Dwejra Bay on the island of Gozo was best known for the Azure Window, a natural arch created by coastal erosion, and a major tourist attraction until its collapse during a storm in March 2017. This natural phenomenon had been a favourite of professional photographers and artists because of its spectacular appearance, and had even featured in numerous international films and media productions. But, despite the loss of its famous arch, Dwejra continues to attract countless visitors, as it turns out that the Azure Window was just a small part of what the area has to offer.
A Natural Haven
Dwejra’s dramatic and ever-changing coastal landscape boasts many other extraordinary and diverse geological features: from caves and sinkholes, to tunnels, arches, and stacks, both on land and underwater. Observing the faces of the precipitous cliffs, one can notice the different layers of rock that form the Maltese Islands, most of which are packed with fossils created millions of years ago.
Dwejra is also a diverse habitat, hosting a number of species of flora and fauna, ranging from microorganisms, to birds that nest in the cliffs, and a rich underwater life that has led to the area being designated a Marine Protected Area. This has also made Dwejra one of the more popular diving sites on the island, with divers keen to explore its many underwater features and rich marine life.
The Inland Sea
An interesting feature at Dwejra is the Inland Sea, a small lagoon connected to the outside sea by means of a narrow tunnel, through which local fishermen often bring their boats in for shelter during the winter season. In summer, on the other hand, one can pass through the tunnel on one of the many boats taking visitors on a tour of the nearby cliffs and other geological features.
The small St. Anne’s Chapel overlooking the Inland Sea was the last chapel to be built in the countryside of Gozo, in the 1960s. Perhaps of greater interest is the series of cart ruts climbing all the way up from behind the chapel to the towering cliffs in a curious zigzag pattern. Examples of these mysterious parallel grooves carved into the rock are found all over the Maltese Islands and they have long been the subject of debate, with the identity of who created them, and their function still an enigma.
Dwejra is also home to the Fungus Rock, a small islet, approximately 60 metres high, that is the remaining stack left after the collapse of an arch that connected it to the mainland. The Knights of St. John discovered growing on it the so-called Malta Fungus, not a fungus at all as it turns out, but a plant that nonetheless was highly prized for its supposed medicinal properties.
Indeed, the Knights valued it so much that they gifted samples to distinguished visitors, and at one point had the rock placed out of bounds, with trespassers risking a spell rowing on the Order’s galleys. To this day, Fungus Rock is inaccessible to the general public, except with special permission granted specifically for educational and scientific purposes, due to it being considered a nature reserve. Incredibly, it even has its own unique lizard subspecies that is endemic to this small piece of rock!
In amongst all the natural features of Dwejra, it is also possible to visit the man-made Dwejra Tower, constructed in 1652 to guard the previously undefended area from the threat posed by pirates and corsairs. In fact, it was part of a chain of such towers, which guarded the whole coastline of Malta and Gozo. Later, Dwejra Tower acquired another function - that of guarding Fungus Rock and the supposed medicinal plants that grew on it. Remaining in service up until the late 19th century, it was then abandoned, before being recently restored and opened to the public.
Clearly, Dwejra is a site of immense geological, ecological, and even historical importance. With its impressive geological features, both above and below the sea, its rich and diverse wildlife and habitats, and its dramatic seascapes, it is no wonder that it continues to entice visitors even after the loss of its famed Azure Window.