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 cabin almost in the shade
Citadel, Vitoria, Island of Gozo, Malta
Victorious Houses
Victoria Limestone Houses, Island of Gozo, Malta
Gharb Square
Gharb's central square, one of the traditional architecture villages in Gozo.
military decoration
Detail of a facade inspired by Gozo's war.
Bay of Ramla
Empty tide in a cove along the Ramla in northern Gozo.
blessed Mediterranean
Bathers refresh themselves in the crystal-clear sea of ​​the Comino lagoon.
Saint George Cathedral
The facade of the Cathedral of Saint George is more illuminated than the rest of the houses in the Citadel of Victoria.
From day to night
First lights come on in Victoria's Citadel
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. Even though we were late for the ferry's departure, we were told to turn off the main road for a second look over the Maltese village of Popeye, across the bay of Il-Prajjet.

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

For a while, we contemplated the village, half lost between fantasy and disbelief. We do this as long as the departure table at the Ic-Cirkewwa terminal allowed us.

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

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

Channel navigation proves 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 landed at Mgarr. A slope takes us to a higher plane of the island. Shortly thereafter, 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 found that the entrance portico identified it as Casa San Giuseppe and that, elevated in the background, a small bell tower stood out.

Joseph Portelli, the host, opens the door for us. It leads us to a main lobby. On 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 any and all charity.

Joseph explains to us that that complex with a monastic configuration was once the home of Jacques-Francois de Chambray, ambassador and bailiff of the Order of Hospitallers, who attended the Court of Lisbon.

Gharb, Island of Gozo, Malta

Detail of a facade inspired by Gozo's war.

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

Henceforth, 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 entrance to Gozo, the Mgarr cove where we had first set foot on it.

We still hadn't reopened our suitcases or even left the south coast, Gozo was already imposing on us his intense story. Amazed, as we always walked in Malta's older sister, we hurried to adjust to our room and inaugurate a road trip around the island.

The Blue Hole, Below the Longing Dwejra Window of Gozo

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

Photogenic, as it was, the arc has appeared in several movies with highlights to “Clash of the Titans” and the classic “Count of Monte Cristo".

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

That left us with the attraction that had long played a secondary role, 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, it was shared by two or three bathers who floated, splashed around and thus coexisted in pure marine delight. Without warning, they are startled by the bubbling emergence of a group of divers who, for a moment, are forced to make way.

Blue Hole, Gozo Island, Malta

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

Little by little, even hampered by the paraphernalia that always accompanies them, the divers disband. When we left the view over that natural pool, Buraco Azul was once again given over to the lightness and simplicity of bathers' thongs.

The Rural and Religious Field of Gozo, Blessed by the Ta Pinu Church

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

At the right intersection, we cut to Triq ta' Pinu, the perpendicular that would lead us to the sanctuary that had granted her baptism.

The road is lost in a field of parched wheat, from which, here and there, some cactuses stood out puntia, even they roasted by the sun.

At a certain point, much more prominent than the cactuses, the view of a temple built in limestone stands out. Half-sunken on a slope and yellowish in color, 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 sky, as if to underline its sacred function as a bridge to heaven.

Until 1883, that same church was one of several family shrines that served the faith of the Gozitans. The story that belonged to the Gentile goes.

At the turn of the XNUMXth century, it came under the ownership of a procurator named Pinu Gauci, the reason why it became known as Ta Pinu (from Philip). Pinu Gauci invested in the restoration of the church. He endowed it with everything it needed so that masses and other liturgical services could 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 girl named Karmni (Carmela) Grima, the Maltese version of the Three Little Shepherds from the Cova da Iria, let us consider.

In 1883, Karmni Grima was walking in the vicinity of the church when he heard a voice begging him to recite three Marias birds. From then onwards, the Maltese believed that several miraculous events had taken place due to the Lady of Assumpção to which the church had been dedicated.

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

By the time we passed there, it was, however, closed.

Cultivation 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. Down this road, through a vastness of small farms that have already been 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 excelled in its Christian exuberance, within its possibilities, Gozo insisted on not falling behind. In Gharb, we are faced with a good example. Gharb housed little more than 1500 Christians and as such remained a village. Even so, its central square seemed to aspire to the grandeur of other large cities.

The Visitation Church stood out, an imposing Baroque temple, with two symmetrical bell towers and the façade facing what is considered one of the most Gozitan architectural ensembles on the entire island.

Gharb, Island of Gozo, Malta

Gharb's central square, a village with traditional Gozo architecture.

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

We arrive in time of heat. We found the square almost deserted, given over to its history. Soon, two residents appear who 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 being surprised by that, we found out that the altar had a touch of Portugueseness. It has an impressive altarpiece that illustrates The Visitation. He attached him to the church and the village António Manoel de Vilhena, the third Portuguese Grand Master of the Order of Malta.

We were converted to Gharb's charm. With the heat increasing, the afternoon called for another break to enjoy bathing.

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 imminence, a complementary cement road, poorly groomed and too steep for the small SUV we were following, ensured the last route from the top of the cliff to the seafront.

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

Ramla, Gozo, Malta

Empty tide in a cove along the Ramla in northern Gozo.

On a purely mythological level, the western end of the beach still hides such a cave called Calypso, which the Maltese claim to have been the home of the nymph Calypso who welcomed Ulysses for seven years, before the hero resumed his Odyssey.

We bathe as much as possible in a seductive Mediterranean, but there is no depth for great entertainment. We stretched out in the sun and relaxed from the photographic frenzy we were in. When sunset starts to leave us in the shade, we eat ice cream in one of the kiosks that serve the beach. With the time of rest and the milky reward extinguished, let's go back to the car and the heights of Gozo.

As we drive towards Victoria – the island's capital, Malta's second city after the Valletta even if with less than seven thousand inhabitants – the day was drawing to a close.

We passed 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 situated at the heart of the island and at its zenith. More vulnerable than Malta, Gozo suffered well from enemy incursions.

In 1551, in the middle of the expansion phase of their empire, the Ottomans invaded it. As a result, all of the approximately six thousand inhabitants of the island found themselves 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, mainly with families that had just 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 carved by walls and small walls connected by stairs and served by a restaurant that enjoyed the historical eccentricity of the place.

Citadel, Vitoria, Island of Gozo, Malta

First lights come on in Victoria's Citadel

From that overhanging bastion, we can appreciate the slow yellowing of the houses spread out ahead, around the church of Saint George, which rose one level above the other terraces and stood out doubling due to the bright red of its dome.

Finally, darkness defeats Victoria.

Cathedral of Saint George, Vitoria, Island of Gozo, Malta.

The facade of the Cathedral of Saint George is more illuminated than the rest of the houses in the Citadel of Victoria.

We returned to the shelter of Casa San Giuseppe.

The next day dawns gray. Betting on the recovery of 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 even smaller Cominoto, the turquoise blue and translucency that made it famous. A few sailboats anchor at its entrance. Clans of vacationers settle along the banks.

Comino Lagoon, Malta

Bathers refresh themselves in the crystal-clear sea of ​​the Comino lagoon.

We, walking along the top of the island, admire the spread of bathing fun. On the way back, we stopped wanting to resist him.

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