Nestled between Europe and Africa, the Maltese island of Gozo is known for its Mediterranean seascape, rugged landscape, and for being the purported home of Calypso, who wooed Odysseus in Homer‘s The Odyssey. The island is also home to an ancient, towering Cittadella, a brick fortress that predates the Roman Empire by more than a thousand years. Over the centuries, the island changed hands and enhancements were gradually made to the structure. Yet as sieges by invading armies decreased, repairs on the structure fell off, and eventually, the Cittadella fell into a state of decay. Now, the government of Malta has embarked on an ambitious restoration project, the highlight of which is an immersive audiovisual installation by Sarner International celebrating the storied history of the island.
The Cittadella’s visitor center is located in an old water reservoir, a cavernous space whose architecture inspired the interactive installation. “The water reservoir and walled city of Cittadella are of great historical significance to Malta and European history. The visitor center forms a key part of the story. It elevates the significance and importance of the fortified city and places it within the historical context,” Ross Magri, technical director for Sarner International tells Creators. “For millennia, the only way to reach Gozo has been to journey across the water, so the visitors make their way through time to the island by boat.”
The immersive, time-traveling experience is a little more than eight minutes long and covers a striking swath of history and mythic lore. The journey begins with The Odyssey, then transitions to images of the Phoenicians and Romans, before delving into stories of Medieval knights and 19th century bishops. Information panels elucidate visitors on the island’s natural history, as well as the construction and evolution of the Cittadella, making use of interactive touch screens and stunning graphic panels. Sixteen projectors and eight screens create a 360° view of the Mediterranean sea at night. “The surround projection truly makes the visitors feel that they are immersed by water—that they are outside in the green landscape of Gozo,” Magri says. “Then, that they are surrounded by the high walls of the Cittadella and threatened by the guns of the Turkish corsairs to the side and behind them.”
While captivating, the project was not without its difficulties. The reservoir’s support beams hindered the team’s ability to find clear projection spaces. Despite these hurdles, Magri thinks choosing to tell the Cittadella’s story interactively, rather than through displaying artifacts and information boards, was a vital decision. “It is, itself, within the artifact: the Cittadella,” he says. Combining elements of theater, film, and audiovisual technology, this exhibition works to bring the history of Gozo and its fortified city into context for visitors from all walks of life and places in the world. Much in the same way that the Cittadella brick walls are being preserved by conservators, its history is now being protected and disseminated, through careful research, practical design, and precise technology.
To learn more about Gozo and its walled Cittadella, click here.
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