The Malta Independent 21 May 2024, Tuesday
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Gozo: European City of Culture 2031

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 5 May 2024, 08:12 Last update: about 17 days ago

The story of Gozo is a tale as ancient as time itself, woven with threads of myth and legend that stretch back to the dawn of civilization. From its mythical origins as Ogygia to the present-day reality of its vibrant culture and way of life, the forces of history and the resilience of Gozitans have shaped the island.

Ogygia, a name whispered in the stories of ancient mythology, evokes images of nymphs and heroes, of gods and monsters. In the epic poem of Homer’s Odyssey, the legendary home of the nymph Calypso immortalises Ogygia. It is a place of enchantment and mystery where time seems to stand still. Though shrouded in myth, the island’s ancient name hints at a history that predates recorded memory, a time when the world was young and the boundaries between myth and reality blurred.

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Yet, beyond the realm of myth lies a tangible history, written in the stone temples and ancient ruins that dot the island’s landscape. Archaeological evidence suggests that people have inhabited Gozo since Neolithic times, with traces of human activity dating back as far as 5000 BC. Discover the captivating world of Ggantija Temples, an impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site. Step back in time and gain a fascinating insight into the lives of our ancient predecessors as you explore these awe-inspiring megalithic wonders. The Ggantija Temples, nestled amidst the villages of Xewkija and Xaghra in Gozo, stand as evidence to the island’s ancient past, a monument to the ingenuity and skill of its builders. These megalithic temples stand as ancient engineering wonders, predating even the Egyptian pyramids, making them among the oldest free-standing structures in the world. These temples hold the key to unravelling the mysteries of prehistoric Gozo, a testament to the island’s enduring legacy as a centre of culture and civilization.

Gozo’s strategic location in the heart of the Mediterranean made it a crossroads of civilisations, a melting pot of cultures and traditions that left an indelible mark on Gozo’s identity.

Today, the whispers of the wind and the rustle of the olive groves still carry the echoes of Gozo’s ancient past. In the summer resorts of Marsalforn, Xlendi and Ramla Bay, where the clash between tradition and modernity plays out against the backdrop of sun-drenched beaches and crystal-clear waters, the spirit of Ogygia lives on in the hearts of the islanders.

Marsalforn, once a sleepy fishing village, has undergone a radical transformation in recent decades, emerging as a bustling tourist destination overflowing with hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. The relentless march of progress has overshadowed the traditional skyline, as concrete high-rises and cranes dominate the horizon, replacing the limestone houses and winding alleyways.

Similarly, Xlendi, with its picturesque bay and rugged cliffs, has become a magnet for visitors drawn to its natural beauty and tranquil charm. Yet, amidst the allure of modernity, there remains a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time, when life moved at a slower pace and the rhythms of nature governed daily existence.

But amidst the whirlwind of change, there are pockets of tranquillity that remain untouched by the hand of man. Dwejra, with its dramatic coastal formations and pristine waters, still keeps its beauty, especially at night when the starlit sky casts a magical glow over the landscape. Though the iconic Azure Window, a natural limestone arch that graced the coastline for centuries, has succumbed to the relentless onslaught of the waves, Dwejra remains a testament to the enduring power of nature.

In the island’s heart, nestled amidst the rolling hills and grassy valleys, lies the Ta’ Pinu Shrine, a confirmation to the Gozitan devotion to Our Lady. Under the shadow of Għammar hill, the shrine is a place of pilgrimage for the faithful, a sanctuary of solace and prayer in a world beset by turmoil and strife. Though the winds of change may sweep across Gozo, the devotion of the Gozitans to their Madonna Ta’ Pinu remains steadfast, a beacon of hope in an uncertain world.

Yet, amidst the beauty and tranquillity, there are signs of trouble on the horizon. The public sector, burdened by an overabundance of employees, struggles to meet the needs of a growing population, while essential services such as road maintenance and ferry services languish in need of investment and improvement.

The influx of foreigners, drawn by the promise of opportunity and adventure, has altered the social and cultural fabric of Gozitan society, raising concerns about the displacement of native inhabitants and the erosion of local traditions. Nowhere is this clearer than in the historic citadel of Victoria, where rampant construction threatens to obscure the island’s rich history and cultural heritage.

St George’s Square, the beating heart of the Golden Basilica, now finds itself overrun by restaurants and cafes, leaving restricted access for the Giorgiani to gather and celebrate their ancient traditions. St George’s basilica, one of the key symbols of the island’s spiritual heritage, is now almost inaccessible to its followers, as commercial interests encroach upon its pjazza.

For Gozitans, the prospect of change looms large, threatening to erode the very foundations of their identity and way of life. The resuscitated Gozo tunnel proposal linking Gozo to the mainland represents not only a physical connection but also a symbolic threat to the island’s identity and independence. As progress and development advance relentlessly, Gozitans face the challenge of preserving their unique culture and heritage against overwhelming odds.

Beyond the turmoil and uncertainty, there remains a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The Victoria 2031 Foundation, with its vision of harnessing Gozo’s rich cultural tapestry, stands as a beacon of light in the darkness, committed to creating a bid for European City of Culture 2031 that reflects the aspirations and values of the entire community. Through participatory processes and extensive research, the foundation seeks to engage stakeholders, organisations, and the public in a shared vision for the future, one that honours the island’s past while embracing the opportunities of the present.

In the end, the fate of Gozo hangs in the balance, poised between the forces of tradition and modernity, progress and preservation. As the island navigates the complexities of the 21st century, it does so with a sense of purpose and determination, knowing that its cultural heritage and way of life are not merely relics of the past but treasures to be cherished and protected for generations to come.

Good luck to the ‘Victoria Foundation 2031’!

 

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