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Review: Victoria (Rabat)



The capital of Gozo

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2259 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • May 2012
  • Husband

43 people found this review helpful

Rabat renamed Victoria in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria is the main town on Gozo. In Arabic, Rabat means ‘suburb’ and is still used to describe the area around the citadel.

The Citadel is the original fortified town surrounded by big ramparts and can be seen from all over the island. It is a steep climb from Independence Square up the steps of It-Telgha tal-Bel. The limestone is worn and can be slippery in wet weather. Entry is usually through the large modern gate cut in 1956 which was big enough to allow the fiesta statue to be carried through it. The older and smaller gateway is beside it.

The Citadel is on a natural defensive site on a hill in the middle of Gozo. It has been occupied since the Bronze age from about 1500BC. It was expanded by the Phoenicians and later by the Romans when it became the administrative, military and religious focal point of the island, with a temple dedicated to the goddess Juno where the present Cathedral now stands. By mid 13thC it could accommodate the entire population of Gozo overnight and by law all Gozoans had to spend the night within city walls as there was constant threat of Turkish invasion. The northern walls were built early in 15thC during a period of Spanish rule. The southern side was added during the time of the Knights between 1599-1603 after the area had been besieged by Turkish raids in 1551.

After the arrival of the Knights of St John, this threat receded and people drifted back to countryside. Many of the abandoned houses were ruined by a huge earthquake in 1693 and have not been rebuilt. Today the Citadel walls surround the Cathedral and the few buildings not damaged by the earthquake. These include the Folk Museum and the small Chapel of St Joseph next to it. The ruins of the other houses are gradually becoming overgrown by vegetation. The original street plan can still be followed with narrow paved streets surrounded by walls with tight corners, a ploy designed to slow down any invading forces.

There is a good walk around the ramparts which gives excellent views of all of Gozo. In May 2012 there was no access to the section of rampart between St Michael Bastion to St John’s Demi-bastion as major restoration work was taking place. We climbed up the steps by the Old Prison and walked round the ramparts to the site of the old silos. The different settlements with their churches could be identified. It also made us realise how built up the area is between Xaghra, Nadur and Xewkija. We could see Zebbug, a long ribbon development on top of a hill with Ta Gurdan lighthouse standing on an isolated hill. The west is more agricultural Lots of small fields with some terracing. Field boundaries either stone walls or prickly pear. We were surprised by how many flat topped hills there were around.

There is a small cafe on the walls near the Old Prison which serves a selection of cheap snacks, sandwiches and drinks. Just down from the Cathedral Museum is Ta’Rikardu, a small restaurant which is supposed to serve the best traditional lunch on Gozo. We didn’t go in but the smells were certainly appetising.

The CATHEDRAL OF THE ASSUMPTION dominates the Citadel. Built at the start of the 18thC it is a fairly plain building with a massive frontage. Lack of funds meant it was built without a dome. Inside is fairly plain although there are some nice memorial tombstones on the floor of the nave.

There are four museums in the Citadel, all are covered by the Heritage Malta Pass. We didn’t have time to visit the Natural History Museum. We enjoyed the Archaeology and Old Prison Museums but were disappointed by the Folk Museum which had a lot of empty rooms.

Outside the wall of the Citadel, in It-Tokk, Independence Square, are a few market stalls selling fruit and vegetables and others selling fashions including a good range of T-shirts.

Triq Putirjal is lined with small bakeries selling a range of take out snacks. It leads to St Francis Square with its fountain and St Francis Convent at one end. The Church is only open for mass.

Close by is the bus station and Rundal Gardens, a pleasant green area laid out by the British with imported trees and a fountain. There are some excellent fruit and vegetable stalls along Triq Gorg Borg Oliver running past both of these.

Just a few streets away is the Basilica of St George with it’s red dome which can be seen all over Gozo. This is worth visiting as the inside is a marvellous example of Baraoque decoration. Aim to be there about half past the hour, just as mass is finishing.

It is surrounded by a network of narrow streets with sharp corners and many dead ends. Streets are lined with splendid stone houses with balconies. There is a large statue of St George and the dragon on a wall in a small square. Many of the houses have small carvings of St George on the walls.

We liked Victoria. There was plenty of life and people were very friendly. We particularly enjoyed the Archaeology and Old Prison Museums, St George’s Church and the area around it.

I have written separate reviews for the different attractions.

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