The Azure Window (Maltese: it-Tieqa Żerqa), also known as the Dwejra Window (Maltese: it-Tieqa tad-Dwejra), was a 28-metre-tall (92 ft) natural arch on the island of Gozo, located just off the shores of Malta. The limestone feature, which was in Dwejra Bay close to the Inland Sea and Fungus Rock, was one of the island's major tourist attractions until it collapsed in stormy weather on 8 March 2017. The small rock over the water is no longer accessible by walking. The arch, together with other natural features in the area, has appeared in a number of international films and media productions.
|Elevation||28 m (92 ft)|
|Named for||Tieka Szerka|
|Governing body||Environmental Resources Authority|
The rock formation, which consisted of a pillar rising from the sea joined to the cliff by a horizontal slab, was created by the collapse of a sea cave, probably during the 19th century. The final collapse followed a century of natural erosion, during which large sections of the limestone arch had broken off and fallen into the sea.
The Azure Window developed through sea erosion of a cliff face. The progress starts with an initial notch resulting from wave action. This space devoid of rock then causes tensile stresses that lead to the formation of a vertical joint extending upwards from the notch. This joint would progressively become wider, first forming a cave and eventually an arch. The end of the lifecycle of the arch is reached when erosion finally progressed so far that the roof of the arch gets heavier than the pillars can support. It is not known exactly when the arch came to being, but the entire process is believed to have taken around 500 years.
The arch is not mentioned in 17th- and 18th-century descriptions of the Dwejra area, which was already famous due to the nearby Fungus Rock, so it probably did not exist then. Giovanni Francesco Abela's 1647 book Della Descrizione di Malta and De Soldanis' 1746 manuscript Il Gozo Antico-Moderno e Sacro-Profano both mention a Tieqa Żerqa (written archaically as Tieka Szerka) or Għar iż-Żerqa, but this referred to the cave entrance to the nearby Inland Sea. Therefore, it is likely that when the Azure Window formed it inherited its name from this other cave.
The earliest known record of the Azure Window is in an 1824 illustration of the nearby Dwejra Tower. However, it is shown in the background of the image, and it is unclear whether it was still a cave or if it had already developed into an arch. A pencil drawing by Lt Col. Richard Irton of a fully formed Azure Window probably dates to 1830. In 1866, artist Edward Lear visited Dwejra and stated in his journal that "the coast scenery is not nearly as fine as that of Malta." The earliest recorded photographs of the natural arch were probably taken by Richard Ellis, and they are found in an album belonging to Michael Dundon dated 26 July 1879. The photo by Ellis was published in a book in 2011, showing contrasting difference with 20th and 21st century photos.
Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, the arch was one of Malta's main tourist landmarks, and it was a popular backdrop in photographs. It was included in a Special Area of Conservation, and in 1998, included on Malta's tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with the rest of Dwejra Bay.
Deterioration and partial collapses
Between the 1980s and the 2000s, parts of the top slab of the arch collapsed, significantly widening the arch. A large slab of rock on the outer edge of the cavity collapsed in April 2012, further increasing the size of the window. Another rock fall occurred in March 2013. Four months later a geological and geotechnical report was prepared by consultant Peter Gatt, who represented local firm Geoscience Consulting Ltd, and it determined that the arch was "relatively stable and will continue to remain so for a number of years", and that there was no "imminent" risk of collapse, although it warned that rock falls will continue and it might be hazardous for people to go close to the arch.
Further rock falls and fissures were reported in subsequent years. Fishermen avoided going near the arch with their boats, and warning signs were put up to discourage people from walking on top. However, many people still went on the arch regularly, and videos were uploaded on YouTube of people cliff diving from the window as rocks were falling down.
In March 2016, Gatt warned that the illegal use of explosives at the nearby Inland Sea could have an effect on the already weak structure of the nearby Azure Window. These comments were made in the wake of an investigation by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority which revealed that explosive material was "probably used" to do rock cutting in the tunnel leading to the Inland Sea. It was suspected that the illegal cutting was aimed at widening the entrance to allow larger boats to sail through.
