Gozo, Paradise for History and Culture Lovers
Malta's sister island Gozo is a great day trip; indeed, many Maltese come here to relax. It's less densely populated and has a tranquil atmosphere. At 9.5 miles long by four wide, it's easy to navigate its main attractions in a full day. Gozo is the second largest of the 21 islands that make up the Maltese archipelago. Its attractions include a megalithic temple older than the pyramids; a Medieval fortress; ancient salt pans; and a golden beach watched over by a mythological sea goddess!
Ferries leave Malta every 45 minutes from Cirkewwa and the ride is an easy 25 minutes, costing €4.65 per person and €15.70 for a car and its driver. The ferry arrives into Mgarr, on the southeast coast of Gozo.
Where to Stay in Gozo
Here are some highly-rated hotels that cater to all budgets.
Ta’ Cenc Plateau
After leaving the ferry, head east along the coast to make a stop just 4.5 miles from Mgarr harbor. If you drive in the direction of the Ta Cenc Hotel in the village of Sannat, you'll notice handmade signs pointing the way to dolmens. Following these, you'll arrive on the Ta Cenc plateau, where you can find three Bronze Age dolmens that mark the location of ancient tombs.
Beyond these ancient artefacts is a terrific view of Gozo's oldest village of Ix-Xewkija, which boasts the massive rotunda of St. John the Baptist church. Also on the plateau is an intriguing archaeological puzzle, parallel ruts deeply grooved into the limestone. These "cart ruts" are up to two feet deep in some places. They seem very clearly to be the tracks of something immensely heavy that was transported across the surface here. In fact, British scientists deduced the not terribly romantic mystery behind the creation of the tracks: after a heavy rain, the rock becomes so soft that it would dramatically erode after a single passage.
A twenty-minute drive northeast from Ta' Cenc is the "Inland Sea", a saltwater lagoon that is fed via an underwater channel to the Mediterranean. The small body of water is more aptly called a lake or even a pond but it is well worth visiting. The pool is surrounded by steep cliffs with a spectacular natural archway of a 350-foot cave that leads out to the open sea. Small boats offer rides through this tunnel to view Fungus Rock. This a 60-foot tall formation that is home to a parasitic plant that is claimed to heal almost all ills known to man.
The Knights of Malta so treasured the medicinal properties of the fungus that they decreed unauthorized visits to this sea stack punishable by three years of hard labor as an oarsman in the galley of a ship. The Inland Sea spot is popular among snorkelers and divers who use it as a launching pad for exploring beyond the cave; Jacque Cousteau is said to have considered it a favorite!
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From the Inland Sea, make your way to the Ġgantija megalithic temple complex, located roughly in the island's center. According to legend, a giantess who lived on a diet of beans and honey gave birth to a child fathered by a local man. While carrying the child on her back, she built the temples. The site is from the Neolithic era and more than 5500 years old, making it the second oldest religious structure in the world. It's worth pondering that the weight of these megaliths is in the tons. They were transported to their current location before the invention of the wheel. Not surprisingly, Ġgantija is yet another Maltese UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Opening hours: October hours are currently 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. Check back later for other opening times!
Admission fees: €8.00 for adults, €6.00 for youths(12-17 years old), senior citizens (60+), concessions, and students. €4.00 for children (6-11), with children 5 and under receive free entry.
Citadel in Gozo
Just ten minutes from Ġgantija is Gozo's Cittadella, located on a hill in the island's center, the better to see any advancing aggressors. Originally a Roman acropolis, the site was converted into a castle in the Middle Ages. The sight of the fortress as you approach is dramatic and quite impressive yet the site's defensive walls didn't stop an Ottoman army that sacked the city in 1551. In 1600, the Knights of St. John turned their attention from the construction of Valletta to reconstruct the Cittadella after its demolition by the Turks. Today, the city is largely a historic fortress; the southern section is well-preserved but the northern area is mostly in ruins. The population once numbered about 5,000 but now there are just a handful of residents.
A must-see is the Cathedral of the Assumption, said to have been originally built on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Juno. There are several other churches and chapels, as well four museums that include the Old Prison; the Gozo Nature Museum, housed in 17th-century buildings; the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, also in a 17th-century building; and the Gran Castello Historic House, with exhibits on Gozo's folklore displayed in 15th-century dwellings.
Admission fees: €5.00 for adults, €3.50 for seniors and students, and €2.50 for children. This gives access to the Gozo Museum of Archeology, the Gran Castello Historic House, the Gozo Nature Museum, the Old Prison, and the Citadel Visitor Center
Gozo Salt Pans
For a glimpse into a Gozitan tradition and an example of man and nature in harmony in a unique cultural landscape, visit the Xwejni salt pans. Outside Marsalforn, a small resort town on Gozo's northern coast, there are about 300 salt pans that span two acres. Eight families maintain the pans, created generations ago by their ancestors. Harvesting the salt is both a commercial enterprise and a labor of love. The pans have a surreal beauty as the sky and light are reflected in the squares of water.
Click for more on Gozo's salt harvesting tradition!
Ramla Beach in Gozo
Head east from the salt pans past the small resort town of Marsalforn to Ramla Bay, about a three-mile drive. The beach here is distinctive physically and historically. Set in a valley of green terraced farmland, the sand of this 1300 feet stretch of waterfront is a reddish color, unique in the archipelago. The Maltese name Ir-Ramla l-Ħamra means "red sandy beach".
A large votive statue of the Virgin Mary known as "Our Lady of Hope" overlooks the bay. The monument was made in 1881 by a local resident John Gauci, who was the last remaining member of the Polizia Marinara. These officers used to guard Belancourt Battery, which are fortifications built by the Knights of St John to guard the bay from pirates and intruders.
High above the beach is Calypso's Cave. Tradition says that this is where Homer's Ulysses was shipwrecked and held under the spell of the nymph Calypso for seven years. And below Ramla's red sands are the remains of a 19-room Roman villa discovered by farmers in 1910. Archaeologists excavated the site, uncovering marble artifacts now at the National Museum in Valletta. The historic ruins were then re-buried to remain protected under the tides.
Ramla Beach is a serene place to relax and catch some sun. There are bathrooms located at the site and vendors selling snacks and beach chairs.
I know you'll enjoy your time travel on this idyllic isle in the Mediterranean. Pay it forward and share your impressions of Gozo in the comments below!
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