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Malta's Landmark 'Azure Window' Rock Formation Collapses

The landmark Azure Window, off the Maltese island of Gozo, has collapsed into the sea during a storm.

An iconic Maltese natural rock arch has collapsed into the sea during a powerful storm.

The "Azure Window" jutting off Malta's Gozo Island is printed on innumerable Instagram posts and travel brochures. It was also featured in movies and TV shows, including HBO's Game of Thrones.

Local resident Roger Chessell was there when the iconic arch collapsed. "There was a big raging sea beneath the window," he 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."

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called the news "heartbreaking."

"Reports commissioned over the years indicated that this landmark would be hard hit by unavoidable natural corrosion," he said on Twitter. "That sad day has arrived."

In 2013, a study said that the rock formation would inevitably collapse but that it would "likely survive for 'decades' to come," the Times of Malta reported.

The BBC added that in recent years, tourists have apparently done some damage to the formation by "jumping off the arch into the sea, dislodging clumps of rock in the process."

Authorities introduced fines for walking over the arch, according to The Guardian, but they were "rarely enforced."

Game of Thrones fans might recognize it as the wedding backdrop of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo in the show's first episode.

"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 statement. It added that about 80 percent of tourists to the island visited the famed rock formation.

Now, it noted, "only millions of photographs remain as testimony of this touristic spot."

Fans of the Azure Window are mourning its loss on social media:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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