The small unsuspecting island of Malta hides a burgeoning history dating back to around 5200 BC (that’s nearly 3000 years before Egypt’s first pyramids people!). During its turbulent history it was occupied by ancient Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, the Arabs, Spanish and even Napoleon Bonaparte, then the British Empire for the 19th and 20th centuries, before becoming a Republic within the Commonwealth in 1974.
The old capital city of the island, Mdina, stands in silent testament of the steadfastness of this small country, its depth of history and its proud culture that has stemmed from it.
Mdina dates back to the time of Antiquity, so around the 8th century BC, however much of the beautiful architecture you see now is from the Baroque and Norman eras. With restricted access to vehicles it is known as the ‘Silent City’ and it is expected that those who enter respect its quiet ambience. It’s a city that I never tire of walking through each time I visit.
Brimming with small streets, nooks and crannies, chapels and a multitude of restaurants set deep within its stone walls and even beneath the ground, it is a wonderful place to explore whether by day, or romantically and mysteriously by night.
Fresh off the plane, I went there with the family for drinks, chit-chat and playing around with my little relatives.
Before long though we split off, us ready to explore and the little ones almost ready for dinner.
You’ll never quite get lost in Mdina, its great fortified walls and bastions will keep you thoroughly contained in the vicinity, so it’s safe to just explore and see where each little street takes you.
A wash of limestone and sandstone around you, each door pops with colour amidst the cream, painted in bright green, red, or blue, and bringing the streets to life. Malta is famous for this, much like the islands of Greece, or Italy.
Polo Tommy Hilfiger // Skirt C&A // Loafer Jane Debster
(^ Pitch black underground chapels below your house…that’s what we all have right?!)
In your exploring, you’ll come across Bastion Square. You’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful baroque architecture on three sides…
And on the fourth side you’ll be staring in awe at incredibly deep, stone bastion walls that save you from falling a serious height. Built as fortification against invaders, they now provide a great spot to take in the view of Malta from above, and particularly lovely around sunset or in the evening.
Another spot to visit is Cathedral Square and St Paul’s Cathedral.
(Note: you get a great view of the dome from Bastion Square.)
Pop your head in, because honestly, Maltese churches are really something special.
I’ve seen a lot of churches, especially around Europe, but I have to say, Maltese ones have some serious Baroque flair that is hard to compare!
We went to Mass in Maltese while we were there, which I find is a great way to quickly immerse yourself in the language. I find it a beautiful, but harsh language – its roots in Aramaic, but with a lot of Latin influence.
In Cathedral Square, not only is there the obvious Cathedral, but a wonderful array of architecture ranging across the eras.
Soon the sun was setting, so we began to make our way out.
Just before you leave the city through the old gates, be sure to take note of Palazzo Vilhena. Built as a palace, then used as a hospital and now the National Museum of Natural History, it’s a special place for me simply from the outside.
My grandfather was a very fine artist, trained in Malta. One of his paintings that has hung in my house all my life is of this entrance, gates opened, welcoming you in. I love looking at it and seeing the very source of this painting. It has history for me, even before I ever came to Malta. (Next time I should really go in and have a look, for once.)
There are some great tourist places and activities to visit while you’re in the city as. Here’s a little list below and there will be more to come of other places around the island.
The Mdina Experience This is an informative and entertaining way to learn about the history of the city and bring everything to life. I’d say it’s best to do at the beginning of your visit, so your exploring will have a stronger historical aspect to it.
The Mdina Dungeons The dark side of Malta’s history, these are the torture chambers, where the gruesome acts actually took place. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth a visit if you can handle it.
Keep your eye open for any chapels and churches you see open. Remember that siesta is still largely part of the Maltese culture and churches will be closed generally during 1-3pm all over the island.
Fontanella Tea Garden A great place to eat, with lovely views from the top terrace and right near Bastion Square.
With all that said, Mdina is simply a-door-able!