Here’s a little tour of what you can expect to find within the Cittadella, with info and tips on each.
View this post on Instagram
Looking towards the Citadel city fortress, perched majestically on top of a hill, one can easily see how it stood sentinel over the island in the past. On passing the bustling activity of Victoria, Gozo’s capital, the gates of the old city feel like the gates of time itself.
The city’s origins date back to the Bronze Age, when it developed first into an acropolis, and then a fortified city during Medieval times, when anything of any importance in Gozo was to be found within its walls. The Citadel also served as a night time refuge for all the inhabitants of Gozo during the 13th century, when pirates and corsairs were rife in the Mediterranean. Much of the city is well-preserved and the walkway along the bastions offers stunning views of the entire island! The Gozo Citadel’s recent restoration makes it even more splendid.
Upon entering, you'r greeted by a small square with a wide flight of steps leading to the majestic Gozo Cathedral, with the Old Prison and Courts of Justice on the left and the Bishop’s Palace on the right. A single road essentially leads you around the rest of the tiny city, which nonetheless offers much to explore.
1. The Gozo Cathedral
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this magnificent baroque cathedral is the 1739 painting on the ceiling that deceives the viewer into thinking its a dome when, in fact, the ceiling is flat! Another curiosity is that, on this site, there once was a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Juno. The Cathedral dates back to 1711 and it is dedicated to The Assumption of Our Lady, whose statue here also impressively dates back to 1897; her feast is celebrated locally on 15th August.
2. The Cathedral Museum
Just up the alleyway to the left of the Cathedral, you will find The Cathedral Museum, which consists of three delightfully decorated halls. Some of the oldest exhibits include parts of the Roman temple to Juno, while other artefacts date from 1591-1990.
3. The Old Prison
My favourite of all the things to do at the Citadel is a visit to the Old Prison, perhaps because I can’t get over my fascination with the large amount of centuries-old graffiti left by prisoners. You'll see palm-prints, names, dates and counted days to the ship they dreamed of and, therefore, freedom. The Old Prison was originally connected to the Courts of Justice, which lie adjacent. In use between the 16th and 20th century, one famous inmate was Grand Master de La Vallette, who spent four months here after attacking a man who was not a Knight!
4. The Museum of Archaeology
If unique 5,000-year-old figurines and relics of the Phoenician, Roman, Arab and Medieval times tickle your fancy, don't miss a visit to the Gozo Museum of Archaeology. The first museum in Gozo, it offers real insight into the earliest cultures occupying Gozo up until the arrival of the Knights of Malta. It is housed in Casa Bondi, a 17th century townhouse within the Citadel walls.
5. The Folklore Museum
Meanwhile, in a small cluster of surviving medieval houses within the Citadel lies the Folklore Museum. Offering more insight into the lives of the Gozitans, the museum displays a wide range of exhibits illustrating the local domestic, rural and traditional ways of life. The houses themselves are also museum-worthy!
6. The Old Gunpowder Magazine
Can you imagine Gozo’s Citadel armed with between thirty and forty artillery pieces, several mortars and close to 400 muskets? To remain fearsome, one needed a great supply of good quality gunpowder. During the adaptation to fire-power during the 17th century, this specialist storehouse was added beside St John’s Cavalier within the Gozo Citadel to keep ample quantities of gunpowder accessible, yet protected from enemy fire. Look out for the graffiti on the stone blocks!
7. The Battery
There's no sense in checking out the gunpowder magazine and missing out on the battery. The Citadel battery was designed to prevent the vulnerability of the very same walls that had been unassailable for centuries - fire power made them easy targets to bombard and blow up! These days, peace reigns as it serves as an ideal viewing platform to appreciate the dramatic fortifications and stunning views of Gozo.
8. The Grain Silos
More 17th century modifications by the Knights include the grain silos to cater for their staple diet of bread in the event of a siege. You can now visit the three large grain silos erected next to St John’s Cavalier on the site of the late medieval Hebrew Ghetto. Here, a bit more recenetly in 1877, the British channelled water from Ghajn Luqin, a spring, into the silos to provide Victoria and its inhabitants with as much as 3,000 gallons of additional water, which remained the case right up until March 2004.
9. The World War II Shelters
You may be surprised to discover that the five stone rooms off the passageway leading to the Battery were once shelters to protect from WWII air raids. The five families who spent their nights here - as seen by the water pipe bed frames which are still present - must have been wealthy; most of the Gozitans plus some 6,000 Maltese refugees had to run for their lives to the public shelters in case of surprise attack. Two sizeable shelters are at the foot of the towering walls of St Martin’s and St John’s Demi-bastions, and several more are scattered around Victoria and the rest of Gozo.
10. The Chapel of St Joseph
Because one church is never enough! The Maltese and Gozitans have given great importance to their places of worship throughout the ages, and this chapel was built in 1625 in addition to the Citadel Cathedral. This chapel is dedicated to St Joseph and can be found on a street with the same name.
Still, even if all you have time for is a quick stroll around the Citadel, it all calls for a snap happy photographer keen to capture the beautiful compositions of arches meeting stone walls bearing Norman-style windows, well-preserved niches and bass reliefs. It's a shame to think that many more might have stood the test of time had it not been for the vandalism carried out by Napoleon’s troops!