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- Published: Saturday, 23 February 2019 15:22
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Gozo - Maltese: Għawdex, pronounced “awdɛsh, formerly Gaulos in Ancient Greek) is an island of the Maltese archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is part of Malta. After the island of Malta itself, it is the second-largest island in the archipelago. Compared to its south eastern neighbour, Gozo is more rural and known for its scenic hills, which are featured on its coat of arms.
The island of Gozo has long been associated with Ogygia, the island home of the nymph Calypso in Homer's Odyssey. In that story, Calypso, possessed of great supernatural powers, and in love with Odysseus, holds him captive for a number of years, until finally releasing him to continue his journey home.
As of March 2015, the island has a population of around 37,342 (out of Malta's total 445,000), and its inhabitants are known as Gozitans (Maltese: Għawdxin). It is rich in historic locations such as the Ġgantija temples, which, along with the other Megalithic Temples of Malta, are among the world's oldest free-standing structures.
The island is rural in character and, compared to the main island Malta, less developed. It was known for the Azure Window, a natural limestone arch that was a remarkable geological feature, until its collapse in 2017. The island has other notable natural features, including the Inland Sea and Wied il-Mielaħ Window. There are many beaches on the island, as well as seaside resorts that are popular with both locals and tourists, the most popular being Marsalforn and Xlendi. Gozo is considered one of the top diving destinations in the Mediterranean and a centre for water sports.
Gozo has been inhabited since 5000 BC, when farmers from nearby Sicily crossed the sea to the island. Due to the discovery of similar pottery found in both places from the Għar Dalam phase, it has been suggested that the first colonists were specifically from the area of Agrigento; however, it is currently unknown exactly where in Sicily the farmers came from. They are thought to have first lived in caves on the outskirts of what is now known as San Lawrenz.
Gozo was an important place for cultural evolution, and during the neolithic period the Ġgantija temples were built; they are among the world's oldest free-standing structures, as well as the world's oldest religious structures. The temple's name is Maltese for "belonging to the giants", because legend in Maltese and Gozitan folklore says the temples were built by giants. Another important Maltese archaeological site in Gozo, which dates back to the neolithic period, is the Xagħra Stone Circle. Also, native tradition and certain ancient Greek historians (notably Euhemerus and Callimachus) maintain that Gozo is the island Homer described as Ogygia, home of the nymph Calypso.
In July 1551 Ottomans under Sinan Pasha and Dragut invaded and ravaged Gozo and enslaved most of its inhabitants, about 5,000, bringing them to Tarhuna Wa Msalata in Libya, their departure port in Gozo was Mġarr ix-Xini. The island of Gozo was repopulated between 1565 and 1580 by people from mainland Malta, undertaken by the Knights of Malta.
The history of Gozo is strongly coupled with the history of Malta, since Gozo has been governed by Malta throughout history, with the brief exception of a short period of autonomy following the uprising against the French forces after Napoleon's conquest of Malta, between 28 October 1798 and 20 August 1801.