A walk in Gozo’s Natura 2000 site – 25th August 2018 @ 17.30
Victoria, Rabat (the town’s old Arabic name, which means suburb) was colonised by several occupations (Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevines and the Aragonese. Later it was ruled by the Knights of the Order of Saint John, Napoleon and lastly the British) and this was found through archaeological evidence. Victoria, the name of the town you are visiting, was then given by the British government in honour of Queen Victoria in her jubilee year in 1887.
Victoria/Rabat older settlement is set on an almost flat plateau, mostly surrounded by gentle slopes. The area is completely urbanised and its original features (cracks and fractures of the land) are no longer noticeable. The population in Victoria in 2013 was of 6299. The Ċittadella is located in a strategic vantage point above Rabat. A map from 1940 and the Planning Authority’s Gozo and Comino (map 11.2) of 2006 show distinctly that the area within Victoria has been taken up with further urbanisation. Hence drawing a link between the economical and societal changes the island is undergoing is significant also in terms of the reduction of agricultural land taken up for the construction of new buildings and full time farmers.
At part of the Let’s Gozo Project, we are paying this site a visit.
This is an invitation to reflect on future cities, by taking a detailed look at our past and understanding our roots.We want to reflect on the theme of urbanisation and the environment – the notion of cities built for people, to bring the human dimension back into our cities and towns. Annalise Falzon will be taking us onto a detailed tour of Cittadella, starting from the visitors’ centre at 17:30 all the way through a Nature Walk to appreciate the flora and fauna still present at Cittadella. We will be able to watch sunset and dusk over the bastions as well as manage a short observation of bats until 20:00hrs. Local creative and puppeteer Sean Briffa will also be joining the event with a street puppet show exploring the theme of urbanisation and the use of spaces in our cities for creative and cultural entertainment. To join us fill in the booking form at the bottom of this page! During the event we will only be visiting the Citadella, but you might want to wander around to some of these other interesting places in the area.
1. Villa Rundle
Governor Sir Leslie Rundle helped to build the Villa Rundle in Victoria as part of the experimental farm of the British government. It is located in the lower part of Republic street. Today the public gardens include herbs and other varieties of plants as well as pathways that take you along the stretch of the garden which includes an aviary and a small amphitheatre that is ideal for performances and concerts. The Agriculture and Industrial Show (also known as Il-Wirja ta’ Santa Marija) has been held at Villa Rundle since 1855. The agricultural sector has always been a strong one in Gozo producing many a local product such as oil, honey and tomato production.
This fountain was constructed in 1881 to commemorate the supply of water from the aqueducts to the then new residential area around the Capuchin Church. The design of the fountain was drawn up by the Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia (1830-1906). Nevertheless as attested by Wirt Għawdex the primary use of the fountain was to supply water to the animals which were the typical transportation means in the past. The fountain was originally oriented facing South but was moved to its present position – facing North- West – when the roads were widened in the mid 1960’s.
3. Saint Francis Square
In this square there is St Francis church, together with the convent next to it which date to 1492. The square as can be seen is not closed to traffic. The Ministry for Gozo is located here and housed in what was previously the old hospital. Just further down between the square and Villa Rundle there is the bus terminus, which although the service is used in Gozo, it is not as popular as the service provided in Malta.
4. Old Hospital
According to Wirt Għawdex, the construction of this building started in 1726, under Grand Master de Vilhena’s ruling. It was completed after three years and was named after Saint John the Baptist and Saint Anthony of Padua. The Ministry for Gozo and other various Government offices are currently found within the building.
5. Saint George’s Basilica
Is entirely covered in marble and thus known as the marble basilica. The original basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and supporters and believers helped in rebuilding it. Above the high alter it has a grand bronze and gilded canopy, whilst the interior of the basilica is itself gilded. The patron Saint, St. George, sculpted in wood in 1838 is a key attraction.
6. It-Tokk – Independence Square
Is the main square bringing the market, locals and tourists alike to find local products. The market is held every morning on a daily basis and radiating out of the square there are narrow winding roads which take you along the medieval streets of Victoria.
In the square there is what is called the Banca Giuratale which was built between 1733 and 1738. Formerly it was the seat of the municipal government of Gozo and currently houses the Victoria local council.
