Well, almost every house. In Valletta it is also every corner. Streets are full of shrines. Especially in Mdina/ Rabat, even where there is no saint, there is a nature scene, or a thanks to country that has made a family member welcome(ish) and able to send money home. They are amazing.
Our last walk on Gozo, it involved no ruins or temples, but we saw more salt pans and we found one stone circle but of nature’s origination. Għarb was definitely one of my favourite villages. We passed the shrine to St Dimitri, who legend has it emerged from his frame in this chapel to rescue a boy stolen away by slavers and returned him to his mother. We passed a tumbled pile of carved stone balustrades. There were wildflowers we had never seen before, more windswept coast — but not quite what we were expecting. I think the beauty of the cliffs all around this island raise expectations a little high. But then we reached the deep gullies carved by ocean, the great window. The sun went setting behind us. Lovely.
I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little, so much. I used to check out books on the Hittites and the Phoenicians, Ancient Egypt and the Sumerians, lug around these hard cover ancient library books probably already out of date when I read them, not understanding the half of it but they were so full of magic in the names I could not pronounce and places I longed to go and puzzles I longed to solve about ancient peoples. Many of them came from Tucson’s beautiful old Central Library before it moved to the new building. They came from the lower level where enormous electric fans kept the air moving and sent a great humming through the metal book shelves. One of my favourite places in the whole world. This is also where I found books on the Amazon rain forest, ornithologies of macaws and botanies of orchids and mythologies of exploration. This was while all of it still filled with innocence, before I knew how colonialism had twisted eager curiosity to understand the world into a way to better control and exploit it. ‘Phoenician’ still remains a word of wonder, lessened slightly by being reduced to the mere ‘Punic’ to signify the loss of Lebanon and the new centre in Carthage. Still, a word of wonder.
To be in a Phoenician Temple. In Ras Il-Wardija, Mark and I, on a high cliff looking out into the Mediterranean where they had built their fortune, the sun just beginning to sink and surrounded by the smell of smoke from farmers burning off the dead remains of old crops. The farmers shared the hilltop with us, staring out over the sea. But not the temple, we were alone there. It sits carved out of the golden globigerina limestone, niches still remaining there in the back of the cliffside. In front of it a deep square cistern, the limestone here strangely twisted and knotted like veins across skin, so sharply cut I felt it through my shoes.
Inside of it the ceiling has been carved into fantastic patterns, I imagine strange winds, the creep of water from above.
Everywhere shells — mussels half emerged from the smooth walls, remains of barnacles clustered in hollows, sand dollars and scallops adding to the strange layerings of limestone here.
Another cistern to the right as you stand staring at it.
This place — a high point. In every sense of the term.
We had started the walk in San Lawrenz.
We passed quarries that show the courses of stone removed.
Climbed out onto the cliffs above Dwejra Bay to find a bronze age dwelling and cart ruts — these have no mystique of childhood attached, but their mysterious nature makes them almost as wondrous as the temple.
Leading up to the dwelling (though likely older? It is only a small pile of rocks now, megaliths having fallen over the edge, fallen apart)
But once the people living here enjoyed such a view — Dwejra Bay, Fungus Rock
We climbed down, looked over the inland sea
Had a drink, well deserved. Began the climb back up to the Knight’s tower, a clearer view of it here from above (pre-drink, forgive the temporal slip):
It guarded the bay and fungus rock both, source of a rare parasitic plant — Cynomorium coccineum which flowers occasionally in the form of what looks like a phallic mushroom they believed to be an aphrodisiac and which they carefully controlled. They built a cable car (ie, a basket on a rope) to run from the rock to the promontory. I found an incredibly, brilliantly detailed article by Guido G. Lanfranco on all of its occurrences in written records, and this drawing which I liked better than that of the article:
I hadn’t realised you could still see the stairs both on the promontory and the rock itself, we did not go out there. Instead we made the steep climb back up the cliffs.
Reaching the top, to our left, the caves of Għajn Abdul, had it been less hot, earlier in the day, we would have climbed up to see these places whose deposits show them to have been occupied 7000 years ago, one of the earliest places settled here.
Looking back towards Dwejra Bay:
We went a bit wrong along teh cliffs, ended on the path closest to the edge. I had a moment of panic, being afraid of heights to some degree, but it was conquered.
And then we reached the temple.
The sun setting, we walked back, again along the path closest to the edge, not knowing we needed to head back up right away to get on the higher one. Poor me.
Finally we came to Ta’Sarraflu Pool, believed to have been built by the Romans, still full of ducks. We saw no frogs or turtles, but it was lovely all the same.
We walked back along the roads in the fading sunlight, racing to Santa Lucija in time to catch the bus.
We made it with three minutes to spare, no time to think about how to adequately capture the beauty of the citadel lit up and rather glorious in the night or the similar glowing of the great church at Xewkija.
I write this as Mark once more sits diligently at the kitchen table working on proof edits.
