: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2013). Public Domain.
Wikimedia Commons

The interior walls were plastered and painted with red ochre, traces of which have been found. It’s interesting to speculate just how this place must have looked 5,000 years ago, and on how all the ceremonies would have taken place at the altars and libation pools. Circular holes have been found in some of the larger floor slabs and, although their purpose isn’t clear, it has been suggested that they were used for the pouring of liquid offerings. One slab, shown below, is marked on the side with pitted decorations:


On each side of the door leading into the temple are hollows carved opposite each other on two large megaliths (two pictures in the gallery above – second and last rows). It is thought that these held some sort of barrier – a door or a bar, perhaps both at different times – to close the entrance.

Finally, I couldn’t finish without showing yet another example of graffitti (as at the Mosta Dome). This fine artwork dates from the 1800s:

Graffiti Ggantija



61 thoughts on “Gozo: Calypso’s Isle (1)

  1. the megalithic structures are amazing! It looks like a rich and lovely place to visit! you cover everything so beautifully and it is like having your own personal tour! I love the pictures and the link to the Odyssey! Very interesting! I just love this post and wow would love to go now!! the prettiest of the three sisters!!

  2. So interesting! I find myself trying to fill in the gaps to imagine what the temple might have looked like when it was still complete. The floor plan is new to me, but I notice Wikipedia says it’s the “typical clover-leaf shape ” Hm, learn something new every day!

  3. Hi Millie. It looked like you had an amazing and inspirational visit to Malta. This is on my places to visit too. There is a lovely fictional book by Caroline Smailes called ‘Like Bee’s to Honey’, which is located in Malta. It might make a good read now that you have a sense of the place.

    1. We’ve been to Malta five times now. We bought a time share there in 2001 when we were on holiday there, but don’t use it every year . The title of that book is so appropriate for Malta. The Romans called the island Melita – which means honey. I’ll certainly have a look on Amazon! Thank you for that, Donna.

      1. Wow, Malta must feel so familiar to you know. How lovely that you have been there five times. There is so much history, and it is intetesting to find out about the word ‘Melina’ – now the title makes really does capture it. Have a great day. Best Wishes!

      2. The word Melita is still written on some of the old buses in Malta. It is thought there were a lot of bees on parts of the island, and the enterprising Romans set up lots of bee hives there. (They’ve found evidence of the hives in places.) I must look up that book later today. 🙂

      3. That’s very interesting, Millie. I think you have definitely cracked the mystery behind the title of the book, because I had no idea why it was called ‘Like Bee’s to Honey’. You learn something new every day 🙂

      4. I’m wondering whether the book is set in Roman times, or the title’s just a general reference to Malta.I haven’t found time to look yet – but I will do this evening. 🙂

      5. Hi Millie. It isn’t set inRoman times, but the feel of the book is about the protagonist reflecting on her past, which brings in an element of history. I truly believe you mastered the title with the bee history. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

      6. I’ve missed your book reviews, Donna. Have you been away somewhere for the summer, or just taking a break from blogging? I think we all need a break from it at times. I’m not intending to stop altogether, but I’m seriously trying to slow down and do fewer posts. I simply need more time to write my book. Anyway, it’s nice to have you back. 😀

      7. Hi Millie. No I haven’t been away. My approach to blogging is to post only when I feel I have material to post; rather than feel that I have to post all of the time. The best part of that is that the posts that I do put up get exposure for longer than they would if I was to post constantly. I also post on my FB author page and Twitter as I’m hoping to build a following for when I send to publishers or need to market my book – eventually! I think it is always ok to take a break and to not feel pressured by writing…I think that’s why FB snd Twitter are lovely little ‘fill-ins’. Have a great day!

      8. I hope your book is coming along very well. At least you’re doing things the right way (unlike me) and bulding up your author ‘platform’ first. I have a Twitter account and a FB page – both with hardly anything on them. I suppose I ought to get my act together, sometime.
        I’ll look out for your next post, anyway. 🙂

      9. Thank you, Millie. Yes my book is something that seem’s to be growing in my head more than the paper…but it is a fun process thinking ways through the plot…and hopefully soon I can start to put together the chapters. I must admit, it is time consuming keeping up with all of the social network sites but I have got a thing set up whereby you can post on FB page which auto-feeds to Twitter…also posting on WP can also auto-feed to FB and Twitter…great little tricks! I hope your writing is going well…you certainly have a good following and you post some wonderful posts 🙂 Speak soon.

