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Gozo C O U N T RY S I D E

Ta’ Gurdan Walk


Introduction This circular walk starts and ends in the village square of Gharb. Taking the left hand road skirting the side of the church leads to open countryside visiting ‘St. Dimitri Chapel’and affording a good view of ‘Ta’Gurdan Lighthouse’and ‘Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary’. ‘Wied il-Mielah’ is reached via an old paved road next to ‘St. Dimitri Chapel’. The hilly features of the island and the view of the vast expanse of sea stretching beyond the steep cliffs can be best enjoyed from the top of Ta’Gurdan hill. This walk leads on to the magnificent valley of ‘Wied ilGhasri’ ensconced between sheer cliffs followed by ‘Ta’Gurdan Lighthouse’. This imposing landmark affords a bird’s-eye view of most of the island. Eventually the walk leads to the ‘Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary’, a centre of religious devotion and ex-voto offerings.By following the road that bisects the fields behind the sanctuary, you will get back to the village core,where the walk began. The French daffodil

A traditional donkey-drawn cart

A route map found in the centre pages of this booklet, together with several direction signs located along this route, will help you to follow the walk more easily. Sticking to the set route affords a fascinating cross-section of the Gozitan countryside, folklore and traditions. Distance:12 km Time: 4 1/2 hrs


Breathtaking views of the Gozitan landscape

The walk This walk starts from Pjazza taz-Zjara tal-Madonna in the picturesque village of Gharb. The quaint and p a rt i c u l a r feel of the square is e n h a n ce d by t h e p a r i s h c h u rc h dedicated to our Lady’s Visitation. The church, built in 1679, is one of the best representations of baroque architecture in the Maltese islands. One of its two belfries displays in bold letters the message ‘Ibni ghozz iz-zmien’ (Cherish time, my son).The concave façade is adorned with i nt r i c at e s c u l p t u re a n d c a rve d a ro u n d t h e m a i n d o o r a re t h e symbols of Faith,Hope and Charity.

Gharb’s village square

In front of the parish church there is a stone plinth supporting a cross. The year 1783 can be clearly seen notched on the column.


Gharb’s Folklore Museum

An imposing old building located on the same side as the cross houses a Fo l k l o re M u s e u m , ex h i b i t i n g specimens of Gozo’s folklore and heritage. From the village square, 2

follow the road called Triq Madonna t a l -Vi rt u ’ f l a n k i n g t h e l e ft- h a n d s i d e of the church. Going downhill you will notice the façades of recently built houses, especially those bearing the names of foreign countries and cities, such as A u s t ra l i a o r t h e U n i t e d S t at e s of America. These are owned by returned migrants who had l e ft t h e M a l t e s e i s l a n d s i n s e a rc h of a better life in l a n d s o f g re a t o p p o rt u n i t y. T h e s t r i k i n g va r i e t y of balconies and t e r ra ce s i s wo rt hy of observation. Tr i q M a d o n n a t a l Virtu’ levels out at a crossroads. Our walk co nt i n u e s s t ra i g ht ahead along Triq Birbuba. Before walking up to Triq Birbuba the uphill left turn off the crossroads leads to a chapel known as Il-Madonna taz-Zejt (Our Lady of the Oil) that


Legend has it that a poor and pious peasant, who eked out a miserable livelihood from weaving, devotedly visited this chapel every day. She used to pray to the Madonna, imploring the Virgin to help her gain enough money to buy oil to replenish the chapel’s oil lamp. During May she would take a bunch of wild flowers as an offering. One day when she did not feel well,a beautiful lady appeared in front of her and bid her make her way to the chapel and take an earthenware jug with her. The peasant dutifully complied and when she approached the churchyard she saw liquid oozing out of a crack in the wall. To her joy, she realised that it was pure oil.This was the reply to her constant prayer: more oil to offer to the Blessed Virgin. Filled with unrestrained excitement,she rushed to break the news to the priest,who was dumbstruck.The news of this miraculous happening soon spread like wildfire throughout Gozo and soon enough, everyone was flocking to take oil for free.

The old chapel known as ‘Il-Kapella talMadonna taz-Zejt’

A stone sculpture representing Holy Souls

Unfortunately, greed lost no time in turning this miraculous event into a commercial opportunity, as large containers of oil were taken away by people with an eye for a quick profit. Legend has it that as a sign of divine disapproval, tongues of flame replaced the blessed oil. However, after some time,a water spring substituted the fire and kept running for many years in the watercourse next to the churchyard. However, once more,a dispute over this water spring that led to a bitter fight between two families incurred divine wrath and this time the spring dried up for good.


