Culture
A spotlight on Mdina & it’s history before the Great Siege attacks
Did you know this?

Jillian Mallia

You may know that the city that sits on the hill adjacent to Rabat is the oldest one on the island. Mdina, also known as the Silent City, has a mysterious past, with its origin being unknown to many. However, some historians believe that the Greeks had some part to play in its construction, with its first name being ‘Melith’ – a Greek word.

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Joseph Serracino in his book L-Assedju l-Kbir tal-1565 shares insights on Mdina’s history before the Great Siege and attacks it endured – and being quite the fortification, it experienced a lot.

Back to the root of its name. Mdina, first known as Melith by the Greeks was then named Melita by the Romans, who are thought to be the ones who laid the first foundations of the city. Again, the details as to whether it was the Greeks or the Romans are a little hazy.

Following the Romans, the Arabs came into the picture and the city was then known as Medina which paved the way for its current name, Mdina. The Arabs actually made the city smaller to what we know today and it seems that it was previously much larger.

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They fortified the area impeccably and created a ditch at its entrance (which has now been transformed into a beautiful garden). Throughout the years, Mdina fell into the hands of various rulers, as did the island. First came the Normans (1090), then the Swabians (1194), the Angevins (1266), the Aragonese (1283), followed by the Spanish (1479), the Knights (1530), the French (1798) and lastly, the British (1800). This city has seen it all: the start and end of all of these rulers along with the good, the bad and the ugly that came with civilisation and numerous attacks.

And as if all the name changes weren’t enough, Mdina actually went by another two names back in the day: Notabile and Citta Vecchia (the Old City), making it the oldest city in Malta.

But, with the arrival of the Knights, Mdina’s importance almost depleted. While it was still the capital, the Knights chose to set up their base and auberges within another walled city: Birgu. During the early years of the Knights’ rule, locals still considered the nobles to be the leaders of the city. But by time, apart from the power that the Order had, locals realised their way of governing was much better than that of the nobles.

Despite their seat being in Birgu, the Knights appointed a Governor for Mdina and straight away, maintenance works on the old bastions to strengthen the city’s defence as there were growing concerns of possible attacks from corsairs.

To put locals’ minds at ease, Grand Master Juan d’Omedes sent a detachment of soldiers, both Maltese and foreigners to protect the area. The city was well protected and had the advantage of seeing far and wide from the hill it was situated on. So much so, that when the Saracens attempted to attack the area, they always found the Knights ready to defend and eventually they just gave up. And as time went by, the city became stronger and stronger.

11th July 2021


Jillian Mallia
Written by
Jillian Mallia
A book lover, writer and globetrotter who loves exploring new places and the local gems that the Maltese Islands have to offer. An avid foodie and arts fanatic, Jillian searches the island and beyond for the perfect settings to write about.

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