The Mediterranean has a plethora of magnificent locations with thousands of years of history imbued in them. From the Phoenicians to ancient Greeks and Romans to Venetians, Genoese, Ottomans there is a remarkable variety of historical landmarks throughout the Mediterranean.
One of them is the Maltese archipelago, a fascinating cauldron of different cultures, civilizations and histories. While geographically a small nation 316 km² compared to Sicily which has 25.711 km², Malta has a thriving cultural and historical scene with cities such as the capital Valetta and then Mdina, Sliema and Marsaxlok. However, there is the second largest island of the Maltese Archipelago called Gozo located North East past the magnificent cliffs and waters of Comino. The main urban centre of Gozo is Victoria, a beautiful Mediterranean city, home of the Citadel and impressive Cathedral of the Assumption of our Lady.
The Citadel of Gozo (Cittadella or in Maltese: I?-?ittadella) was initially built for security reasons. Both Malta and Gozo had significant strategic importance in the Mediterranean but was also very exposed to Ottoman and corsair attacks. One of the most important events in 16th century Mediterranean History was the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, which almost led to its Ottoman conquest. Holy Roman Charles V had given the Maltese archipelago in 1530 to the Knights of St. John (expelled from Rhodes in 1522). By then the Citadel of Gozo was still a medieval castle. In July 1551 Gozo was conquered by the Ottomans and most of the population was enslaved. After 1565 the Knights of St. John started repopulating Gozo with people from the main Maltese island, which would take more than half a century.
As a result until 1637 it was required by law for everyone in Gozo to spend the night in the Citadel of Gozo for safety reasons.
The Citadel of Gozo only saw brief periods of conflict during Napoleon’s French Invasion of Malta (10-12 June 1798) and on October 24th 1799 during Britain’s successful attempt to bring Malta under its rule.
In the 21st century the Citadel underwent two major restoration projects. First one between 2006 and 2008 stabilized and consolidated the fortifications. The second more extensive one took place 2014 and 2016 and also had the benefit of unearthing valuable archaeological material consisting of two sets of circular stones and Bronze Age silos, which became attractions and part of the final redevelopment of the citadel.
Naturally the Citadel was built on a hill overlooking the entire Island of Gozo. The Entrance to the Cittadella Visitors' Centre aims to show the fusion between the old original fortifications illustrated by the remains of medieval walls on the lower left and the new redeveloped architecture. There is a myriad of passages, small streets and pathways that let you explore almost the entire exterior of the citadel while giving visitors stunning views of the entire island.
The two parts that initially stand out are the fortifications and then the Cathedral of the Assumption. There are numerous bastions (St. Michael, St. Martin, St. John) which are linked together by curtain walls. There is also a clocktower on St. Michael’s bastion.
Then we have the Cathedral of the Assumption (Full name Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven Maltese Katidral ta' Santa Marija Assunta ), one of the most imposing and important historical landmarks of the Citadel, Gozo and Malta. Designed by Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà with a distinctive Baroque architectural style, it was built between 1697 and 1711, later on being dedicated in 1716. In September 1864 it became the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gozo and today. The entrance of Cathedral is “guarded” by the statues of two popes with significant importance to Gozo as Pius IX established on 16 September 1864 Gozo and Comino as a separate Diocese directly subjected to the Holy See while Pope Paul II visited Gozo in 1990, an event even today fondly remembered by locals.
The citadel also offers the possibility of visiting four very interesting museums, all ran by Heritage Malta.
The Citadel represents a historical, cultural and archaeological treasure right at the heart of Gozo. Thousands of years of history compressed in this remarkable location which provides a window what 16th century Maltese/Mediterranean life looked like. Plenty to see while also having a gorgeous panoramic view of Victoria and the island on the bastions/fortifications part of the citadel.
Location: Castle Hill, Victoria, Island of Gozo Malta
Gozo is reachable via ferry mainly through the harbour of ?irkewwa
Information on opening hours which vary based on the season, admission and accessibility are available on the website and given the situation regarding COVID 19 is subject to change.
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Vlad Zamfira (Masters of Arts in Archaeology & History and Certificate of Postgraduate research in History at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland) is a historian and podcaster interested mainly in the History of the 16th century Mediterranean with particular focus to Venetian, Ottoman and Spanish relations during the period between 1559-1581 and the Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War of Cyprus. Also with a keen interest in the history of the Eighty & Thirty Years' Wars; Scottish and European History as whole.