Gozo: Calypso’s Isle (2)


This is a continuation of my post about the Maltese island of Gozo, which we visited on the Wednesday of our week in Malta in early September. It was a great day out, and we saw a lot of the island, the main site being the Ggantija temples (pronounced like something like J-gan-tia) which my last post on Gozo was about. This time I’m adding a little about some of the other places we visited. So here we go.

After leaving the Ggantijan temples at Xaghra, we headed out to the east coast to the town of Marsalform to take a ride on a little trackless train:


Marsalform itself is the most popular seaside resort on Gozo and is always crowded . . .


. . . but we headed on along the coast to have a look at the 300-year-old, rock-cut Qbajjar Salt Pans, the biggest salt works on Gozo and stretching over 3km. Several tons of sea salt are produced each year, continuing the centuries old Gozitan tradition:

We were all handed a nice little bag of sea salt from an old Gozitan stationed along the roadside. The ‘train’ pulled out so quickly that none of us had chance to even offer the old man a tip! I can only hope the tour company pay him for providing this little ‘extra’ service and keeping the customers/tourists happy.

Heading off across country to the west coast, we stopped en route at a Craft Centre to have a quick look round. There were a variety of goods on display,  one of the main things being traditional Maltese lace:

On to the west coast … and the beautiful Azure Window (my f1rst image on this post). All three of the main Maltese Islands have a ‘blue water attraction’ for tourists to admire. On  the south coast of Malta is the Blue Grotto and on the little island of Comino, the Blue Lagoon. On Gozo, near to Dwejra Bay on the Inland Sea, it’s the Azure Window – a favourite place for scuba divers from all over the world. There is an underground cave close by and the sea is warm for snorkellers and sea bathing. Here’s another picture of it, although it’s little different to the one above:


The Azure Window itself was created by the collapse of two limestone sea caves, and is very lovely to see. It has been featured in many films, including: Clash of the Titans (1981) the Count of Monte Cristo (2002) The Odessey (1997) – and last but not least, even  Game of Thrones!

Close to the Azure Window (behind us as we photographed the arch) is Fungus Rock – so named because of its mushroom-like shape. I wasn’t totally convinced it resembled a mushroom, but who am I to know these things? Well, here it is:


Eventually, we headed for Victoria (Rabat) the capital of Gozo:

Citadella, Victoria (Rabat) Gozo, Republic os Malta. Author: Radoneme, Wikimedia Commons
Citadella, Victoria (Rabat) Gozo, Republic os Malta. Author: Radoneme, Wikimedia Commons

The city’s original name was Rabat, but on Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, the British government changed it to Victoria. Many Gozitans, however, still call it Rabat, so both names stick together.  The city is located in the cente of Gozo.

At the city’s centre is the Citadel or Citadella (pronounced Chitadella) which has its roots in the late medieval times.  But the hill on which Citadella stands has been used since Neolithic times as a sanctuary from attack by Barbary pirates and Saracens.

Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted – mayor’s orders! – to enter the Citadella, as building work was going on. (Don’t ask – we didn’t understand that either!) I don’t think we would have had time, anyway, as the tour guide rushed us back to the coach as soon as we’d had our meal of the day at almost 5 pm. We did manage five minutes inside the Basilica of St. George before we had to rush off.  The other photos were quick snaps as we walked.

There were several plaques and other reminders of St. George along our route. And the door with the key sitting in it was interesting! It seems that burglary is so rare on Gozo that people think nothing of leaving doors unlocked all night, or even leaving the key in the lock for late arrivals.

We eventually got back to the ferry port, where we saw this interesting looking wooden sculpture. I’ve no idea what it’s about, but here’s the photo anyway:


Then it was onto the ferry and back to Malta.

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



Malta: A Slice Through History

The Maltese Falcon set against the Maltese Cross

The Maltese archipelago – a group of several islands, the largest of which are Malta, Gozo and Comino – lies in the Mediterranean Sea, as far south as to be on the same latitudes as Tunisia in North Africa.  It enjoys an enviable climate of hot, dry summers and mild, wetter winters. To anyone from more northerly latitudes, like my fellow Brits, the French and the Germans, the island has a magnetic attraction, summer and winter alike. It also attracts visitors from across the globe, many of whom come to visit the wonderful historic sites.

