Discovering Gozo; Ancient Temples to Inland Seas

Colleen on the cliffs above the Inland Sea

Back to Gozo

What a busy day we had exploring Gozo.  This was our second visit to the island and we still ran out of time; it’s a shame we don’t have a few more days as there is still lots to explore and lots of trails that could be walked!

Unfortunately for us our apartment is at the opposite end of Malta for the Gozo ferry, but we were resolved to be on the road before 9 o clock to try and beat the worst of the Valletta traffic.  And we planned a route that might have been a little longer but took us away from the worst traffic areas.  It was a good plan and we arrived on Gozo before 10:30. 

Ġgantija Temples

Our first stop was the Megalithic Temple at Ġgantija. This site isn’t as famous or as grand as other old structures, indeed I’d never heard of it and read about it last week in a blog BUT this little known site is actually home to the oldest free-standing structure in the world.  Dating  from 3600 BC this temple is older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids!  There are several pre-historic temples and settlements on the Maltese islands, seven are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but we only have time for this site.    

It’s not understood why, but the site was uninhabited around 2500 BC, the reason isn’t clear but over time Ggantija was lost and it wasn’t until the 1800s that it came to the attention of archaeologists and little by little the site was uncovered.  Sadly over the last two hundred years the site has deteriorated a lot, party due to looting and vandalism and party through exposure to the elements.   Now listed as a World Heritage site it is hoped that the site will be preserved for future generations to see.

The name Ġgantija derives from the word ‘ġgant’, Maltese for giant, as locals once believed the temples were built by a race of giants, mainly down to the size of the limestone blocks which form the structure, some of which are more than five metres in length and weigh over fifty tons.

We visited the museum, which has displays of pottery and tools and jewellery and statues, found at the site.  They show that the people who lived here were cultured and advanced and there were displays portraying what archaeologists imagine life would be like. Within the temples, plaster fragments painted with red ochre have been found, suggesting that the stone walls were plastered and painted.  We had to keep reminding ourselves that this was built more than 5,500 years ago!

Ramla; Wonderfully Undeveloped

After exploring the temple it was time to move on; we drove to what would have been the settlements local beach of Ramala.  We’re beginning to have a huge mistrust of Google Maps as we end up driving through the narrowest of village streets and today down a track that felt like it was about to fall into the sea!  Thankfully we arrived in one piece and our first stop was for our picnic lunch.  After lunch we took a stroll around this beautiful bay.  I was expecting it to be more developed, but actually it’s quite wild and natural and lovely. I wish we had longer as there were walking trails around the hills which looked amazing!  Instead we walked from one end of the bay to the other, walking close to the waters edge and dodging the jelly fish.  Sadly we also had to dodge a great deal of plastic that had been washed up on to the beach too.

Today must have been our lucky day because as we walked along the beach I found a 100 euro note!  We did have a good look around to see if we could find the owner but we were alone and so Gerry decided it was a gift from the gods!

In summer this beach is busy with locals and tourists.  There are no hotels and just one or two seasonal cafés but the beach is safe and ideal for swimming.  Locals also say that there was a Roman Villa overlooking the bay, richly decorated with marble and stucco and boasting its own hot bath supplied with fresh water from a nearby natural spring.  During the time of the Knights of St. John, the beach was fortified to defend Gozo from foreign threats, and on the cliffs behind the beach you can find Calypso’s Cave (the mythological nymph from Homer’s Odyssey).

It was time to move on so sadly we bade farewell to Ramla and headed inland to a site of pilgrimage on Gozo, stopping off first at Gozo’s Salt Pans

Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu

The origins of the Shrine of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu aren’t clear.  There are records that state it had recently been rebuilt and that it belonged to the noble family. In 1575 a representative of Pope Gregory XII found the chapel in a bad state.  The church was to be closed and demolished but legend says the workmen who tried to start the work broke his arm, which was seen as a bad omen and the chapel was saved. On the 22nd June 1883, Karmela Grima a forty-five year-old local woman was passing the chapel on her way home. “Come, come”, she heard a woman’s voice say. She was fearful and started to run but the voice called again and Karmela realised it was coming from the image of the Blessed Virgin inside the chapel.  The Bishop was informed after investigation he concluded that the voice was of heavenly origins. Devotion to Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu grew rapidly, and numerous pilgrimages flocked to the chapel.

In 1920 it was decided to build a sanctuary to accommodate the pilgrims and a new church in Romanesque Style which was opened in 1932.  Like the new church we visited a few days ago, this church is indeed very grand, although simply decorated inside.  Off the alter, there is a small room where the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with letters and prayers and belongings that pilgrims have sent expressing how, after praying the Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu they were cured or healed.  We slowly moved along the room, reading the notes and prayers and photos and keepsakes that people had left. 

The Inland Sea

We had time for one more visit.  We choose the Inland Sea; a small enclosed bay at Dwejra Point that is connected to the open sea through a large tunnel (Jacques Cousteau said the Inland Sea was among his top ten dives)  We stopped first for a drink in a little café before heading down to the see the inland bay and the open sea.  There are so many hikes around here, I really wished we had longer to go and explore but instead we decided to hike up to the ridge above the inland bay. 

We as climbed we could see fossils and shells appearing in the sandstone rock.  These cliffs are perhaps 150m above the sea but the tops were once underwater and the shells we found were testament to this.  We climbed up to the ridge.  It was such a beautiful clear day and we could see for miles.  We walked along the ridge for a while but the sun was dropping in the sky and we knew we had to turn around and go back.  It was time to head back to the Ferry port and head back to our little apartment.

We managed to drive around most of Gozo but really only scratched the surface of places to visit, we could have happily spent a few more days exploring and trying some of the hikes the island has to offer!  Oh well… next time!

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