MALTA (7)


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.

The fortified walls of Mdina

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.

Mdina Gate, the main entrance into the Silent City

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.

Statue of a lion at the entrance in Mdina

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.

Bastion Square

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.

The white stone buildings are decorated with colourful flowers
Even the street names are displayed in a lovely way

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!

The Maltese landscape

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.

The Mosta dome can clearly be seen from the walls of Mdina

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.

Entrance to Fontanella tea garden
Delicious home baked 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.

A scene at the entrance of the Mdina Dungeons

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) …

The inquisition in Malta – Mdina Dungeons
Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the inquisition

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”.

Masks of Shame

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.

St Paul’s Cathedral
Striking dome of the Cathedral
Reference to St Paul’s life are found everywhere in the Cathedral
Beautifully decorated glass windows
Marble floor tablets identify the graves of important social and religious figures

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!

We’ve left Mdina through the Greek’s Gate

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

Categories: Malta (2011 & 2013)

44 comments

  1. This is a very interesting post about a place I don’t know much about. I love the moniker Silent City and feel that we could all do with more quiet urban spaces. Love the chocolate cake and the cathedral interior. The catacombs exhibition is a good way of learning about The Inquisition. Visitors will certainly not easily forget these scenes, but a hard place to stomach for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m absolutely with you on the quiet urban spaces 👍🏻. Oh dear, just looking at that chocolate cake … I think I should look for a tea garden tomorrow! Hmm, the Mdina Dungeons was not an easy place to visit (I think I would have skipped a visit if I really knew what was waiting inside for me …).
      Thanks again for reading about our Malta trip Leighton – much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting!
    Cathedral is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An excellent review of your visit to Mdina Corna. I like the way you have highlighted small items such as door knockers. We didn’t get to visit the Dungeons so it was good to read about them in your post. Marion

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, thank you so much Marion. We were indeed fascinated with all the detail in Mdina (and those door knockers were really pretty 😊). Hmm, the Dungeons … was gruesome to see, but at the same time interesting (but I think one visit was enough). Thank you, as always, for reading – have a great week. Corna

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d love to visit this city. Love the narrow old streets, without traffic and the great door knockers! The museum is unusual and a little graphic, but I guess they get the point across. Looking forward to the next one. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Maggie, we’ve really enjoyed our visit to Mdina (and was great to walk around in the streets without looking out for a car 😉). Yes, the Dungeons is definitely a very graphic museum – it’s hard to imagine that people could be so cruel. Thank you once again for your comments – have a great week. Corna

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting looking place, looks very much more like North Africa than Malta. Looks like a great place to wile away a few hours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment make absolutely sense if you think that Libya and Tunisia in North Africa is only about 300km across the ocean – so, they are not that far apart 😉. It was a great day to explore and we have great memories of our time there! Thanks for reading – much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Super pair of knockers! I really must get to Malta one day!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved Mdina – oh how I wish I was back there right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mdina looks beautiful – I can’t wait to visit, hopefully in 2023 when we plan to have our annual Virtual Tourist meeting in Malta! The tea rooms will definitely be in my list but I’m less sure about the dungeon – we have something similar in London, the London Dungeon, and it’s very expensive and a bit tacky. Maybe this one is less so but nevertheless I think I’d rather be out in the fresh air exploring the lanes and photographing all those beautiful details!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that’s a wonderful prospect Sarah! You will definitely have lots to do while you’re there … and yes, you must ensure not to miss out on the Fontanella tea garden (remember the chocolate cake)! Hmm, I think I had enough of dungeons after seeing this one … I’m with you on exploring in fresh air!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My father was in Malta during the siege in WW2. On his way there, the ship he was on was torpedoed. But other than that, he really never spoke about it. He had to be evacuated due to illness and came home via South Africa which he did talk about. He liked it a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh my that church is SO beautiful!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love, love, all of this! Mdina definitely reminds me of Dubrovnik. And that cathedral is so beautiful… I’m always amazed by the frescoes in the dome…it must be incredibly hard work to paint those back in the day! Thank you for sharing this amazing piece of Malta 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Then I would love Dubrovnik 😊! Yes, the cathedrals in Malta is really spectacular (I will soon show another one on Gozo, the sister island of Malta, which is equally beautiful). You’re right about the hard work … that’s probably why it took them years to finish it. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The gruesome and the gorgeous all in one city!? Something for everyone!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This looks like an incredible place to explore. I find it neat how the city was designed to protect people from attacks and the summer sun! That’s so genius. That slice of chocolate cake looks divine! Mmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love all the details you show in your photos! And st Paul’s cathedral must have been amazing! I definitely want to visit Malta the next time I go to visit my family.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. We were there 3 years ago..an incredible site to see. So historic and beautiful structures. The dungeons were gruesome but only took a quick visit there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes Anita, we were also impressed with all those beautiful structures … quite amazing! I think the dungeons were our quickest visit on Malta 😉.
      Thank you so much for reading and your comments – much appreciated.

      Like

  16. Wow, that chocolate cake looks amazing – so moist!
    I’m loving your Malta series. Wanted to visit and so close living in Calabria, but never got here in 4 years – too much to see in Italy. The church in Mosta looks impressive and grand, even from a distant.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The Dungeon is both creepy and interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Fascinating history and beautiful buildings and scenery! Thank you for such a stunning share 💕🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  19. One of my favourite places in Malta. I first went in 1994 when it was still a bit shabby. They have spruced it up now.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. It is fascinating reading about Malta and this ancient city looks amazing. Trying to get a car through those narrow alleys reminds me of our excursions to some of southern Spain’s hilltop White Towns…a few hairy moments. The dungeons look gruesome but I’d absolutely want to see them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mdina was such a delight to visit … and yes, I saw how some of the residents drove their cars in those alleys – it’s tricky to say the least! I was also amazed at how the buses in Malta got around in the narrow streets of the island 😳.
      Oh yes, on our walking journey (Camino) through Spain we saw so many narrow streets – at first I thought it was only for pedestrians, but then saw cars coming towards me … here in South Africa we are used to wide open roads.

      Like

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