In December 2016, an emergency order was published prohibiting people from going on the arch, trespassers facing a fine of €1500. However, this law was not enforced, and visitors were still walking on top of the arch days before it collapsed in March 2017.
The arch collapsed at about 9:40 am local time (8:40 am UTC) on 8 March 2017 after a period of heavy storms, leaving nothing visible above the water. The pillar gave way first, causing the top part of the arch to collapse along with it. The pillar shattered into large chunks of rock as it collapsed. The collapse was said to have been inevitable.
The collapse was reported in both local and international media. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil both tweeted about the collapse of the Azure Window, and it also became the subject of many Internet memes on Maltese social media. The Environment and Resources Authority called the collapse a major loss to Malta's natural heritage. The Church's Environment Commission said that the collapse should make the Maltese people reflect on their national heritage. The San Lawrenz local council urged the government to establish a management plan for the entire Dwejra area, which includes several other notable features despite the loss of the Azure Window.
On the day of the collapse, police appealed to the public not to visit the area. Diving in the area was temporarily banned, although this was not enforced and footage of the remains of the arch underwater emerged a few days after the collapse. The remains of the arch have formed a number of features which have been called a "divers' paradise", although Transport Malta and the Environment and Resources Authority still advised the public to keep away from the area until surveys and inspections are carried out.
Following the collapse, Gatt said that following his report, he had requested the arch and pillar to be monitored over a long period of time, in a bid to study the area and establish whether the pillar supporting the arch was moving, "but there wasn't any follow-up and the condition of the pillar remained unknown."
On 9 March 2017, the government announced that it would launch an international initiative on the future of Dwejra. The options being considered include leaving the site as is, retrieving the remains of the window from the seabed and exhibiting them, creating an artificial or an augmented reality reconstruction of the window, establishing an interpretation centre or creating an art installation at the site. The government stated that the rock formation will not be rebuilt. The only response to this international call was by Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli, proposing to construct a hotel within a quarry close to the site of the Azure Window. The project would also include an interpretation area, a diving centre, an interactive museum, a sky observation centre and transport facilities. In August 2018 it was announced that the government does not plan to proceed with this proposal.
In late 2018, the Russian architect Svetozar Andreev of Hoteì Russia, in collaboration with Elena Britanishskaya, announced a proposal to construct a steel structure on the site of the Azure Window. Entitled The Heart of Malta, the project consists of a structure with polygonal mirrored steel faces, having its size and proportions based on that of the former natural arch. The structure is to include five floors containing over 5,000 m2 (54,000 sq ft) of exhibition space, with each floor representing a period of Maltese history. A central spiral will connect the floors together. This proposal drew mixed reactions from the public. Most respondents to online polls were in favour. However, the project has also been criticized since the area is a marine park and the intervention would destroy the underwater remains of the original Azure Window. Moreover, the foundations would have to rest in the sea at a depth of over 50 m (160 ft), and the site is prone to heavy storms.
The Azure Window was a natural arch with a height of about 28 m (92 ft) and a span of around 25 m (82 ft). It was at the tip of a headland known as Dwejra Point. The arch was within the Lower Coralline Limestone Formation, a succession of sedimentary rocks that is widespread on the Maltese Islands and was deposited during the Oligocene. The Formation is subdivided into two Members, Member A and Member B. Member A formed the arch's base and pillars, and Member B formed much of the unsupported top of the arch.
Member A, ca. 20 m in thickness, mainly consists of the fossils of coralline red algae within a calcite cement. At the arch, it included four facies, numbered A-1 to A-4, with A-2 being the thickest. Deposition of these sediments was slow and occurred in water depths >30 m (98 ft) with moderate currents.
Member B was ca. 10 m (33 ft) in thickness and included five facies, numbered B-1 to B-5. B-1 forms a thin layer of white limestone between Member A and the rest of Member B which is rather soft and therefore more easily eroded, it therefore formed a depression around the window. It was deposited in shallow water with high wave action. B-2 and B-3 formed a 7 m (23 ft)-thick bed of horizontal and cross-bedded packstone to grainstone, which are porous and therefore less compact. B-5 was a 4 m (13 ft)-thick layer of packstone to wackestone limestone, and formed the upper unsupported part of the arch. The facies of Member B contained a number of fossils, including Scutella, Pecten, large echinoid spines and large benthic foraminifera. All of the beds of Member B were penetrated by two joints. A hybrid layer overlaid by Globigerina Limestone was found on top of facies B-5, but this was heavily eroded.
