Written by Juan Dingli
In case you were wondering, I have certainly not forgotten about Malta’s sexier sister that goes by the name of Gozo. Known as Ghawdex locally (Aw- Desh), Gozo is the second biggest island forming part of the Maltese archipelago. Having seen every nook and cranny that these islands have to offer, I have to say that Gozo is my favorite island out of the three. Saying that, I love Malta and Comino to bits but Gozo always has that special place in my heart. It might be the novel ferry crossing, symbolically leaving all your worries and problems behind or the fact that all the towns in Gozo are separated by lots of greenery and luscious countryside. In fact, Gozo is home to many retired expats, who wouldn’t want to retire in a peaceful little piece of heaven? Below I’ll be speaking about the capital city of Gozo, Victoria. This capital city is more commonly known as Rabat by the locals but try not to confuse Rabat, Gozo with Rabat, Malta.
Victoria is located exactly in the center of Gozo and is home to around 7,000 residents, some of which are foreign. This 2.9km2 city is divided into various zones, diverging mainly from the main road which almost cuts across all the town. Also forming part of Victoria is the Citadel or Citadella (Chit-A-della) as it is known in Maltese. Driving towards Victoria, one cannot miss the sight of the imposing Citadella, perched high on a hill in the heart of Victoria itself. Citadella is a fully fortified town which is still standing from the time of the Knights of St John. Towering over Gozo, this highly strategic fortified city has to be the main attraction of Gozo. One never forgets the first time they see this grand 16th century fortress looming over the horizon.
According to extensive research carried out on this hill and the surrounding areas, archeologists found traces of settlements from various civilizations throughout the centuries. This would make sense as the area is quite protected, being high up and far away from the seashore. I personally believe that this hill was also home to many during the Neolithic times. Ancient civilizations tended to reuse the same locations and settlements. The first evidence of the Citadel having a defensive role is during the Bronze Age when the first fortifications were built. By time, the Phoenicians and even the Romans made the Citadel theirs, each leaving their own mark. After a successful invasion of the Citadella during 1551 by the Ottoman forces, the Knights of St John rebuilt some parts of the fort as a deterrent for future attacks. The Citadella today is quite renowned with tourists from all over the world, attracted by its architectural grandeur and the breathtaking views reaching all the way to Malta and beyond. Standing on the bastions looking across the island, one can easily forget the humdrum of the fast paced life back home. Museums worth visiting in the Citadella are the OId Prison, the museums of Natural Science, the museums of Archeology and the museum of Folklore. The 17th Century Baroque cathedral is also worth visiting. Inside, one can find various prestigious pieces of art. The most notable one is an optical illusion located on the ceiling where the dome would normally be. In fact, this cathedral does not have a dome. I won’t give you more details as you have to see this one for yourself, take my word for it. See if you can spot the lizard as well.
Walking back down the steps of the recently refurbished Citadel, you’ll find yourself in the fast paced core of Victoria. This town is the place to be for all Gozitans and tourists, a center of activity and life. People flock to the daily market located next to the conveniently placed bus terminus. A market also takes place daily in Independence Square, known locally as “It-Tokk”, and the surrounding streets. If you do not find what you’re looking for here, head down to the three shopping malls located in the main road of Gozo. Easily competing in size, these malls consist of high end retail outlets, coffee shops, supermarkets and anything one would ever need. The town also has its own nightclub beneath the fortifications of the Citadel for those that are looking for to dance all night. All around the town, one can find various types of restaurants, bars and coffee shops that serve quality traditional food. What I find amusing is that, ninety percent of the Pastizzi shops in Gozo are all located in the same stretch of road, which is only a quarter of a kilometer long. I’m always spoilt for choice.
After a stroll around the town, you’ll start to appreciate the contrasting aspects of this unique village. One second you’re in a busy intersection, the next, you’re in one of the many quiet narrow roads that are hidden deep inside the town. Remember to stop and absorb the atmosphere around you; immerse yourself in your surroundings, an unforgettable moment that always puts a smile on my face is when I get to the quaint St George’s square of Victoria. Sitting outside one of the coffee shops that dot this tiny square, enjoying my cappuccino, a skilled street musician was playing his guitar live, whilst singing famous tunes. Couples and tourists alike were occasionally stopping and dancing to the music, getting lost in the moment. The whole square was alive, it all felt magical. Moments like these remind me of what one would imagine Paris or Rome to be like. It’s a shame most locals don’t appreciate what we have right under our noses. I would have missed this scene if I was busy tapping away at my phone, looking for romantic getaways abroad.
Getting back to exploring Victoria, there is something for everyone in this town. Nature lovers can relax and bask in the sun in the garden of Villa Rundle. This particular garden is split into four sections representing the four seasons, an interesting concept. Kids can run around in the revamped playground next to the bus terminus which also features a mini skate part for the more adventurous types. Theatre fans are in for a treat. The main road of Victoria is home to two major world famous theatres, the Astra theatre and the Aurora theatre. Renowned opera singers and musicians frequently hold shows and operas in these two theatres, always attracting a huge audience. So do book in advance if you intend to see an opera or a show here. Victoria is also the home of the only movie cinema on the whole island. Even though less and less people are going to cinemas, this particular modern cinema is still coping quite well. Victoria has its own secondary school and sports complex. The main hospital of Gozo is also located in Victoria. How convenient.
Victoria is alive and kicking. Be sure to fill your calendar with the annual happenings of this city. There’s always something happening, be it carnival celebrations, Christmas time, a village fair or a Christian feast. A city that can be enjoyed all year long. Why not cuddle up in a cozy coffee shop in winter or have lunch on the bastions at night during a warm summer’s evening? Victoria is like something straight out of a postcard. I’m sure you’ll appreciate this town after a day running around.
P.S: Message me if you find the lizard in the Cathedral.