Gozo’s Azure Window, a beautiful natural phenomenon standing for tens of thousands of years, collapsed during a storm earlier this month, and simply disappeared into the sea.
The iconic arch was famous the world over – especially after appearing in a minor TV show called Game of Thrones (never seen it myself).
We were lucky enough to see the Window just four weeks before its demise, as part of a tour of Malta’s second biggest island with our friends Susan and Michael, who now live on Gozo.
From our vantage point on the beach below, we could see clearly the cracks in the rock that must have led to it tumbling into the sea.
But little did we suspect that its demise would come quite so soon.
And It must have come as a much bigger shock to the people of Gozo, and the rest of Malta, to lose one of the country’s best known symbols and tourist attractions.
There is bound to be a slight worry that the loss of the Azure Window could mean fewer visitors in future.
Fortunately, Gozo has a lot of other things going for it – especially if you have more of a swimming, diving or generally energetic bent than me (which ain’t difficult!).
Tourism is absolutely vital to local prosperity. Visitors spend well over €1 billion a year in Malta and Gozo, around an eighth of the entire economy, supporting up to a quarter of all jobs.
All money earned from overseas – whether from tourists or from business investment – is crucial, since this tiny country only grows a fifth of its own food, and has to import much of its energy and fresh water.
It really does need to pay its way in the world.
But perhaps surprisingly, as the smallest economy in the EU, Malta has generally done well since it joined in 2004.
Its banking system was robust before the great crash of 2008, so the country has continued to grow while many others have floundered.
In addition to tourism, a key success story has been a brand new industry that has emerged since 2004: online gaming.
Malta spotted an opportunity in this then fledgling sector, and was an early adopter of clear rules and regulations that drew firms to its shores.
It has grown rapidly, with around 300 companies now based in the country, including Unibet, one of the top ten online gambling businesses in the world.
Altogether, the sector accounts for over a tenth of the Maltese economy.
For the future, the country might have to watch its reputation on tax – it’s a bit too easy for foreign-owned companies to pay really low rates. But then it’s far from the only member of the EU that looks to give itself an edge that way.
I really enjoyed our brief stay in Valletta and Gozo, and can certainly vouch for Malta’s appeal as a great visitor destination.
Its geographical position in the Mediterranean, close to both Africa and Europe, is often described as strategic, hence the many invasions that have come its way over the centuries.
But in these thankfully more peaceful days, it is perhaps more accurately seen as slightly isolated, away from the main markets of the EU.
That’s why digital industries like gaming – where physical distance is much less important – are one answer.
And Malta will need to stay agile and innovative, looking for the next opportunity to exploit too.
But sadly, it could be another few million years before there’s another Azure Window.
- Find out more about Gozo here
- We didn’t take our van to Malta, instead we parked it up in Sicily and caught a cheap flight from Catania to Valletta – 45 euros return and only 45 minutes. Worth every penny.