As with the other square you visited today, more cafeterias and shops are emerging to increase economical income.
7. Citadel cinema
Is the only cinema in Gozo and was going to be closed down in 2014. Through government funding it has managed to upgrade its equipment and thus enabled it to continue screening films.
8. The Ċitadella
The Citadel is mostly made up of Upper Coralline limestone (harder stone) with some Blue Clay formation (soft stone, porous yet impermeable) and a little outcrops of Greensand formation (thin and easily crumbles).
Rock weathering has always been an item on the minds of the inhabitants of the Citadel since serious consequences could always result from continuous weathering.
The Citadel is found on the crown of a hill rising from a relatively flat area. The flat part at the base of the hill consists of Globigerina Limestone formation, the slopes are Blue Clay, while the steep, hilltop cliffs are Upper Coralline Limestone in contact, at the bottom, with Green Sands and Blue Clay.
Water supply in the Citadel originally depended on a combination between Perched Aquifer exploitation and rain water storage.
Most buildings in the Citadel have at least one well and/or a water reservoir carved in the limestone. In case of long dry periods, poor rainfall couldn’t recharge the small Citadel aquifer and rain water couldn’t be stored in the reservoirs. In this eventuality, it seems that people living in the Citadel went to Fontana spring to collect water.
The Ċitadella itself houses a good number of features (for example niches) and edifices such as the Gozo Cathedral (built on the Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Juno, this church was built between 1697 and 1711; a 1739 painting on the ceiling inside gives the impression of a dome when in actual fact the roof of the cathedral is flat), the Cathedral museum, Gozo Musuem of Archaeology, the Gozo Nature Museum, the Folklore Museum, the battery, the Old prison, the old gunpowder magazine, a World War II shelter and the grain silos.
Around the Ċittadella several valuable ecological species are found. The area is of ecological, scientific, and cultural importance and the site has hence been designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) of International Importance in 2007 and included in the European Union’s Natura 2000 network. The Ċittadella is one in thirty terrestrial Natura 2000 sites designated in the Maltese Islands.
The Natura 2000 is an ecological network composed of sites designated under the Birds Directive (Special Protection Areas) and the Habitats Directive (Sites of Community Importance and Special Areas of Conservation).
For each Natura 2000 site, national authorities would have submitted standard data that contains an extensive description of the site and its ecology. The European Topic Centre for Biological Diversity (ETC/BD), based in Paris, is responsible for validating this data and creating an EU wide database.
The following Annex II species (Directive 92/43/EEC) are present at the Ċitadella site:
- Linaria pseudolaxiflora (plant)
- Rhinolophus hipposideros (bat)
- Myotis punicus (bat)
Other important species known from the Ċitadella site include:
Annex IV (Directive 92/43/EEC) and/or Red Data Book plant species: Chamomilla aurea (plant)
Darniella melitensis (plant) Antirrhinium siculum (plant)
Annex IV (Directive 92/43/EEC) and/or Red Data Book invertebrate species: Onthopilus globulosus (beetle)
Trochoidea spratti (snail)
Annex IV (Directive 92/43/EEC) and/or Red Data Book vertebrate species: Podarcis filfolensis maltensis (lizard)
Pipistrellus kuhli (bat) Pipistrellus pygmaeus (bat) Tadarida teniotis (bat)
Historical, archaeological and landscape value
The historical, archaeological and heritage significance of the site can be attested by the fortifications and remains which date back to ancient times. The site itself and the hill upon which it is found are protected by a number of designations:
a. It is included in the list of Scheduled Properties in terms of Section 81 of the Environment Protection Act 2016
b. Class A Area of Archaeological Importance (GN 765 of 1998)
c. An Area of High Landscape Value (GN 83 of 2001)
d. An Urban Conservation Area.
Various buildings within the fortifications are also scheduled as Grade 1 Historic Buildings (GN 427 of 1995), whilst the entire Ċittadella is also listed in Malta’s tentative list of world Heritage Sites to the UNESCO. A Conservation Order issued in 1999 provided for the restoration of Iċ-Ċittadella (GN 539 of 1999).
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