Island of Gozo

Gozo is only 5 km to the Northwest of Malta and just under 96 Kilometres from Sicily. This small island is 67 Kilometres squared, yet has a population density only slightly higher than that of Cyprus.

The name of the island finds its origins from the Phoenician Gwl, pronounced Gol and meaning circular. The Greeks and Romans modified this to Gaulos or Gaulus. The Arabs tanscribed this to Ghawdex (Aw-desh) in their own language and to this day most locals refer to the island in this way. When the Spanish took over they translated the latin version into the Castilian, Gozo which means joy, pleasure, delight. How Fitting.

Significantly greener than Malta, Gozo's landscape is far less developed too, giving the Island an air of tranquillity. Farms and open fields abound, and much of the Island's coast, except for the more popular bays such as Marsalform, is still undeveloped.

Gozo is busiest in summer but at its most attractive in what is the 'shoulder months' at either before or after the main tourist season. After the summer months light rain rapidly changes the colours from brown to green as it refreshes the fields.

The history of Gozo is a long and colourful one dating back to the dawn of civilisation. The Maltese Islands went through a golden Neolithic period, the remains of which are the mysterious temples dedicated to the goddess of fertility. Later on, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines, all left their traces on the Islands.

Gozo’s history goes back to 5000 B.c. when a group from Sicily succeeded in crossing over on some form of sea-craft. These people who first colonised Gozo (Neolithic 5000 – 4100 Bc) probably lived in caves around Il-Mixta on Ghajn Abdul Plateau on the outskirts of San Lawrenz village, to the north-west of Gozo. This site consists of one huge cave separated into two by a natural column and a man-made wall. Pottery sherds unearthed on this site are of a purer pedigree than any other pottery found elsewhere in the Maltese Islands. This suggests that Gozo might have been settled earlier than Malta.

The Temple Period (4100 -2500 Bc) This phase represents an important turning point in the cultural evolution of prehistoric man. The greatest undertaking of the pre-Phoenician Gozitans are undoubtedly Ggantija Temples (3600 – 3000 Bc) situated in Xaghra, and documented as the oldest free-standing structure in the world. The temples take their name from the Maltese term “Ggant” meaning “giant”, an apt name when one views the sheer size and height of these megaliths. Especially impressive are the cornerstones and the rear wall of the south temple.

After the disappearance of the temple people the islands were repopulated by an entirely different race.

Bronze Age (2500 – 700 Bc) Unlike their predecessors, these people were warlike people who used copper and bronze tools and weapons and who cremated their dead instead of burying them. Among the interesting remains, there are three dolmens on Ta Cenc plateau. These consist of a horizontal, roughly shaped slab of limestone supported on three sides by blocks of stone.

Phoenicians and carthaginians (700 – 218 Bc) The Phoenicians attracted by the local harbours, established a colony in Malta and Gozo. Around 500Bc, the Phoenicians of carthage took over and the carthaginians, as they are better known, remained masters of the islands until 218Bc. There are remains of a Punic rock-cut sanctuary at Ras iL-Wardija, on the outskirts of Santa Lucija village, on the south-western tip of Gozo.

Romans (218 – AD 535) At the beginning of the second Punic War in 218Bc, the carthaginians were ousted by the Romans. In Gozo they created a municipium, autonomous of that of Malta with a republican sort of Government that minted its own coins. Under the Romans, christianity reached the shores of the island for the first time. In AD 60, Saint Paul the Apostle, while journeying to Rome, was shipwrecked in Malta.

Byzantines (535 – 870) Around AD 535, the islands passed under the dominion of the East Roman Empire that is under the rule of Byzantium. Very little is known of Byzantine times in Gozo.

Arabs (870 – 1127) In 870, the aglabid Arabs became sole masters of the Maltese archipelago. The Punic dialect that had originated with the Phoenicians was then greatly affected in its structure. The Arabs stay is evidenced by many place names and family names and especially by the name they gave to the island of Gozo – Ghawdex, that survives to this day.

European Domination (1127 – 1530) Count Roger the Norman freed the islands from the Arabs, who however remained masters paying a tribute. In 1127, the Norman’s took forma possession and hence, Gozo and Malta shared the same fate of Sicily passing successively under the rule of Swabia (1194), Angou (1266) and Aragon (1282). Under these rulers, the island was governed by a series of feudal lords whose sole interest was to exact the highest possible taxes from the inhabitants. Around 1397, the Gozitans created the Universitas Gaudisii – a corporation to defend local interests. From then onwards, the Gozitans fought hard to maintain their ancient privileges and freedom.

