The Malta Independent 25 March 2017, Saturday

Updated (2) - Watch: Dwejra Window collapses; geologist says pillar gave way

Wednesday, 8 March 2017, 10:12 Last update: about 16 days ago

The Dwejra Window, also known as the Azure Window, collapsed today as a result of bad weather after years of erosion which saw parts of the natural window being slowly eaten away by the elements.

The iconic natural structure, which has been used as a backdrop several times in films and TV series, the latest one being Game of Thrones, is no more, with geologist Peter Gatt saying that it was not the arch that ultimately gave way, but the pillar that was supporting it.

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The Dwejra Window, in the west of Gozo, was one of the most well-known symbols of the Maltese Islands, and was frequently used in promotional material aimed to attract tourists to Malta. 

(Photos above Manoel Bajada, Matt Hush)

 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was among the first to tweet about the incident, and soon the news spread around Malta and Gozo like wildfire. Many Gozitans and Maltese people who happened to be on the island this morning flocked to the area to witness how the scenario had changed overnight. The police later issued a warning for people to stay away.

video dwejra no more from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

The natural arch has been crumbling away for the past years. The government recently issued a conservation order which did not deter people from trespassing onto the arch. Signs were set up to warn people not to trespass, and a 1,500 euro fine was established for people caught walking across the window or jumping off into the sea from above the arch.

But the strong seas which have battered the structure for hundreds of years, including during last night's storm, finally had it their way, and the Azure Window is no longer there.

Photo Matt Hush

Dr Peter Gatt, a geologist who conducted a government study on the Azure Window, told The Malta Independent that it was the pillar not the arch of the structure that collapsed.

(Above and below) Dwejra Window in its full glory before it collapsed

He also said that he had requested the arch and pillar to be monitored over a long period of time, in a bid to study the area and establish whether the pillar supporting the arch was moving, "but there wasn’t any follow-up and the condition of the pillar remained unknown.”

The emptiness that was left at Dwejra after the collapse of the Azure Window. Photo Matt Hush

“Had we monitored and detected any difficulties, it would have still been a massive problem on our hands, as it would have been very hard to stabilize such a large structure,” he said.

Dr Gatt attributed the collapse to years of erosion caused by both under and over ground sea swells. 

The emptiness that was left at Dwejra after the collapse of the Azure Window. Photo Matt Hush

Dr Gatt admitted that "nature surprised us", as although it was a known fact that the window would have sooner or later collapsed, it was thought that the Dwejra Window had more years of life.

The prediction that the arch was stable and would last another couple of decades was correct,” he said, as ultimately it was the pillar that gave way.

“However, we did not know the condition of the base of the pillar, and once it moved it took everything with it.”

The Gozo Tourism Association said that Gozo has lost one of its iconic beauties. The inevitable and the much feared has happened. The flagship of the Gozitan touristic sites has sunk in its same birth place from where for thousands of years, it stood high and proud heralding one of the natural beauties our little island is endowed with.

All Gozitans and especially the  touristic industry today are so saddened with this expected loss, the association said. The much promoted Azure Window is no more, and only millions of photographs remain as testimony of this touristic spot.

The Azure window was a tourist puller, as it is estimated that 80% of over the one million tourists that came to Gozo either for a day trip or for an overnight stay visited this natural attraction.

Although Dwejra has been orphaned with this loss, however the tourism community in Gozo still believes that Dwejra will continue attracting thousands of tourists every day since it still boasts of the Inland Sea as well as the Blue Hole which is so sought after by divers who visit Gozo.

Finally the Azure Window’s demise should serve as an eye opener to all concerned to look after and maintain and protect where possible, the touristic sites this little Island has to offer. 

Partit Demokratiku said it is saddened that the day has come that the Azure Window has collapsed. It's a sad day for our natural heritage. Partit Demokratiku understands the fact that the Azure Window was lost due to nature's law. 

Partit Demokratiku urged the public to focus their energy on the constant loss of environment and natural heritage due to bad planning decisions, lack of a holistic plan for our islands and greed.

"We might not be able to stop nature, but we can surely change our ways. Let this be our wake up call. Whenever we lose something which is unique to the Maltese Islands, we lose a part of ourselves, our identity. We hold our land and seas in tenancy for those that come after us. Let us truly start protecting our natural and urban environment." 

In a Facebook post, Alternattiva Demokratika chairman said that in spite of warnings by geologist Peter Gatt successive governments had not taken action. Strict measures were promised but people continue to walk on the arch. He criticised the Prime Minister for tweeting his shock after not doing anything to protect the unique treasure.

"In the meantime, tired and fed up, the Azure window has sent all us humans to piss off," Prof Cassola said.

The touristic zone was used for filming on several occasions, most notably for the Clash of the Titans (below) film in 1981 and, more recently, for the TV series Game of Thrones (above).

The Environment and Resources Authority, in a statement, acknowledged that the collapse of the Azure Window is major loss to the Natural Heritage of the Maltese Islands.

This feature also formed part of the Natura 2000 site for the area between San Dimitri till Xlendi, including the area of Dwejra. This event although unfortunate does not reduce any of the importance of the Natura 2000 area, ERA said.

The several studies carried out by the commissioned experts had all indicated that the collapse of the Azure Window was an unavoidable natural event. The collapse is most probably the compounded result of the process of natural erosion coupled with the strong winds hitting the islands and the related sea currents.

 

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