The arch was near the Inland Sea, a large circular sinkhole reached by a small arch that developed along a joint in the rocks. Fungus Rock, an islet that was formed when the bridge of a natural arch collapsed leaving a stack, is also nearby. The area also contains the Dwejra Tower, a 17th-century coastal watchtower built by the Order of St. John. Another natural arch, the Wied il-Mielaħ Window, is about 3.7 km (2.3 mi) northeast of Dwejra. It is, however, less known than the Azure Window.
The Azure Window features in a number of films, including Clash of the Titans (1981), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) and the 2010 Tamil language Indian film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya. It can also be seen in the television miniseries The Odyssey (1997). It was used as a filming location for the Dothraki wedding scene in the first season of HBO's TV series Game of Thrones. The filming of Game of Thrones resulted in controversy when a protected ecosystem was damaged by a subcontractor. Cliff diver David Colturi is featured in a 2017 Hugo Boss advert video at the Azure Window and the Wied il-Mielaħ Window.
- Geoscience Consulting (July 2013). Geological and geotechnical report on the Azure Window, Gozo: Rock assessment and recommendations on preservation and conservation (PDF) (Report). Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Martin, Ivan (19 July 2013). "The Azure Window is still safe... for now". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 10 June 2016.
- Dwejra – A Coastal Nature Park (PDF). Life Project (Report). European Commission. pp. 1–8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 September 2008.
- Ciantar, Giovannantonio (1772). Malta illustrata ovvero descrizione di Malta isola del Mare Siciliano e Adriatico (in Italian). Malta. p. 353. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- Carabott, Sarah (14 March 2017). "Azure Window probably inherited name from nearby less-popular crevice". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 14 March 2017.
- Carabott, Sarah (2 January 2019). "Dwejra's Azure Window was '50 years older' than thought". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 2 January 2019.
- Carabott, Sarah (13 March 2017). "Was the Azure Window really just 140 years old?". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
- Ian Ellis, ed. (2011). Richard Ellis – The Photography Collection: Malta & Gozo. 4. p. 100. ISBN 978-99957-33-29-2. Archived from the original on 30 April 2016. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
- "Qawra/Dwejra". UNESCO. Archived from the original on 1 April 2016.
- Meschini, Maria Celeste (2016). Valentina Diaconale (ed.). "La Finestra Azzurra" (PDF). The Trip (Malta) (in Italian). The Trip s.r.l. p. 74. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 June 2018.
- "Part of Dwejra 'Azure window' collapses". Times of Malta. 17 April 2012. Archived from the original on 10 June 2016.
- "A huge part of the Dwejra Window rock collapsed". TVM. 26 June 2016. Archived from the original on 29 June 2016.
- "Dwejra Azure Window fissure grows, collapse may be close". The Malta Independent. 6 December 2015. Archived from the original on 23 June 2016.
- "Iconic Azure Window in Dwejra loses another chunk (but people are still walking on it)". The Malta Independent. 29 August 2016. Archived from the original on 29 August 2016.
- Mizzi, Daniel (27 November 2016). "Rocks fall off picturesque Azure Window after cliff jumper dive". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 27 November 2016.
- "Watch: Rocks fall as man jumps off the Azure Window". Times of Malta. 27 November 2016. Archived from the original on 28 November 2016.
- Ltd, Allied Newspapers. "Expert warns of explosives' impact on Azure Window". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 1 April 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
- "€1,500 fine if you step on Azure Window from now on". Times of Malta. 3 December 2016. Archived from the original on 4 December 2016.
- "Dozens trespass across Azure Window without a care in the world". Times of Malta. 4 March 2017. Archived from the original on 4 March 2017.
- Morris, Hugh (9 March 2017). "Malta's famous Azure Window arch collapses into the sea". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 March 2017.
