The island of Gozo is a small inhabited rock in the middle of the Mediterranean. Known locally as Għawdex it is part of the Maltese archipelago, part of the Republic of Malta. Gozo has been inhabited for thousands of years and you feel it’s age as you enter from the harbour: its architecture of low, limestone buildings built on top of rocky landscape is reminiscent of north African and the guttural spoken language sounds more Arabic than European. Like Malta, it is predominantly a Catholic culture: ninety-eight per cent - religious figurines proliferate and there are numerous fiestas throughout the summer. But it’s history goes back much further than this, etched into the stone and evident in the archeological evidence of Neolithic temple ruins. Gozo, as part of Malta, has been ruled by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Sicilians, French and British. Malta itself was part of the British Empire for 160 years, gained its independence from Britain in 1964 and became a Republic in 1974, and there are indications of this on the island, the odd English folk with UK passport holders still form the largest group of foreign residents living on Malta and Gozo. Today it is, of course, a popular tourist destination, renowned for its beautiful beaches, laid back lifestyle and leisure industry. However, its interior is ragged and the Gozitans are a hardy people. What is less spoken about is that it lies en route for immigrants making the treacherous transit from North Africa across the Mediterranean, seeking sanctuary in Europe. It also has a fabled history linked to the Greek myths: Calypso’s Cave is apparently located on the island of Gozo and is believed to be the same cave that Homer refers to in The Odyssey:
Odysseus washed up on the island of Ogygia after drifting for nine days on the open sea, having lost his ship and his army to the monsters of Italy and Sicily. He was returning home to Ithaca, from the war in Troy, eager to be reunited with his wife Penelope. When he reached the island he was greeted by Calypso, the Goddess Nymph, daughter of the Titan god Atlas and Tethys, who promised him immortality and eternal youth if he would stay with her. She led him to her cave, which was surrounded by a luxuriant wood of alder and poplar and sweet-smelling cypress and a trailing vine. However, despite his initial thoughts that he had reached safe sanctuary, Odysseus soon realised that he could not escape the island. He fell into sorrow and sat on the shores, looking out at the restless sea, shedding tears of grief. He longed only to escape, to return home. Calypso kept him captive on the island for seven years until she was obliged by the Greek gods to allow him to leave. She gave him an axe that well fitted his hands, led him to the borders of the island where he could cut down alders and firs and fashion a boat, and gave him cloth for a sail. The name Calypso is linked with the Greek word καλύπτω, meaning: to conceal.
© Barry Falk 2019