15 June 2009

Places You've Never Heard Of: Gozo

By Vicki Gaia

Gozo is the 'middle sister' of the trio of Maltese islands in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Italy. It is situated between Malta and the smaller island of Comino. Eight miles long and four miles wide, this magical island is steeped in history older than written time.

My sister and I journeyed to the Maltese islands in search of Neolithic temples. We boarded a 25 minute ferry ride from Malta for a few days of exploration and relaxation on Gozo, and to visit the prehistoric Ggantija temples. At nearly 6.000 years old, the Ggantija temples are the world's oldest free-standing structures, and the world's oldest religious structures, pre-dating the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. What a joy when we discovered we could walk around the ruins free of restrictions. This is slowly changing, but at the time of our visit, there had yet been barriers set up to restrict access. I was in awe of the majestic stones that encircled the temple. The land itself seem to radiate an aura of mystery. Most amazing was we had the place to ourselves!

Gozo means "joy" in Castilian, and its distinctive flavor emits the very feeling of its name. The rural and pastoral landscape gives off a fragrance of relaxation.

But life on the island wasn't always pristine. The natural harbors were exposed to passing raiders, and throughout the Middle Ages, Barbary corsairs and Saracens raided the island. In 1551, it almost didn't survive the devastating raid of the Saracens, the raiders taking almost the entire population away and into slavery. Not until the knights arrived and refortified their citadel in Victoria (Rabat) did the island start to recover.

We stayed in the fishing village of Xlendi, a popular resort for divers and swimmers. Enjoying the beach and natural coves, after a long day of sightseeing, it was wonderful to relax by the water, walk the cove, and watch the sunset over the stunning seascape. I could visualize the knights of old, holding their flaming torches as they patrolled the shores for unsavory raiders.