The mysterious golden-stone Arabic walled city of Mdina stands on a hilltop, and is a world apart from modern Malta. Its hidden lanes offer exquisite architectural detail and respite from the day-tripping crowds, who largely stick to the main street. Today, with its massive walls and peaceful, shady streets, it is often referred to as the Silent City, a nickname that becomes particularly appropriate after dark.
Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and is extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture. This is because a strong earthquake destroyed parts of Mdina in 1693, after which the Knights of Malta rebuilt the cathedral and erected buildings such as Palazzo Falzon and the Magisterial Palace in Baroque style. The city has also been the backdrop for major motion pictures and television series, including the Game of Thrones.
Walking around Mdina is like walking through time. Sitting on top of a hill overlooking large parts of Malta, it’s a small town, rich in history and surrounded by tall bastion fortifications. It’s filled with centuries-old buildings, most of which been well maintained throughout the ages.
It’s on most postcards and is a must in all the painters’ portfolio, yet the sight of Mdina as you are driving up to Rabat is a view that does not fail to amaze every time. Standing proudly on one of Malta’s highest promontories, it looks like a medieval walled city straight out of a fairy tale. It is an inspiring view; a city that hundreds of years after it was built still commands respect, awe, and curiosity about its tales. And what tales, innumerable and long-winding given the city’s long history!
For many centuries, religious orders have established themselves within the precincts of Mdina and Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians still flourish here in their spacious convents and monastries, catering for the religious needs of parishioners in their churches.
Mdina was once the capital of Malta — in part because it had a protected inland location surrounded by a wall, yet it was high enough to keep an eye on the seas. However, after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the Knights of Malta moved Malta’s capital to what is now Vittoriosa, one of the Three Cities across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. That may be how Mdina became known as the ‘Silent City’. Once the capital left Mdina, it became a virtual ghost town.
Besides being known as the Silent City, in its origin, Mdina was also known as Citta’ Notabile (the noble city). In the beginning of the 12th century, Mdina housed some of the most-noble families on the island including those of Sicilian, Spanish and Norman descent. This is why as you walk in Mdina you will see facades of beautifully decorated Palazzos.
Mdina is a small city filled with beautiful medieval architecture, amazing restaurants, stunning views and above all a true must for an authentic experience in European and Mediterranean history.