      10. The writing process is so exciting once you get going. When the ideas are flowing, there’s no stopping them. I will have to get my heard round all the social network channels at some point. One day… 😀

      11. It’s true…once the ideas start they flow! Sometimes I think it’s just a case of sitting down to write even when there is nothing as it can set of thoughts which lead to thoughts. I think it’s like a warm up. Social media is great for the book world, but you can spend hours, so I’m making sure I’m building up slowly 🙂

      12. Thank you for the really nice comment, Donna. Yes, I’ve written two books of my trilogy and am writing the third at the moment. I’ve had some nice reviews for both of them. I loved writing the books, and find promoting them really hard! 🙂

  4. You are giving me some wonderful ideas for my own island: libation pools, obscenely old graffiti, styrofoam megaliths, preternatural nymphs in diaphanous robes abducting travelers nolens volens… Three is so much for me to learn from this farrago of ancient ways.

    1. Much of what you’ve said here sounds excellent for your island, Prospero. Personally I’d give styrofoam anything a miss and import a few real megaliths. Preternatural nymphs could be a big attraction, especially in see-through robes! I imagine many male travellers would be more than happy to be abducted by them.Give me a shout when its all up and running and I’ll pop over and give you my opinion. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ineke. It was quite an awesome and inspirational place to visit. We just didn’t have enough time there. The tour guide rushed us round. Nick and I were last back to the coach because I was determined to get some photos! 🙂

      1. It does, but unfortunately that’s difficult when you’re in the country only for a week. But if we go to Gozo again, we’ll go on our own, not on a guided tour. I could have strangled that guide. She didn’t even give us time to look at the rooms with all the information about the temples. We scarcely had time to look at the temples themselves. Still, Nick managed to photograph several information boards for me on the way back to the coach.

      2. It is so sad/bad that these guides are always in a hurry to show as much as they can and then as fast also. It is the best to go on your own and then take time to go where you really want to go.

      3. We’ve had some guided tours that have been really good. When we went to Andalucia in May, the whole trip was a guided tour, and it was excellent – but it was with a well known company. This one was just with a local Bugibba group, and not well organised at all. Still, we bought our own information books and took as many photos as we could.

      4. I see! When a guide is well organized It is a feast to have them. Also usually worth using a well known one helps. The last tour I had visiting the Kruger Nat park was an excellent guide. We did a night trip. He knew before hand where some rhino and buffalo were and on top of it we saw a leopard been chased up a tree by hyenas. Was worth it.

      5. You’re right. I all depends on the skill of the guide. We had a similar trip to your Kruger National Park one. We had a safari holiday in the Masai Mara, and those guides were like yours – they knew exactly how to run a trip. This woman on our Gozo trip gave us little information and what she did say she glabbled so fast, no one understood her. Seeing a leopard chased up a tree by hyenas must have been fabulous. Did you manage a photo, or was it all too fast? Great memories, anyway.

      6. Ours was a jeep safari, too – a very tall jeep, mind you. We did take photos but they aren’t very good ones. We didn’t have a digital camera in those days, so they are prints. I can see thst a tripod could be problematic on a jeep. The thought of yoy trying creases me up!. 😀

  5. Wow, this is really incredible. Those structures are amazing and older than the pyramids too! I think it is also interesting how people had the capability to build these so very long ago when we must have so many tools and heavy equipment to build basic shopping centers now. Great post!

    1. Yes, it is an incredible site. I can’t help imagining what it all looked like when it was built – red interior walls and all. The round boulders (used like wheels) showed how how they moved the large slabs of rock, but how they lifted them into a standing position is anyine’s guess! I imagine they had some kind of pulley system – but I may be totally wrong. Thank you for your interest, L.T. 🙂

      1. I agree, it’s mind-boggling. I felt the same about Stonehenge until I read about possible techniques. The novel, ‘Sarum’ also describes the building of Stonehenge. The pyramids are awesome. I’ve never seen them for real. We did a cruise down the Nile a few years ago, and visited many of the temples, like Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel. How they were constructed is also incredible.

