Discover Tranquility in Malta’s Silent City— Mdina

Written by Albert Fenech
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the Peaceful Oasis of Mdina

“Unveiling the Peaceful Oasis of Mdina: Malta’s Silent City Retreat for a Peaceful Getaway”

Malta  takes some getting used to and those that treasure tranquillity might prefer to stay in Gozo, and make occasional trips to Malta where the contrast is immediately apparent. But Malta isn’t all boisterous noise. Take for example the tranquil Silent City of Mdina

 The Peaceful Oasis of Mdina

Malta is a Central Mediterranean country and it is the 10th smallest island in the world. Traffic is jam-packed and never-ending; Mediterranean people are boisterous, speak in loud tones, and even appear to be arguing all the time (not so, but the Semitic guttural tone gives you that impression), and the music is high decibel. The people are quick-tempered and one has to be prepared for all this when visiting Malta. 

the Peaceful Oasis of Mdina

Fortified bastions are also picturesque

Population Only 300

Yet, amidst this Mediterranean cacophony, is Malta’s golden “Silent City” where you can practically hear a pin drop. This minute city is known as Mdina in the country’s northern region. With a population of just under 300 people, it’s stone’s throw away from the larger town of Rabat, both towns taking their names from Arabic influence.

Gateway into Mdina

Mdina’s origins go back to 800 BC when the Phoenicians first landed in Malta. Their settling in this area is highly unusual for sea-farers who preferred to be close to their boats. However, the district has a long tradition of arts and crafts and was therefore a lucrative trading depot. Additionally, the city was settled on the crest of a hill, one of Malta’s highest considering the few small hills in the northern region, which was high enough to get a total view of the island, which brought obvious advantages.

They called the small city “Maleth” and when eventually the islands fell into Roman hands it was renamed “Melite” in line with the Greek word melitte for honey, the origins of Malta’s name as a whole. When Malta fell into Arab hands, the city was again renamed, this time “Madinah” to match the holy Islamic city of Medina and eventually became Mdina.

Golden tranquil lanes abound in Mdina 

The Past Arab Capital of Malta

The city grew in importance though not in size (since the Phoenicians it had grown slightly, but the Arabs shrank its size) and became regarded as the island’s capital. When the Arabs left and Malta reverted to Latin connections, it became known as “Citta Notabile” (the Noble City) and also became known as “Civita Vecchia” (the Old City). Whether the Arabs were responsible for the shrinkage is a matter of debate. One theory is they wanted it to be easier to defend; another is that after the Arabs left it was reduced and became highly fortified to prevent Arab and later Ottoman invasions.

Mdina became the desired residence of much of Malta’s nobility (hence its elegance) and when the Knights finally assumed responsibility for Malta in the early 16th century, they first chose Vittoriosa as their capital but then transferred to Mdina, which was followed long periods of litigation between the noble families and the Knights, both aspiring to be ‘the big boss’.

Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valetta put an end to this nonsense when, following success during the Great Siege of 1565, he decided that Malta needed a capital city on an easily defended shoreline and hence the birth of Valletta, which became and remains Malta’s capital city.

Beautiful Mdina is a dream for photographers

No Longer the Capital But Full of Beauty

Mdina itself is a treasure of baroque structures with its silent and tranquil narrow lanes overawed by the magnificence of many of the larger buildings resided in by the rich and noble. It’s not longer a capital city, but there are a treasure trove of reasons to explore and stay the night.

Very wisely, a number of years ago the Malta Government decreed that traffic and noise is to be totally banned from Mdina. Traffic, except in cases of emergency vehicles, is not permitted to enter and residents have very limited parking. The only traffic you might see are the horse-drawn karozzin, one of the oldest forms of public transport in Malta, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. In addition, a ban was placed on too many shops and establishments such as restaurants and bars, souvenir shops and other tourist attractions.

Besides the tranquillity and peace, the visual and historic beauty is unrivaled and dominated by Mdina’s St Paul’s Cathedral, located in the main square in the centre of the city. The baroque cathedral honours the Patron Saint of the Islands Paul of Tarsus, and is truly magnificent. 

Mdina also has St Agatha’s Chapel (strains of Catania in Sicily), St Nicholas’s Chapel, the Carmelite Priory and convent for cloistered nuns (an austere and prohibitive looking building) and the Benedictine Monastery. The convent is in itself a building of austere beauty. I used to spend many moments looking at the convent and trying to imagine the dedication needed to forsake all and remain cloistered in there.

There are a number of magnificent palazzos, the Palazzo Vilhena now the National Museum of Natural History, Palazzo Falson, and the Palazzo Gatto Murina.

Stay

A few small select hotels in Mdina make an overnight easy. Among them the five-star boutique Xara Palace, the small but elegant family run Point de Vue Guesthouse, and tucked away charmer, Palazzo Bifora.

There are also a number of hotels a few kilometres away in Rabat.

Mdina glows like a lantern at night

Dine

Many years ago, I worked as the part-time manager of the Xara Palace Hotel bar and was amazed at the high level of clientele.

There are also classy restaurants with bars at The Baccus,  Fontanella, Trattoria AD, De Mondion, and Il-Veduta

Day and Night Tours

Main tourist centres such as those in St Julian’s. Sliema, Valletta, St Paul’s Bay and Mosta organise tours of Mdina.

 

Mdina’s Natural History Museum

 

Mdina is certainly worth a visit if you are in Malta or Gozo. For such a small city, it packs a an amazing punch of history, and is an ideal get-away, where the only noise is the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves and the hushed whispers of residents and tourists admiring its silent beauty.

 ***

BeSeeingYou In: Mdina, Malta

Good To Know: It is one of the country’s major attractions

WOW! Factor: You’ll feel like you’re traveling back centuries, even though its 2023!

TIP:  The village has classy boutique hotels and restaurants

Author Bio: Albert Fenech

e/mail – salina46af@gmail.com

 

Maltese Saying

“Each family tree has its dirty dish cloth”

This refers to the ‘black sheep’ members in every family tree that have brought dishonour on the family.

 

Albert Fenech
Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management and Administration with a leading construction company building the Benghazi Hospital in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, Malta’s leading insurance Broker and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees and Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He was Publications Editor for the Malta Football Association for 25 years and has written for a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books.

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