Gozo, Malta

Mediterranean Days of Utter Joy

The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole, a natural lagoon on the northwest coast of the island of Gozo.
Rural Enjoyment
Summer-parched smallholdings around Gharb.
Old shady cabin
Citadel, Victoria, Gozo Island, Malta
Victorious House
Victoria limestone houses, Gozo island, Malta
The Square of Gharb
Central square in Gharb, one of the towns with traditional architecture in Gozo.
military decoration
Facade detail with warlike inspiration from Gozo.
ramla bay
Low tide in a cove next to Ramla, in the north of Gozo.
blessed mediterranean
Bathers cool off in the crystalline sea of ​​the Comino lagoon.
Saint George's Cathedral
Facade of the Cathedral of Saint George more illuminated than the rest of the houses of the citadel of Victoria.
From day to night
The first lights come on in the citadel of Victoria
The island of Gozo is a third the size of Malta but only thirty of the small nation's three hundred thousand inhabitants. In duo with Comino's beach recreation, it houses a more down-to-earth and serene version of the always peculiar Maltese life.

Things are as they are. They dictated that, even being late for the departure of the ferry, we should deviate from the main road for a second look at the Maltese village of Popeye, on the other side of the bay of Il-Prajjet.

We were masters and lords of a childhood marked by the prodigious sailor, fed on spinach. It was still hard for us to believe the prominence and the surreal cartoon buildings that Malta dedicated to it there, perched on a tight slab, between a limestone cliff and a translucent, emerald-green entrance to the Mediterranean.

For some time, we contemplated the village, half lost between fantasy and disbelief. We do it as long as the Ic-Cirkewwa terminal departure schedule allows us.

About nine in the morning we boarded the ship bound for Mgarr, on the south coast of Gozo.

Landing in Gozo, Entrance to Casa San Giuseppe, Times of Jacques-Francois de Chambray

Channel navigation proves to be as smooth as it is brief. It allows us the first glimpse of the intermediate islet of Comino to which we were planning to return.

We disembarked at Mgarr. A slope takes us to a higher plane of the island. Shortly afterwards, we found the place where we were going to settle. Until then, we only had the name of the person responsible: Joseph. When we came across the building, we noticed that the entrance portico identified it as Casa San Giuseppe and that, raised in the background, a small bell tower stood out.

Joseph Portelli, the host, opens the door for us. He leads us into a main hall. Along the way, we realized that we were entering a small monastery or seminary converted into an inn.

With the most religious prices per night on the island, it attracted successive visitors like us, with finances always thanking each and every charity.

Joseph explains to us that that monastic complex became the home of Jacques-Francois de Chambray, ambassador and bailiff of the Order of Hospitallers, frequenter of the Court of Lisbon.

Gharb, island of Gozo, Malta

Facade detail with warlike inspiration from Gozo.

In 1749, the Portuguese Manoel Pinto da Fonseca, at the time, the Grand Master of the Hospitallers, appointed Chambray Governor of Gozo.

From then on, under the weight of such responsibility, the Frenchman dedicated the rest of his life to the island.

The Shaky But Resilient Past of the Island of Gozo

The islands of Malta were then frequently attacked by pirates and Muslim enemies to the south, always on the lookout for the best times to conquer or just plunder.

Chambray devoted himself body and soul to the construction of a fort that would protect the landing point and natural entry point of Gozo, the cove of Mgarr where we had set foot for the first time.

We hadn't yet reopened our bags or even left the south coast, Gozo was already foisting its intense history on us. Delighted, as we've always been in Malta's older sister, we hurried to adjust to the room and set out on a road tour of the island.

The Blue Hole, Beneath Gozo's Wistful Dwejra Window

With the sun rising to its zenith, hot, wanting to feel some freshness in our skin and soul, we head north. We cross Gozo to the rugged coastline, made famous by the Janela Azul, or Janela Dwejra, a rocky arch that, almost a hundred feet high, framed the blue of the Mediterranean and the sky above.

