MALTA DIARY: Malta to apply for UNESCO recognition of three further World Heritage Sites
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For islands of a few square kilometres by a few square kilometres, Malta and Gozo already have three officially listed UNESCO Heritage sites.
These are the whole of the capital city Valletta, which to boot this year is also the European Capital for Culture, the seven Megalithic Temples in various localities (including one in Gozo) and of course the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum in Tarxien, a vast underground burial chamber which has often been the centre of many speculations of an ethereal nature.
In proportion to the overall size of the islands this is significant in that so much of humanity’s natural and historical heritage has been found and recognised in such a confined space.
The matter however has not stopped there and preparations are underway for Malta to apply to UNESCO for the recognition of three other sites in its World List. These are the city of Mdina and two highly important Gozo areas, the Cittadella and the whole of the Dwejra area,
Easier said than done of course; it’s not simply a matter of stating because they are old, or because they are historical, nor indeed of maintaining that many things about them are well known.
UNESCO is meticulous and exacting and requires legions of documents, historical records, site plans and scientific studies.
Why have these three sites been chosen as being proposed for eligibility?
This is Malta’s old capital city before Valletta was completed in 1568. It was named by the Arabs and Ottomans to signify their holy Islamic city of Medina but also bore the name Civita’ Vecchia (The Old City). However, its actual foundation dates back far before the arrival of either Arabs or Ottomans and goes back to Phoenician times who found it a suitable trading base because of the agricultural surrounds and the fertility of the area.
With the departure of the Arabs it was adopted by Malta’s nobility and several splendid palaces were built. Above all, Mdina is based on one of Malta’s highest hills and has a commanding view over the rest of the islands, convenient to keep a watchful eye on impending further invasions and is surrounded by fortified bastions.
After the victory over the Ottomans in the Great Siege of 1565, Grandmaster La Valette required a new capital based on the sea shore and with a commanding position over several creeks and bays and hence – Valletta.
Mdina may have lost its political dominance but it remained a quaint old city of lanes and alleyways and splendid palatial facades and gardens.
MALTA DIARY: Mdina – an oasis of peace amidst a sea of clamour – the Silent City
Today, it is known as “The Silent City” and prohibited to traffic as well as being a main tourist attraction.
This was recently totally restored and embellished and is Gozo’s main tourist attraction, replete with history and historic buildings and ditches. This also dates back to the Bronze Age and Phoenician times and is built on one of Gozo’s highest hills for defence reasons, again also surrounded by bastions for protection against invasion. It is at the heart of Gozo’s capital city Victoria (named after Queen Victoria) but also popularly known as Rabat.
MALTA DIARY: Gozo’s Cittadella – born in the Bronze Age and still going strong
GOZO’S DWEJRA ZONE
Tragedy struck a year ago during mid-March when an enormous storm brought down the prized Azure Window at Dwejra in Gozo causing a sense of national and international mourning because this was a main feature of the Maltese Islands and a simple picture was enough to identify this prized natural heritage as being Malta and Gozo.
The whole Dwejra area is still trying to recover from the loss but even without the window there is still deep scenic beauty and thousands of years of natural history. The whole zone teems with sea fossils, reminders that at one time in the distant past the zone was sea bottom. Sadly, over the decades visitors chipped away at fossils to take away as souvenirs – now strictly prohibited. However, much still remain, together with the salt pans.
Another main feature is the fabled Fungus Rock, home of a specific lizard that is totally endemic to this little crag surrounded by deep blue seas. The Rock was also said to contain “magic” mushrooms with great healing powers.
There is of course also its fascinating inland sea and journey through a natural rock tunnel into the open and deep blue Mediterranean Sea.
Malta Diary Extra “Going, going, gone” – Gozo’s iconic Azure Window disintegrates in heavy storm
It will take time and meticulous patience to put together and submit the applications to UNESCO but I am sure than once presented, in time these will also be included in the UNESCO list.
“He may appear to be quiet, almost dumb, but his venom is in his pocket”
Don’t judge by appearances. A person may appear to be quiet, almost sheepish, but beware, there is a more lethal side to them.