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Spotlight on: Għarb, Gozo
Spotlight on: Għarb, Gozo
The village of L-Għarb is one of Gozo’s oldest, as archeological excavations have revealed the remains of both Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements. The Phoenicians made L-Għarb their home, followed by the Romans and Byzantines. However, the name is Arabic and means ‘west’, suggesting the establishment of an organised community during Arab domination between 870 and 1090 AD.
The village is also one of the most traditional. Its character is distinctly rural and until very recently, was populated almost exclusively by people who worked the surrounding fields in this extremely fertile area of Gozo. They retained an old Maltese dialect, with a rich vocabulary of old words and pronunciations, which were discarded by the rest of the population years ago. The inhabitants of the village are renowned craftsmen, known primarily for the manufacture of the unique L-Għarb blade, a traditional sharp knife known as the Sikkina ta’ L-Għarb. Even today, the village is home to locksmiths, blacksmiths, cotton weavers, lace makers, carpenters and masters in cane-work.
This makes it an appropriate place for the L-Għarb Folklore Museum, which occupies a historic house in the heart of the village. The 28 rooms contain all sorts of curiosities linked with traditional trades and crafts. Interestingly, the building that houses the museum was once home to a man popularly known as Frenc ta’ L-Għarb, a saintly man who cured many with a mix of medicinal herbs and a prayer to Our Lady.
Historically, L-Għarb played a vital role in safeguarding Malta. Its coastal lookouts were the first to signal the arrival from Sicily of reinforcements for the beleaguered Maltese, under the Knights of St John during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. During the time of constant threat from the Ottoman Turks and marauding Berbers, the L-Għarb lookouts were crucial, sending smoke signals to Malta to warn of approaching danger.
The village is the second oldest village parish on the island of Gozo, and was established in 1679. The old church, which is known as Taż-Żejt today, served as the parish church for 50 years. Taż-Żejt, which means oil in English, is named as because legend has it that an old woman found oil oozing from the side of the church and spread it all over her body. As a result, she was cured of all her ailments and ills.
Today’s parish church and collegiate basilica, which dominates the pretty square at the heart of the village, was built in 1699 and consecrated in 1729. It’s dedicated to the visit of Our Lady to her cousin St Elizabeth, popularly known as the Feast of the Visitation.
SOME SPOTS IN għarb WORTH VISITING
Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu (yes, that is its full name), is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and national shrine, located on the outskirts of L-Għarb. In 1883, a woman from the village named Karmni Grima allegedly heard the voice of Our Lady at the small chapel that then occupied the site. Today’s monumental and architectural masterpiece was then built between 1920 and 1931. The sanctuary was constructed in front of the original chapel, which remains intact and still contains the paint-ing of the Assumption to Heaven of Our Lady, from which the voice is said to have spoken to Karmni.
Għarb Folklore Museum
The privately-owned L-Għarb Folklore Museum is a unique 18th century village house, which was said to belong to Frenc ta’ L-Għarb, who was famously apparently able to cure a myriad of ailments. The house consists of 28 rooms, full to the brim with historic objects associated with Gozo’s traditional trades, crafts and pastimes. The objects on display range from milling to printing, carpentry to wine-making, fishing to smithing. Visitors can also visit workshops and antique rooms, as well as a collection of other memories from the past. The museum offers fantastic insight into the island’s traditions, and a glimpse of everyday life, both in the distant and not-so-distant past.
An early 15th century chapel was rebuilt in 1736, to create the building we see today. The alter-piece above the altar shows St Demetrius on horseback with an old woman praying, and a young man in chains. This relates to one of several legends about the chapel, about an old woman nicknamed Żgugina, who prayed to the saint to bring her son back to her. The chapel’s mosaic pavement was laid in 1935, and the walls were coated with mosaic in 1950. There is also a group of megaliths near the chapel, an impressive natural phenomenon. The upper coralline crust, familiar from Gozitan flat-topped hills, has broken up into scattered blocks.
Wied il-Mielaħ window
The window is a natural limestone arch and though lesser known than the Azure Window, which collapsed in March 2017 following a heavy storm, it is just as beautiful. The arch itself is a great place for rock-climbing and underwater rocks and caves are generally easily-accessible, making it a rather popular place among divers and swimmers. The window is surrounded by a valley, perfect for those on the hunt for an adventure. As part of an initiative called EcoGozo, the area around the arch underwent a major renovation in recent years, allowing for better access to the area.