Photogenic as it was, the arch appeared in several films, notably “Clash of Titans” and the classic “Count of Monte Cristo".

The full notoriety of Janela Azul ended, in tragedy, on March 8, 2017. On that day, the wind and waves stirred up by a storm caused its already feared collapse.

That left us with the attraction that had long been secondary, the Blue Hole of Dwejra, one of the most popular diving spots in all of Malta.

When we identified it, from the top of the same cliff, two or three bathers were sharing it, floating, splashing and living together in pure marine delight. Without warning, they were startled by the bubbling emergence of a group of divers who, for a moment, were forced to make their way.

Blue Hole, Gozo Island, Malta

The Blue Hole, a natural lagoon on the northwest coast of the island of Gozo.

Gradually, even hampered by the paraphernalia that always accompanies them, the divers leave. When we left the view over that natural pool, the Blue Hole was once again surrendered to the lightness and simplicity of bathers' loincloths.

Gozo's Rural and Religious Countryside Blessed by Ta Pinu Church

From the coast of Saint Lawrence, we take the Triq id-Dwejra towards the interior of Gozo.

At the right intersection, we cut to Triq ta' Pinu, the perpendicular that would lead us to the shrine where he was baptized.

The road is lost in a field of parched wheat, from which, here and there, some cacti stand out. puntia, until they are roasted by the sun.

At a certain point, much more prominent than the cacti, the vision of a temple built in limestone is imposing. Semi-sunken on a slope and yellowish in tone, the temple seemed to want to camouflage itself in the plantation.

In addition to not allowing it, its more than 60 meters high Neo-Romanesque forced the church to the blue of the sky, as if to underline its sacred function as a bridge to heaven.

Until 1883, that same church was one of several family shrines serving the Gozitan faith. The story goes that it belonged to the Gentiles.

At the turn of the XNUMXth century, it came into the possession of a procurator named Pinu Gauci, which is why it became known as Ta Pinu (of Filipe). Pinu Gauci invested in the restoration of the church. He provided it with everything it needed for masses and other liturgical services to be held there.

Karnmi Grima and the Gozitan Apparition of Our Lady

Even so, no one promoted the church in the Christian sphere like a peasant woman named Karmni (Carmela) Grima, the Maltese version of the Three Little Shepherds of Cova da Iria, so to speak.

In 1883, Karmni Grima was walking near the church when he heard a voice asking him to recite three Hail Marys. From then on, the Maltese believed that several miraculous events had taken place due to Our Lady of the Assumption to which the church had been dedicated.

In recent times, the Vatican has insisted, in its own way, on consecrating the church. In 1990, he visited it and Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there. Twenty years later, it was Benedict XVI's turn to visit and reward the believers in Gozo.

At the time we passed by, it was, however, closed.

Crop fields, Island of Gozo, Malta

Summer-parched smallholdings around Gharb.

Gharb: One of the Most Gozitan Towns in Gozo

From Triq Ta'Pinu we cut to Triq ta'Sdieri. Along this path, through a vast expanse of small farms already shaved, dotted with rolls of straw, we arrive at gharb.

The name sounded familiar. It translated the village at the western end of Gozo.

If Malta took great care in its Christian exuberance, within its possibilities, Gozo made a point of not being left behind. In Gharb, we are faced with a good example. Gharb was home to just over 1500 Christians and as such remained a village. Even so, its central square seemed to aspire to the grandeur of other large cities.

Of particular note is the Igreja da Visitação, an imposing Baroque temple, with two symmetrical bell towers and the façade facing what is considered one of the most Gozitan architectural complexes on the entire island.

Gharb, island of Gozo, Malta

Central square of Gharb, a village with traditional Gozo architecture.

The square ahead is made up of buildings erected in the late XNUMXth century and a white and red Maltese flag that waves above the entrance to the local police station, perfectly matching the British telephone booth right next door. Once upon a time, a red mailbox completed the set. For operational reasons of the Maltese Post, it has been removed.

