|Azure Window (Dwejra)|
|Former natural arch|
View of the Azure Window in 2009
|Location||Dwejra, San Lawrenz|
|- elevation||28 m (92 ft)|
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) limestone natural arch on the island of Gozo in Malta. It was located in Dwejra Bay, within the limits of San Lawrenz, close to the Inland Sea and the Fungus Rock, and was one of Malta's major tourist attractions. The arch, together with other natural features in the area, has appeared in a number of international films and media productions.
The formation was created by the collapse of a sea cave, probably during the 19th century. It consisted of a pillar of rock rising from the sea and joined to the cliff by a horizontal slab. Following decades of natural erosion that caused parts of the arch to fall into the sea, the slab and pillar collapsed completely in stormy weather on 8 March 2017.
The Azure Window developed through sea and rain erosion of a cliff face, progressing from an initial crack, then to a cave and finally an arch. 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. 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," suggesting that the arch did not exist. 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. This means that the window might have formed sometime between 1866 and 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 Dr 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 on a regular basis, and videos were uploaded on YouTube of people cliff diving from the window as rocks were falling down.
In March 2016, Dr. Gatt warned that the 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 it is still advised to keep away from the area until surveys and inspections are carried out.
Following the collapse, Dr 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, 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 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 composed of two types of Lower Coralline Limestone, known as Member A and Member B. Member A formed the arch's pillar and base, while Member B formed the upper layer including most of the unsupported arch.
The arch was near the Inland Sea, a large circular sinkhole reached by a small arch that developed along a joint in the rocks. The Fungus Rock, an islet that was formed when the bridge of a natural arch collapsed leaving a stack, is also found nearby. 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) and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). 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.
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- Media related to Azure Window at Wikimedia Commons