Ta’ Pinu Church and T’Ghammar hill

served as the parish church of Gharb from 1679 to 1729.

Distant views of Ta’Gurdan

Retracing your steps, you will return to the crossroads and walk along Triq Birbuba that winds uphill and narrows gradually. On the left side of the road, you can observe a very old niche. Triq Birbuba leads on to Triq San Dimitri. Here, you will pass by s o m e t a s t e f u l l y co nve rt e d farmhouses and old village houses. Triq San Dimitri gives way to open countryside where terraced fields are mostly dry-farmed. Reaching a junction you now take the road on your right. P ro ce e d i n g along the route, you will start seeing the distant ‘Ta’ Gurdan Lighthouse’ towe r i n g a b ove t h e u n d u l at i n g landscape. A footpath on the left



leads to a fireworks factory. A red flag at full mast indicates that work is in progress. It is advisable not to loiter too close to the factory in such a case. A few m e t re s away f ro m t h e fireworks factory, the road plunges abruptly to the left. However, before t h i s l e ft t u r n i s t a ke n , i t i s wo rt hwhile to walk up a side lane

on the right that leads to San Dimitri Chapel. This chapel dates back to the fifteenth century. The altarpiece represents St. Demetrius on horseback. The highrise on which San Dimitri’s Chapel

The Legends of San Dimitri One of the legends of San Dimitri starts with a surprise attack by Turkish corsairs on this part of Gozo. A young lad, the only son of a peasant who lived close to the chapel, was captured and led into captivity. His desperate mother rushed to the chapel and passionately implored St. Dimitri to redeem her son from slavery. The woman made a solemn vow that she would provide oil for the chapel’s lamp every single day of her life. Miraculously the images of the saint and his horse came to life from the chapel’s altarpiece,and rushed out after the Turkish slave ship, saved the boy from the terrified corsairs and rode back to the chapel, delivering the lad safe and sound to his delighted mother. After this miraculous sally, St. Dimitri returned to his original position in the picture. Local people insist that his horse left his hoof marks on the rocks around the chapel. The other two legends relate how a massive earthquake drove the land on which the old chapel stood into the sea.However, the chapel miraculously did not crumble and the oil lamp continued to burn in the depths.The legend claims that fishermen sometimes see the oil lamp still flickering down on the seabed. A similar legend narrates how two sailors, who dived from a ship anchored nearby to try to free their blocked anchor, came up to narrate how they had seen a chapel in which an oil lamp was burning! The present chapel built between 1736 and 1809 is well looked after by the members of a lay religious society based in Gharb. 5

megaliths set on a plateau.

The beauty of the Gozitan landscape

the chapel stands provides a breathtaking view of Gharb, ‘Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary’, ‘Ta’ Gurdan Lighthouse’, Zebbug and other parts of the island. Going back to the crossroads, you should take the road that turns to the left. Not far in the distance, you c a n o b s e rve a c i rc u l a r row of


Following the footpaths you will arrive at a T-junction. At this point, the footpath on the right is to be taken. This path then takes a left downhill turn and runs along heavily e ro d e d ye l l ow i s h g l o b i ge r i n a limestone and clay. However, after a short stretch, an old paved road is encountered. The footsteps dug in the barren rock surface are of notable support to the hiker. At the e n d of t h i s ro a d , a l e ft t u r n eventually leads straight to Wied ilMielah. Along this route you may notice

Common Poppy


The massive window of ‘Wied il-Mielah’

caper plants growing from cracks in the walls. Caper picking is very common in Gozo. Caper flower buds are harvested in early spring right up to mid-summer; after which they a re i m m e r s e d i n v i n e ga r a n d preserved in jars.The hardy endemic Maltese salt tree can also be seen growing along the sides of the rubble walls. ‘Ta’ G u rd a n L i g ht h o u s e ’ towe r s ahead as the valley dips on your lefthand side. ‘Ta’ Pinu Sanct u a ry ’ can also be seen in the distance. The walk proceeds close to the sheer cliff that leads straight down to the open sea and continues until the head of

the gorge at Wied il-Mielah is reached. The natural rock formation of a massive window in the cliff was once a small crack in the rock that became increasingly wider due to the combined actions of rain, wave action and erosion until it assumed the current shape of a large natural The delicate flower of the caper plant