Knights of St. John (1530 – 1798)On 23 March 1530, the islands passed under the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, a chivalrous religious order initiated in 1099 and officially founded in Jerusalem in 1113. Initially they made no improvements in Gozo and in 1551, the island suffered its worst siege in history. In July, the citadel was besieged by the Turks of Sinam Pasha. The Medieval walls without flanks and terreplein to resist gunpowder bombardment were easy prey to the besiegers and the fortifications soon succumbed. A tombstone in the local cathedral conveys some of the horror in its commemoration of the nobleman Bernardo Dupuo, who died fighting the Turkish pirates, after killing his own wife and daughters to save them from slavery and concubinage, two fates worse than death. The entire population of about 5000 was taken into slavery.

After the terror of 1551, recovery was slow and painful. Some Gozitan slaves were traced and ransomed, but life was shattered and families left permanently split asunder, their various members sold to different owners in far–off lands. Grand Master de la Sengle encouraged resettlement from Malta, by promising to waive the new settlers debt of the previous four years, if they would take the risk of living in undefended territory. Others, it is said came over from nearby Sicily.

The vulnerability to pirates and slavery is the reason why villages in Gozo did not develop until the late 18th early 19th century. Before that, the tiny population stayed close to the citadel, taking shelter within its walls between dusk and dawn, in line with a curfew order that was only lifted in 1637 and whenever there was notice of a raid by pirates. The villages remain, today, completely different in structure to those of Malta. They are open–ended and do not form the Maltese pattern of tightly- winding, narrow and easily defended streets.

It was to be another 150 years when the islands population reached pre-1551 figure, before the Knights contemplated the reality of an undefended Gozo, left open to the Turks. They hurriedly built some defences, but by then the piratical raids were easing off, until they ceased altogether in 1708.

As a result of these raids, a reluctance to communicate information crept irremediably into the Gozitan character. As one writer recently put it in his guide to Gozo, Gozitans “have now accepted that not all tourists are direct descendants of 16th century Turkish slave-traders”, and their natural wariness has eased into friendliness, though they still prefer to keep their distance.

The Knights sailed regularly across to Gozo for hunting with dogs and falcons. The Barrakka (where Gleneagles Pub now stands in Mgarr) was the base at which they would await the ships for their return journey.

Fungus Rock. The Knights employed slaves to shave the sides of Fungus Rock to make it impossible to climb, but the 'fungus' (which is actually a parisitic tuber) was so highly prized that people still tried to steal it, in spite of the penalty for even attempting to gather the plant being three years in the galleys.

The Maltese Falcon. The presentation of a falcon as tribute to King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, every year on All Saints' Day, was the sole rent required for the Knights' perpetual lease of Malta, Gozo and Tripoli from 1530 to 1798. The birds - peregrine falcons - were actually bred not on Malta but on Gozo, mostly along the cliffs at Ta' Cenc. Reaching speeds of up to 200mph, they are tought to be the fastest in the world. The Knights used to cross to Gozo to engage in falconry, a favourite sport. The falcons were housed in the village of Xewkija. Nowadays these falcons are rarely seen and no longer breed on the islands.

French (1798 – 1800) On 10 June 1798, the French under General Napoleon Bonaparte ousted the Knights from Malta. Their rule in Gozo was short-lived. In September the people rose against the French, who, on 28 October surrendered to the Gozitans. Gozo enjoyed a short period of autonomy until 5 September 1800, when the British took the Maltese islands under their protection.

British (1800 – 1964) Malta and Gozo became formally a British crown colony in 1813 and the island was slowly transformed into a fortress colony. Its resistance to the Axis bombardments during the second World Was is legendary. British rule in Malta lasted until 1964 when Malta became independent. The Maltese adapted the British system of administration, education and legislation.

Malta and Gozo became a Sovereign Independent State within the commonwealth on 21 September 1964 and were declared a Republic on 13 December 1974. Malta and Gozo joined the European Union in May 2004.

Though ruled from Malta from time immemorial Gozo has had semi-autonomous governments several times in its history, the last being the Gozo civic council between 1961 and 1973. The island is now governed like any other part of the Maltese islands. The executive functions of the central Government are carried out through the Ministry for Gozo, established on 14 May 1987.

Gozo's most notable physical features are its hills - in fact, its official emblem features 3 such hills over the sea. The prominent peaks rise and form distinct landmarks visible from miles away, with the highest being Ta' Dbiegi hill (with a height of 190 meters) near the village of San Lawrenz.

Like Malta, the Mediterranean landscape of Gozo is formed primarily of limestone deposits. In fact, limestone is the prime building material used in Gozitan construction, lending the urban landscape a rich, honey-coloured hue. The limestone landscape also provides for interesting formations, such as the Azure Window - a promontory jutting out into the sea with an eroded centre, forming a 'window'. This popular destination has seen a rapid acceleration of erosion in recent years.

The coastline features numerous bays and inlets, both sandy and rocky. The largest sandy beach on the island is Ramla il-Hamra, which features ochre coloured sand and the Island's most impressive collection of sand dunes which play host to a small number of beautiful, yet hardy specimens of flora, most notably the white Sea Daffodil which manages, against all odds, to flower under the blazing heat of the Summer sun.

