Culture
A centuries old paradise! A guide to Mdina, Malta’s silent city and its surrounding villages
The medieval city of Mdina is a beguiling sight, whether you visit its palaces and picturesque alleys by day, or discover the reason it is known as the Silent City by night.

Emma Galea

Dating back to Roman times, the stunning, walled city of Mdina went by another name in the past. Known as Melita, originating from the Punic-Roman town of Melite, it served as Malta’s capital city for centuries. Then, at the start of the islands’ Arab rule in 870AD, Mdina was given the name we know it by today, derived from the Arabic word medina, which means town or city. It was during this period that the city gained its thick, protective walls to shield it from intruders.

mdina

But that was just the beginning of the city’s compelling story. Following a short siege in 1091, Mdina fell to Roger I of Sicily. Then, in 1530, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V bestowed the Maltese islands onto the Knights of the Order of St John, who had lost Rhodes to the Ottomans in 1522. The Knights settled in Vittoriosa, one of the Three Cities in Malta’s south-eastern region, making it their administrative centre. As a result, many of Mdina’s residents (most of whom were noble families) followed suit, later moving to Valletta, which would become the new capital city.

A sad twist of fate saw several of Mdina’s majestic buildings, including the cathedral, damaged or destroyed in 1693, when a strong earthquake rippled through the islands. A new cathedral would be built in its stead, favouring a Baroque style, designed by acclaimed Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà. It was this new cathedral that inspired the architectural style of the rest of the rebuilt city.

Mdina continued to flourish during the reign of Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena between 1723 and 1728, with damaged fortifications remodelled and repaired, and new, grand buildings and palaces built. These include the Vilhena Palace, which today houses the National Museum of Natural History and should be on your list of places to visit on your tour of the city, and the Banca Giuratale, or Municipal Palace, along with the charming Mesquita Square, which was famously used as a shooting location for the popular American television series ‘Game of Thrones’.

Just outside the city walls, the serene Howard Gardens, named after Malta’s first Prime Minister, Joseph Howard, link it to its neighbour, the historic town of Rabat, which boasts several attractions in its own right, including ancient catacombs, the Domvs Romana, imposing churches and squares, as well as several notable eateries and shops.

If you fancy a tour of the picturesque countryside surrounding Mdina and Rabat, consider hopping on the trackless train which departs from a terminus next to the Domvs Romana, while the craggy Dingli Cliffs further towards the coast and the wooded area of Buskett Gardens are definitely must visits for nature lovers.

A little further afield towards the centre of the island, the bustling town of Mosta is worth a stop for a glimpse at its claim to fame: the third largest dome in Europe atop its imposing church. Finally, the neighbouring villages of Naxxar, Attard, Lija and Balzan also make for a charming walkthrough to experience their pretty, narrow streets and alleys, stunning old buildings and superb eateries.

Mdina and its surroundings are truly a must visit while in Malta! 

2nd September 2023


Emma Galea
Written by
Emma Galea
Emma is a Gozitan writer who loves all things related to English literature and history. When not busy studying or writing you will either find her immersed in a fictional book or at the cinema trying to watch as many films as she possibly can!

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