The three main islands of the Maltese archipelago

The history of Malta dates back to the very dawn of civilisation, covering some 7000 years and so many different cultural periods – from the earliest appearance of Neolithic man, through the Bronze Age and the Phoenician and the Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman periods. All made their mark on Malta.

From the Roman occupation to the present time, the island underwent such changes as nation after nation fought for supremacy of its soils. As the very earliest settlers and invaders, these newer peoples came from the sea. The strategic position of the Maltese islands – at the crossroads of shipping routes across the Mediterranean Sea – made the islands highly desirable to warmongering nations wanting control of the seas.

The earliest known inhabitants on Malta (Neolithic times) arrived around 5,200 BC, likely after a perilous journey from Sicily on their primitive sea craft. They were a farming community, who brought bags of seed and flint and their tools with them.

Ruins and relics of the Temple Period on Malta, give insight into the associated rites and rituals (animal, but not human sacrifice), skills and crafts of the stoneworkers and so on of the culture. Those at Tarxien and Hagar Qim, date from 4,100-3000 are particularly well known. Here are some of the incredible designs on display at the Tarxien Temples site and the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. The spiral patterns are a particular feature of all the temples, as are the female figurines.

In  AD 60, St. Paul the apostle was shipwrecked on the north-east coast of the island (in a bay now aptly called St. Paul’s Bay, where Bugibba stands on the map above). Here there are catacombs to visit, in which the early Christians held their services. Paul’s time on the island had long-lasting effects on the religion of the Maltese people, and there is much to be learned about his stay around Malta.

The Roman occupation of the island is interesting, although the museums tend to dwell a lot on their extreme cruelty to the native people.

Torture and pain administered by the Romans consisted mostly of flogging, hanging, beheading or crucifying. St, Agatha, who is reputed to have lived in the catacombs, was punished by having her breasts cut off.

Unfortunately, on Malta there is little left to show of Roman times, other than at one particular site and museum in Rabat. Again, here are a few photos we took of the remains of a villa and ruins of smaller dwellings and other buildings around it.

There is much in evidence of the Middle Ages on Malta in the architecture (although a great deal of all periods was destroyed in World War 11, and what we see is rebuilt / repaired structures). The Medieval Times museum in Mdina givess us with an excellent glimpse at the period.

Perhaps the best known period on Malta is that of the Knights of St. John. In both Valletta, Malta’s  capital city, and in Mdina, the older capital set inland, there are museums devoted to this vivid Maltese period. Here are a few photos of Mdina:

The coming of the Knights of St. John to Malta after they had been driven out of Sicily by Suleiman is ingrained into the Maltese culture. The name of Valletta itself is derived from the name of the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de la Valette. The fortress grew up on the rock of the Mount Sceberras peninsula, which rises steeply from between two deep harbours.

Statue of Jean Parisot de la Valette in Valletta

Some of the presentations of events at this period are extremely impressive, with moving seats, water sprays and so on. The Great Siege of 1565 by the Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent really comes alive in these presentations and displays. One of the best collections of artefacts can be seen in the former Palace of the Grand Masters in Valletta. Here are a few of the exhibits:

St. John’s Co.Cathedral, also in Valletta, another place full of information about the Grand Masters. It is a particularly beautiful, awe-inspiring building. Here are just two of the many photos we took at these two sites:

The walls and ceilings of the cathedral are covered in paintings by two particularly well-known artists. One is  Mattia Preti, who spent much of his adult like devoted to ornamenting the cathedral. Preti began his career as an apprentice under Michelangelo Mensi da la Caravaggio, whose most admired work in the cathedral is The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. See here for a link the painting. Caravaggio  led a tumultuous life and is known widely for his brawling, and the killing of a young man in 1606, sudden death at the age of 35.

 In 1798 the island was seized from the rule of the Knights of St. John by the Napoleon,  who was ousted by the British in 1800. British rule continued until Maltese independence on September 21 1964.

The people of Malta’s heroic efforts during World War 11 earned them the George Cross in 1942 – the greatest award for gallantry that can be awarded to civilians. Today a monument stands in Valletta to commemorate this:

Who  can fail to admire the Maltese spirit and enterprise? There is still much building work going on everywhere as the people strive to make their island an even more desirable place to live – and to visit. Their long and colourful history is amazing.

Old bus in Sliema showing the old name of Malta from Roman times
Me – enjoying the gardens in the Maltese sunshine