In this episode of Smart Regions, we explore how an EU-funded restoration project helped bring Gozo's magnificent Cittadella back to life and reveal hidden treasures from its past.
Majestic, dominating, with the sea in its sights: the Cittadella of the island of Gozo, Malta, has had many uses over the centuries, in defence, religion, and administration.
The Phoenicians and the Romans, among others, passed through here. And although it had been abandoned for many years, it has now been restored thanks to a European project.
"We restored most of the facades, [and] the historical buildings within the citadel," explained Stephen Cini, Assistant Director at the Directorate of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry for Gozo. "We also took away all the services which were, in a way, very intrusive. Piazzas and streets were recreated and repaved, making them more accessible."
Also known as Castello, the Cittadella houses several churches within it, such as the 17th-century Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
The rehabilitation of this bastion, which the Gozitans used as a refuge from invaders, has uncovered secret passages and many other hidden treasures.
"During the excavation, we started finding the old entrance to the Citadel, and we had to excavate it slowly, slowly, so that we don't damage the fabric that was found," revealed Roberta C. Attard, one of the architects who worked on the project.
"It is still intact. It's being showcased now. And you can pass on top of it. We also found Bronze Age pits."
The restoration was carried out between March 2014 and June 2016. Maintenance work on the Cittadella – the winner of the 1st Regiostars 2022 prize for the best European project - is still ongoing.
The final budget is €14.8 million euros, 85% of which has been covered by the European Cohesion Policy, and the remaining 15% by Malta.
Every year, nearly one million visitors flock to discover the Cittadella's cultural heritage and beauty. One of the main points of interest in this restoration is the visitor centre which, under British rule, housed two water reservoirs.
"We learned that France was involved in Gozo's history, and the Ottomans too," said visitor, Océane. "You learn all about its history by reading the panels, but above all by visiting the museum, which is well documented. And when you come out of there, you have the feeling of being a well of culture.
The Cittadella is not Gozo's only jewel. This promontory, populated by endemic plants and animals, is also situated in a Natura 2000 area.