The iconic Malta Azure Window, located on Gozo Island on the Archipelago of Malta, was one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Tragically, this natural rock arch completely collapsed today at approximately 9:40 a.m. after it was barraged by a wind storm, collapsing into the Mediterranean Sea.
Residents of Malta's Gozo District were reportedly stunned by the loss of the iconic landmark, and local police soon had to issue a request for people to stop visiting the area where it once stood.
The arch itself, also known as the Dwejra Window, fell into the sea first, and it was closely followed by the stacks. This has left the area looking virtually unrecognizable to locals. Scientists had previously stated that the Malta Azure Window was highly susceptible to the effects of erosion. However, at that time, the arch was still stable enough that it was expected to continue standing for several more decades.
An emergency order was passed in late 2016 as part of the effort to preserve the Malta Azure Window for as long as possible. This order would have kept tourists and locals from walking on the arch, but it was never actually enforced. As a result, people could still be seen on the arch as recently as a few days ago. Fortunately, no one was on or close enough to the arch when it collapsed to suffer from any injuries.
Although the emergency order and other potential measures were never truly put in place, scientists from Malta have stated that there is nothing humans could have done or built that would have provided the necessary protection from today's wind storm.
Xagħra resident Roger Chessell was perhaps the only witness to the arch's final moments. Chessell was in the area taking photographs of the storm, and he described the destruction of the Malta Azure Window as happening very suddenly. The arch portion fell first, followed quickly by the stacks.
Chessell indicated that the sea behind the Malta Azure Window was raging from the storm in the moments leading up to the destruction of the most easily recognizable landmark in Malta.Social media was soon flooded with an outpouring of grief and disbelief from people throughout Malta, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. The area looks so different now that a common sentiment among social media users is that it's almost as if the Malta Azure Window never even existed.
History of the Malta Azure WindowResidents will most likely mourn the loss of the Malta Azure Window for a long time to come. There are many reasons for this, including its major tourism draw. The natural arch was developed by rain and sea erosion during a time period of approximately 500 years. Originally, there was no arch, and the pillars weren't separated. Instead, the structure was all part of a cliff face.
The arch has been closely watched since the 1980s, which is when parts of the top slab first began to collapse. Since 2012, there have been numerous rock falls and other problems that threatened to hasten the demise of the Malta Azure Window. This convinced many fishermen to stop taking their boats near the arch, but it wasn't enough to stop tourists or Hollywood.
In fact, not only did tourists continue to visit the archipelago to photograph the Malta Azure Window but the popular cable TV show Game of Thrones used the natural landmark as part of the backdrop of the first season's Dothraki wedding scene. Several other TV shows and movies also went to Malta to film the arch, including the original Clash of the Titans from 1981.The loss of this natural and historic landmark is one of the calamitous but inevitable results of climate change and other environmental factors. For instance, One of the Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China may be headed in the same direction. Natural erosion and lack of protection, among other factors has led to the loss of a third of the Great Wall. Efforts may not have been enough to save the famed Malta Azure Window, but hopefully this will lead to greater conservation endeavors worldwide for others.
[Featured Image by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images]