Holiday during Easter in Gozo

Easter on the island of Gozo is a true joy. It does not only coincide with the beautiful season of Spring but it is a time to experience the culture of an island whose roots are deeply embedded in faith and which have evolved into a mosaic of elaborate traditions and rituals over the centuries. Easter on the island of Gozo is a true joy especially if you’re going to stay at a Hotel.

The period before the feast of Easter, known as Lent, is associated with penance. For believers, it is a 40-day journey or preparation for the grand feast of Resurrection on Easter Sunday. In the Catholic tradition, Lent is a period of personal sacrifices, fasting and staying away from meat dishes. In times gone by, meat was considered a luxury and thus withholding meat dishes was part of the solemn rituals believers followed.  To this day, you will come across several dishes on the island of Gozo which are associated with the season of Lent.   Maybe one of the favourite dishes is the traditional stuffed artichokes. The first artichokes start becoming available at the vegetable market right on the onset of Lent and they are usually stuffed with a tasty mix of  parsely, garlic, olives, capers and breadcrumbs. It makes a great vegetarian dish!

Other dishes that are typical of the season,  include the Kusksu, a kind of green bean soup that includes tiny bead pasta and fresh Gozitan cheeselets; qassatat, a  pasty pocket stuffed with cheese and spinach and tuna pies.  On the sweet side, one can enjoy the Kwareżimal, the typical Lenten sweet that even its own name evolved from the Latin word quaresima meaning Lent.  You’ll also come across sweet and savoury bread rings known locally as the Apostles’ Ring.  And maybe you can ask for carob sweets produced from carob syrup that is known across the Mediterranean region for its healthy properties. These sweets are available at local gourmet stores all year round, but during Lent, they are sold at some stalls near churches or places where exhibitions are being held.   Easter cannot be celebrated in Gozo without the traditional Figolla, a sweet pastry that envelopes a layer of yet sweeter almond filling.  Figolli are baked in different shapes and sizes. Some of the traditional favourites are the ones in the shape of lambs, rabbits, mermaids, hearts and guitars!  Figolli are usually decorated with chocolate or coloured icing and come with an Easter Egg affixed on top.

When it comes to the essence of the season, the death and resurrection of Christ is best experienced not only during the various liturgical ceremonies and church services but also via the various pageants, processions, plays and exhibitions that nearly every village in Gozo organises.   From the deeply devotional procession of Our Lady of Sorrows, where many devotees follow the statue in the streets to the celebration of Palm Sunday and the Good Friday processions which include a string of rich statues representing different stations of the Cross, you’ll witness a facet of Gozo that is only visible during this time.  Many people participate in these processions some dressed up as Biblical characters or Roman soldiers in elaborate costumes and some in hooded dresses trudging heavy chains or crosses as an act of penance are truly gripping to witness.

Għammar Hill, opposite the shrine of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu in Għarb, is also closely associated with this time of the year.   The steep uphill path is marked with marble statues of the Stations of the Cross and every year one can join the pilgrimage that makes its way up to the top at dusk carrying candles and torchlights.   The event can even captivate the attention of non-believers as the scenery from top of the hill is very suggestive.

Easter Sunday is all about joy and this is visible everywhere in Gozo.  After 40 days of Lent, it’s time for church bells to ring again.  Apart from the numerous processions with the statue of the risen Christ, it is a great time to visit Villa Rundle Gardens in Victoria for the official Gozo Egg Hunt!  The processions with the statue of the Risen Christ, most of which are held early in the morning are usually fascinating to witness as the bearers of the statue make the extra effort and sprint parts of the procession as part of the joyful expression. Easter lunch is an important date and most of the local restaurants will make an extra effort with the menu on that day, usually ending up the meal with traditional Figolla and chocolate Easter eggs.

