Probably the most important thing to know about Gozo is that in the middle of the 16th century, in only a few fateful days, a great majority of the population was carted away into slavery and never retrieved. A few brave souls escaped by rappelling down a wall so terrifying that I did not take a picture from the top, but the trauma to the culture persists to this day.
As one of the guidebooks put it, almost 500 years later, “Today, not all Gozitans consider all foreigners as slavers, though it remains a closed society.”
In the 19th century, the British occupiers ripped up the land and converted all agriculture to only what was necessary to make beer and whisky for export. Since independence more than 50 years ago, the situation has been changing back to normal. The island today is already self-sufficient in both solar electricity and vegetables. The pears and apples and vineyards are being replanted. The native beef is excellent.
The current government does its best to exploit European subsidy and to suppress outside developers, but an under-sea tunnel is planned between over-populated Malta and it’s smaller, older sister, which promises to destroy everything again in a flood of international tourism.
The island is used to it. No one can count the number of times it’s been invaded and destroyed, and then reborn.
The oldest building in the world stands there. It was my singular goal of the Malta trip to visit it. That tour was both brief and sufficient. The truly old is not much to see: a jumble of rocks. But in that jumble is a two-way mirror, past and future, of all that we have become, and what we have to lose.
I include a map of the temple complex to show that the aerial view greatly resembles the pose of two fat women seated side by side, one larger than the other. We can imagine that these corpulent female figures, effigies which littered the ground and even suggest the island pair, Malta and Gozo, were twin fertility goddesses, but we really cannot know anything for certain about the people who built those temples, except that they reigned gloriously, like us, and that, perhaps also like us, they disappeared suddenly.
Pictured also are the salt-ponds where, since time immemorial, sea water has been collected in shallow bays and then evaporated for 15 days to extract salt. This essential process occurs naturally on the pitted rocks along the shoreline, also pictured. I tasted this natural sea salt myself straight from the source, in culinary rapture.
Gozo is a certain kind of precarious paradise, as our earliest civilized ancestors well knew.