  6. I wouldn’t imagine this is one of the Maltese islands – It looks so different from Malta, but very interesting. 😉 The Odysseus story is my favorite part of this post – the pictures and the detailed information you mentioned here created lots of imaginations on my mind. 🙂 Well…I fact, I really love those slabs as well. The spiral and pitted designs are gorgeous – made me wonder what inspired them to create such designs 😉 Wonderful post Millie! ❤

    1. This particular site doesn’t really give a great picture of the island, Khloe. It’s so old, and all there is to see are the ruins – wonderful as they are. The scenery around the site isn’t very stunning, either. But parts of Gozo are very pretty, especially some coastal areas. There isn’t a city to equal lovely Valletta, though. It is a much smaller island than Malta and much more rural.It does get much greener than Malta, though because rainfall is a little higher. Thank you for reading it, Khloe. 😀

      1. Ruins may not be the prettiest, I think it has its own charm. Hahaha I know what you mean. I would love Valletta the most if I were you as well😆 Pretty and relaxing! Aha very interesting! You sure had a wonderful time there👍🏻 You’re welcome as always😃

  7. Fascinating! I can’t believe the temple’s older than the pyramids! Love the spiral decoration, too. Must be very interesting seeing ancient history with your own eyes. Have you been to the Egyptian pyramids, btw? (I haven’t) What about the temples in Athens?

    1. We haven’t been to the pyramids but we did a Nile cruise in 2007. We saw all the wonderful temples and that was awesome. We planned to go back to do the pyramids but the political situation out there put us off. I doubt we’ll get back there now. And we haven’t done mainland Greece at all. We’ve done several of the islands and seen historic sites on each. The Acropolis of Lindos on Rhodes is awesome and Knossos on Crete is too. All I have of these places are a few old photos, nothing digital, so I don’t think I’ll be posting about them. The Knossos photos aren’t too bad, I suppose… Louise (daughter) is dying to get to Athens – her main dream in life, I think. She studied Ancient Greece as part of her degree years ago and loves the subject. I might tag along if she sorts something out. 🙂

      1. Hope she gets to go! And you too, tagging along ;D I spent a whole summer in Crete, planning to go to Knossos the whole time, and didn’t. I just didn’t feel like meeting the crowds. But now I maybe regret that a bit…

      2. Oh, it does get so packed! We queued for ages in the scorching sun and I’d forgotten my sunhat! So it did slightly dampen my enjoyment. 🙂

    1. There are many ancient sites in Malta, Inese, as well as some for more recent history – particularly WW2 stuff. There are also a lot of craft centres, from lace making to glass blowing. And there’s some gorgeous coastal scenery in places. I have to say that Malta seems to be like Marmite: you either love it or hate it. If it’s lots of sandy beaches people want, they are few and far between on Malta. But history lovers really enjoy it, as do those who love to linger in the many quaint towns. Valletta has so much to offer.We’ve been five times and still have sites to go and see. Mind you, we’ve been to some a few times. It’s easy to have a day out to Sicily, too, which we did one year. It included a trip to see Mount Etna, so that suited me well! And there are many other boat trips around the coasts, or out to the small island of Comino. Thank you for reading! 🙂

      1. This area is so rich in history! I am not a beach person, and I would love this kind of trip. You have been there five times – I will see only basic touristy things if I go just once… It is why I am so grateful for people like you who share their experience with others.

      2. I go everywhere in search of history. (OK I’m a bit of a geek! 😀 ) We haven’t seen everything we want to see on the Maltese islands yet, Inese, so we go once a year at the moment. We have a time share in Bugibba, which makes it easy. We’re not really beachy people nowadays, either, although I do love swimming and snorkelling. But on Malta we spend our time travelling about to the sites. 🙂

    1. Hi Lyn.I’m getting to know Malta quite well now, having been there five times! We still have quite a few sites to visit, though, and next year we plan to have another ferry-ride up to Sicily. We got up to see Mt.Etna last time. Your list of places to visit sounds ver similar to ours!

  8. Your posts certainly stand out, dear Millie…
    I much enjoyed the reading … and the mythological and literary sources you highlighted here…
    Beautiful photographs, too… All my best wishes. Aquileana ☀️

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