The scarletpimpernel

window. The process of erosion is an ongoing one and inevitably the top layer of this rock formation is bound to fall off. The path to the right provides The rugged Gozitan northwestern coastline


b re at htaking views of the cliffs pockmarked with huge caverns even at water level. These caverns are favourite haunts of local diving schools. The terrain in this area above the cliffs that is full of holes, cracks, fissures and sharp points is called a karst. Karst is formed by the action of acid rain on the upper co ra l l i n e l i m e s to n e. W h e n t h e c a r b o n d i ox i d e d i s s o l ve s i n t h e rainwater, it forms a mild acid that causes erosion along the fissures of the bedrock. Since rock is composed of diffe re nt minerals, it does not erode evenly, thus giving rise to the typical karst landscape. If an area is composed only of the soft globigerina limestone it erodes eve n l y to fo r m s m o o t h p l a n e s usually full of fossils. But if some upper coralline limestone (a harder type of sedimentary rock) is found on the globigerina, the part that is covered erodes more slowly than the other parts. This gives rise to structures that resemble tables with an upper coralline limestone top


Many different species of grasshoppers live in these habits

The rocky coastline steppe

and a globigerina limestone leg. The stretches of globigerina limestone visible to the left side of this road clearly illustrate this. One may notice that this type of landscape slowly starts to give way to a new type of habitat, the rocky steppe. This type of habitat is formed when an area is composed mainly of the hard lower co ra l l i n e l i m e s to n e a n d o n l y t h e c a l c i u m carbonate found in it dissolves. The remaining minerals form the red soil that can be seen in the cracks.Where the pockets of soil are deep enough, typical plants start growing. If the conditions are favourable enough, the karst slowly turns into a steppe. Due to several environmental factors, such as lack of water, that particularly affect the steppe due to shallow soil pockets, only a few plants are adapted to live here. The following are the typical flora of a coastal steppe: Mediterranean steppe grass, goat–grass and sea

Some rocks can endure erosion more than others



The fossil of a sea urchin conserved in globigerina

squill. The main shrub is the Mediterranean thyme sometimes heavily bordered by the parasitic plant,the dodder. This site also hosts certain endemic species growing only on Gozo such as the Maltese stalks and the Gozo hyoseris. Some orchids can also be identified by the discerning eye. This area is very rich in fauna, among which one finds molluscs, i n s e ct s, beetles and reptiles. If this walk is taken early in the morning, one may even spot the common Black snake.

islands are made of sedimentary rock that had formed under the sea about 25 million years ago. The effect of erosion on the cliffs, caused by the elements, can be seen i n t h e va r i e t y of s h a p e s a n d contours that the surrounding cliffs and hills have assumed. The village of Zebbug, standing on the plateau, can be seen from this area.

This area is littered with fossils embedded in the rock. These fossils are the remains of ancient creatures that used to live in the sea and provide evidence that the Maltese 12

The parasitic Dodder on its preferred host


The edible snail

By following the path downhill one arrives at another valley, Wied ilGhasri. Prickly pears and capers clamber on and over the rubble walls. During late spring the area becomes a carpet of red poppies. As you leave Wied il-Ghasri, the road follows a straight path until it veers left, where it passes by a re s to re d farmhouse. The pigeon loft can be s e e n o n t h e f i r s t f l o o r of t h e farmhouse. Walking slightly uphill, past this farmhouse, you turn to the right and continue walking straight a h e a d u nt i l a s q u a re e nt i re l y devoted to Gozo’s oldest basilica

and a statue of Our Lady is reached. This church, standing along the valley on the ruins of an earlier one, was built in 1739 and dedicated to the Pat ro n a ge of Our Lady, the Madonna tal-Patroçinju. Sixty years later the church was placed directly under the authority of the ArchBasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano The endemic Gozo hyoseris flower


of Rome. The watercourse of the valley runs by the basilica. Going upstream past the Statue of Our Lady, you will notice another stone cross. Beside the cross, a row of white and pink flowered oleanders border the

A characteristic Gozitan farmhouse

road on the side of the stream bed. At the end of the row of 0leanders, you will see a bridge. Walk to the

Stonework on the basilica’s exterior

right where the oleanders give way to a large elder. Then, the road turns left and uphill into Triq il-Gonna. Along this route you will pass by a large livestock farm that stands on the right hand side. This road joins another road called Triq t’Ghammar. Our walk continues towards the hamlet of Ghammar. However, before leaving this picturesque h a m l e t , y o u m ay t a k e t h e opportunity to climb Ta’ Gurdan hill, see the lighthouse and view the panorama. After leaving Triq il-Gonna, our trail co nt i n u e s s t ra i g ht o n w i t h o u t taking any turns. Eventually you will arrive in Triq il-Fanal that leads on to ‘Ta’Gurdan Lighthouse’.