- "Dwejra Window collapses; geologist says pillar gave way". The Malta Independent. 8 March 2017. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Schicluna, Chris; Balmer, Crispian (8 March 2017). "Malta's 'Azure Window' rock formation collapses into the sea". Reuters. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Caruana, Claire (11 March 2017). "Pillar likely broke into pieces when Azure Window fell". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 11 March 2017.
- Grech, Herman (12 March 2017). "Mariners, divers urged to stay clear of Azure Window site, underwater and aerial footage emerges". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
- "Malta's Azure Window collapses into the sea". BBC News Online. 8 March 2017. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Østbø, Stein (8 March 2017). "Kjent turistattraksjon kollapset: Asurvinduet – eller Azure Window – på Gozo utenfor Malta kollapset i storm onsdag morgen". VG (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- "The Azure Window: lost and gone forever". Times of Malta. 8 March 2017. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- "The Azure Window: humour takes over". Times of Malta. 8 March 2017. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Grech Urpani, David (8 March 2017). "13 Brutally Hilarious Memes of the Azure Window Collapse". Lovin Malta. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
- "Loss of Azure Window should make us reflect on heritage damage – Church". Times of Malta. 10 March 2017. Archived from the original on 10 March 2017.
- "Police appeal to public not to approach Dwejra Window area". TVM. 8 March 2017. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
- "New video shows shattered Azure Window is now divers' paradise". Times of Malta. 14 March 2017. Archived from the original on 14 March 2017.
- "Updated (2) – Watch: Dwejra Window collapses; geologist says pillar gave way". The Malta Independent. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Schembri, Gabriel (9 March 2017). "Azure Window collapse – government considering retrieving rock pieces, exhibiting them". The Malta Independent. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
- Diacono, Tim (9 March 2017). "Government moots 3D augmented reality reconstruction of Gozo's Azure Window". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
- "Dwejra rock will not be rebuilt, but government paves way for 'ideas'". Times of Malta. 9 March 2017. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
- Agius, Monique (19 August 2018). "Only one proposal made to Muscat's "international call" – a hotel for Dwejra". Newsbook. Archived from the original on 18 November 2018.
- "Hotel in Dwejra: Will the proposal be accepted?". Newsbook. 21 August 2018. Archived from the original on 2 January 2019.
- "The Heart of Malta / Project by Svetozar Andreev Studio". Hotei Russia. Archived from the original on 2 January 2019.
- Baldwin, Eric (1 January 2019). "Svetozar Andreev Reimagines Iconic Azure Window as a Metallic Arch". ArchDaily. Archived from the original on 2 January 2019.
- Vella, Matthew (12 December 2018). "Dwejra's Azure Window reimagined into steel structure by Russian". Malta Today. Archived from the original on 2 January 2019.
- Sann, Wong Yoon (31 December 2018). "Malta's famous Azure Window, which was featured in 'Game of Thrones,' collapsed into the ocean, but it could be replaced by a quirky steel structure". Archived from the original on 2 January 2019.
- Cilia, Daniel (22 December 2018). "Dwejra steel structure". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 22 December 2018.
- "Azure Window gets posthumous accolade". The Malta Independent. 25 August 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
- "Dwejra Tower" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 30 March 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 January 2018.
- Malta – Guide Verdi Europa (in Italian). Touring Editore. 2007. p. 143. ISBN 9788836533176. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
- Khomami, Nadia (8 March 2017). "'It's heartbreaking': Maltese mourn collapse of Azure Window arch". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Andrews, Travis M. (9 March 2017). "'That sad day arrived': Malta's Azure Window, as seen on 'Game of Thrones,' collapses into sea". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 17 March 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
- Macphail, Cameron (8 March 2017). "Malta's Azure Window: Everything you need to know about Gozo's lost arch". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 17 March 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
- Roberts, Josh (1 April 2012). "Where HBO's hit Game of Thrones was filmed". USA Today. Archived from the original on 1 April 2012.
- Peregin, Christian (17 November 2010). "'Total elimination of ecosystem' at Dwejra". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 20 March 2016.
- "La "finestra azzurra" dell'isola di Gozo non-c'è più". AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italia) (in Italian). 8 March 2017. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
- Media related to Azure Window at Wikimedia Commons