Victoria, Malta Tourist Attractions
The chief place on Gozo is Victoria (pop 6,800), which has a handsome cathedral (1697) built by Lorenzo Gafà. St George's Church has a number of pictures by Mattia Preti (1613-99).The Gozo Museum contains an interesting collection of antiquities found on the island.To celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897 the capital of Gozo, Rabat, changed its name in her honor, although the locals still refer to the town as Rabat.The old quarter here began to take shape more than 350 years ago and is made up of narrow alleys that mould themselves into a cohesive little maze of dark angular shadows and bright sunlight, distorting the delightful local balconies out of proportion.
Cathedral of Assumption
The Cathedral of Assumption in Victoria, originally the matrice until Gozo became a separate diocese in 1864, is built on the site of three or more older places of worship, including Roman and Phoenician temples. Construction commenced in 1697, four years after the 1693 earthquake that damaged its predecessor and destroyed large tracts of southeast Sicily, based on designs by Lorenzo Gafa.By the end of the 17th C. Maltese baroque had become more sophisticated, the simple swaggering effect having more impact than mere ornamentation. Here, the rectangular facade with its gown of stairs coming down from the Corinthian pillars lends height, and the escutcheon is that of Grand Master Perrellos in whose reign it was built. From the outside, the facade gives the impression of a gloomy nave, but inside it's surprisingly small and light due to a course of windows above the high vault and distended pilasters on the ornate tessellated floor of tombstones.The most interesting feature is a pure example of Gozitan ingenuity: due to lack of funds a dome was not added to the structure, so the Sicilian Antonio Manuele was commissioned in 1739 to paint a meticulous trompe l'oeil instead. The clever perspective is at first too difficult to grasp. From a distance, the domeless cathedral oddly fits in with the decapitated Gozitan hills. It is ironic that poor Gafa did not have the funds at his disposal to add his signature, a dome, in this, his last work.
Victoria's citadel, like Mdina's, sits on a high ledge. From the semicircular battlements running from east to west there is an unrivaled panorama of Gozo, each of the pocket-sized villages being identifiable by their churches. The immense dome of Xewkija rotunda to the east looks even more splendidly over-the-top from this eyrie.Apart from its dramatic vantage-point, the citadel's attraction lies in the color of its old limestone buildings, whose pallor has warmed with age. There is a diversity of styles within the fortifications: the baroque cathedral, diminutive Palazzo Bondi, the derelict Norman area, the bastions and the gutted little alleys.The original citadel dates back to the Romans, who probably used the 150 m high bluff at the heart of the island as an acropolis for their settlement below. But hardly any traces of this or the ninth century Arab occupation have survived. The 12th century Norman citadel or Gran Castello was destroyed by Dragut during the disastrous short siege of 1551.The town, within its fortified walls, was rebuilt by fits and starts on the existing plan by a series of grand masters. The present entrance to the citadel was cut through Cathedral Square in 1957. The original Mdina Door is marked by a Roman inscription dating back to the second century A.D.
Natural History Museum
The vault in the basement of the Cathedral Museum displays ecclesiastical silverware, on the ground floor there is the bishop's British-made landau of 1860 and clerical oddments. On the first floor, note the expressions of Gozo's influential bishops and dignitaries in the picture gallery.
Housed in a row of three 15th C. buildings (the windows display the Siculo-Norman influence) is this excellent little folklore museum and opposite the entrance is where Bernardo Duopuo fell in 1551 at the end of the Dragut's siege. The exhibits reflect the simple yet hard Gozitan life through the ages: a blacksmith's and carpenter's workshops, looms and primitive grain-milling and grape-pressing equipment. The social and sporting side of Gozo is also well documented with 18th century guns, fishing paraphernalia, mortars for the festas and costumes.
Address: Bernardo de Opuo Street, The Citadel, Malta
Opening hours: 9am-5pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Christmas Eve - Christian (Dec 24), New Year's Eve (Dec 31), Good Friday - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €8.00, Child 17 & under €5.00, Senior over 60 €5.00, Child 11 & under €4.00, Child 5 & under FREE
The Archeological Museum is housed in the Palazzo Bondi, a small but grand building with a fine carved stone balcony. The ground floor of the museum is dedicated to prehistory. In the right-hand room are relics from Ggantija; a model and watercolors of the temples help bring these structures to life. A carved relief of a snake is among a sparse collection found when the first excavation took place in 1827. The room on the left houses earlier Neolithic shards and pottery discovered in the Xaghra area to the north.Punic, Roman and Arabic relics are on the first floor. The Xlendi room, on the left, is named after the deceptively treacherous and narrow bay to the south where two merchant ships sank, one in the second century B.C., the other in the fifth century A.D. The anchors, countless jars and amphorae on display were uncovered in 1961.On the landing tucked away in a niche is a beautiful Majmuna tombstone (1174), inscribed with the pitiful, yet sad Cufic (early Arabic) lament of a distraught father at the death of his 12-year-old daughter.The largest room is reserved for Gozo's Punic and Roman finds, including pottery and tiles from the old Roman villa in Ramla; the grisly remains of a split Punic burial amphora found underneath stones in Santa Marija Bay, Comino, and a coin collection found in 1937 near St George's, an old part of Victoria that is believed to have fallen within the boundary of the Roman municipium. On the coins Nero is depicted in lampooning profile, with a boxer's neck, weak jaw and pusillanimous nose.
Basilica of St George
Behind It-Tokk is the basilica, the original parish church, built in 1678 as no more than a simple nave. The facade was altered in 1818 and the aisles, dome and transepts were all added between 1935 and 1945. Despite architectural meddling, the church has remained a pleasing structure.It's interior, however, is the product of a contemporary and somewhat over-enthusiastic baroque school, and is only muted when the sunlight filters through the stained-glass windows. The bronze and black canopied altar with its barley-twist columns is a small copy of Bernini's in St Peter's Rome and the ornate vaulted ceiling and dome show colorful episodes from St George's dramatic life.Hidden amongst the remodeled exuberance of its interior, the church possesses some important paintings. Mattia Preti's "St George" (1678) and "The Virgin of Mercy with Souls in Purgatory," and Francesco Zahra's "St George," are only a few.There is also a 150-year-old statue of the saint by another local artist that was carved in one piece from a tree trunk. Finally, the bells of St George's, unlike those of other Gozitan churches, chime at 11:00 a.m., to remind women to begin kindling the fire for lunch.
The irregular square, guarded by two toy-sized 17th C. cannons, once housed dwellings on the now vacant south and west walls. The two remaining buildings on the north side house the Law Courts. The building on the right was the Governor's Palace, built by Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt in the early 17th C. with the hallmark "fat" Melitan windows; that on the left was the old Public Registry from where decrees were read out.
The 1733 Banca Giuratale is a pretty bow-fronted baroque building in It-Tokk. It was Grand Master de Vilhena's present to the people of Gozo after his visit in 1723. The civil building became the seat of the Universita, the almost powerless local governing body. It is still a government building, and houses the occasional local art exhibition.
These gardens were planted in the early 1900s, and have remained Gozo's main public gardens. Formally laid out, they have, apart from the indigenous ficus nitida tree, an avenue of olives, tall Canary palms, and an aviary of noisy chirping birds. The annual agricultural fair is held here on August 14-15, the feast day of Santa Marija or the Assumption.
Map of Victoria Attractions