Malta's Famous Rock Formation Has Collapsed Into the Ocean

Felix König, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Felix König, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 / Felix KönigWikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Even if you’ve never been to Malta, you may be familiar with one of the Mediterranean island nation’s natural attractions: a limestone rock arch called the Azure Window. It’s been featured in countless tourism brochures, TV shows, and films, but even famous landmarks aren’t immune to the elements. As Esquire reports, a heavy storm swept through the region on Tuesday, causing the Azure Window to collapse into the sea.

The Azure Window (known as Tieqa tad-Dwejra in Malta) jutted from a cliff, off the northwest coast of the island of Gozo. But on Tuesday, the storm arrived, knocking down the entire arch—not just its bridge, but the stacks as well.

Local resident Roger Chessell arrived on scene around 9:40 a.m. to take pictures of the storm, and witnessed the arch's fall. "There was a big raging sea beneath the window," Chessell told the Times of Malta. "Suddenly, the arch collapsed into the sea with a loud whoomph, throwing up a huge spray. By the time the spray had faded, the stack had gone too."

Experts predicted the Azure Window’s eventual demise (last January, a wave even broke a large chunk off the base of one of its cliffs), but few thought it would be so soon. "Reports commissioned over the years indicated that this landmark would be hard hit by unavoidable natural corrosion," Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter. "That sad day has arrived."

A geological study published in 2013 found that the Azure Window would eventually erode, but concluded that it wasn’t in any immediate danger. Still, concerned locals banded together to form a steering committee to oversee the site, and the government began imposing fines on visitors who walked across the arch. (Those fines were reportedly not enforced very often.)

Locals officials are mourning the loss of the landmark, which for decades has attracted tourists from around the world. (According to the Gozo Tourism Association, 80 percent of island tourists once visited the formation.) "The flagship of the Gozitan touristic sites has sunk in its same birth place from where for thousands of years, it stood high and proud heralding one of the natural beauties our little island is endowed with," the Gozo Tourism Association said in a Facebook statement, quoted by NPR.

Game of Thrones fans may remember the Azure Window looming in the background during Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo’s wedding. It was also featured in movies including 1981's Clash of the Titans and the 2002 remake of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Guardian points out.

[h/t Esquire]