National Geographic : 1969 Jun
backwater when the knights built the new capital of Valletta. Mdina is a natural fortress, rising from a rocky hill (pages 872-3), from which one sees the whole of Malta spread like a map below. Impregnable on three sides, it is protected on the fourth by a high wall and a dry moat. The old city has scarcely changed since the 17th century. Frozen in time, Mdina is filled with old palaces and churches, including the cathedral built on the tradition-hallowed site of the house where St. Paul instituted Christian worship among the converted Maltese. Even Mdina's working people occupy medieval houses, built by the Normans in the 12th century. The inhabitants seem to have been influenced by the city's solemnity. No noisy Med iterranean cafes disturb Mdina's repose, and no advertisements or posters are allowed in its precincts. Only a few street lamps feebly illuminate the facades of palaces with Renaissance balconies. Wandering down its streets at night, one realizes why the Maltese call it the "silent city." Thrifty Gozitans: the "Scotsmen of Our Islands" Outside Mdina, however, Malta is a noisy island. Fireworks bang, church bells clang, dogs bark, cocks crow, and motorists use their horns like unmusical instruments. My wife and I de cided we wanted a few days' peace and quiet-and I knew that Malta's sister island, Gozo, had this in plenty. We took passage in a 40-knot hydrofoil ferry which then linked Valletta with Gozo. In the middle of the three-mile-wide channel, we stopped to land passengers and stores on Comino. This square mile of almost barren rock was once inhabited chiefly by goats. Now two modern hotels rise among the aromatic cumin-seed plants, from which Comino gets its name. Amid today's skin-divers, spear fishermen, and water skiers, only a solitary 17th-century watchtower recalls that Comino was once an early-warning post for spotting roving Barbary pirates. At Gozo we dropped anchor in the harbor of Mgarr, where the ranks of big painted fishing boats spoke of an earlier cen tury. The design of these 40-foot craft can be traced to the far-ranging Maltese galleys of the 16th and 17th centuries. Gozo has a population of 26,000, with 5,500 in the capital, Victoria. To the Maltese, the Gozitans are the "Scotsmen of our islands," for they have long been renowned for thrift, industry, and plain speaking, as well as for the way they rise by patient industry to the top positions in government, church, and business. At home they farm with persistent energy, and their island, more fertile than Malta, is intensively cultivated. They export olives, citrus fruits, figs, melons, and vegetables to Valletta's central market. As fishermen, they account for much of the catch around the archipelago. Arduous path of faith leads to Ta' Pinu Church on the island of Gozo. Here, in 1883, a spinster peasant reported that the Virgin Mary had spoken to her. The news spread, and pilgrims swarmed to the site. A tiny chapel grew into this cathedral-size stone church, consecrated in 1931. A line of the devout climbs to a hilltop cross commemorating the miracle. To the Maltese, their church is a second home; the islanders support more than 350 houses of worship. 876 KODACHROMEBY DAVIDBEAL,BLACKSTAR© N.G .S.