Gozo is a small island, but it is much more than its relatively idyllic surface. Gozo is full of events and attractions, larger than life characters and hidden treasures. Here are four of the quirkiest attractions of Gozo, each associated with a rich collection of legends and stories.
The Knights’ Wash House
The Knights’ Wash House was built – or, actually, dug into the side of a cliff – by the Knights of St John around a natural spring in the 16th century. It is located in Fontana, which is now the suburb of the capital Victoria. The arched wash house was, and at times still is, used for washing clothes.
The wash house has a row of stone basins down either side. Channels take water to each basin and a drainage hole in the bottom ensures clean water. There is a solid stone bench in the centre for the washers to sit on. Another wash house across the road, Farmer’s Basin, has a series of stone basins with a sitting area next to each.
There are tourist shops close by the wash house: Gozo Craft Heritage that sells lace and knitwear at a reasonable price, a jewelry store, and a tourist souvenir shop.
San Dimitri Chapel
San Dimitri Chapel in Gharb boasts one of the quirkiest legends on the island.
San Dimitri is actually an Eastern Orthodox saint, Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki. He is said to have lived in the late 3rd century AD, and is widely celebrated in the Russian Orthodox Church, where he was also a patron saint of the Rurik dynasty.
Saint Demtrius is also well known in the Orthodox churches in Greece and the Balkans, as well as in the Coptic Church. Icons of St Demetrius are found in the Sinai and in the Holy Land. Declared a patron of the first crusade, he was venerated by the Crusaders long after the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the 11th century. In modern Western Catholic devotion, he is, however, virtually unknown.
A remnant of Malta’s Byzantine past, the chapel and its legend remind of Malta’s place ever between cultures and civilizations.
According to guidebooks, a chapel was built on this spot in the 15th century. An old woman called Natalizja Cauchi, nicknamed Zgugina, used to attend the chapel regularly and pray for the protection of her son from the corsairs. Those days, the sea pirates – mostly from “Barbary coast” of North Africa – used to raid Gozo on a regular basis. One night, she was at home with her son, when the Barbary pirates broke in and abducted him into slavery.
The woman ran weeping to the chapel and prayed to Saint Demetrius to save her son, promising to light an oil lamp for him daily, if re responded to her plea.
According to the legend, St. Demetrius heard her. She saw the painting move, and come to life. The next moment, Saint Demetrius was off on his horse. He soon returned with her son, and after reuniting him with his mother, jumped back into the painting. The woman had faithfully kept the oil lamp burning day and night. After the original chapel had been destroyed by an earthquake, the fishermen claimed that they still saw the light burning at the bottom of the sea where parts of the chapel fell.
Tas-Salvatur Hill and Statue
A curious replica of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro crowns the rocky hill outside Marsalforn.
The statue on the hill is the landmark of this tourist resort in the north of the island, and is visible from many locations on the island, including from the Citadel in Victoria. The climb up the hill gets a bit challenging closer to the top, so may not be for everyone, but is possible.
Legends about the place abound. It is said that the hill was thought to be a volcano, as it had black smoke rising from it. Another legend says that God punished the people of Gozo by plunging the island into darkness for three whole days. At the end of these three days a ray of light shone from the hill, and lifted the darkness.
A statue of Christ was first put on the hill in 1904, when Gozo was consecrated to Christ the Redeemer (Tas-Salvatur in Maltese) . It replaced a wooden cross that stood there earlier. The first statue of Christ eventually succumbed to the elements, and had to be replaced in the 1960s. The second statue was also destroyed – its supporting pedestal gave way during a thunderstorm. Parts of this second statue are still strewn around the hilltop.
The present statue is made of reinforced concrete and coated with fiberglass, and was put into place in 1979.
Ta Ghammar Hill and the Amphitheatre
Opposite Ta Pinu Basilica is the hill of Ta Ghammar, with its 14 statues of the Way of the Cross. On top of the hill, past the statue of the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene in the “Do Not Cling to Me” scene, there is a large uncovered amphitheater with a simple rectangular altar in the center. From above, the amphitheater and “Do not Cling to Me” form two circles, whereof the amphitheater is the bigger of the two.
Built for celebrating mass and other religious events, especially at Holy week and Easter, the amphitheater is a somewhat quirky and unexpected attraction on the top of the hill. Uncovered under the scorching Maltese sun and open to the elements, it may not seem like the perfect outdoor venue, but it does boast incredible all-round views of the island of Gozo.