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M d i n a

'Citta Notabile'
Malta's Silent City

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Mdina is known to many as a medieval, walled city. Its history, however, dates back at the very least to the classical period, when the whole area, including the present-day town of Rabat, formed part of a Roman settlement.

Moreover, beyond the city’s walls, in the area known as ‘il-Bahrija’ (limits of Rabat), Punic remains were discovered, thereby suggesting the importance of the general region even to Malta’s earlier settlers.

Roman Remains
  just outside
   Mdina   Mdina's skyline,
 as altered by the
 Baroque Cathedral   Early 

But, more specifically, Mdina’s size is said to have been reduced by Malta’s Arab rulers, who added higher fortifications and a moat for greater protection of the city. The city’s appearance at that time must have been more like other Moorish fortresses found in Northern Africa. In fact, the very name ‘Mdina’ is a derivation from the Arabic ‘Medina’.

The New Masters

But with the arrival of the Order of Saint John at Malta, its features were destined to change as the city was renovated and restored. Some buildings naturally date from before the Order’s arrival. One such building is Palazzo Falzon, built around the year 1233, as is suggested by the date on its façade. This palazzo is more commonly known as the Norman House owing to its architectural style. This was the place where the official reception was held in honour of Malta’s latest ruler, the newly arrived Grand Master Fra Philippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam. This function followed the public ceremony in which the Grand Master took oath to protect the Maltese Islands and the rights of his new subjects.

Palazzo Falzon - 
       Norman House   City's Main Gate,
  one of De Vilhena's
   additions to Mdina   Vilhena Palace  

Thereafter, the city was adorned with baroque buildings, amongst which were various Churches and Palaces.

Grand Master Fra Antoine Manoel de Vilhena was responsible for the city’s restoration, around the year 1725, adding contemporary Baroque aesthetics by rebuilding the Magisterial Palace (later known as Palazzo Vilhena) and the city’s Main Gate, following the earthquake of 1693, which caused considerable damage in the old city.

The Cathedral, dedicated to the conversion of Saint Paul, was also rebuilt between 1697 and 1702 on the plans drawn by the famed Lorenzo Gafà.

Elegant Houses   Gafa's Cathedral   Baroque edifices  

Further restoration was undertaken during Grand Master Hompesch’s brief rule, before the islands’ capitulation to the French Republican Army – under the leadership of General Vaubois – on June 10th.

The French Takeover

Immediately upon Napoleon’s arrival, by decrees issued on the 13th and 16th of June 1798, all coats of arms of the Order and of Maltese Nobility were to be removed from façades (within 24 hours) and replaced by that of the French Republic (according to the second decree). This was done in the name of Equality, Liberty and Brotherhood, but also to spite the former ruling classes; the privileged aristocrats.

At first, this may have gone down well with the Maltese people, who had had enough of the Order’s oppressive rule.


But the high hopes of the population were soon shattered when, on July 5th, a mere month after their arrival, the new conquerors looted the Mdina Cathedral of its silver.

Messing with their churches was the biggest crime the French garrison could have committed against the fanatically religious Maltese people of the time! That same month, less than 3 weeks later, the Church of the Annunciation (Lunzjata) and the Carmelite Monastery in Mdina were both closed down by the French and, as if to prove that they hadn’t grasped the gravity of their misdoings, in August they even closed down the Benedictine Monastery in Birgu.

Carmelite Church,
   from the side But their final act of abuse – the straw that broke the camel’s back – came when, on September 2nd, the French ordered the auctioning of the damask, richly draping the walls of Mdina’s Carmelite Church. This was thwarted by the angry crowd and, later that same day, rioting broke out.

French officer, Masson, and a group of his men were killed at Rabat, giving rise to a state of high alert. French troops gathered behind the walls of Malta’s fortified cities, where they were blockaded by the Maltese militia until their surrender 2 years later to the British fleet, under the command of Captain Alexander Ball, Lord Nelson’s bright star.

The Mdina blockade lasted only till the following day, when Maltese men scaled the bastions so the rest of their company could enter the city. The remaining French troops at Mdina were eliminated and the People’s Council was again, provisionally, set up.

Citta' Notabile, for all to see.  

  A British Colony

The leaders of the people, having sought the assistance of the British Navy to oust the French and not wishing to have the Order reinstated as the islands' rulers, asked for the protection of the British Crown and, thus, become a part of its dominion. This was to be the beginning of Malta's British occupation as a Crown Colony and as a Military Base. More on this subject is treated under the appropriate pages.

British Coat-of-Arms  

Centuries later, during WW2, the old city -- located close to Ta’ Qali aerodrome -- witnessed the prowess of the enemy’s air force and the unrelenting bravery of the Allied crusaders when defences were at an all time low. The Mdina walls served to shelter people hailing from remote parts of Malta, refugees crowding formerly unused buildings, escaping the blitz of the harbour areas.

Present day Mdina is known as the ‘Silent City’ as it allows limited access to traffic. Its unobstructed bastions, elegant palaces and quaint, narrow streets narrate volumes of historic accounts -- some legend, but mostly fact.

Mdina, Malta’s "Citta Notabile", the walled city of the Romans, the Arabs, the feudal Lords of the Spanish Crown and the Knights of Saint John, remains Malta’s prime historic attraction. The magic never ends.

Capt.Alexander Ball
Panoramic Teahouse
Some Houses
Narrow Streets
and more ...
  and more ...  
narrow streets
  Elaborate Architecture
in Gothic influence
  Pretty Balconies   Maingate Tower
it-Torri tal-Istandart
in S.Paul's Square
Saint Peter's Benedictine
Monastery for Nuns
  Nobility's Residence

This page merely scratches the surface of what Mdina has to offer. Within the walls of our Silent City one can visit many places of interest. The most obvious of these is the Cathedral dedicated to the Conversion of Saint Paul, itself an artistic masterpiece and a showplace of fine art. Other Museums and places of interest include: the Cathedral Museum, housing treasures by, among other masters, Albrecht Durer and the Caravaggio; the Natural History Museum; the 'Mdina Dungeons'; the 'Mdina Experience', an audio-visual spectacle covering the city's history from the Roman era; the 'Medieval Times', a guided-walk through 14th and 15th century life; the 'Knights of Malta', another walk-through experience with life-sized figures; and various Palazzos, some purely for historic interest, for example Palazzo Falzon, while others provide food and beverage in an unrivalled ambience.

Mdina, has its own Local Council, distinct from that of its larger neighbour, Rabat, which is itself a cradle of historic locations and memorabilia.

Some of the pictures provided herein are taken from Rabat's Wignacourt College Museum and for this -- and for so painstakingly caring for our national treasures -- we thank them wholeheartedly. The place is worth many visits!

in Memory of Maltese Heros
killed during the Mdina
uprising of 1798  

Other localities in the vicinity include:
Mtarfa, Dingli, Buskett ( Boschetto Gardens), Mtaħleb, Baħrija, Bingemma and Dwejra.

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