This high vantage point offers magnificent views of the island.The North coast and much of the rest of the island can be seen clearly. On days of optimum visibility, one can also observe the outline of the Tal-Patroçinju:Gozo’s oldestbasilica


‘Ta’Gurdan Lighthouse’

island of Sicily. The now dilapidated rooms close to the lighthouse used to serve as an RAF base during World War II. There was also an observatory post manned by three Scouts in this base. The keen observer may notice the red colour of the cliffs along the road. They are

The pink oleander flower

Detail from the stone cross at Tal-Patroçinju

‘Ta’ Gurdan Lighthouse’ The construction of the lighthouse started in June 1852. Originally it was lit by means of a large oil lantern and revolving reflector. This system was changed to one using kerosene lamps and lenses, later replaced by a more sophisticated system, installed by the firm Barbier Bernard of Turenne in France and which is still in use until the present day. 15

View of the northern coast of Gozo

composed of sandstone, one of the oldest sedimentary rocks present on the island. The route takes you back downhill, to the point where the asphalt road, Triq t’Ghammar, runs into Triq ilFanal, some metres before the point w h e re Tr i q i l - G o n n a j o i n s Tr i q t’Ghammar. This road is the main

road linking Ghasri to Ta’ Pinu. This ro a d p a s s e s t h ro u g h G h a m m a r h a m l e t a n d p ro ce e d s towa rd s G h a r b. T h e m a j e s t i c Ta ’ Pi n u Sanctuary is now quite close and you may visit this church which is open daily for worship and visiting .

The small flower of grey birdsfoottrefoil

A black beetle



The Ghammar plateau is dire ct l y ahead, crowned by a statue in front of t h e s a n ct u a ry. T h e t h i rt e e n statues of the Way of the Cross can be seen along a steep, uphill road. To continue with the route, retrace your steps and proceed to Triq tasS d i e r i , w h i c h r u n s b e l ow t h e s a n ct u a ry down the valleybridge. B e fo re the bridge spanning Wied Qsajjem is reached, on the righthand side, you will see a whitewashed small room, bearing a plaque ‘Ta’ Pinu Borehole’. This room houses a borehole, administered by the Water Services Corporation

Statue from the Via Crucis at T’Ghammar

Ta’ Pinu Church Ta’ Pinu Church was built by public subscription following a miracle in 1883 involving a spinster, Karmni Grima,and a small chapel located on the site. The foundation stone was laid in 1916 and the consecration by Bishop Gonzi took place in 1931. A year later Pope Pius XI elevated it to the status of a Basilica.The precision and intricate elegance of the splendid stone work especially on the inside of the church are admirable. Ta’ Pinu is visited by large numbers of pilgrims as well as tourists.The sacristy is full of ex-voto offerings.The 16th century chapel is still preserved inside the Basilica as is the original Madonna Ta’ Pinu painting (1619) by Bartolomeo Amadeo Perugino.

‘Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary’


Bird’s eye view of ‘Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary’

which manages the groundwater resources of the Maltese Islands. Similar boreholes are commonly found along other valleys in Gozo, Comino and Malta. Soon the bridge over Wied Qsajjem is reached where you can observe the orchards nestled in spent stone quarries by the valley. The stones that were used to build Ta’ Pinu were extracted and refined in these former quarries. Before proceeding uphill, you should have a last look at the sanctuary and its imposing belfry tower. Triq tas-Sdieri continues Triq tas-Sdieri uphill until you reach the outskirts of Gharb v i l l a g e .T h e wa l k continues along Triq ilBlata on your left, where the various designs of stone balconies - old and new 18


as well as the typical a rc h i t e ct u ral features of old v i l l a ge d we l l i n g s offe r a quaint, unique scene. Soon the road passes by the side of the parish church and enters into the village square from w h e re t h i s wa l k i n g to u r began.

