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General Information

Map of Gozo
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History

Gozo’s history goes back to 5000 B.c. when a group from Sicily succeeded in crossing over on some form of sea-craft.  These people who first colonised Gozo (Neolithic 5000 – 4100 Bc) probably lived in caves around Il-Mixta on Ghajn Abdul Plateau on the outskirts of San Lawrenz village, to the north-west of Gozo.  This site consists of one huge cave separated into two by a natural column and a man-made wall.  Pottery sherds unearthed on this site are of a purer pedigree than any other pottery found elsewhere in the Maltese Islands.  This suggests that Gozo might have been settled earlier than Malta.


The Temple Period (4100 -2500 Bc)

This phase represents an important turning point in the cultural evolution of prehistoric man.  The greatest undertaking of the pre-Phoenician Gozitans are undoubtedly Ggantija Temples (3600 – 3000 Bc) situated in Xaghra, and documented as the oldest free-standing structure in the world.  The temples take their name from the Maltese term “Ggant” meaning “giant”, an apt name when one views the sheer size and height of these megaliths.  Especially impressive are the cornerstones and the rear wall of the south temple.

Ggantija temples, Xaghra
Ggantija Temples, Xaghra

The site consists of two temples, contained within a single outer wall.  Although sharing a common façade, each temple unit has a separate entrance.  The south temple has a five apse plan and is the older of the two, as well a being the larger and better preserved.  The left apse in the second pair of apses, has three niches complete with capstones.  Some suggest it might refer to a triple divinity, a triade.  The remains of a fire-reddened circular stone hearth, possibly for an eternal flame, is in the opposite apse, where there are also remains of what was probably a small enclosure where oracles were delivered.

The north temple is considerably smaller, but with a more evolved four-apse plan having its rear apse replaced by a shallow niche. The entrance is very similar to that of the first temple; only the threshold is narrower and shorter.

The temples have exercised many a mathematical and engineering mind, seeking a solution to the mystery of how these huge stones were quarried, transported and then lifted upright in those primitive times. Local legend has it that the work was undertaken by a giantess called Sansuna, who lived on a diet of broad beans and water and carried the megaliths o her head. However it was stone balls, which one can see strewn around the site, which probably served as rollers to transport these huge blocks of stone to the site.

After the disappearance of the temple people the islands were repopulated by an entirely different race.


Bronze Age (2500 – 700 Bc)

Unlike their predecessors, these people were warlike people who used copper and bronze tools and weapons and who cremated their dead instead of burying them. Among the interesting remains, there are three dolmens on Ta' Cenc plateau. These consist of a horizontal, roughly shaped slab of limestone supported on three sides by blocks of stone.

Amphorae at the Museum of Archeology
Amphorae at the Museum of Archeology


Phoenicians and carthaginians (700 – 218 Bc)

The Phoenicians attracted by the local harbours, established a colony in Malta and Gozo. Around 500Bc, the Phoenicians of carthage took over and the carthaginians, as they are better known, remained masters of the islands until 218Bc. There are remains of a Punic rock-cut sanctuary at Ras iL-Wardija, on the outskirts of Santa Lucija village, on the south-western tip of Gozo.


Romans (218 – AD 535)

At the beginning of the second Punic War in 218Bc, the carthaginians were ousted by the Romans. In Gozo they created a municipium, autonomous of that of Malta with a republican sort of Government that minted its own coins. Under the Romans, christianity reached the shores of the island for the first time. In AD 60, Saint Paul the Apostle, while journeying to Rome, was shipwrecked in Malta.


Byzantines (535 – 870)

Around AD 535, the islands passed under the dominion of the East Roman Empire that is under the rule of Byzantium. Very little is known of Byzantine times in Gozo.


Arabs (870 – 1127)

In 870, the aglabid Arabs became sole masters of the Maltese archipelago. The Punic dialect that had originated with the Phoenicians was then greatly affected in its structure. The Arabscstay is evidenced by many place names and family names and especially by the name they gave to the island of Gozo – Ghawdex, that survives to this day.


European Domination (1127 – 1530)

Count Roger the Norman freed the islands from the Arabs, who however remained masters paying a tribute. In 1127, the Norman’s took forma possession and hence, Gozo and Malta shared the same fate of Sicily passing successively under the rule of Swabia (1194), Angou  (1266) and Aragon (1282). Under these rulers, the island was governed by a series of feudal lords whose sole interest was to exact the highest possible taxes from the inhabitants. Around 1397, the Gozitans created the Universitas Gaudisii – a corporation to defend local interests. From then onwards, the Gozitans fought hard to maintain their ancient privileges and freedom.


Knights of St. John (1530 – 1798)

On 23 March 1530, the islands passed under the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, a chivalrous religious order initiated in 1099 and officially founded in Jerusalem in 1113. Initially they made no improvements in Gozo and in 1551, the island suffered its worst siege in history. In July, the citadel was besieged by the Turks of Sinam Pasha. The Medieval walls without flanks and terreplein to resist gunpowder bombardment were easy prey to the besiegers and the fortifications soon succumbed. A tombstone in the local cathedral conveys some of the horror in its commemoration of the nobleman Bernardo Dupuo, who died fighting the Turkish pirates, after killing his own wife and daughters to save them from slavery and concubinage, two fates worse than death. The entire population of about 5000 was taken into slavery.

After the terror of 1551, recovery was slow and painful. Some Gozitan slaves were traced and ransomed, but life was shattered and families left permanently split asunder, their various members sold to different owners in far–off lands. Grand Master de la Sengle encouraged resettlement from Malta, by promising to waive the new settlerscdebt of the previous four years, if they would take the risk of living in undefended territory. Others, it is said came over from nearby Sicily.

Citadel ramparts
Citadel ramparts

The vulnerability to pirates and slavery is the reason why villages in Gozo did not develop until the late 18th   early 19th century. Before that, the tiny population stayed close to the citadel, taking shelter within its walls between dusk and dawn, in line with a curfew order that was only lifted in 1637 and whenever there was notice of a raid by pirates. The villages remain, today, completely different in structure to those of Malta. They are open–ended and do not form the Maltese pattern of tightly- winding, narrow and easily defended streets.

It was to be another 150 years before the Knights contemplated the reality of an undefended Gozo, left open to the Turks. They hurriedly built some defences, but by then the piratical raids were easing off, until they ceased altogether in 1708.

As a result of these raids, a reluctance to communicate information crept irremediably into the Gozitan character. As one writer recently put it in his guide to Gozo, Gozitans “have now accepted that not all tourists are direct descendants of 16th century Turkish slave-traders”, and their natural wariness has eased into friendliness, though they still prefer to keep their distance.


French (1798 – 1800)

On 10 June 1798, the French under General Napoleon Bonaparte ousted the Knights from Malta. Their rule in Gozo was short-lived. In September the people rose against the French, who, on 28 October surrendered to the Gozitans. Gozo enjoyed a short period of autonomy until 5 September 1800, when the British took the Maltese islands under their protection.


British (1800 – 1964)

Malta and Gozo became formally a British crown colony in 1813 and the island was slowly transformed into a fortress colony. Its resistance to the Axis bombardments during the second World Was is legendary.

Xlendi watch tower
Xlendi watch tower

Malta and Gozo became a sovereign independent state within the commonwealth on 21 September 1964 and were declared a Republic on 13 December 1974. though ruled from Malta from time immemorial Gozo has had semi-autonomous governments several times in its history, the last being the Gozo civic council between 1961 and 1973. The island is now governed like any other part of the Maltese islands. The executive functions of the central Government are carried out through the Ministry for Gozo, established on 14 May 1987.

© Gozo Tourism Association,