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Report 2011: Gozo, Calypso’s Isle

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 5 of 26: Victoria - Impressions of the Citadel

photo by MAW

The Citadel

Rabat, renamed Victoria in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, is the main town on Gozo. In Arabic, Rabat means ‘suburb’ and is still used to describe the area around the citadel.

Ta’Cenc hotel runs a courtesy bus to Victoria which drops off by the fountain in St Francis Square, a short walk from the Citadel. Failing that there is an hourly bus from Sannat.

We headed to the Citadel first, past the small market area in It-Tokk, Independence Square, where there are a few market stalls selling fruit and vegetables and others selling fashions including a good range of T-shirts.

The Citadel is the original fortified town surrounded by big ramparts which can be seen from all over the island. It is a steep climb from Independence Square up the steps of It-Telgha tal-Bel. The limestone is worn and can be slippery in wet weather. Entry is usually through the large modern gate, cut in 1956, which is big enough to allow the fiesta statue to be carried through it. The older and smaller gateway is beside it.

The Citadel is on a natural defensive site on a hill in the middle of Gozo. It has been occupied since the Bronze age from about 1500BC. It was expanded by the Phoenicians and later by the Romans when it became the administrative, military and religious focal point of the island, with a temple dedicated to the goddess Juno where the present Cathedral now stands. By mid 13thC it could accommodate the entire population of Gozo overnight and by law all Gozitans had to spend the night within the city walls as there was constant threat of Turkish invasion. The northern walls were built early in 15thC during a period of Spanish rule. The southern side was added during the time of the Knights between 1599-1603 after the area had been besieged by Turkish raids in 1551.

After the arrival of the Knights of St John, this threat receded and people drifted back to countryside. Many of the abandoned houses were ruined by a huge earthquake in 1693 and have not been rebuilt. Today the Citadel walls surround the Cathedral and the few buildings not damaged by the earthquake. The ruins of the other houses are gradually becoming overgrown by vegetation. The original street plan can still be followed with narrow paved streets surrounded by walls with tight corners, a ploy designed to slow down any invading forces.

There is a good walk around the ramparts which gives excellent views of all of Gozo. In May 2012 there was no access to the section of rampart between St Michael Bastion to St John’s Demi-bastion as major restoration work was taking place. We climbed up the steps by the Old Prison and walked round the ramparts to the site of the old silos. The different settlements with their churches could be identified. It also made us realize how built up the area is between Xaghra, Nadur and Xewkija. We could see Zebbug, a long ribbon development on top of a hill with Ta'Gurdan lighthouse standing on an isolated hill. The west is more agricultural, lots of small fields with some terracing. We were surprised by how many flat topped hills there were around.

There is a small cafe on the walls near the Old Prison which serves a selection of cheap snacks, sandwiches and drinks. Just down from the Cathedral Museum is Ta’Rikardu, a small restaurant which is supposed to serve the best traditional lunch on Gozo. We didn’t go in but the smells were certainly appetizing.

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