The Malta Independent 24 April 2019, Wednesday

Wirt Għawdex and Gozo’s heritage sites – Part I

Malta Independent Sunday, 1 September 2013, 15:10 Last update: about 6 years ago

The beginning

The non-governmental organization Wirt Ghawdex today manages historical sites in the Citadel, the Tower of Mgarr ix-Xini, and a unique medieval chapel, all in Gozo.

The society has roots dating back to the late sixties of the last century when Mr Anthony Spiteri – an energetic and keen Gozitan Primary School teacher – and a group of young eager Gozitans set up Il-Belt il-Qadima (‘The Old City’). Their aim was to arouse a conscience about the state the Gozo Citadel was in, and help in the restorations needed. Five years later, with a marble plaque commemorating the event and restorations carried out under the leadership of Fr Tony Mercieca, the old chapel dedicated to St Joseph within the Citadel was reopened in time for the saint’s feast in March 1974.   

The organisation also helped cleaning the old clock, the cannons, and the old prison – all within the Citadel, and removing weeds from the fortification walls.

It also contributed towards the setting up of the Folklore Museum in the Citadel by donating a set of traditional fishing equipment which had belonged to founder member Anton Spiteri’s father.


Wirt Ghawdex

In a general meeting held in July 1981 the members decided to extend their attention to the whole of Gozo and Comino which is legally associated with Gozo. Another decision taken was that of changing the name of the society to Wirt Ghawdex thus reflecting a wider attention and interest.

To help arouse lacking awareness in the environment and Gozo’s cultural heritage, the society started publishing a regular newsletter: Wirt Missirijietna, later changed to GWL (the earliest recorded name for Gozo found in a Punic inscription today on show at the Archaeological Museum in the same Citadel). In the meantime, a statute with the general aims of the society was drafted. In it, the aims of the society – to foster knowledge of our heritage amongst all levels of society and to strive to safeguard the natural, archaeological, historical, and anthropological patrimony of the islands of Gozo and Comino – were entrenched. These have eventually been adopted as Wirt Ghawdex’s Mission Statement.

At that time, the list of historical sites identified for the society’s attention included Mgarr ix-Xini Tower, Comino Tower, Dwejra Tower, Cardona Tower, Saint Cecilia Chapel, Dar il-Lunzjata, and various fountains in various places around Gozo. To date most of these have been restored. Besides, Dar il-Lunzjata was transformed into the headquarters of the society lately moved to recently acquired Dar il-Gvernatur, in the limits of Victoria.

Members came from all walks of life, and some foreign residents have contributed their share too. Among the latter, Ann, wife of renowned writer Nicholas Monsarrat – author of The Cruel Sea, and The Kappillan of Malta – worked hard as the society’s Public Relations Officer for four years.


The consolidation of Wirt Ghawdex

Over the years the society has been instrumental in helping create awareness for safeguarding vital aspects of Gozo’s heritage by a)      going into Management Agreements with the Government allowing the society to restore sites and open them for the public, b)            holding free public lectures and cultural concerts, c)                visiting schools and giving presentations to students, d) becoming stake-holders with various entities such as MEPA, the MTA, and the GTA, e)                 issuing press releases about important issues, f)                publishing the quarterly regular newsletter GWL, and g)                printing of publications about each of their managed sites.


Management of sites

Today, Wirt Ghawdex manages the Gunpowder Magazine site which includes the lower battery, WWII shelters, and the Silos (all in the Citadel); the Mgarr ix-Xini Tower; and the Santa Cecilia Medieval chapel.

                These sites have been professionally, and lovingly restored and to date have been visited by thousands of local and foreign tourists who are welcomed by members of the association and volunteers. They are helping to increase appreciation towards Gozo’s rich environment, but above all to the island’s wealth of historical heritage.


The Gozo boat

With sponsorship coming from Gozo Channel Co. Ltd – which operates the three ferry vessels ‘M/F Malita’, ‘M/F Ta’ Pinu’, and ‘M/F Gaudos’ – the society has restored the only surviving Dghajsa tal-Latini (Lateen Boat) which has been installed as a permanent exhibit at Zewwieqa, in Mgarr harbour.


Talks, lectures, and student volunteers

To help propagate knowledge about Gozo, the society regularly organizes talks, lectures, and concerts related to the island’s history and culture. Distinguished scholars, authors, and established artists offer their services free of charge. In the past these were frequently held in the main hall of the Ministry of Gozo, in Victoria. Today they are held in the beautifully restored St Cecilia chapel, in the limits of Ghajnsielem.  

                Wirt Ghawdex also supports students working on their Sixth Form Systems of Knowledge projects. It takes groups of these students and provides them with an opportunity to do their voluntary experience with the society. There are cases of some students who opted to remain active members.


Moral support and sponsorships

The society’s efforts enjoy the continuous support of the Ministry for Gozo, various sponsorships from Gozo Channel Ltd. and the Baron Group, donations from benefactors among them the Rotary Club (Gozo) and private citizens, its own fundraising events and sale of publications and, of course, the invaluable work and efforts of many volunteers.



The enthusiastic participation of many of the supporting members, and especially of Presidents Magistrate Paul Coppini (1981–2009) and Franco Masini (2009–  ), and executive secretaries Godwin Vella (1990–2002) and Giovanni Zammit (2002–  ), brochures, a reproduction of an old drawing of Garzes Tower, fac similes of Jean Houel’s etchings of scenes in Gozo, and six monographs have been published to further disseminate knowledge about the sites Wirt Ghawdex manages, and to help increase funds so much required for the ongoing work towards the preservation of Gozo’s heritage.

                The monographs are Voyage Pittoresque Des Isles de Sicile, de Lipari et de Malte, in French by Jean Hoüel and an English translation by William Driscoll, The Gozo Boat, by Joseph Muscat; the Mgarr ix-Xini Tower, The Gran Castello, and A brief guide to the Old Gunpowder Magazine, Grain Silos, Battery, & World War Two Shelter at the Gran Castello, Victoria – Gozo all by Godwin Vella; and The Church of St Cecilia, by David Mallia.

                A limited edition print of an original painting of Garzes Tower by Salvatore Busuttil is also available for Euro 25. Monograph prices vary between Euro 5 to Euro 10 with all proceeds going towards the various restoration projects. 


Website and contacts

The society has a website: – a means of international communication – and a contact electronic address: [email protected]. Wirt Ghawdex is also on Facebook.


You are welcome

Volunteers are welcome! New members are welcome! Any help which may contribute to the safeguard of Gozo’s precious heritage is commendable, and we are in great need of it.


Part 2 will be published next week

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