MDINA (The Silent City)
Mdina (meaning city) must be one of the most visited places in Malta. We’ve spent a day at this ancient ‘city’ on both our visits (and will probably go back there should we get another opportunity 😉).
From the main road, it’s easy to see the ancient walled city. High on a hilltop, almost in the center of Malta, Mdina is a great place to wander in. There’s so much history cramped together in this small area – you will see a cathedral, churches, museums, palaces and Maltese houses belonging to the aristocracy … all inside the fortified walls.
Historians are of the opinion that this city can go back 4,000 years. Back in Roman times, it was called Melita and was the island’s capital. The present name derived from the Arabic medina or walled city. When the Order of St John took over the island, the knights decided to make the capital at the harbour (which is now known as Valletta).
Today, Mdina is known as the ‘Silent City’ – it’s narrow streets and alleyways are free of motorcars, which are banned to all but the residents.
Once you’re inside the city, there are countless narrow alleys leading to St Paul’s Square (near the Cathedral) and Bastion Square from where there are beautiful views across the Maltese landscape.
To take a stroll in the Silent City is really special – it’s interesting to read that high walls and narrow streets are so designed not only to protect the inhabitants from attacks, but also the buildings from the strong summer sun.
There are many beautiful buildings and monuments in this small city, including the 18th century Vilhena Palace (which is now the Museum of Natural History), exceptional patrician houses of the 16th and 17th centuries and of course the impressive Cathedral. But we were also fascinated with the smaller details in Mdina … like their stunning doors and door knockers.
After we’ve taken a stroll through all the streets, it was time to see the view of Malta from the walls. One of the locals we’ve met earlier, informed us the best way of doing this, is to enjoy the view from the famous Fontanella tea garden (and to taste their delicious chocolate cake at the same time). And we were quite impressed … with both the view and the cake!
An impressive site from the walls, is that of the church in Mosta. The Church of St Mary (also called the Mosta Dome or Rotunda) is at 37m across, under the top five largest unsupported domes in Europe. They say a miracle happened here in 1942 … during World War II, a bomb fell through the roof and rolled across the floor during a service, but miraculously failed to explode.
Fontanella tea garden must be one of Malta’s best well-known eateries with a view. As you enter the tea garden, two staircases lead to the upper floor. It’s here where you can have the magical views of the Maltese islands while treating yourself to their delicious chocolate cake.
When we’ve entered Mdina through the main entrance, we’ve received a pamphlet about the Mdina Dungeons … that sounded interesting and we’ve decided to visit this ‘offbeat tourist attraction’ (they say it’s for the bold and brave and “not all will leave, ye who enter here”) …
The Mdina Dungeons:
It’s a series of secret underground passageways, chambers and cells that recreate the dark side of Maltese history. From Roman times to the Arabs, the Knights and even Napoleon, you will find characters from the ancient past portrayed in amazing realism, revealing stories sometimes too dramatic to be believed.
These are times when crucifixion, beheading, public executions, torture, crime, punishments and inquisitions were all common under heavy handed rulers.
Be warned: If you have the stomach … take a walk through the Mdina Dungeons (we have chosen the less gruesome photo’s to show to you) …
We’ve came to a scene called ‘Masks of Shame’ … this was quite bizarre.
The note read as follows: “Masks of shame were symbolic referring to particular offences. One such mask with big ears was made for those who heard everything. A big nosed one was intended for those who interfered in other people’s business. Although these masks very rarely caused physical pain, it was a degrading punishment”.
After seeing all these horror scenes, I was glad to be out back in the open sun again … and felt it was definitely time to seek some peace in the nearby Cathedral.
The St Paul’s Cathedral:
This Baroque style cathedral was erected between 1697 and 1702 after the 1693 earthquake had all but destroyed the 13th century original.
The Cathedral Museum is next to the Cathedral and religious art and prints are on display here. There was a long queue here and we’ve decided to call it a day after strolling through Mdina for the entire day in the hot sun … but what an amazing experience!
In our next installment about Malta, we will pay a visit to Rabat to see catacombs and a beautiful Roman villa and museum.
We have done these trips in 2011 & 2013