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Mythic isles

Megaliths, medieval dungeons and Calypso’s Cave – The Maltese Islands are positively mythic. The narrow meandering streets of their towns and villages are crowded with Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque palaces. As the countryside is dotted with the oldest known human structures in the world, the Islands have rightly been described as an open-air museum.

The population
The Maltese archipelago lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean, with Malta 93km south of Sicily and 288km north of Africa. The archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino with a total population of 400,000 inhabitants over an area of 316sq km and a coastline of 196.8km (not including 56.01 km for the island of Gozo).
Malta is the largest island and the cultural, commercial and administrative centre. Gozo is the second largest island and is more rural, characterised by fishing, tourism, crafts and agriculture while Comino is largely uninhabited.

7,000 years of history
With superbly sunny weather, expansive beaches, a thriving nightlife and 7,000 years of intriguing history, there is a great deal to see and do. With a little help from any guidebook, captivating places of interest are immediately identified – the world famous Hypogeum in Malta and Ġgantija Temples in Gozo,selected as a place of World Heritage by UNESCO, and grand palaces are but a few. The long relationship between the Islanders and the various nationalities that occupied Malta over the centuries has created a marriage of styles and traditions, giving the Islands a fascinating eclectic culture.

Gozo, the sister island
Gozo, the sister island home to approximately 30,000 inhabitants, is known to provide a tranquil haven for a tempo and scene change. Its charm is immediately apparent; it’s greener, more rural and smaller, with life’s rhythms dictated by the seasons, fishing and agriculture. Exuding a relaxed pace of life, Gozo is the ideal secluded safe haven and at just 25 minutes or so by ferry from Malta, the hop can easily be made for even the shortest stay.

The isle of Calypso
Steeped in myth, separated by 5km of water from the main isle of Malta, Gozo is thought to be the legendary Calypso’s isle of Homer’s Odyssey – a peaceful, mystical backwater. Baroque churches and old stone farmhouses dot the countryside. Gozo’s rugged landscape and spectacular coastline await exploration with some of the Mediterranean’s best dive sites.

An island shaped by its history
The Island also comes complete with historical sites, forts and amazing panoramas, as well as one of the archipelago’s best-preserved prehistoric temples, Ġgantija, that hold the world record of the oldest free-standing structures to date.
Throughout the Middle Ages and into the rule of the Knights, Barbary corsairs and Saracens raided the island at intervals.  In 1551, the Saracens carried out a devastating raid, taking almost the entire population away into slavery. The Island never really recovered from this and remained under-populated for centuries until the arrival of the Knights saw the medieval Citadel (in Victoria, or Rabat) refortified and the Gozitans began to venture down to the rest of the Island.

Gozo & the Gozitans
Gozo and its inhabitants have their own distinct character and identity, with noticeably different lifestyles, accents and dialect. Gozitans are known for their friendliness and welcome to visitors, going out of their way to indicate a direction or help a visitor find their destination.

Of festas and celebrations
Festas and carnival times in Gozo also have a different feel to those on Malta. Every summer weekend is marked with a feast in honour of the village patron saint. A typical Gozitan festa is the fusion of marching wind-bands, revelry, neo-baroque street decorations, street horse-races, devoted processions, solemn liturgies and of course, grand aerial fireworks displays. Santa Marija on the 15th August is the finest example of a festa in which all Gozitan folk take part and share the pride.

The village core – the essence of Gozitan life
The real beauty of Gozo, apart from its stunning seascape and interior, lies in the villages.  Here, it seems as if time really does stand still. The locals treasure their peace and the villages are tranquil, proving to be a wonderful respite from the trials and tribulations of everyday life for visitors.
Village bars open early in order to cater for the early risers who attend the first mass of the morning and close fairly late at night, catering for the socialising needs of locals and visitors. These watering holes have stayed unchanged for decades, the only sign of time passing by being the food and drink displayed for sale on the solid shelves and the Edwardian glass cases. All roads in Gozo lead to Victoria, also known as Rabat, which is where the fortified citadel sits atop a summit.

Victoria, the capital city
Victoria is not just the geographic heart of Gozo, but also the centre of everyday activity. It manages to combine the bustle of its market and shops with a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. It is a great place to watch the Islanders go about their day, especially when the main market square, It-Tokk, comes to life. The town also has a thriving cultural life all its own, with some surprising attractions ranging from opera to horse races in the main street on festa day.
There is no fear in walking about at night. The sense of safety and security is tangible as the locals take pride in the absolute absence of muggings and the almost non-existence of theft.


altra informazione: the maltese islands | the island of gozo