Mdina, Malta

Walk through the front gate of Mdina and you will enter a fortified, medieval town. You can feel its diverse history over thousands of years as you stroll along a labyrinth of narrow and winding streets.

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1 St. Paul’s Cathedral Dome and Bell Tower Behind Walls of Mdina, Malta

This gorgeous dome on top of St. Paul’s Cathedral greets you as you approach Mdina, Malta. On the left is one of the Roman Catholic church’s two bell towers. This beautiful Baroque structure was designed by Lorenzo Gafà and consecrated in 1702. It replaced a previous church from the 13th century that was destroyed during an earthquake in 1693. These timelines seem old until you learn the town’s fortified walls were first built in 700 BC.

Triq Ta'L-Infetti L-Imdina, Malta
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2 History Behind Fortified Walls at Mdina, Malta

The word Mdina means “city surrounded by walls.” Most cars are banned from entering so it is often referred to as the “Silent City.” The history speaks volumes about Mediterranean civilization. Archeological evidence suggests the first settlement was around 5200 BC. When the Phoenicians arrived in the 7th century BC, they named the island Malat. This translates to “safe haven.” The Romans called it Melite from 218 BC until 870 AD. It was then conquered by Arabs. They built these ramparts and made Mdina the island’s capital city. The Muslims eventually lost control to the Kingdom of Sicily who ruled from 1194 until 1530. Then the Knights Hospitaller from the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem dominated until 1798 when they were attacked by Napoleon’s French troops. In recent history, Malta was part of the British Empire from 1800 until the country’s independence in 1964. If you look closely, you will notice a rectangular indentation in the wall. This was the original entry into Mdina before the current Main Gate was built in the early 18th century.

Mdina Rd, Attard, Malta
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3 Bridge, Moat and Main Gate at Mdina, Malta

The town of Mdina is approached by walking across this arched footbridge and over a former moat to the main gate. This handsome Baroque entrance, which was built in 1724, is the work of architect de Mondion. Your excitement builds as you pass through the archway and into the Middle Ages.

Mdina Rd, Attard, Malta
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4 Lion Holding Shield at Main Gate of Mdina, Malta

For millenniums, Mdina was Malta’s most important city because it could be easily defended on a hill in the middle of the island. But during the late 16th century, the coastal town of Valletta was built. Valletta’s coat of arms displays a shield and a lion so I suspect the pair of lions guarding the main gate of Mdina refers to the capital city. However, this stone sculpture lacks the turreted crown seen on all Maltese cities’ escutcheons. It could also reflect the period of British rule from 1800 until 1964 when Malta’s coat of arms featured a crowned lion.

Mdina Rd, Attard, Malta
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5 Relief Portrait of Grand Master Vilhena in Mdina, Malta

This bronze portrait was António Manoel de Vilhena. His coat of arms is carved in marble below. He was the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John from 1722 until 1736. This exquisite ensemble was added to a new portal above the Magisterial Palace of Justice when Vilhena converted it into his residence in 1730. From 1908 until 1956, Palazzo Vilhena was a hospital. Since 1973 is has served as the National Museum of Natura History.

Pjazza Publju, L-Imdina MDN 1010, Malta
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6 Torre dello Standardo in Mdina, Malta

Torre dello Standardo was built in the 16th century as a guard house and signaling station during the occupation of the Knights of Malta. It is located just inside the city gates at St. Publius Square (Misraħ San Pubiju) whose namesake is the governor who greeted St. Paul in 60 AD and later became the island’s first bishop and Saint Publius. In 2009, the city converted the Tower of the Standard into a tourist information office.

Piazza San Publiju, Mdina Road, Mdina, Malta
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7 Kunsill Lokali Building in Mdina, Malta

Dating back to medieval times when Mdina was the capital of Malta, the local government was called Universita’ and its governor was the Capitano della Verga. This role was converted into a Lieutenant Governor when the Knights of Malta took control in 1530. Their offices were in the Magisterial Palace until they were physically displaced in 1730. Then in 1819 their function was abolished. This building is Kunsill Lokali which means local council.

Triq Inguanez & Trig San Pawl, L-Imdina, Malta
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8 Casa Inguanez Window in Mdina, Malta

While strolling along Trig Villegaignon, the main street stretching south to north through Mdina for about 250 yards, watch for a large limestone building with these green shutters. This is Casa Inguanez. It was originally built in the mid-14th century as the residence for the noble Inguanez family. Their lineage of governors was so important to the city’s history that their coat of arm is engraved inside the main gate. Interestingly, the King of Spain still has the right to live in this mansion but no royalty has visited since the early 20th century.

