Category Archives: Walking

A saint for every house, Malta and Gozo

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.

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My door and doorknocker obsession, Malta and Gozo

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Għarb to Marsalforn, Gozo

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.

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Dwejra Bay, Cart Ruts, Phoenician Temple

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the Phoenicians, Ancient Egypt and the Sumerians, lug around these hard cover ancient library books probably already out of date when I read them, not understanding the half of it but they were so full of magic in the names I could not pronounce and places I longed to go and puzzles I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.

Dwejra Bay Walk

Dwejra Bay Walk

Dwejra Bay Walk

Inside of it the ceiling has been carved into fantastic patterns, I imagine strange winds, the creep of water from above.

Dwejra Bay Walk

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.

Dwejra Bay Walk

Dwejra Bay Walk

Another cistern to the right as you stand staring at it.

Dwejra Bay Walk

This place — a high point. In every sense of the term.

We had started the walk in San Lawrenz.

San Lawrenz

San Lawrenz

We passed quarries that show the courses of stone removed.

 Dwejra Bay walk

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.

Dwejra Bay walk

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)

Dwejra Bay walk

But once the people living here enjoyed such a view — Dwejra Bay, Fungus Rock

Dwejra Bay walk

We climbed down, looked over the inland sea

Dewjra Bay Walk

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):

Dwejra Bay walk

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.

Dwejra Bay Walk

Looking back towards Dwejra Bay:

Dwejra Bay Walk

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.

Dwejra Bay Walk

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.

Dwejra Bay Walk

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.

Dwejra Bay Walk

We walked back along the roads in the fading sunlight, racing to Santa Lucija in time to catch the bus.

Dwejra Bay Walk

Dwejra Bay Walk

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.

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Limestone Cliffs and Salt Pans, Xlendi Bay

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.

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The Ġgantija Temples and down to Ramla Bay, Gozo

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.

Perhaps here I shall copy UNESCO’s description, it is hard to see this really from within the ruins themselves, but describes Ġgantija (and also Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien).

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:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

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:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

These seated women holding a child, showing us what furniture was once like. So splendid.

Ġgantija Temple Complex

More of these incredible figures from Ġgantija itself:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

A human-headed snail:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

These wonderful birds, scratched into this post post-firing:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

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.

Ġgantija Temple Complex

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).

Ġgantija Temple Complex

Monoliths with the graffiti of visitors from earlier centuries:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

Ġgantija Temple Complex

The remains of what are probably altars, and more wandering through:

Ġgantija Temple Complex

Ġgantija Temple Complex

Ġgantija

Ġgantija

Ġgantija

The size of these great slabs of rock though, amazing.

Ġgantija

Gganija Temples

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:

Xagħra

Xagħra

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.

Xagħra

Xagħra

We sat in the main square, accidentally ending up in an English-owned pub full of other English people.

Xagħra

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.

Xagħra

I recorded it for posterity — they make me miss English bells.

When the drinks were done we walked through the town.

 Xagħra

Xagħra

Xagħra

Xagħra

Past this mad empty house

Xagħra

and down the hills towards Ramla Bay as the sun set, still circling in a way this enormous church of Xewkija.

Xagħra to Ramla Bay

Xagħra to Ramla Bay

Xagħra to Ramla Bay

Xagħra to Ramla Bay

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Dolmens and Temples from Xlendi to Ix-Xewkija in the Dust and Heat

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:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Sanap Cliffs:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

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.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

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.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

In Sannat — goats! We disappointed them.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Then on, to the dolmen of Ta’ Ċenċ.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

A scatter of worked stone, the imposing Citadel rising up behind.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

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:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

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:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

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:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Then opening up:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

We walked towards sea and terraced hillsides.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

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.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

We staggered back up really.

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Arriving finally at the outskirts of Ix-Xewkija — oldest village on Gozo, a shrine:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

The church itself, which claims the third largest unsupported dome in the world, in the oldest village on Gozo:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

And I quite loved Ix-Xewkija:

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

Xlendi to Xewkija Walk

But nothing can describe the joy of seeing that bus, and an end to this walk.

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Sunset, Xlendi Bay

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.

Xlendi Bay

The salt pans:

We retreated, returned in the evening. Found a cat-shaped hole in the hillside, from which its eyes burned.

Xlendi Bay

And the magnificent cliffs.

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Down to the Sanap cliffs, where we found a family eating their meal on a fold up table beside their car.

Xlendi Bay

and then a race back home against darkness…

Xlendi Bay

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