We arrived in hot weather. We found the square almost deserted, given over to its history. Not long after, two residents appear, greet each other and chat in the providential shade of the church, supervised by the trio of women-statues representing Faith, Hope and Charity.

Without us being surprised by that, we found that the altar had its Portuguese touch. It has an impressive altarpiece that illustrates The Visitation. António Manoel de Vilhena, the third Portuguese Grand Master of the Order of Malta, attached him to the church and town.

We were converted to Gharb's charm. With the heat increasing, the afternoon called for a new break for bathing enjoyment.

The Providential Bathing Refuge of Ramla

We crossed the island from west to north. A country road that we had not yet traveled leads us to the imminence of Ir-Ramla, the bay of Ramla.

In its immediate vicinity, a complementary cement road, poorly constructed and too steep for the small van we were riding on, ensured the last journey from the top of the cliff to the seaside.

In Gozo, as in Malta in general, more than anywhere else, all the saints help when descending. Okay, ten minutes later, we were treading the saffron sand of Ramla that hides Roman ruins.

Ramla, Gozo, Malta

Low tide in a cove next to Ramla, in the north of Gozo.

On a purely mythological level, the western end of the beach also hides a so-called Calypso cave that the Maltese claim was the home of the nymph Calypso who sheltered Ulysses for seven years, before the hero resumed his Odyssey.

We bathe as much as possible in a seductive Mediterranean but, there, there is no depth for great entertainment. We stretched out in the sun and relaxed from the photo frenzy we were in. When the sunset begins to leave us in the shade, we eat ice cream at one of the kiosks that serve the beach. Once the rest time and the milk reward are over, we melt back to the car and to the heights of Gozo.

As we drove towards Victoria – the island’s capital, Malta’s second city after Valletta even with less than seven thousand inhabitants – the day was coming to an end.

We overtook him in his haste. When we arrived, the last rays of light were already falling on the citadel of Rabat, as the Gozitans also call it.

For good reason, the citadel was located at the heart of the island and at its zenith. More vulnerable than Malta, Gozo suffered well from enemy incursions.

In 1551, in the midst of the expansion of their empire, the Ottomans invaded. Subsequently, all of the approximately six thousand inhabitants of the island were taken to Tripoli and enslaved. This tragedy devastated the rulers of the Order of Malta.

Only almost two hundred years later, the number of settlers was re-established, especially with families recently arrived from Malta. In the meantime, the Order of Hospitallers commissioned a commission of engineers to review the defenses of both islands.

We reached the top of one of these fortifications. We went up to a platform broken up by walls and walls connected by stairs and served by a restaurant that took advantage of the historical eccentricity of the place.

Citadel, Victoria, Gozo Island, Malta

The first lights come on in the citadel of Victoria

From that towering bastion, we can appreciate the slow yellowing of the houses spread out in front of us, around the church of Saint George, which rose a level above the other terraces and stood out twice over due to the bright red of its dome.

Ultimately, the darkness defeats Victoria.

Cathedral of Saint George, Victoria, Island of Gozo, Malta

Facade of the Cathedral of Saint George more illuminated than the rest of the houses of the citadel of Victoria.

We return to the shelter of Casa San Giuseppe.

The next day dawns grey. Committed to recovering the Mediterranean weather, we return to the port of Mgarr and sail to the small neighboring island. As we expected, when the sun rises, it chases away the clouds.

It returns to the Comino lagoon, between the island of Comino and the even smaller Cominoto, the turquoise blue and translucency that made it famous. A few sailboats anchor at its entrance. Vacationer clans settle along the banks.

Comino Lagoon, Malta

Bathers cool off in the crystalline sea of ​​the Comino lagoon.

As we walked along the top of the island, we admired the spread of bathing fun. On the way back, we stopped wanting to resist him.

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