Triq Inguanez L-Imdina, Malta
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9 National Archives of Malta in Mdina, Malta

This ornate tympanum is above the door of the Legal Documents Section of the National Achieves of Malta. Since 1988, this first of three facilities has been housed in the Banca Giuratale building which once was the seat for the Università or local Maltese council government. Those marble images of noble attire and a knight’s armor are apropos for this facility because it manages the Court of Justice documents dating from the Knights Hospitaller in 1530 until 1899.

Triq IL Villegaignon, Mdina, Malta
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10 Casa Castelletti Gallery in Mdina, Malta

A delightful experience while visiting Malta is to treat your taste buds to local cuisine at one of several small restaurants. Also explore the boutique shops housed in historic buildings. An example is the Casa Castelletti Gallery which offers Maltese arts and crafts. Presumably it is named after Count Ferdinand Theuma Castelletti who was part of the uprising against the Republic of France in 1798 through 1800. Afterwards you can visit the grand Palazzo Castelleti in nearby Rabat, the 17th century residence of the family.

Pjazza San Pawl Mdina, Malta
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11 Architectural Influences in Mdina, Malta

Mdina is charming yet very small: about a third of a mile. Its architecture reflects several historic periods. The narrow and winding streets were laid out by the Moors. Their occupation began in 870 and lasted for 221 years. Most of the buildings were constructed during the Norman control from 1194 until 1530. The Maltese Baroque style was introduced after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in 1693. Starting in 1800, the British added a touch of Neoclassical and Neo-gothic designs. The town is also sparsely populated: less than 300 residents. Another 12,000 people live outside of the walls in adjacent Rabat. This is the Arabic word for suburb.

Trig Mesquita &Triq IL Villegaignon, Mdina, Malta
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12 Palazzo Santa Sofia and Carmelite Priory in Mdina, Malta

Side-by-side are two landmarks of Mdina. On the left is Palazzo Santa Sofia. Built in 1233, this is the oldest palace in the city. On the right is the Baroque bell tower of the Carmelite Church and Priory. The first floor courtyard and refectory are open as a museum. The second floor is off limits because friars remain cloistered there.

Triq Santa Sofija & Triq IL Villegaignon, L-Imdina, Malta
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13 Carmelite Church Bell Tower in Mdina, Malta

The Carmelites from Sicily arrived on Malta around 1370. During the late 16th and early 17th century, the Church of Our Lady of Carmel stood on this site. It was then dedicated to the Carmelite Friars. They converted it into a priory and then built a new church in 1659. The complex is now a monastery called the Carmelite Church and Priory.

Triq Santa Sofija & Triq IL Villegaignon, L-Imdina, Malta
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14 Casa Gourgion in Mdina, Malta

After a devastating earthquake in 1693, much of Malta was rebuilt. One of the prettiest examples is Casa Gourgion. The palace was finished in 1728 and the façade was added much later. Notice the lancet arches, rose windows, carved ornamentation and the coat of arms for the Knights Hospitaller, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. This form of Neo-gothic design was typically reserved for grand churches. In many ways, Casa Gourgion is equally attractive to the adjacent St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Pjazza San Pawl Mdina, Malta
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15 St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina, Malta

Paul the Apostle, who wrote several of the New Testament books, experienced significant persecution among Romans and Jews during missionary trips between Rome and Jerusalem. During his last trip to Rome where he hoped to appeal his plight to Caesar, he was shipwrecked along Malta’s coast in 60 AD. St. Paul’s Cathedral is reportedly built on the site where Malta’s governor was converted to Christianity after the apostle miraculously cured his father and several other islanders. Since then St. Paul has been the island’s patron saint.

Pjazza San Pawl Mdina, Malta
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16 Casa Del Tesoriere in Mdina, Malta

While strolling through Mdina you sense why it is also called the Città Notabile or the Noble City. Each bend of a narrow alley reveals another grand palace or mansion that once housed the wealthiest and most influential families in Malta. An example is the private home of Casa Del Tesoriere. Slightly curious is the residents’ frequent use of bright red paint to color their doors, windows and shutters. Perhaps it is a reflection of their national flag that consists of a block of red and white. The red field also dates back to the Knights of Malta flag used from 1530 until 1798.

Wesgha Ta' Sant' Agata L-Imdina, Malta
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17 St. Agatha Esplanade in Mdina, Malta

St. Agatha Esplanade is in the northern section of Mdina. It is a lovely area to walk because the gently winding street is infrequently explored by tourists. It also leads to Bastion Square. From this hilltop perch you will be treated to a great view of the medieval city plus a panorama of the valley below. From this vantage point, it is easy to understand why this citadel provided such a great defensive position for thousands of years.

5, Saint Agatha's Esplanade, L-Imdina MDN1160, Malta
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