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Report 2011: Gozo, Calypso’s Isle

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 7 of 26: Victoria - Citadel Museums

photo by MAW

Statue of two 'Fat Ladies" from Xhagra Stone Circle

There are four museums in the Citadel. All are covered by the Heritage Malta Pass. We didn’t have time to visit the Natural History Museum.

The Archaeology Museum is in a new building near the Cathedral. It is a fascinating small museum covering the period from prehistoric times to the late medieval period. There is plenty of information in English and Maltese. The ground floor has an introduction to prehistory with information on landscape and farming. There is a lovely small pot shard with five birds etched on it.

Upstairs are several display rooms. The prehistory gallery had finds from Xaghra stone circle including some small carvings of fat ladies. There is a delightful one of two headless sitting figures with one holding a baby. Copies of this are sold in most of the shops. There are also examples of beautifully carved ‘stick’ figures including an animal, bowl and bird. There is a large display room covering Punic and Roman times with stone sarcophagi, cremation urns, oil lamps and pottery. A third room has artifacts from shipwrecks including anchors and clay amphorae. Downstairs in the final room is a medieval display with a painting showing what the citadel looked like in 1530 as well as tombstones, clay lanterns etc.

The Folk Museum is in one of the few buildings to survive the 1695 earthquake. Next to it is the small Chapel Of St Joseph, another survivor. The doors are left open but a metal screen prevents entry. This is a small rectangular building with a fairly plain interior and is a typical example of the early churches. There is a simple altar with a painting of St Joseph above it.

The Folk Museum occupies four houses built about 1500 and is a rabbit warren inside with interconnecting corridors and stairways. The building was more interesting than the collection as several rooms were bare as their contents were removed for restoration. The costumes had been removed for display in an exhibition beginning later in the month. The ground floor has an exhibition on weights and measures, a small well which provided the household with water, a beast driven mill, two hand worked querns and displays of old agricultural machinery. Upstairs there is a hand loom for weaving blankets and a lace making roller where three people could sit and work at the same time. There is a tiny dolls house with furniture carved from stone as well as tiny statues for a Christmas crib.

The Old Prison Museum overlooks Cathedral Square and is next to the Law Courts. It was built in 1548 to hold errant knights (usually for dueling) and locals. They could be held from a few months to ten years. Incarceration was coupled with hard labor. The daily food allowance was bread, pasta, some cheese or salted fish and, occasionally, some olives. Water was supplied by a cistern in the corridor.

The entrance hall functioned as a common cell in 19thC and was used into 20thC. It has a small exhibition about the fortifications of Gozo. In the corridor there are information boards about life in the prison. There is a free standing block of six cells next to the central corridor which still have the original heavy wooden doors with massive iron locks. Inside is a wooden sleeping bench and a tiny window above the door for light.

The most impressive feature is the carved graffiti on the walls. We could see hand prints, complete with finger nails, Maltese cross, floral patterns, boats, some with oars and some with holes for cannons. There were tally lines used to count how long a prisoner had been incarcerated. In other places names and numbers had been carved.

This was a well worthwhile visit.

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