Late afternoon and the air begins to cool, just a little. We explore moonscapes, stare at the shells emerging from the ground beneath us, they seem too brittle for fossils, but how else have they come here? Yet they sit next to circles of rust, marking the presence of metal. Setting sun picks up the yellow of limestone, turns it chromatic against the blue of the sky, picks out the smooth shapes carved out of it by wind and rain and sea leaving sweeping lines of wonder. Smooth boulders. A heart. The Knight’s watchtower seems almost a part of it, anchored there by the door carved into the stone and the tunnel that must be there holding it fast like a dark hand. Below the salt pans, carved by human hands into the rock to capture sea and its salt in the form of crystals. In one direction the open Mediterranean, in the other the cliffs.
They are beautiful even in the early morning light.
The Ġgantija Temples are the oldest freestanding temples in the world, built between 3600 and 3200 BCE, they are older than Stonehenge, older than the pyramids…it’s what the guidebooks all say, undeniably it’s partly what invests these enormous stones with what is left of their fascination. Their name comes from Maltese ġgant, or giant.
I like to think they were built by giants. But also that it was just us.
Each monument is different in plan, articulation and construction technique. They are usually approached from an elliptical forecourt in front of a concave façade. The façade and internal walls consist of upright stone slabs, known as orthostats, surmounted by horizontal blocks. The surviving horizontal masonry courses indicate that the monuments had corbelled roofs, probably capped by horizontal beams. This method of construction was a remarkably sophisticated solution for its time. The external walls are usually constructed in larger blocks set alternately face out and edge out, tying the wall securely into the rest of the building. The space between the external wall and the walls of the inner chambers is filled with stones and earth, binding the whole structure together.
Typically, the entrance to the building is found in the centre of the façade, leading through a monumental passageway onto a paved court. The interiors of the buildings are formed of semi-circular chambers usually referred to as apses, symmetrically arranged on either side of the main axis. The number of apses varies from building to building; some have three apses opening off the central court, whilst others have successive courts with four, five, and in one case even six apses.
A map of the ruins here:
There are two caves related to the temples, both full of pottery shards from this period. There is the Xagħra stone circle, one of the most important archaeological finds of the 1980s, sitting between Ġgantija and Santa Verna Temple, of which little is left now where it sits about 1 km away. Like what is now known as the hypogeum (more on that later), this was a roofed-over stone circle sitting above a cave system full of bones. A spontaneous visit to this place is impossible, and there is little now to see. We pretty much only do spontaneous. We did not go. But in the museum are some of the figures that were uncovered during excavations, these figures from what is referred to as a possible shaman’s bag… it bothers me, that words use. As though cultures that still have what we call shamans are somehow the same as these ancient cultures of the stone age, as if they’ve been held in time just like some insect in amber.
These figures are awesome though:
These seated women holding a child, showing us what furniture was once like. So splendid.
More of these incredible figures from Ġgantija itself:
A human-headed snail:
These wonderful birds, scratched into this post post-firing:
From here we braved the blazing heat, made worse by great iron structures shading the path whose purpose was unclear apart from creating a kind of oven effect to counteract the shade they provided. And then the structure itself.
The flat-topped hill behind it is in-Nuffara, a settlement site during this same period.
It is hard to get a sense over-all of the thing. They have built walkways, it is covered with scaffolding. The uneasy lean of the corbelled roof made this feel potentially necessary, but atmosphere can’t really survive scaffolding really. Or wooden walkways. It is found in the small views, the holes drilled through rock (with no metal, with only antler and perhaps harder bits of stone, and why? To screen the inner sanctums perhaps).
Monoliths with the graffiti of visitors from earlier centuries:
The remains of what are probably altars, and more wandering through:
The size of these great slabs of rock though, amazing.
This town was the only place reached by the plague in 1831, and held in quarantine. Here too, in Xagħra, is the Ta’ Kola windmill:
Built by the Knights of St John it is very impressive, though we weren’t allowed in — we had carefully gotten there just before 4:30 to see it, but tickets were only available at the temple complex, so we rejoined the annoying people who had filled our bus.
Xagħra was gearing up for its festival celebrating Marija Bambina, there are street decorations up and down the streets, pedestals set up here and there, everyday streetlamps and fountains cloaked in fake marble.
We sat in the main square, accidentally ending up in an English-owned pub full of other English people.
We watched a group of men fighting to set up a stage, and watching two youths ring bells in the church towers by standing beside the bell itself to pull the ropes.
I recorded it for posterity — they make me miss English bells.
When the drinks were done we walked through the town.
Past this mad empty house
and down the hills towards Ramla Bay as the sun set, still circling in a way this enormous church of Xewkija.
We left on this walk from Xlendi to the Sanap Cliffs to the Ta’ Ċenċ dolmen and the Ta’ l’Imramma Temple to Mġarr ix-Xini at the base of Wied Ħanżira and up to Ix-Xewkija around 6:15 am (we hate mornings, but optimism and my desire to see things drove us).
It was not early enough.
But the dawn was beautiful, though already hot. The cliffs of Xlendi bay beyond the fields:
We walked past farmers at work in their fields, heard the steady thud of what sounded like the wielding of a hoe by hand. Mist still hovered inland surrounding Ix-Xewkija’s enormous church. We have circled this church throughout our time here.
