The Fungus Rock, otherwise known in Maltese as Il-Ġebla tal-Ġeneral (The General’s Rock), is an offshore 60-metre-high pillar of limestone at the entrance to Dwejra Bay. The islet has an inside aperture which creates lovely water reflections at the base of the reef and got its name from a small, rare fungus that was discovered on it by a commander of a squadron of the galleys belonging to the Knights of St. John.
It was thought that the fungus had several medical cures for conditions as dysentery, bleeding and impotence. For this reason, the Knights of Malta guarded the plant very carefully and it was also used as an honourable gift presented to distinguished visitors to the islands. To keep it safe from any invasions, since the plant was famous in Europe too, the Knights of St. John’s Order decided to defend the rock.
When Grandmaster Pinto decreed the rock off limits in 1746, its walls were sheared to make access from the sea impossible; there was only one authorised access – via a funicular, an early form of cable car running to the mainland. Meanwhile, Dwejra Tower would guard the islet as well as serving as a watch tower against enemy attacks from the sea. Furthermore unauthorised access to the tiny rock was punishable by three years’ oarsman ship in the galleys or even the death penalty.
Pharmacologists have since been exploring real features and properties of the plant and it seems that all the efforts to protect the medicine back then were senseless. In 1992 the rock became a nature reserve. However its shoreline is accessible to divers, snorkelers and bathers alike.