Gozo has a distinct character all its own. The countryside is prettier than that of its larger neighbour, the pace is slower and there are far fewer tourists. The island has its share of medieval architecture and prehistoric temples, making it a great place to escape the tourism mill while experiencing the best of what Malta has to offer. The commercial centre of the island, Victoria, has a sleepy 17th-century feel. The view from atop the Citadel, or 'Gran Costello', takes in the entire island. The Norman House, on the Citadel's grounds, houses an interesting folk museum.You can retrace the footsteps of Ulysses at Calypso's Cave, in the cliffs overlooking Ramla Bay on the northeastern coast. Other spelunking opportunities include the underground Alabaster Caves in the tiny town of Xaghra, a couple of kilometres southwest of Ramla Bay. The Ggantija temple complex, also near Xaghra, is the most spectacular in Malta.
Step back into the Copper Age at these prehistoric temples. Dating from as early as 3800 BC, Hagar Qim and the other Neolithic temples on Malta are the oldest known human structures in the world. This megalithic temple complex is adorned with carved animals and idols, sacrificial altars and oracular chambers, all executed with nothing more than flint and obsidian tools. Giant limestone slabs form a series of ovals laid out in a pattern that some archaeologists have compared to Mother Goddess figurines found on the site. The view of the Mediterranean and the nearby island of Filfla is one of the best in Malta. Hagar Qim and its neighbour, the Mnajdra temple, are near the village of Qrendi, about 15km (9mi) southwest of Valletta.
This 3000-year-old city, once the political centre of Malta, is filled with Norman and baroque buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. Perched on a rocky outcrop about 15km (9mi) west of Valletta, the so-called Citta Notabile - Noble City - has a commanding view of the island. Its nickname derives from the many aristocratic Maltese families who still live in town. The best-preserved medieval building is the Norman-style Palazzo Falzon, built in 1495. Mdina has a beautiful main piazza, where you'll find the 11th-century Roman Catholic Sicula-Norman Cathedral, one of the few buildings to survive an earthquake in 1693. The cathedral museum houses a collection of Dürer woodcuts. The nearby suburb of Rabat (which translates roughly as 'suburb') has the interesting Museum of Roman Antiquities, which offers exhibits on the island's 1000 years under Roman rule.
If you've ever wondered what sort of prize you'd get for saving Europe, look no further than Valletta. Named after the knight who masterminded Malta's successful stand against the Turkish siege of 1565, Valletta became the city of the Knights of the Order of St John and the seat of Malta's government. While travelling through the Mediterranean, Sir Walter Scott described Valletta as 'the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen'. Today it's a beautifully preserved 16th-century walled city, small enough to cover in a few hours without sweating too much in the Mediterranean sun. In fact, the streets were carefully laid out to channel cool breezes in from the harbour.Valletta is a rough rectangle at the tip of a peninsula on Malta's northeast coast, just a few hundred metres across in either direction and surrounded by water on its northern, eastern and southern sides. From the City Gate at the southwest edge of Valletta, you can walk to the centre of town through a series of squares surrounded by palaces and cathedrals. One of the grandest is the Auberge de Castille, once the palace of the Spanish and Portuguese langue (a division of the Order of St John). It's now the office of the prime minister and not open to the public.Among Valletta's many fine gardens are the Upper Barrakka Gardens, originally the private gardens of the Italian Knights of St John, where you can get a magnificent view of Grand Harbour and the Cottonera. St John's Co-Cathedral and Museum presents an austere facade, but the interior is a baroque masterpiece, with a patchwork of marble tombstones set in the floor commemorating the knights of old. The museum houses a collection of outstanding Flemish tapestries and two paintings by the Italian master Caravaggio.The city's other major museum, the Palace of the Grand Masters, is also the seat of the president and parliament. It's loaded with tapestries, frescoes and friezes commemorating the Great Siege. Fort St Elmo, at the northeast tip of the city, features guides dressed as knights and re-stagings of historic battles.
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