Away from traditions, culture, food and musical concerts of the season, Easter in Gozo is a lot about ushering in the season of Spring with a hint of Summer!  The weather is usually distinctly warmer as Easter approaches.  As the countryside blooms, the island becomes a wonderful destination for travelers of all types. Hikers and ramblers can have days of wandering around the paths, cyclists can follow the roads to their hearts’ content and families can enjoy picnics at the beach under clear blue skies.  Some will even take their first dip of the season.

 

Ramla Beach Gozo

Ir-Ramla, or Ramla Beach, is one of Malta’s only sandy beaches. It is located in Xaghra at the base of a verdant, fertile valley and is known for its distinctive reddish-colored sand. Ramla is an excellent place for swimming, relaxing by the water with a good book or for an afternoon picnic. There is rarely a time when Ramla’s shore is not filled with people playing Frisbee, flying kites or spending time with family. Ramla Beach also has bathroom facilities, a snack bar and ice cream shop close by.

Calypso Cave – Gozo

According to Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus was held captive by the nymph Calypso for seven years in a cave on the island of Ogygia. The story tells that she was so madly in love with Odysseus that the gods had to intervene and order her to release him so that he may return to his wife Penelope in Ithaca.

The story may be myth, but many believe that the island of Ogygia is actually Gozo, and that the cave in the story is an actual cave located in Xaghra, about 2.5 miles (3.9 km) northeast of Victoria. The cave itself is not open to visitors anymore, but still draws crowds due to its association with the legend of Calypso. From the entrance of the cave, visitors get a bird’s eye view of Ramla Beach.

 

Salt Pans – Gozo

The ancient Romans began the salt pans of Marsalforn over 2,000 years ago, and the process is still being done to this day. Sea salt is coarser than refined salt and is a staple in Mediterranean gastronomic traditions. Ironically, it is not considered to be as salty-tasting as its refined or iodized counterparts.

If there is one thing the Maltese do have, it’s an endless supply of sea salt, but it does not end up in your salt shaker by accident. Salt panning involves carving shallow niches into rock by the sea and pumping them regularly with seawater. The stagnant seawater is then left to evaporate in the sun. What gets left behind is the final product- rock salt. It is a natural process that yields a versatile cooking ingredient. The Marsalforn salt pans are a fascinating display of ancient ingenuity still being used today.

Ggantija Temples Gozo

The Ggantija Temples are located in the small village of Xaghra, about 2 miles (3.2 km) northeast of Victoria. The temples comprise one of the most significant archaeological sites in Malta and also in the Mediterranean. They also predate Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, and both have been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple ruins are part of a megalithic complex dating back to the Ggantija Phase (3600-3200 BC).

The society responsible for the construction of both temples is often referred to as the ‘temple builders.’ Little is known about these people, other than they most likely came from modern-day Sicily and lived peacefully as hunter-gatherers. Another puzzling fact is that their society somehow disappeared. That is, historians cannot figure out how they vanished from the Maltese islands entirely.

The name Ggantija stems from the Maltese word for giant. Ancient legends about a race of giants that lived in Gozo were a way of explaining the presence of the temples. Together, both temples cover a total are of 10,000 square feet (3,048 square meters). They share a boundary wall and each is constructed out of massive limestone slabs, with some weighing more than 50 tons!

Excavations have produced clues about these colossal temples. Ritual rooms, curved walls, spiral-shape carvings, niches with altars, libation holes and animal bones provide us only with educated guesses about the original purpose of the temples. They were most likely used in the worship of a fertility goddess or Earth Mother, but beyond that there is not much to assume. It is likely that religious ceremonies would take place within the structure while a congregation of people stood outside in the large, raised forecourt in front of the temples. The altars in the larger of the two temples have become an iconic image for Gozo, and can be found on postcards throughout the island. Each altar is constructed out of vertical stone slabs. Also in the larger temple, is a stone hearth that suggests fire was an important component of temple rituals.

The reality about the Ggantija Temples is that nobody alive can know the complete truth about them. They remain a compelling testament to early human civilization and will continue to evoke a sense of mystery in all who visit them.