Locals speak mainly Maltese with a Gozitan dialect but most people speak English and a big percentage also speak Italian

The roots of the Maltese language are a result of the history of the islands. Originally Arabic (Semitic) with contributions from Italian, French and English.

Some common words that you could use:

Hello bongu (bon-jew)
Good evening bonasira (bona-sira)
Thank you grazzi (gratsy)
How are you? kif int? (keef-int)
Yes iva (eeva)
No le (le)
Please jekk joghgbok (yek-yojbok)
Cheers bis-sahha (biss sah-ha)
Goodbye caw (chow)


Gozitan food is a mixture of flavours and traditions inherited from and influenced by its many occupiers, as well as by the delicious local produce. Like most of Southern Italy most of the typical dishes are based on the 'cucina povera' which is a style of cooking best represented, in the past, by the lower class of a given society. Peasant cooking aims to utilize whatever is found in the kitchen, household, farm, etc. to prepare meals. The concept of 'cucina povera' (literally meaning poor kitchen) can be found in every society and is really about making great food with simple, yet high quality, and available ingredients (including every part of the animal such as cow intestine, pig ears, cow hoofs, etc.).

Delicacies, often served in restaurants include an antipasto plate consisting of olives, zalzett (coriander-flavoured local sausage), bigilla (broad bean paste), sun dried tomato and galletti (local crackers) with crusty local bread covered in local kunserva (tomato paste) and olive oil. Gozo cheese gbejniet, made from sheep milk is small and round and come fresh, soft marinated or hard and peppered. It is also used as a filling for ravioli and pastizzi, the latter is a triangular flaky-pastry snack which sometimes contains peas as an alternative. Gozo cheese is sometimes also used as a tipping for the ftira (a flat sour dough bread similar to a pizza)

Among some of the local produce not to miss trying when on the island are the local tomatoes, rated highly for their flavour. Local potatoes are also very popular especially among the Northern countries. Gozo honey is greatly prized. Local bread is simply unmatched especially if eaten freshly baked. For meat, the local pork and its derivatives are very tasty. Obviously then there is the fish which could not be fresher with the sea not more then ten minutes away. Lampuki is one of the main local fish and in season from Mid-August. Two mainstay local dishes to try are Minestra a thick vegetable soup and Aljotta, the traditional fish soup.


Local wine produce is gaining in popularity. Across the years it has progressed slowly from rough local farmers' wine to a standard for the best quality varieties with its own legal and recognisable DOK - Denomination of Origin. The local soil and cool north-westerly winds produce a slight bitterness to the aftertaste which is unique and creates a character that is both robust and balanced.

Among the Beers Cisk is the most famous Maltese lager.

Other drinks to try when on the island are Limuncell and Bajtra, which are liquers made from lemons and prickly pear fruits.

Malta and Gozo have fourteen public or national holidays.

Nowadays not all the shops are shut although it is still advisable to check locally. Banks and government offices and services will be closed on public or national holidays.

January 1 New Year's Day
February 10 Feast of St Paul's Shipwreck
March 19 Feast of St Joseph
March 31 Freedom Day
March/April Good Friday
May 1 Workers' Day
June 7 Sette Giugno
June 29 Feast of St Peter and St Paul (Imnarja)
August 15 Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (Santa Marija)
September 8 Feast of Our Lady of Victories (Il-Vitorja)
September 21 Independence Day
December 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 13 Republic Day
December 25 Christmas Day

Getting to Gozo by Sea

All international flights land at Luqa Airport in Malta

Once in Malta, allow around one hour to get to the Circewwa Harbour, Malta's most northern point, and allow a further half an hour for the pleasant regular ferry crossing to Gozo. Once here settle back, relax and let the tranquil Mediterranean atmosphere wash over you. Click here for more information on the Ferry Crossing to Gozo. The ferry ply between Mgarr in Gozo and Cirkewwa in Malta, a journey of just under half an hour. Ferry tickets are available from Mgarr Terminal prior to departure to Malta.

Getting around Gozo

Bus Service

The public transport service uses a fleet of modern, air-conditioned buses, offering an efficient and affordable transport system on a wide route network across all of the Maltese Islands.

There are 10 bus routes in Gozo, which run every hour in each direction.

Taxi Transfers

Taxi Transfers can be arranged from Mgarr to Farmhouse and vice versa. (see SERVICES section)

Car Hire

Is recommended and it is definitely the visitor with the car who will get the most out of his visit.


Ideal all year round whilst motor-bikes and bicycles may be hired.

Travel from Gozo to Comino

There is a scheduled boat service from Gozo to the Island of Comino all year round operated by the Comino Hotel. Other services are offered by other several operators during the summer months. (see SERVICES section)