Spotlight on Xewkija, Gozo

Spotlight on Xewkija, Gozo

photo credit: visit malta

Located right between Victoria and Għajnsielem, Xewkija is the oldest settlement in Malta’s sister island, Gozo. The village’s name is derived from the term ‘xewk’ which denotes to ‘thorns’ or ‘thistles’. On Nevember 27,1678, Xewkija became the first Gozitan village outside of Victoria to become parish. It also became the first “contrada” area to be referred to as a “casale” or ‘hamlet’.

The Rotunda of Xewkija, a church honouring St. John the Baptist, is undeniabiliy the most acclaimed structure in Xewkija. It was constructed from Maltese stone by local masons and craftsmen, and it served as the headquarters of the Knights of the Order of St. John. Interestingly, it is the biggest church in Gozo, and the settlement is dominated by its dome. Designed by Ġużè Damato, the current Rotunda replaced an older church whose priceless masonry is currently on display at the Rotunda’s Art Museum. Pietro Paolo Azzopardi created the wooden figure of Saint John the Baptist that bears his name in 1845.

16th century historian Gann-Frangisk Abela noted that the area of Xewkija has been inhabited since the very early times. This hypothesis is mainly based on a prehistoric temple at Xewkija. Trial excavations conducted in the meadows east of the parish church in 1904 continued to confirm this hypothesis. The region of Xewkija has been occupied since the Neolithic period. Malta and Gozo were settled by the Phoenicians in 700 BC, and afterwards by the Carthaginians. Punic artefacts have been found within the limits of Xewkija.

The Majmuna Stone with its Arabic inscription was discovered in this quaint town. It honours Maymnah, a young Arab woman who passed away in 1174, nearly a century after the Norman invasion of Malta in 1091. It is believed that Islam was the nation’s dominant religion before 1224. On the underside of the massive marble slab where the text is etched, there is a Roman sign. It was first translated into Italian by Brother Gabrijel D’Alappo, and then into Maltese. It has now been transferred to the Gozo Museum of Archaeology.

The feast of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on the last Sunday of June. At around noon, the marching band performs throughout Xewkija’s main thoroughfares, often followed by a musically timed fireworks show.

Some of the top Maltese stone masons from Gozo come from Xewkija. They are also renowned for their fishing prowess, and the fishermen of Xewkija have preserved the expertise of creating conventional cane fish traps.

The coat of arms of Xewkija has a crimson horizontal strip between two thorns, one above and one below, on a gold backdrop. Xewkija’s motto is ‘ Nemo me impune lacessit, or “No one shall assault me with impunity,”.


credit: visitgozo

As one approaches the town, the remnants of a windmill from the Knights’ era that Grand Master Perellos had built may be spotted. This mill stands out from the others in Gozo due to its octagonal ground floor, which depicts the eight primary wind directions. Two parallel chambers and a spacious entry hall may be found in the windmill. In the middle of the structure is a spiral staircase going to the mill roof. Upstairs in the foyer is where the birth chamber is situated. The windmill was still in operation up until 1886.

Madonna tal-Ħniena (Our Lady of Charity)

Credit: Charles Spiteri

The ancient chapel known as Madonna tal-Ħniena (Our Lady of Charity) is also worth admiring. It is named in honour of Saint Bartholomew (San Bartilimew), an apostle who was flayed alive as a kind of martyrdom. The chapel’s original façade was quite plain and included a modest parvis up front. In order to provide travellers to and from the harbour with some cover during storms, Feliċ Axiaq financed for the parvis’ roofing in 1705. Dun Ġużepp Attard, who took over maintenance of the church in 1933, constructed a new vestry and an adjacent hall for catechism instruction. The chapel was expanded between 1955 and 1956, and the parvis was added as part of the expansion.

Mġarr ix-Xini Valley

credit: visitgozo

The stunning, unspoiled Mġarr ix-Xini Valley and access to the serene Bay of Mġarr ix-Xini, a delightful area to swim, snorkel, and dive, are located on the coast beyond the town. In the winter and spring, Xewkija makes a great base for both trekking and abseiling. The lovely walk from the bay to the valley’s watchtower has just been refurbished, and it is now available to the public. It is most well-known abroad as the setting of the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie “By the Sea”.

xewkija rotunda

credit: @colorado_aerials

The Rotunda, which has the third biggest unsupported dome in the world and is 28 metres in circumference and 75 metres in height, was constructed in the 20th century to honour St. John the Baptist. The enchanting dome is supported by eight concrete columns that are housed inside the striking white limestone building. The interior displays both the versatility and texture of local limestone as well as the skill of local artisans. The floor is polished Carrara marble, and the great altar is similarly sculpted from precious marble.