Each year I buy a new ornament for the Christmas tree, and this year I fell for one in House of Gozo, a shop in Independence Square in the heart of Victoria, just down the slope from the Citadel. And, gold-ribboned and glossy as glass, my beautiful new bauble shows a Christmas star of Wonder shining high above the citadel. Evoking the Christmas-card Bethlehem townscape, it’s clear to see on the bauble’s panoramic surface, set against a dusky teal sky, the glowing squares of the skyline.
And yet, although there’s no imposing cupola, head inside Gozo’s Cathedral which stands at the heart of the citadel today and look up: you’ll see clearly, above the nave, the most spectacular church dome rising from a glittering gold ceiling. It has arched windows and carved stone balustrades between white marble columns with golden curls and floral features which rise to the heavens. The dome is topped by a lantern skylight at its tip, and look carefully and you’ll even see a sneaky gecko crossing one of the window panes. It’s the perfect Christmas riddle: how can this be?
The answer is one of the secrets of the citadel: the soaring dome that adds such height and grandeur to the church’s interior is in fact a painting, a masterpiece of perspective that gives the illusion of towering dome on the underside of the cathedral’s flat roof. It’s a trick known in the artistic world as a Trompe L’Oeil – or ‘deceives the eye and this painting, the work of a Sicilian scenographer from Messina, Antonio Manuele, or ‘Pippi’, was first mounted in 1739. It has been restored in the last few years and, like my new bauble, is truly a joy to behold.