Beneath and around Gozo’s ancient citadel sprawls the town of Rabat – essentially Gozo’s capital – renamed as Victoria during the long-lived Queen’s reign. While the outlying suburbs of Victoria hold little of interest, at its core is a lovely melee of winding picturesque streets roughly following the original medieval street pattern.
This is the “Georgian” heart of Victoria, not in the sense that any of the architecture pertains to that style but because it’s the heartland of the Saint George parish of the town. The large number of houses carrying the name of the saint or places associated with him are a living witness to the saint’s devotion … and something that must surely give the postman occasional headaches.
Right at the centre of town is the basilica dedicated to the saint himself. Tracing its origins to Byzantine times, the present church was built between 1672 and 1678 and is Gozo’s finest and most richly embellished church – literally covered from floor to ceiling in a dazzling array of marble and gold stucco, mostly sponsored by generations of devout parishioners. The church contains arguably Gozo’s most important painting – a Saint George executed in 1678 by the Calabrian master Mattia Preti. The parishioners remain generous in their temple’s enrichment to this day; as witnessed by the church’s latest addition – a massive bronze main door installed in 2004 and the only one of its kind in the Maltese Islands.
Fronting the basilica is Saint George’s Square, definitely Gozo’s most cosy piazza with a small choice of cafes and other boutique shops; a great place for a pleasant break from sightseeing. Victoria’s other main open space, Republic Square, (colloquially known as It-Tokk) is just a block away, larger and definitely busier. There are more cafes here and a small market mostly aimed for the tourist, with beachwear, sunglasses and sun caps seemingly making up the bulk of the goods on offer.
Don’t leave town without exploring the narrow streets behind the Basilica – the best preserved urban core in all of Gozo with intriguingly winding narrow streets and a few interesting shops. Triq Palma is the quarter’s main shopping drag while Triq il-Karita and Triq id-Dejqa are probably the most atmospheric. The area is a good place to look for the traditional and highly prized Gozo lace, a cottage industry still practised by a considerable number of Gozitan women. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of an old lady or two working away in their doorway, magically looping thread over the traditional cylinder-like bobbins – and a bargain from the artisan herself is a distinct possibility…
Author: Steven Bonello