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The History of Gozo

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Gozo is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the 21 islands that form Malta’s archipelago.

It’s an island filled with rich history, 7,000 years of it, in fact. It’s said to have been the home to the mythological Calypso from Homer’s Odyssey. 

Gozo is a lesser-known destination in Malta, but it is the second-largest island in the archipelago. 

At just 37,000, there’s only a small population on the 67km2 island. A rural island, many people refer to Gozo as “what Malta used to be like”. A rich history encompassing Romans, Arabs, Phoenicians, Sicilians, French, and British influence.

The Rich history of Gozo

Dating back to 5,000 BC, there’s history on every inch of Gozo.

The first settlers crossed on a boat from Sicily and likely lived in caves on the northwest coast of the island.

Today you can see a large cave separated by a natural column, with a man-made wall. Historians believe is where the first settlers lived.

Pottery and ceramics have been discovered in the area that dates back even further than the other islands of Malta, meaning that it may have been the first of the Maltese islands to be discovered.

The Temple Period was an important historical period between 4100-2500 BC and plots the cultural evolution of prehistoric man. The greatest achievement of this era is the construction of the temples of Ggantiia. These are the oldest free-standing structures in the world today.

temples of Ggantiia

The name Ggant comes from the word ‘giant’ and is very apt for these gorgeous structures, complete with impressive cornerstones and a huge back wall on the southern temple. 

There are several theories on how the gigantic stones were extracted, transported, and raised into position without the technology we have access to today.

An ancient legend says that the temples were the work of a giantess called Sansuna, but we’ll leave it up to you to decide!

Gozo through the ages

As we said, Gozo has lived through A LOT of history…

Bronze age

From 2500-700 BC, the bronze age was an important part of history and the evolution of society. New inhabitants on the island were warriors that used copper and bronze tools and weapons. The most fascinating remains can be found on the Tac¬enc plateau, where you can find an irregular shape of limestone that’s supported by stone blocks.

Phoenicians and Carthaginians

700-218 BCA colony was created on Malta and Gozo thanks to the attraction of the local ports, and the Phoenicians of Carthage took control until 218BC. Just outside Santa Lucija, you can find the remains of a Punic rock sanctuary.

Romans

218- AD 535 – The Romans defeated the Carthaginians in 218 BC and subsequently created a town in Gozo, autonomous from Malta with a republican government and its own coins. Christianity was then implemented in Gozo for the first time.

Arabs

870-1127 – The Alabaster Arabs settled in 870, with evidence of this era still remaining on the island today in the names of places AND surnames of Gozo’s population.

European influence

1127-1530 – After the Arabs were expelled, the Normans took control of Gozo. For hundreds of years, both Malta and Gozo remained under European control. A feudal regime was created in which inhabitants were required to pay significant sums through taxes.

Knights of San Juan

1530 – 1798 – In 1530, the islands passed under the rule of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, a religious order.

The island suffered its worst siege in 1551, with the medieval walls succumbing to the firepower from the Turks of Sinam Pasha. 

French

1798-1800 – Napoleon Bonaparte (yes, that one) ruled the French and ousted the Knights from Malta. Their rule in Gozo was incredibly short-lived, with the inhabitants rising against the French, and they enjoyed a period of autonomy until 1800.

British

1880-1964 – Malta and Gozo became a British crown colony in the early 19th century, and the island’s resistance to bombardments from the Axis alliance in the Second World War are legendary. 

Malta and Gozo became a sovereign independent state within the commonwealth on 21 September 1964, officially becoming a Republic on 13 December 1974. 

Gozo has had semi-autonomous governments throughout its history, but the island is now governed in the same manner as all Maltese islands. 

Culture and traditions in Gozo

Gozo is known for its traditions and rich history, and one of the most famous is the Nadur carnival.

Feasts are important traditions held in honour of the patron saint of each village. They include religious ceremonies, fireworks, horse racing, and live music. 

Fireworks for a festival in Gozo
People dancing around ground fireworks in Fontana on Gozo Island, near Malta.

This is the perfect time for Gozitans to meet, with many dressing in colourful and exotic carnival costumes during festivals.

There are two opera houses in Gozo, created and run by rival band clubs that date back to 1863, and they never miss an opportunity to try to outdo the other! 

If you’re looking for things to do, the Cittadella is a must-do. The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and was the home of the Roman city of Gaulos. 

History is contained within the walls of the Cittadella. The acropolis was converted into a castle during the medieval period as the suburb developed outside the walls of the Cittadella during the 15th century.

Today the Cittadella contains churches and other historic buildings, including the Cathedral of Assumption, and it’s been included on Malta’s list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998. 

If you would like to visit Gozo why not check out our Gozo Scuba Diving Trip. Where as well as learning to Scuba dive, you will also have plenty of time to explore the island.

For an adventure holiday unlike any other, get in touch with us on 01769 309007.

If you need a bit more convincing, head over to our Instagram to see some of the stunning sights from our diving trips and other destinations!

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