Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Life Tales: Six Stunning Sights in Gozo

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Our Life Tales: Six Stunning Sights in Gozo

view from our plane as we were landing
Gozo's Mgarr Harbor 
On our last day in Malta, we finally succeeded in getting up early. Still, we gave up on our visit to the Hypogeum and instead went to Gozo, the second-largest island in the Maltese archipelago. Gozo has a population of around 37,000 on 26 square miles, approximately the same area as New York City's Manhattan Island. We chose to tour the island since it has been the site of many film productions, including the recent film entitled By the Sea, starring Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt.

A tourist bus picked us up at the Hotel Intercontinental Beach Club. That ride gave us many photo opportunities of the Maltese countryside in the subtle lights of early morning. Then at Ċirkewwa on the northwest coast of Malta, we boarded a ferry. In just 25-minutes we crossed the Gozo Channel and, at the Mġarr Harbor, we took one of the 'Hop-On Hop-Off' buses to six stunning discoveries on the island! We did not know that another way we could have done it was by hiring a cab! Darn. 

Ggantija Temple 
Our first stop was the Ġgantija temple complex, the earliest of a series of megalithic temples in Malta, erected during the Neolithic Age, 3600–2500 BC. Older than the pyramids of Giza or even prehistoric Stone Henge, these temples are more than 5500 years old. It is the world's second oldest man-made religious structure, after Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. Together with the temples we visited in Malta, they are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Seven Megalithic Temples of Malta.

inside the temple
The temples are believed to be the site of a fertility cult. Numerous figurines and statues found on the site are connected with that cult. According to local Gozitan folklore, a giantess who ate nothing but broad beans and honey (what Malta means) bore a child from a man of the ordinary people. With the child hanging from her shoulder, she built these temples, using them as places of worship.

Azure Window
Our picture-taking mode became more frenzied when we got to Azure Window, at 92 feet a stunning stone arch that was formed millions of years ago when two limestone sea caves collapsed.  Maltese limestone, the second oldest rock found on the islands covering almost 70% of its area, is subject to erosion and gives Malta its distinctive coast and interior. The waters around the arch are suitable for swimming, scuba diving, and boating and make Malta a popular diving destination.

watch tower
In April 2012, a large piece of rock fell, enlarging the window. The rate of disintegration suggests that the arch will ultimately fall apart within a few years. It has been featured in films such as Clash of the Titans and The Count of Monte Cristo and TV series like The Odyssey and Game of Thrones. The latter resulted in controversy when the ecosystem was also damaged by a subcontractor. Many warning notices are along the cliffs to stop people walking over the top of the arch. But they still do!


And we finally came close to the ubiquitous watchtower at the site of Azure Window. Malta has often been called the ‘Fortress Island’ due to the vast numbers of military structures, a direct result of the islands being frequently fought over due to their strategic location. The fortifications come from two periods: those of the Knights and those of the British era. Wherever you go in Malta, you will find remnants of war, from coastal forts and watch towers to WWII pillboxes.


Fungus Rock
As our tour bus was leaving Azure Window, I spotted a curious rock formation (sorry the picture is not that good; the bus was moving). Later, I found out that Fungus Rock is a massive lump of limestone, 196 feet high. The Malta Fungus, a kind of parasitic flowering plant (not a fungus( with an offensive smell, grows on the rock's flat top. Doctors at the time of the Knights believed that it had medicinal properties, so they used it widely for wounds and dysentery.  Pharmacologists are still studying the plant's  medical effects today.

Ta' Pinu Basilica

some of the testimonials
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta' Pinu is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and national shrine. It is located on the edge of a cliff in an open countryside with beautiful views of the area. In 1575, the apostolic visitor Pietro Duzina was delegated by Pope Gregory XII to visit the Maltese Islands. Finding many churches in an appalling state, he ordered their demolition. When demolition began on Ta’Pinu, a workman broke his arm while striking the first blow. This incident was considered an omen and the chapel is the only one that survived the Duzina decree. Today, thousands of testimonials to the miracles that have happened in the church adorn the Shrine.

Ramla Bay
Our last stop was Ramla Bay, known for its golden-reddish sand. The Bay is situated at the bottom of a fertile valley. On the beach is a statue of the Virgin Mary perched on a white plinth, her arms welcoming seafarers. The area surrounding the beach is filled with sights of historical importance such as the ruins of a Roman villa buried in the sand and the remains of a fortification, the Marsalforn Tower. 

Surrounded by hillsides on both sides, the sandy path on the eastern hill leads to the Calypso Cave. According to the legend, this is the cave Homer refers to in `The Odyssey' where Calypso, the beautiful nymph, kept Odysseus as a `prisoner of love' for seven years. Calypso had promised him immortality if he stayed with her, but he escaped when he could, and returned to his wife, Penelope.

nice scene at dusk
What a day we had in these six sites of prehistoric times and chivalrous ages. The ferry and bus trips back to Malta and our hotel gave us even more photo-taking opportunities in the most neutral lights of dusk. True we had to wake up early but, hey, it was not wasted! And the Hypogeum we can visit in our next trip to Malta.  

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