Gozo is sometimes referred to as ‘il-gzira tat-tlett gholjiet’ – the island of the three hills. I really don’t know where that particular appellation came from but I suspect it was someone with a serious numeracy problem. Truth is that Gozo has about a dozen or so such hilltops and they are a characteristic of nearly the entire island. Most of them can be climbed, some tougher than others but invariably all reward you with spectacular 360 degrees views.
One of the easiest and shortest climbs (though still steep…) is the hill known as Tas-Salvatur or Tal-Mezuq just outside the resort of Marsalforn. It’s the hill you see to your left as you are approaching the village and mercifully the uphill trail is signposted from the road too.
Quite a few legends – and misconceptions – are associated with this hill. One such legend says that the hill got its original name Tal-Merzuq (meaning ray of light) from a faraway time when God saw fit to punish the Gozitan people (now really why would He want to do that to the sweet islanders?) with three days of darkness. At the end of the three days a ray of light was seen to emerge from the hilltop and hence the name.
For a long time the hill was also believed to be an extinct volcano – a fallacy fuelled by rumours that black smoke was once seen emerging from the hilltop. This is extremely unlikely since the rocks that form the Maltese islands are all sedimentary – formed millions of years ago in the shallow seabed – and there are certainly no signs of igneous rocks anywhere on the Maltese islands.
Perhaps it was this unfounded fear that the ‘volcano’ would one day emerge from its slumber that led to the erection of a large wooden cross to ward off any unlikely eruption… This was replaced by a large statue of Christ in 1904 – the year Gozo was consecrated to Christ the Saviour. So came about its present name. That first statue was not resistant to the elements though – the non-existent lava did not carry it away but storms and gales took their timely toll as they inevitably do.
A second statue did not fare much better – its pedestal gave way during a thunderstorm. Parts of this statue can still be seen strewn around the hilltop. The undeterred Gozitans were still keen on their mini version of Rio’s Corcovado and a third statue came up soon after, this time constructed of no-nonsense concrete with a fibreglass coating. This third statue has survived well up to this date.
Ironically the statue physically turns its back on Marsalforn’s mildly hedonistic pleasures and instead opens its arms to the rest of Gozo in a wide embrace. A sublime message of some sort there one wonders….
Tas-Salvatur hill is just 320 feet above sea level. A short climb well worth the effort and a great place for a short break or a picnic all year round, except perhaps the hotter summer months.
Author – Steven Bonello