Victoria, variously known as Rabat or even simply as il-belt (the town) by the locals, is for all intents and purposes Gozo’s ‘capital’ and its administrative centre. It is a largish sprawling town with a population of 6,000 with a lively core centred on its twin quarters of the Citadel and the maze of narrow streets around St. George’s Basilica.
At the heart of the town is Independence Square, otherwise known as it-Tokk, a large tree lined open space with a daily market selling a variety of clothing and souvenirs. It’s a lively area and Gozo’s foremost leading place for gossip and people watching. To the south of the square a maze of busy alleyways has the ambience of an Arab souk – less the smells and the hassling. This is the town’s St. George’s quarter – still preserving one of the best medieval street plans on the islands and dotted with an amazing array of fine townhouses, shady courtyards and saints’ niches. Centre of attraction here is St. George’s Church – the finest and certainly the richest in Gozo with a smattering of notable works of art and solid bronze doors – this last a unique feature on the islands.
Just north of It-Tokk, a short but steep hill leads to the town’s Citadel – a robustly fortified rocky outcrop settled on and off since the Bronze Age. This was the place the Gozitan population flocked to when the island was frequently attacked by marauding corsairs in the middle ages and was the scene of one of Gozo’s darkest moments, when in 1551 its walls were breached and virtually all of the island’s able population was taken prisoner in an attack by Ottoman forces. Today the Citadel houses Gozo’s Cathedral of St.Mary, the Gozo Courts of Law, as well as an assortment of small but interesting museums and a few select shops. Otherwise the Citadel remains a sombre, somewhat mysterious place with more than a few vacant and ruined houses lending it an air of romantic abandonment. A walk along the ramparts is a must, not only to absorb the eerie atmosphere, but also to enjoy superb 360 degree views over the entire island.
The town’s two parishes of St.Mary and St.George organise Gozo’s two major feasts in July and August – feasts made bigger by the rivalry which exists between the parishes. The two band clubs associated with the parishes also vie for excellence and both have lavish theatres which host a short opera season in October.
Republic Street is the main drag of the modern town – a street lined with shops, cafes and restaurants and Gozo’s two lavishly modern shopping complexes.
Although Victoria is very much a lived in town and hardly considers itself as a resort, its handful of hotels and guest houses nonetheless make it arguably the best base to explore Gozo, with the hottest months being a possible exception.
Victoria is the hub of Gozo’s excellent and impeccably punctual public transport service and the town has hourly connections to virtually all corners of the island, rendering car use a non-essential luxury rather than a necessity.
The festivity of St. Mary (Assumption Day) is held on 15th August; that of St. George on the 3rd Sunday in July. These days are occasions of great joy and celebrations in the two parishes.
Hotels in Victoria, Gozo: Downtown Hotel, The Duke Boutique Hotel