spotlight on: mdina
Mdina, also known as the ‘Silent City’, sits on top of a hill overlooking large parts of Malta. A small town, rich in history and surrounded by tall bastion fortifications. It’s filled with centuries-old buildings that have been well-maintained throughout the ages and is a sight to behold for anyone visiting the Islands
The history of Mdina goes back more than 4000 years. It was in Mdina that the Apostle St Paul is said to have lived, after being shipwrecked on the Maltese Islands in 60 A.D.
The city was founded as ‘Maleth’ around the 8th century, by Phoenician settlers, and was later renamed ‘Melite’ by the Romans. Melite was larger than the Mdina we know today, as it was reduced in size during the Byzantine occupation of Malta. During the Arab occupation, the city adopted its present name, derived from the Arabic word ‘Medina’.
The city remained the capital until the arrival of the Knights of St. John in 1530, when Birgu became the administrative centre of the island. Mdina offers a timeless atmosphere, countless charming narrow streets and an abundance of cultural and religious artefacts and treasures.
It served as the islands’ capital from antiquity to the medieval period and today, is still confined within its own walls, with a population of around 300.
Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled, fortified city, extraordinary in its combination of medieval and baroque architecture, which it acquired during a revival in the early 18th century.
Mdina is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
some spots in mdina worth visiting
Also known as the Main Gate or the Vilhena Gate is the main gate into the fortified city of Mdina.
Bonus: it may look familiar as the gate that represented King’s Landing Gate in the first season of Game of Thrones.
In the medieval period, the main entrance to Mdina consisted of three gates, separated by courtyards. The outer gate was called the Prima Porta Principale and was decorated with the coat of arms of Sua Cesarea Majestati in 1527.
A barbican was built to protect the gate some time after 1448, but it was demolished in 1551, as it was no longer regarded as being suitable for defence. In 1724, the gate was built in baroque style, during the magistracy of Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena.
Today, the gate is one of Mdina’s main attractions and is also listed on the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.
Cathedral of st. paul and its museum
A 17th century masterpiece dedicated to the conversion of St. Paul, who was shipwrecked in Malta. Its prominent facade dominates the landscape of Mdina’s narrow streets. Inside, visitors can see the beautiful works of art by Mattias Preti, including the illustration of the conversion of St. Paul.
The floor is covered with polychrome marble tombstones of Maltese nobles and important clergymen, while the vault is painted with scenes from the life of St. Paul. Its museum, which includes a vast collection of artefacts, historical factsheets, and a remarkable coin collection, is situated just opposite in Archbishop’s Square. Both the museum and the cathedral are definitely worth a visit.
Located upon entering the main gate of Mdina, beneath Vilhena Palace are the Mdina Dungeons. Wander around the underground passageways and chambers and scream your way through an immersive journey of the city’s dark past.
Here, a number of wax figures recreate the various types of torture that occurred when Malta was a colony under the rule of the Romans, Arabs, the Knights of Malta and even the French. Caution: some of the exhibits are a little on the gruesome side… but we know you can handle it. The Dungeons are open all day from 10:00 till 16:30, seven days a week.
the mdina experience
A 30 minute audio visual spectacular show that gives you the opportunity to relive Mdina’s 7000 years of tragedy and triumph. There’s a large screen for the clearest panoramic images and headset-based surround systems with simultaneous multi-language soundtracks to accommodate people of various nationalities.
The attraction is located in a lovely medieval building, which also houses a cafe, where you can indulge your sweet tooth. The perfect blend of entertainment and information and an excellent way to start off your day in Mdina.
torre dello standardo
The Torre dello Standardo, a watch tower forming part of the city’s fortifications, was built by the Order of St John in the 16th Century and used to communicate signals between Mdina and the rest of Malta. It was also used to accommodate volunteers and servants of the sanatorium of the British army, as well as Mdina’s police office. Today, the tourist information centre is located in the tower.
It is of finer construction than other towers in Malta, having decorative Baroque elements such as mouldings, as well as escutcheons containing the coats of arms of De Vilhena and the city of Mdina.