We walked perilously along a narrow path between wall and cliff. The path had been closed off. We retraced our steps. The only good this brought us was a view of a cholla with the main island of Malta beyond, the first cholla I’d seen here though nopales are everywhere.
In Sannat — goats! We disappointed them.
Then on, to the dolmen of Ta’ Ċenċ.
A scatter of worked stone, the imposing Citadel rising up behind.
A little further the Ta’ l’Imramma Temple, from the Mġarr phase, 3800-3600 BCE. Wondrously old, though there is very little still left to be seen here. Megaliths — believed to be still standing where they were set, but now built into a wall:
Beyond them a pile of rubble, with megaliths strewn across an area which our book (Archaeological Walks on Gozo by Lenie Reeddijk) said was about 80m in circumference:
There are cart ruts to be found here too, but it was too hot for short turning asides. We ignored such instructions, followed the road down past Wied Ħanżira, almost hidden at first:
Then opening up:
We walked towards sea and terraced hillsides.
Down to a most beautiful bay — Mġarr ix-Xini, which means landing place for ships — helped with a short ride from some divers heading down. They thought we were crazy I know. They were absolutely right, we all knew it. We did not swim nor wait two hours until they returned back up the hill as they suggested, but climbed out again, up steps cut into the rock.
We staggered back up really.
Arriving finally at the outskirts of Ix-Xewkija — oldest village on Gozo, a shrine:
The church itself, which claims the third largest unsupported dome in the world, in the oldest village on Gozo:
And I quite loved Ix-Xewkija:
But nothing can describe the joy of seeing that bus, and an end to this walk.
We attempted a walk in the morning, beautiful, but the heat sent us stumbling back, though first we got to the oldest of the four surviving Knight’s watchtowers on Gozo, built in 1650 to guard this bay against (other) pirates.
The salt pans:
And the magnificent cliffs.
Down to the Sanap cliffs, where we found a family eating their meal on a fold up table beside their car.
and then a race back home against darkness…
Longsight is a vibrant neighbourhood whose vibrance, as far as I can tell from my short sojourn here, is almost entirely contained within the walls of the local churches and mosques and community centres. I often see people spilling out into the sidewalk, children laughing, families strolling happily to or from an event. It is both lovely and quite lonely, for these are not open gatherings. There are few places to eat that are not fried chicken or take-out. There is nowhere to buy a great big cup of coffee the way I like it. There are few markets. There are many students, and furniture and bags of their rubbish now that they are gone.
It is hard to tell quite where Longsight ends and Victoria Park begins and the address says this is actually Rusholme – there’s a great blog on some of these changing boundaries here. All I know is that on my walking route to the city I often walked past Elizabeth Gaskell’s old house on Plymouth Grove, and it feels like it’s still Longsight so the contrast is quite something. We finally managed a visit. It was built in about 1838 as one of Manchester’s early suburban developments, planned by architect Richard Lane.
The Gaskell’s moved into the house in 1850, and the booklet notes they had chicken and ducks, a much larger garden, a cow in a neighbouring field. Hard to imagine. Harder to imagine paying £150 a year, but I know that was a lot of money then. So many people have been in this house. In 1851, Charlotte Brontë described it as
A Large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of the Manchester smoke.
There is a floorplan! I love those, I keep thinking I will write my murder mystery one day.
There is a lovely picture of the drawing room as it once was — this room sat empty for a long time as they couldn’t afford to furnish it. I quite loved knowing that too. Ah, the days of living within one’s means. And five servants.
Along with Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens was a regular visitor, Jane Eyre? The Pickwick Papers? Marvelous. John Ruskin was here too, and Harriet Beecher Stowe (but she leaves me fairly unimpressed as I mostly raged through Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
This is where Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Cranford (1851–53), North and South (1854–55) and the biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). I had never heard of that one, how? She’d nearly finished Wives and Daughters when she died in 1865. Her family remained in the house until 1913, when her daughter Meta (Meta!) died. The campaign to preserve it was unsuccessful, the furniture sold off. But so much work has gone into restoring it as close to its original condition as possible, it’s lovely.
There are visiting cards on a salver in the entry hall (visiting cards! Cartes de visites!), people in the 1860s actually swapped portraits of themselves on small cards. These tidbits are partly why I love visiting places.
That of Elizabeth Gaskell herself.
The morning room is ‘designed to catch the morning light’. I like it when things do what they are supposed to, I rather want one that is not where I sleep, as at present. A study, where William Gaskell could work on his sermons (they are working on building a list of books the Gaskells owned to repopulate it).
I didn’t take many pictures, but this is the dining room, set up as if Elizabeth Gaskell were writing here. I quite loved that.
There is a brilliant and unexpected collection of Dürer prints Meta had collected that hang in the stairwell. Gaskell was also a keen gardener, and while the back garden has lost its former glory, I particularly love the way they do the front of the house, it is a joy to walk by. Upstairs a small look at how Manchester was then, and how much it has changed. This is the third place the Gaskell’s lived in this area, the other two are long gone. I am glad this is still here, and well worth a visit.