The cries of broken hearts echoed around Malta in March of 2017 as the widely adored Azure Window tumbled into the sea. The stunning landmark had always been greeted with a warm reception from passing locals and tourists alike, attracting thousands of visitors from across the globe each year. But, as a storm raged across Gozo, the island’s prized attraction crumbled before their very eyes. All hope seemed lost.
Fast forward a year and hindsight tells us that the island may have had nothing to worry about in the first place. With diver after diver donning their wetsuit to head down into the deep blue and catch a glimpse at this fallen formation, there’s no denying that the nature of tourism at this particular location has changed drastically – but how has the rest of Malta fared? We’re exploring further, below.
When gales whipped around the island on the 7th March 2017, Gozo’s authorities were seen protecting visitors and locals alike when the Channel ferry halted its services for the duration – but it became clear that it wasn’t the visitors who needed protecting. Instead, Gozo’s greatest awe-inspiring natural landmark would be the one to fall prey to the heavy storms that followed. On the 8th March, at around 9:40am, the Azure Window crumbled from the force and tumbled into the raging sea below.
The limestone arch had been listed as fragile by authorities as early as 2013 with talks of erosion and risk of collapse and there were even fines put into place for any person who dared walk over it in an attempt to lengthen it’s lifespan. Despite their efforts, no one could’ve predicted that the seemingly sturdy creation would collapse as it did last year.
As a feature in a number of celebrated films such as Clash of the Titans (1981) and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), as well as TV shows The Odyssey (1997) and, of course, the famed Game of Thrones, the attraction had brought thousands of visitors to Malta and specifically Gozo as they all sought just a glimpse of its magnificence and so naturally, talk of potential devastation to tourism was immediately rife.
The Heartbreaking Reaction
The initial reaction to this devastating news was understandably one of heartbreak. Locals mourned the loss of their natural beauty and previous tourists and those who hoped to visit one day felt a similar pain as seeing the window-less cliff face that remained.
Joseph Muscat, Malta’s Prime Minister, had described it as heartbreaking in a series of tweets reporting the loss and locals were soon seen visiting the location just to see what had happened and how bad the damage was. With not a single piece of the arch left above sea level, the answer to that question was a resounding ‘very’.
The Anger of Tourists
Despite the unavoidable nature of this horrible event, some tourists didn’t approach the loss in quite the same way as locals. In fact, they expressed anger at the loss, with some even claiming that Gozo had nothing else going for it so it was no longer worth the trip. The anger was reflected in one-star reviews on TripAdvisor, a seemingly petty response to a natural occurrence that left a hole in the hearts of millions.
The Rebirth of the Window… As a Dive Site!
Despite these initial responses, something miraculous happened – the site was reborn. While diving around the area had been possible before the collapse, the crumbled rocks have now formed quite a unique site for eager scuba divers, with curious visitors and pro divers looking for a challenge delving into the depths to experience this unique site.
Konrad Baar of Family Diving Gozo had stated that the area was “now more attractive for the divers than before” which has undoubtedly changed the nature of tourism in the area completely. While those who aren’t too keen on dipping their toes in the water might find this particular spot nothing more than a graveyard of the original landmark, those willing to explore under the waves will find the remains of massive white rocks and unique yellow limestone that once formed the top of the window.
Time may be turning these initially bright rocks green, but the location is just as stunning for divers, with canyons, tunnels and a whole ecosystem of wildlife already developing and ready to explore. Take head of any warnings, however, as analysis of safety is still underway.
How the Rest Of Malta is Fighting to Adapt
Despite initial panic regarding the conservation of Malta’s other natural sites immediately following the collapse and talk of a failing tourism industry as a further consequence, hindsight appears to show that these worries weren’t needed.
Other tourism spots may have needed to step up their game in terms of competition, but in all, Malta remains a natural beauty in and of itself that hosts just the right mixture of old and modern. With masses of unspoilt land and architecture to marvel, Gozo alone is worthy of the attention it had before and still has after the loss of the Azure Window. What’s more, Gozo also features another arch – The Wied il-Mielah Window is essentially the Azure Window’s lesser-known sister, but could gain a good chunk of the former’s tourism in its stead.
Of course, Malta as a whole has its fair share of tourism attractions, including the likes of Comino, Saint John’s Co-Cathedral and the Megalithic Temples of Malta. For those wanting to make the most of Malta’s amazing yachting experiences, there are a host of stunning marinas too including the Marina di Valletta and Msida Marina which both offer something unique from breathtaking sights, to plentiful berthing.
In September 2017, tourism in Malta hit a record high with 241,378 visitors flocking to the island just in that month. Sun, sea, sand and the sanctuary that this historical island provides seem to be more than enough for most tourists here and so while the heartbreaking loss of such a natural beauty may have left a sour taste in our mouths, Malta is still flourishing as a popular holiday destination – with a new dive site to boot.