Ghajnsielem

Ghajnsielem is probably the undiscovered gem of Gozo. Being the gateway itself to the island, the usual visitor unconsciously or unintentionally misses an essential part of the history of the island.

Ghajnsielem abounds in history and prehistory. It has two megalithic temple remains. Tal-Qighan u l-Imrejzbiet are two prehistoric sites which proof that this village was a place of worship and prehistoric settlement over 5,500 years ago.

True to its name, formed from two Semitic words, ghajn (spring) and sliem (peace), meaning therefore a spring of peace, some of the earliest settlements at Ghajnsielem occurred around a natural spring in the very centre of the village and close by to Mgarr hamlet. Bearing in mind that Gozo, just like its sister island Malta lacks natural resources, this natural spring was popular with both locals and unfortunately also with Mediterranean pirates and rising empires. Taking into consideration the fact that Ghajnsielem geographically embraces two harbours at Mgarr and Xatt l-Ahmar, this made it a frequent stop over for fleets to conquer it.

As a matter of fact, the local people, known as the Ghajnselmizi often stayed away; until the threat of the Ottoman Empire diminished and dwindled. Gradually, the local people started to resettle at Ghajnsielem and over two centuries, the village developed into one of the most fascinating and exciting places to stay in Gozo. Visitors often comment that the village layout, its open spaces, its central location to Mgarr ferries, Comino and Blue Lagoon, its gorgeous views and hospitality immediately stand out from the rest of the other villages.

Besides, one can defines the local gastronomy as excellent – daily traditional bread, fresh Mediterranean fish caught by local fishermen, the local version of pizza known as ftira, the home made Gozitan ravioli, a wide selection of village pasta and mouth-watering pastries – a popular delicacy souvenir for many tourists to take back to their homeland.

This is but a drop in the ocean of the wonderful lifestyle at Ghajnsielem. One definitely cannot miss the beautiful Our Lady of Loreto Parish New Church. One cannot either leave out the old parish church built in 1810 with four masterpieces by famous artist, Giuseppe Cali.

If you are looking for a time of relaxation, the Apparition Square with its adjacent playing field is definitely the place to be. Whether for a picnic, a cup of tea or cold drink, a pizza and beer or just to unwind and read your favourite book, this part of Ghajnsielem is the birthplace of the town itself. One can marvel at the beautiful fountain and its lovely monument showing the local shepherd, Anglu Grech who had the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to whom later the villagers built not one, but two churches.

If it is children you have in mind, the playing field is the place to be. They will definitely love it. Besides, a couple of metres away, next to the main square, children can enjoy the local animals at Ta’ Passi family park.

If you are lucky enough to be in Gozo during the week preceeding the fourth Sunday of August, you definitely cannot miss Ghajnsielem’s most important annual feast – the feast dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Loreto. The whole village is celebrating. Streets, alleys, squares, houses... are all decorated with colourful lights and banners for the annual feast. The church is decorated inside out and on Sunday evening, the main statue of Our Lady of Loreto is carried shoulder high through the streets of the village amidst stunning fireworks and huge crowds. It is certainly a vivid and colourful expression of faith, passion and pride of the local people.

Shortly after the annual feast in August, preparations start for what’s now is being considered as Malta’s main attraction for Christmas and New Year’s festivities – Bethlehem f’Ghajnsielem. During the month of December, this Nativity village comes to life with about 150 actors animating the crib. The nativity village is situated adjacent the Ghajnsielem main square, just 5 minutes on foot from Mgarr Harbour. The ‘animated crib’ which spans over 20,000sqm of fields on a stretch of land known locally as Ta’ Passi offers a naturalistic reproduction of the environment of Bethlehem of 2000 years ago. Every year it promises to bring the timeless Christmas story to life as never before.

Today, the Fondazzjoni Bethlehem f’Ghajnsielem has been established to take the responsibility and organization of the event which is still fully sponsored by the Ghajnsielem Local Council together with a number of other partners. The Nativity village closes with the Adoration of the Magi on Epiphany – the first Sunday of the New Year when the three Magi will depart on horses from Malta and present their gifts to baby Jesus at Bethlehem f’Ghajnsielem.

Għajnsielem in a nutshell

Population: 2300

  1. Motto: Ob fontem prosperitas (Flourishing because of a spring)
  2. Borders: Qala, Nadur, Xewkija
  3. Includes: Island of Comino and islet of Cominotto
  4. Patron Saint: Our Lady of Loreto
  5. Feast celebration: 4th Sunday of August
  6. 2nd Feast celebration: 2nd Sunday of June (feast of St. Anthony of Padova)
  7. Town administration: Għajnsielem Local Council
  8. Official site: www.ghajnsielem.com

Well known for:

  1. The village layout, open spaces and close amenities
  2. Gorgeous views - coastal and countryside walks
  3. Its central location to Mgarr ferries
  4. The stepping stone to Comino & Blue Lagoon beach
  5. The biggest square in Gozo and Malta’s second largest
  6. The towering belfry of Għajnsielem’s Parish Church
  7. The village of the Sun (referred to Our Lady of Loreto statue in gold, 1866)
  8. Malta's main attraction in December known as Bethlehem f’Għajnsielem - an animated Christmas village
  9. The largest Gozo Centre for Arts and Crafts on the island
  10. Hand-carved Island Stone Sculptures Gallery
  11. The daily morning crunchy and soft traditional Gozitan bread  
  12. Pizza and the local version known as ftira which is deliciously scrumptious
  13. Some of the best award winning restaurants for fish and Italian/Mediterranean food
  14. Fresh Mediterranean fish caught by local fishermen
  15. The principal fishing port and largest fish market in Gozo
  16. The seaplane Adventure Scenic Tours departure/arrival point
  17. Mouth-watering pastries and ice creams
  18. The home made Gozitan ravioli and selection of pasta dishes
  19. One of the most spectacular week-long feasts celebrations during summer

Places of interest:

  1. Our Lady of Loreto Parish New Church (the only Gothic Lombard church style in Gozo)
  2. Old Parish Church (great paintings by famous artist, Giuseppe Cali)
    Pjazza tad-Dehra (Apparition Square) and the Apparition Monument – the village birthplace
  3. St. Anthony of Padova Church (great frescoes by Lazzru Pisani)
    Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel (just above the Mgarr harbour – fantastic views)
  4. St Cecilia Tower and chapel (oldest chapel in Gozo)
  5. Fort Chambrai (built by the Knights of Malta in 1749)
  6. Prehistoric remains at Imrejzbiet and tal-Qiegħan  
  7. Zewwieqa (beach)
  8. Xatt l-Aħmar (beach)
  9. Mgarr ix-Xini Tower
  10. Comino Island
  11. Blue Lagoon (beach)

For more details:http://www.ghajnsielem.com/places/index.html

Suggested reading: Għajnsielem: The gateway to Gozo (book available at home).