 

Citadel – Gozo

The Citadel, or the Citadella, is the fortified center of Victoria known as the jewel of Gozo. Like the fortified city of Mdina on Malta, the Citadel of Victoria was created out of the need for protection against invaders. The Knights commissioned the construction of the Citadel in 1599 in order to protect the Maltese. Before the Citadel, life for the Gozitans was harsh.

Their small island was susceptible to frequent pirate raids and attacks. In 1551, Ottoman forces overtook vulnerable Gozo and captured around 600 people, leaving behind only the old and sick. The captive Gozitans were taken to Tripoli where they were sold into slavery. It was clear that something had to be done to protect Gozo’s people.

The Citadel continues to be one of the most frequented tourist attractions of the island. Visitors can walk along the bastions and take in stunning 360° views of the surrounding villages, farms and countryside. Within the fortification are plenty of sites to explore, including museums, restaurants outdoor farmers markets, the Battery and gun powder depot and it-Tokk, also known as Independence Square. The museums are open Monday to Sunday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Joint admission to multiple Citadel sites is €8 per adult and includes entrance to the Folklore Museum, Gozo Archaeology Museum, the Old Prison and the Natural Science Museum.

About Gozo

Gozo may be small, but it boasts a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy including exploring local villages, dining on succulent Mediterranean cuisine, soaking up the sun at the beach or sailing to nearby Comino for a fun-filled day at the Blue Lagoon.

Tales of Gozo are nearly as ancient as the island itself; it was immortalized by Homer in the Greek epic poem, The Odyssey. The poem tells us of the hero, Odysseus, and his 10-year voyage back to Ithaca from Troy.

The prehistoric Ggantija temples are one of the island’s main attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But your Gozitan history lesson won’t end there. rolling around Victoria (Rabat) will reveal centuries-old houses along narrow, cobblestone streets as well as charming pijazzas (squares). The island also features luxury hotels, scenic seaside villages and two impressive churches, the Gozo Cathedral and the Basilica of St. George. But if what you are really after is some R&R, you’re headed to the right place. Gozitans know how to relax and enjoy simple pleasures, and did I mention that they love to eat!

Getting around Malta with the newly established bus system is now easier than ever. Traveling by bus is definitely the the most cost-effective method of public transportation. Mainland routes pass through the main bus terminal in Valletta while direct routes provide service through smaller towns and villages without a stop in Valletta. Bus services run from 5:30 am to 11:00 pm with night buses in select areas

Book your Full-Day Gozo Island Excursion from Malta here.

 

 

 

 

Carnival in Gozo

Carnival Week is undoubtedly one of the most colourful events in the Gozitan – and Maltese – calendar. Traditionally preceding Christian Lent, Carnival provides five days of revelry with many people dressing up in colourful costumes and covering their faces with masks.

Carnival is closely associated with Maltese folklore. It has been celebrated in Malta since the arrival of the Knights of St. John in 1530, and some studies date the first carnival revelry back as early as 1470. Up until 1751, carnival was an activity exclusive to Valletta, but that is certainly not true today.

In Gozo, the main activities take place in It-Tokk (Independence Square), the main square in Gozo’s capital Ir-Rabat and in In-Nadur. Ir-Rabat (Victoria)’s celebrations are the usual carnival fare much like those in Valletta with floats, costumes and general revelry. Carnival in Nadur is quite different.

Nadur’s carnival is deeply traditional and essentially spontaneous. There is no organising committee and there are no rules. In Nadur the purpose of costumes is disguise – quite simply not to be recognised. Sunset reveals a multitude of masked and hooded creatures thronging the streets. People wear all kinds of funny and grotesque costumes, some satirical, and most remain silent to aid their disguise, gaining the Nadur celebrations the sobriquet, The Silent Carnival.

The Nadur ‘floats’ are often little more than carts released from their duties on local farms but there is an edge to the celebrations. Amongst the absurd costumes are to be seen placards daubed with remarks, most of them insults to public (and sometimes private) personalities. In order to avoid libel, many are indirect or veiled references that need the knowledge of a local to interpret them.