Stone balcony displaying excellent craftsmanship

Gharb village core


Fa cts about the ro u t e • • • •

• •

• • •


The route is suitable for hike s, horse rides and pedal bike s . Most of the route is a ccessible to small ve h i c l e s . One should check the local A typical oil skink basking in the sun bus timetable if one is t ravelling by bus to the route starting point. The local we ather fo re c a s t should be checked befo re setting off as t h e re is hardly any shelter from adverse we ather co n d i t i o n s along the ro u t e. A ra i n co at can come in ve ry h and y in ra i ny co n d i t i o n s . As most of the walk is over open co u nt rys i d e , i t is advisable to c a r ry a packed lunch. I t i s p ossi ble to buy food at Gh arb or Ghasri. A dire cti on sign at Gharb vi llage square indi cates t he ro u t e s t a rting point . This route is co l o u r-coded in ora n ge. A number of smal ler di re c tion si gns, made of wood and numerically m a r ked in ascending ord e r, a re found along the route to show the right d i re ction in the absence of clear landmarks . Public co nve n i e n ces are available at Triq t a ’ Pinu and Triq it-Tr u x in Gharb. If one looks carefully at the map, one may see t h at the walk can be bro ke n down into smaller laps. One can go to ‘ Ta ’ G u rd a n L i g ht h o u s e ’ if one starts the walk from near ‘ Ta ’ Pinu Sanct u a ry ’. Some fi elds are marke d wi th white bl otches of paint and t h e letters RTO indicate t h at the area is out of bounds for the visito r s i n ce it is privately ow n e d . Piles of small stones stacked on each other are also a t raditional ‘ n o -e nt ry ’ s i g n . B i rd t rapping and bird shooting are pra ctised in the co u nt rys i d e. T h e re are , h owever strict re g u l ations determining areas where such activities are permitted and times of year where no such a ctivities are allowe d . Note also t h at b i rd shooting is pro h i b i t e d f rom 1.00pm onwa rd s on Sundays and pub lic hol idays t h ro u g h o u t the ye a r.

Tips for the road •

• • •

• •

Hikers are advised to follow the set route. Short cuts are to be avoided since many fields are privately owned. Hikers should not climb over rubble walls to avoid damaging them. Hikers should avoid collecting wildlife specimen, including flowers or plants. Hikers are advised to tread carefully along the trails to avoid trampling on the sparse vegetation. The throwing of stones or other objects into valleys or other freshwater sites is strictly prohibited. Walking or cycling close to the cliff edges is to be avoided. It is advisable to follow this route in broad daylight, giving due allowances for time allotted to inevitable stops, resting, taking of photographs and observing nature.

Useful telephone numbers Emergency and rescue:112 Ambulance: 196 Police Station: 191 Telephone Enquiries:1182 Ministry for Gozo: 21 56 14 82 website: Malta Tourism Authority: 22 91 50 00 website: Gozo Tourism Association: 21 56 51 71 Gharb local council: 21 56 05 56 website: Ghasri local council:21 55 86 86 website:

Natural forces at play

Other useful information All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, sorted in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, e l e ct ro n i c , mechanical, p h o to co py i n g , re co rd i n g o r o t h e rw i s e , w i t h o u t t h e p r i o r written consent of the copyright holder. Direct enquiries may be forwarded to the Ministry of Gozo or the Malta Tourism Authority. Date of Publication:May 2002 Text Prepared by: Joseph Borg, Marita Sultana. Photos and Map by: Etienne Micallef

Ta’ Gurdan Walk Walking along the route one will discover how the island’s rich history, traditions and geographical features intertwine with nature and local folklore. Hiking on the cliffs one can observe the rugged coastline of the Maltese Islands, where panaromic views show how secluded valleys full of life are found among the hills. Old farming methods are gradually being replaced by modern farming.

Other walks in the series Dahlet Qorrot Walk Passing through: Nadur - Dahlet Qorrot Bay Ta’Grejgel Valley - Qala

Saltpan Walk Passing through: Victoria - Sara Valley Ghasri - Ghasri Valley Reqqa Point - Xwejni

Ramla Bay Walk Passing through: Nadur - Wied Bingemma Ramla Bay - Ta’ Óamet

Lunzjata Valley Walk Passing through: Victoria - Lunzjata Valley Santa Luçija Hamlet Ghajn Abdul

Gozo Countryside Walks is a partnership project of the: Ministry for Gozo, Ministry of Tourism, The Malta Tourism Authority and the Gozo Tourism Association The project is being launched in 2002, the World Tourism Organisation’s International Year of Ecotourism.

Price Lm1.00

Ta Gurdan Country walk  

Ta Gurdan Country walk

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