GHARB, a semitic word meaning West, is a typical old Gozitan village unsurprisingly lying in the west of the island of Gozo. Being a small hamlet centuries ago, one can admire its ancient roots in the centre of the village, where some houses are adorned with Gozo’s typical decorated stone balconies.
Gharb became a parish in 1679, a move which gave impetus for the building for a new baroque parish church. Built between 1699 and 1729, the parish church in Gharb is one of the most architecturally perfect churches in Gozo, being designed on Francesco Borromini’s Sant’Agnese in Agone at Piazza Navona in Rome.
The Gharb village square, is often one of the key attractions on postcards featuring the Maltese Island. In the square there is also a fascinating folklore museum containing all sorts of memorabilia, retelling the island’s rural history.
On the outskirts of the village, a road leads to the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of TA’ PINU, which was built between 1920 and 1931. Ta’ Pinu, meaning “PHILIP’s” is the man's name who looked after the old chapel in the 17th Century, which is found behind the main altar.
GHARB is a place of natural beauty especially the area surrounding the ancient chapel of San Dimitri. The legend associated with San Dimitri Chapel narrates that after an old woman beseeched the Saint to save her single son from slavery, San Dimitri left the altar piece on his flying stallion and brought back her son Matthew. The alter piece can still be seen in the chapel.
Gharb is one of the oldest Gozitan villages, where various archaeological excavations exposed the remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements in the area. The name Gharb is purely Arabic, denoting the establishment of an early but organised community during Arab domination between 870 and 1090 AD. However, names of early Christian devotion such as St. Demetrius and St.Publius, indicate that pre-Arab Roman and Byzantine settlements existed before this westerly village took its present name.
There are no significant historical episodes related with Gharb. However the people of this village with their coastal lookouts, have the merit of being the first to signal the arrival of reinforcements to the beleaguered Maltese under the Knights of St. John in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565. During those terrible years, the Gharb lookouts constantly relayed smoke signals to Malta, alarming the entire population from the constant perils of marauding Berber and Turkish pirates.
The feast day is on the 31st May of every year and the outside festivities are held on the first weekend of July. The village of Gharb has other churches and chapels that intertwine in traditional legends and religious devotion.
The most popular Shrine on Gozo, the one dedicated to Our Lady of Ta' Pinu also lies within the perimeter of Gharb. This architectural masterpiece was built next to an old chapel (still existing), where it is profoundly believed that back in 1883, Our Lady has spoken to a devotee from Gharb named Karmni Grima. Ta' Pinu Sanctuary is a place of great devotion and is of national importance. Numerous pilgrims, both locals and tourists visit Ta' Pinu Shrine all year round. The main painting of the church depicts the Assumption to the Heavens of Our Lady, and is the same painting that was enshrined in the old medieval chapel.
Gharb also offers the visitor a modest number of curious museums. Two of these museums where the restored residences of two of the saintly sons of the village, namely Karmni Grima who started the Ta' Pinu devotion, and that of Frenc Mercieca, popularly known as Frenc ta' l-Gharb. Frenc ta' l-Gharb was a wise but rather humble saintly man who lived between 1892 and 1967. He had a distinct ability to cure a lot of people leaving several doctors of the day perplexed by his successes. He combined his old knowledge in old medicinal herbs, his prayers and his faith in Our Lady for his cures, and his reputation spread rapidly throughout the entire Maltese Islands and even abroad. The Gharb Folklore Museum (found at Pjazza Zjara tal-Madonna) is a private owned museum found in the core of the village. Its 28 rooms are full of all kind of antique tools and artifacts. It is really worth visiting.
Another attraction of the village of Gharb is the Ta' Dbiegi Crafts Village, where various handcrafts are made and sold. Visitors can find hand-made pottery, mouth-blown glass, Gozo lace and filigree. Gharb is the place where glass blowing and pottery could be watched being made.
With all the above attractions, Gharb is the village that the visitor to Gozo should not miss. Its panoramic countryside tracks and valleys are ideal for walks and for relaxing. If one is not interested in museums, a walk to the cliffs at Wied il-Mielah, is worth every second spent. There, a spectacular natural "window", not as exploited, but similar to the Azure Window of Dwejra is found. Otherwise one could opt to sit relaxed in the peaceful and picturesque village square, enjoying the view of the church, the lethargic strokes of its clock tower, or curiously study the unique shape of old hand sculptured balconies that adorn the village's oldest homes.