Are you planning to visit Gozo during your stay in the Maltese islands? Don’t miss the Citadel at Victoria!
The Citadel, also known as Cittadella or Gran Castello, is an old city overlooking Gozo Island. It is located in Victoria (formerly known as Rabat), the “capital city” of Gozo.
Want to visit the Citadel in Gozo? In this complete guide, you will find all the useful information and local tips you need to know to make the best of your visit: a brief history, how to get there, museums, and more.
Inside the fortification walls, you will discover the Gozo Cathedral and historic buildings that give you the impression of stepping back in time. There are also interesting museums inside, covering the rich heritage of Gozo. Visit them to learn more about the history of Gozo and its inhabitants.
To reach the Citadel, you need to take the steep street climbing from Independence Square, at the heart of Victoria.
Apart from its fascinating history, the Gozo Citadel boasts spectacular views of the whole island. They’re the kind of views you can’t get bored of. Depending on the season, you won’t get the same view. If you visit during winter, you will enjoy a lush landscape made of green hills and valleys. During the summertime, the island turns to hues of yellow and brown.
You will be amazed as soon as you enter the Citadel Gozo. Once you get to the foot of the fortification walls, you will find a few flights of stairs. Climb them, and you will find yourself in the cathedral square. In front of you stands the imposing cathedral dedicated to Santa Marija. To reach this landmark, take the large steps climbing up to its door.
As you walk through the very well-restored Citadel, it will reveal its treasures and secrets to you: winding streets, archaeological deposits and stunning views overlooking the surrounding countryside and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Gozo Citadel was built during the Middle Ages to protect the Gozitans from coastal piracy. When the Knights of St John came to the Maltese islands, they first focused on Malta, the main island, and the construction of Valletta. After an attack by Corsairs, they decided to refurbish the Citadel.
At the Citadel, you can stroll in the streets, enjoy fantastic views of the entire island, visit the visitors’ centre, the cathedral and several museums (Cathedral Museum, Gozo Museum of Archaeology, Gran Castello Historic House, Gozo Nature Museum, Old Prison).
The history of the Citadel Gozo starts during the Neolithic times. Indeed, the Citadel is believed to have been inhabited since the Bronze Age .
Later on, a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Juno was built on the hill.
This Roman acropolis was converted into a medieval castle during the Middle Ages. Its purpose was to provide shelter for the Gozitans during the age of coastal piracy. Until 1637, the entire population of Gozo was required by law to spend the night within the Citadel for their own safety .
Unfortunately, the castle’s defences were not enough. During the 16th century, the Ottomans invaded Gozo, the Citadel and enslaved the entire population. Bernardo De Opuo is known for having killed his wife and son in 1551, preventing them from being enslaved.
Following the Great Siege and another attack by Corsairs, the Knights of St. John modernised and rebuilt the Citadel . The northern walls remained intact from the Middle Ages, while the Knights rebuilt the southern walls.
During the French occupation of Malta (1798-1800), Napoleon’s troops invaded the Citadel . After the French garrison capitulated, the British transferred control of the Cittadella to the Gozitans.
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There is a lot to see in this ancient fortified city located on the Maltese islands.
We advise you to start your visit from the visitors’ centre, which is housed in two old water reservoirs built in the 1870s. This really informative visitors’ centre will provide you with interpretive aids for a better understanding of what you are going to visit next. It is divided into two parts, one offering interactive touch screens and printed panels, the other one screening an eight-minute video about the citadel’s history in a small theatre.
Then, exit the visitors’ centre and head to the main square. You cannot miss the Gozo Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady. Its full name is Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven Maltese Katidral ta’ Santa Marija Assunta. It was built on the remains of the Roman temple. The cathedral was designed by the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà during the 17th century.
What makes this cathedral distinctive? Due to a lack of funds, there is no dome. To replace it, the architect created a trompe-l’œil inside, simulating a dome. A trompe-l’œil is a painting intended to create a visual illusion and give you the impression that the object is in three dimensions. The floor is covered with marble tombstones of Gozitan bishops and priests.
Just around the corner, at the side of the cathedral, you will find the cathedral museum. This museum is dedicated to the cathedral’s treasures: paintings, archives, clerical vestments, a silver vault, a silverware collection and a column fragment of the early Roman temple.
One of the best activities you can do at the Citadel Gozo is to stroll through its streets steeped in history. Start from the main square, facing the cathedral. On the left, you can find the law courts, formerly the Palace of the Governors of Gozo. Opposite is the Bishop’s Palace.
As you stroll in the narrow streets of the Gozo Citadel, you will spot holy niches (shrines), bas-reliefs, coats of arms and even Norman-style windows and arches.
Take the time to admire the old buildings, the military architecture and the medieval walls. You will also find some crafts shops where you can buy lace, filigree jewellery and other Maltese handicrafts.
We will share with you a secret place we recommend you explore as well: the Sally ports. Those are tunnels which were used as a passageway to circulate between the ditch and the Citadel. Two of them are next to the visitors’ centre. Another one can be found to the right of the original entrance.
As you explore the Gozo Citadel, you will reach the walkway that runs around the fortified city. The fortification walls are punctuated by several bastions, such as Michael’s Bastion, linked by curtain walls. There is no doubt that the walkway will be one of the highlights of your visit to the Citadel. The fortifications overlook the entire island of Gozo. They are a perfect spot to get amazing views of the entire island.
You can visit all the different museums included in the Heritage Malta combo ticket. They will let you get a better understanding of the local history, traditions and folklore of Gozo island.
The first one is the Gran Castello Historic House, formerly known as the Folklore Museum. This museum is utterly fascinating. It is located in a cluster of interconnected houses on Bernardo De Opuo Street. The museum hosts a range of exhibits illustrating the local domestic, rural and traditional ways of life in Gozo.
This museum is housed in Casa Bondì. It is dedicated to Gozitan history, from the Prehistory, and the Classical Period to the Mediaeval and Early Modern periods. Archaeological remains are displayed, such as Phoenician, Punic, and Roman artefacts, as well as a Muslim tomb adorned with a poem in Kufic script.
The Old Prison features well-preserved prison cells. The inmates incised their mark on the aged walls of the cells: graffiti, calendars, crosses… One of the inmates was famous: Jean Parisot de La Valette, Grand Master, was imprisoned there.
The military architecture is really worth seeing in the Citadel. Start from the Gunpowder Magazine, built by the Knights of St John during the 17th century. Continue with the Battery and the WWII Shelters. You will also find Bronze Age silos. End your visit to the platform where canons are installed.
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