The Ras il-Wardija Punic Sanctuary

Ras il-Wardija, corrupted from the word ‘guardia’ which means ‘watch’ is a Punic Sanctuary carved into a promontory on the island of Gozo in the Maltese archipelago.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the area around Ras il-Wardija was inhabited in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, but the sanctuary was first constructed during the Punic period in the 3rd century BC, remaining in use through to the Roman period in the 4th century AD.

The sanctuary is situated above a 120-metre-tall sea cliff, flanked by the Xlendi harbour to the south and the Dwejra inlet to the west, consisting of a series of terraces that face towards the sea.

Archaeologists propose that Ras il-Wardija may have served as a beacon for mariners sailing between the Maltese islands and North Africa, and as a temple sanctuary to provide protection for ships harbouring in Xlendi.

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On the upper level is a carved processional and rock-hewn rectangular chamber containing five large niches with architectural moldings carved into three of the chamber walls. A rock cut bench originally ran along these walls, used possibly for banqueting or ceremonial offerings.

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Image Credit : David Priddis – iStock

Nearby the chamber is a basin or pool with an internal flight of steps that perhaps served for ritual bathing, or simply as a reservoir for storing water, along with a bell-shaped well and an altar.

A stone-built structure of dry Globigerina stone blocks cut in various forms and dimensions on the lowest terrace probably served as the sanctuary temple, suggestive by internal and exterior wall surfaces being covered in fine plaster. The structures floor was reddened by fire, with traces of a hearth found outside.

Ras il-Wardija was first excavated by the Missione Archaeologica Italiana a Malta (Archaeological Mission of Malta) between 1964 and 1967, however, the site has been left to deteriorate due to the natural elements and vandalism.

In 1988, A carving from the sanctuary depicting a human figure with outstretched arms (possibly the Punic goddess Tanit, or a medieval Christian depiction) was stolen, but was recovered in 2011 where it now resides in the Gozo Museum of Archaeology in the Cittadella.

Header Image Credit : BrandyMay – CC BY-SA 4.0

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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