Mdina – Malta’s “Silent City”
As the summer is coming to an end here in Ireland it’s still in full swing in Malta, a tiny island just 80 km south of Sicily. It enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine every year – one of the highest in Europe. This post is about one of my favourite historical places on the island. We went there in April/May last year and the weather was gorgeous with 26 degrees in the shade.
Mdina or L’Mdina (pronounced as em-dee-nah) is Malta’s ancient walled city in the middle of the island. It dates back to 4000 BC and was the capital of Malta until the Knights of St John arrived in mid 1500’s. Being 185 metres above sea level means it has a strategic location on one of the highest points of the island.
According to legend the Apostle St.Paul lived here after his famous shipwreck in 60 AD. Today’s shape is owed to the Arabs and Normans who built thick defensive fortifications and a moat to separate it from the nearest town Rabat.
Mdina was spared by the Great Siege of 1565 due to the fact that the Knights chose Birgu (Vittoriosa) as their new capital and the Turkish army attacked there instead. It was lucky as they could have easily taken the city – only a few soldiers and guards were there to defend it.
An earthquake in 1693 destroyed a large number of buildings, among them St. Paul’s Cathedral. When it was rebuilt the Maltese design architect Lorenzo Gafa introduced Baroque elements to the city.
Today it feels like you are entering a time machine when visiting Mdina. No cars are allowed in the city with the exception of a limited number of residents’, wedding and emergency vehicles. At night it is lit by lamps earning it the nickname “The Silent City”.
Another name comes from medieval times, ‘Citta Notabile’: the noble city. Mdina was home to Malta’s many noble families with descendants from Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords. The stunning palazzos belonging to the old aristocracy are in the process of being restored and currently only about 400 people live in the city.
Here are some more photos of this beautiful city:
Just outside Mdina’s walls is the village of Rabat or Ir-Rabat (meaning “suburb”). When we visited the streets were beautifully decorated and there were plenty of cafes and restaurants to escape from the heat. St. Paul’s Church is beautiful and worth a visit as it is home to the famous catacombs – a complex of interconnected, underground Roman cemeteries.
GOOD TO KNOW
Mdina can easily be reached by bus number 51, 52 and 53 departing from the main bus terminal in Floriana, near the Triton Fountain. The journey takes about 40 minutes and costs €1.50 for a day ticket. I recommend buying a weekly ticket for only €6.50. Timetables can be found here.
You can explore Mdina by foot or horse-drawn carriage, but I highly recommend walking and getting lost in the small maze of narrow streets to soakup the beautiful architecture and history. Strolling around Mdina at dusk feels magical and you can finish the night off with a romantic meal in one of the many high quality restaurants.
Don’t miss Fontanella’s Cafe. The chocolate cakes there are gorgeous and you can enjoy spectacular views from the upstairs terrace. It does get very crowded though and if you can’t find somewhere to sit you can go to Palazzo de Piro next door. Their Xpresso Café and Bistro in the courtyard has the same magnificent views.
If you want to stay overnight there is only one hotel in Mdina – the 5* Xara Palace. It’s located in a beautiful 17th century palazzo and is the most exclusive hotel in Malta. Xara Palace has been featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair and attracted celebrity visitors such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone, Orlando Bloom and Jennifer Anniston. It is rather pricey and would be suitable for a couple looking to honeymoon somewhere special.
Mdina makes for a fabulous day trip so if you’re in Malta then don’t miss this magical place.
If you would like to know more then I am happy to help you plan your visit!