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Cittadella (Victoria - Gozo)

Date of Submission: 19/05/1998
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Government of Malta
Coordinates: Malta (Central Mediterranean)
Ref.: 981

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The Cittadella is in the centre of Gozo, Malta's sister island. The small fortified town is situated on a promontory sited over the town of Victoria (also known as Rabat). This vantage point was obviously chosen because it was a naturally fortified hill which dominated the surrounding countryside and provided visual control of the coastal areas. The geological and geomorphological characteristics were ideal to support ancient settlements and provide a foundation for town development. The Cittadella was referred to as Gaulcouis Civitas (possible after the Roman settlement) before the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St. John.

The archaeological record of the Cittadella Fortifications indicates that this naturally defended hilltop hosted a small urban or proto-urban settlement at least as early as the Bronze Age. Given its central location within Gozo, this settlement grew to become the administrative center of the island in Phoenician and Roman times. In classical times the hill top appears to have housed some form of monumental public building or temple. However the town is known to have grown in size well beyond the original hill-top setting to spread onto the underlying plain.

In the Middle Ages, the area's human settlement appears to have been restricted back to the hill-top, although a suburb appears to have continued functioning at its base. The Medieval township at the Cittadella is documented to have thrived up to the 16th Century, and included a densely packed urban settlement. Most of the Medieval heritage at Cittadella survives today only as archaeological deposits, although survival of medieval buildings up to two metres in height is not uncommon.

When the Knights of St. John came to Malta, they continued to use the citadel as a place of shelter for the population in times of trouble. The island was attacked by Moslems in 1551 and the entire population was carried off into slavery.

Military developments in the 16th Century resulted in the abandonment of this township and in its transformation into a purely military outpost. In fact the architectural heritage of the Cittadella, as it stands today, is made up almost entirely of military structures. Nonetheless some important architectural monuments were constructed in the Baroque style over the remains of the medieval town. The most important of these buildings is undoubtedly the Cathedral Church, a 17th century construction which has housed the Bishop's Seat since 1864.

The Cittadella has a number of interesting architectural features which merit study because they are fine examples of Medieval and Baroque aspects of vernacular architecture. The Medieval element is portrayed vividly in the Folklore Museum and Casa Bondi but the pointed archways also are a testimony of a developing urban texture. The Prisons, Law Courts (Palace of the Governors) and old Bishops Palace are fine examples of Maltese Baroque architecture. There is however a dramatic sense of movement which is a build-up of mass and space. The piazza has two levels a lower level which incorporates the civil buildings and at the top of the staircase the Cathedral dominates over the Cittadella.

The Cittadella is being proposed to be included within an Area of Archaeological Importance which also incorporates its surroundings. This envisages to protect the archaeological deposits from being disturbed or destroyed without prior scientific investigations. Priority within such an area is also given towards the conservation of the archaeological remains unearthed in this process.

The Cittadella also has been designated an Urban Conservation Area in conformation to Policy UCO 1 of the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands which seeks to protect and enhance the most important areas of townscape value. The importance of the Cittadella on a national level is confirmed by the reference there is to its conservation in the Environment Protection Act No. V of 1991 and the Antiquities (Protection) Act and list Cap 54.