Victoria, or Rabat, which ever title it is given is a bustling little town in the centre of Gozo. While only 3km square with 7,000 inhabitants, the little capital is packed with quaint shops, traditional bars and exquisite restaurants. Victoria is not just the geographic heart of Gozo, it is 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.
This little square is a real gem; beautiful old buildings, quaint pubs and cafe bars, and a myriad of market stalls selling all kinds of everything. The atmosphere here is always buzzing and is usually enlivened even further by buskers and entertainers performing to the delight of tourists that come from all over the world.
Those visitors, having consumed the invigorating ambience of the square, then climb the energy-sapping hill to the medieval Citadel, with its fortifications, cathedral, museums and magnificent views. This is the centrepiece, not only of Victoria, but of the whole island. Towering majestically above the town since the fourteenth century, it can be seen from every corner of Gozo, and when I walk around its massive bastions, I can see all of this idyllic island, its panorama of green landscape, and the blue Mediterranean encircling it.
Hidden away in a smaller square just behind It-Tokk in the heart of the old town is for me the greatest treasure of Gozo, St George’s Basilica. This is the most richly adorned church in all of the Maltese Islands. Built between 1672 and 1678 it stands at the centre of a network of narrow, winding streets, its ornate baroque belfries, dome and transepts, all beautifully embellished, dominate the old square. The interior is just as magnificent, clad in marble with a canopied high alter similar to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There are many gorgeous stained-glass windows in the dome and a treasure trove of wonderful works of art throughout. The dome and ceiling are the work of Roman artist Giovanni Battista Conti and other gems are by Mattia Preti, Guiseppe Cali and Stefano Erardi.
Most of the images are of various events in the life of St George to whom the church is dedicated. The real masterpiece and a must-see attraction is in the side chapel to the right of the high alter. It is a truly remarkable statue of St George, carved by Paolo Azzopardi in 1841 from a single tree trunk.
The location of this glorious church is also the old quarter of the town of Victoria. I love to spend lots of time strolling around this area. It takes me back in time when I wander over the little narrow walking streets winding their way through some of the most enchanting old architecture. I can admire ornate baroque townhouses dating from the 17th century, many with little niches holding statues of Our Lady and other favourite saints. To meander around these little winding alleys with their unique atmosphere and quaint old world charm would delight any visitor. This is the real heart of Gozo and I never tire of submitting to its alluring magnetism.
From ‘IN LOVE WITH MALTA’ (The Hidden Treasures)
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