The Citadel Today

With its distinctive skyline and imposing military architecture, Cittadella, the ancient fortified city, stands out as Gozo’s major landmark, visible from all over the island.

Occupied since prehistoric times, it reflects the marks left by its inhabitants, shaping the majestic complex we see today. The Citadel is rich in buildings of architectural, military, and historical value, and its open areas host numerous rare species of flora and fauna. It is an ideal setting for quality events that bring history to life, linking the island’s past with its future. Visiting Cittadella allows one to step back in time, experiencing history in an unforgettable way.

Today, only a few families reside within the Citadel walls. In the square, you will find the magnificent baroque Cathedral dedicated to Santa Marija, the Law Courts, and the Bishop’s Palace.

Within the Citadel, there are fascinating small museums and a state-of-the-art Visitors' Centre: the Cathedral Museum, the Museum of Archaeology, the Folklore Museum, the Gozo Nature Museum, the Old Prison, the Old Gunpowder Magazine, the Grain Silos, the Battery, and the World War II Shelter. For entrance tickets to the Visitors’ Centre and Heritage Malta museums, please book from this link.

Along the winding streets you will find the historic Chapel of St. Joseph and a number of holy niches (shrines) and bass reliefs. Look out too for well-preserved Norman-style windows and arches. On the façade of historic houses and church buildings can be seen Coat-of-Arms, and it is worth noting that whilst some of the damage is due to the toll of time, some is the deliberate work of Napoleon’s troops who briefly occupied the island at the end of the eighteenth century. Accessible for persons with a disability.

A Brief History

The Old Citadel (also called the Citadella or Kastell) rises dramatically above ir-Rabat. Built at a perfect strategic vantage point, it defiantly dominates the skyline exactly as intended by the military architects who built it. A visit to the Citadel should not be missed. The Citadel has been at the centre of activity on the island since possibly Neolithic times, and was certainly fortified during the Bronze Age around 1500 BC. It was later developed by the Phoenicians and in Roman times, it was a complex Acropolis.

Gozo was a privileged Roman Municipality, independent of Malta and the Citadel was the centre of its administrative as well as its military and religious life, an important temple to the goddess Juno stood where the Cathedral now stands. The north side of the Citadel dates back to the period of the Aragonese, while the south flank, overlooking Ir-Rabat (Victoria), was re-constructed under the Knights of St. John between 1599 and 1603.

This rebuilding came towards the end of Gozo’s darkest period, when for two centuries, marauding Turks and Berber corsairs had harassed and pillaged the Maltese Islands. For this reason, until 1637, the entire population of Gozo was required by law to spend the night within the Citadel for their own safety. The climax of the Turkish raids on Gozo came in 1551. A strong Ottoman naval force, after an unsuccessful attack on Malta, turned its attention to the less well protected Gozo. After a short siege the crumbling medieval walls of the Citadel were overwhelmed and the defenders begged for an honourable capitulation. Tragically for the population, (then numbering around 5000), the surrender terms were far from honourable. With the exception of just 40 elderly and disabled citizens, the entire population of Gozo was chained and taken into slavery. It took nearly 50 years to re-populate the island and rebuild the Citadel in its present layout.

A walk along the fortified ramparts is rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Gozo’s hills and valleys, villages and churches and a view right across the sea to Malta.