Mdina Tourist Attractions
The former Maltese capital of Mdina (pop. 930), picturesquely situated on a hill in the southwest of the island is a place which the modern age seems to have passed by.
There was a town here in ancient times, under the name of Melite. The Carthaginians and the Romans were followed by the Arabs, who gave the town its present name.The construction of fortifications divided the town into two, and the part outside the walls developed into what is now the modern town of Rabat. The new masters who came to Malta from Sicily in 1427 renamed Mdina Notabile, a style which it bore only for a brief period. Under the Knights of St John Mdina rapidly lost its former importance, and its function as capital passed to Birgu (now Vittoriosa) and later to Valletta. The main features of interest in Mdina are the Baroque Cathedral designed by Lorenzo Gafà, with its treasures of art, the Baroque Seminary which now houses the Cathedral Museum, the Archbishop's Palace (1733), the Palazzo Santa Sophia and the Palazzo Falzon.Mdina, or the "Walled-In City", was the old capital of Malta. Two hundred years after the Arab occupation ended in 1224 it was renamed Citta Notabile and in 1571, when Valletta became the capital, Citta Vecchi, "the Old City."Today, within its panoramic bastions and cool narrow alleys, there is evidence of civic self-respect. It is clean, only residents' cars are allowed inside, and even the street signs are scripted on china plaques. There is charm and enchantment in its twisting streets and this is the only true Maltese city, with very little influence by the knights.The magnificent buildings include the Palazzo Vilhena and the Baroque Cathedral of St Paul's.
St Paul's Cathedral
Museum of Natural History
This building, home of the Museum of Natural History, dates to 1730 and was designed as a Grand Master's summer residence. The fulsome three-side palazzo, built on an irregular French plan around a central courtyard, imitates an auditorium and - with its arched balconies and boxes - the Manoel Theater in Valletta. The entrance screen is embellished by his fanciful and ubiquitous escutcheon and leads to a main door, gathered in by magnificent French banded columns.Inside on the main staircase is a white marble bust of Grand Master de Vilhena.In 1908 the palazzo became the Connaught Tuberculosis Hospital and in 1973 it was converted into the Natural History Museum. The most interesting of the exhibits is a chip of the moon given to Malta by President Nixon in 1979.
Courts of Justice
The courts formed part of the Palazzo Vilhena and except for the dungeons are closed to the public. The figures on the left and right of the balcony symbolize Justice and Mercy. A secret underground passage used to lead from the courts to the Archbishop's palace.
Chapel of St Agatha
St Agatha is said to have fled to Malta from Sicily in A.D. 249, following persecution by the Emperor Decius, after refusing to marry Quintianus, the governor of Catania. Upon returning to Catania in A.D. 251 she was imprisoned and on the orders of the spurned Quintianus she met with a grisly end. Her left breast was cut off and then she was burnt to death over hot stones. Statues like the one on the city side of the Main Gate often depict her holding either her breast or the shears used to remove it.The chapel was built in the early 15th C. and was remodeled in 1694 by Lorenzo Gafa. Mass is said here on February 5, the day St Agatha died.
The main Gate in Mdina dates from 1724 and was designed by de Mondion. It is a splendid, if top heavy, example of restrained Baroque by one of the Order's most prolific builders. The escutcheon bears his arms - the growling lions in the front are part of them and the inscription records the restoration of parts of the city walls.On the inside facade are three statues of St Publius, St Paul and St Agatha, the island's and city's patron saints, all of whom carry palm fronds to symbolize their martyrdom. The remaining escutcheon is that of the island's oldest nobles, the Inguanez, while the blank one was defaced by the French in 1798.
Magazine Street and Greek's Gate
The gate, like so much of Mdina, owes its restoration to de Vilhena. It was named after a small Greek community that lived in the southwest of the city in the 16th and 17th centuries. The steep slope leads out to the defensive ditch surrounding this part of the city and there is a separate entrance known as "the hole in the wall" in Magazine Street. Easily visible from a 100 meters away in the valley below is the old Valletta-Mdina railroad station, now a restaurant. During World War II the tunnel was part fuel dump, part shelter.
Bastion Square was the old parade ground and 40m away, in Magazine Street, the munitions were stored. The old firing bastion, the Bastione de Vaccari, has a superb panorama of Malta (from Valletta to St Paul's Bay). Part of Camilla's gift shop is on the site.
In 1530 the first of Malta's grand masters, the Frenchman L'Isle Adam, received the keys to the city here after the knights were given the islands by Charles V. The building is in fact medieval not Norman and, in keeping with medieval design, the living quarters were on the second floor - the ground floor was for kitchens, stables, etc. - hence the more intricate arched windows with their colonettes above the twin cornice of triangular corbels. There is a small private museum on the ground floor.
Nunnery and Chapel of St Benedict (St Peter)
The building dates from the 15th C., as does the Benedictine community. The Order is a very strict and devout one: no man is allowed into the convent without the bishop's permission, with the exception of a doctor and, traditionally, the whitewasher who in times of plague would disinfect the walls; nor are any of the 20 or so nuns allowed out. Until 1974, even after a nun had died she had to be buried within the grounds of the convent. The chapel was restored in 1625 and the altarpiece is another work by Preti.
The present building was constructed in the wake of the 1693 earthquake. Mdina was the seat of the bishops of Malta until 1816 when St John's in Valletta became the Co-Cathedral. The bishops, appointees of the kingdom of Spain and the grand inquisitor, himself a Papal appointee - were often vocal and powerful irritants to the Order's power. The French General Vaubois dined here in 1798 as the guest of his conquered enemy.
This church, completed in 1600, and its associated monastery are also known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Carmelites were a Sicilian Order who came to Malta in 1370. Designed by Francesco Sammut and 12 years in the construction, the interior with its seven altars and Palladian pilasters under an oval and well-lit nave-cum-dome is unexpectedly rich, despite the French army's looting of the church in 1798 to fund Napoleon's war efforts.
Occupying an entire block, Casa Inguanez has been the Inguanez home since the 14th C. Citto Gatto was named a baron in 1350 for quelling an uprising of the Gozitans against their Aragonese masters, and his direct descendants, the Inquanex, are the oldest of Malta's noble families. In 1432 King Alfonso V of Aragon stayed here, as did Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1927.
This "Municipal Palace" was built in 1730 as a records office and is still used for this purpose. It is an exquisite example of Baroque handiwork. Two stories of crisp detail, florid carving and elaborate windows are set beneath two equally elaborate corners of what look like limestone flowerpots of dotty ornaments.
From the security of the upper floor of this building, the herald or town crier would shout out the orders for the day to those who gathered in the small square formed by the Xara Palace Hotel and the Corte Capitanale. The orders, known as bandi, where issued by the Universita and are preserved in the Cathedral Museum.
House of Notary Bezzina
Nearly opposite the Banca Giuratal is this quaint house where, in 1798, French officer Captain Masson was pitched off the balcony to his death by a bloodthirsty Maltese mob, after his countrymen's attempt to auction off the plundered treasures of the Carmelite church.
Named after Malta's first prime minister, the gardens were made public in 1924 and ramble down towards the Roman villa. The old cross is said to have been a gift from Count Roger the Norman, to celebrate the reinstatement of Christianity after he took the islands from the Arabs.
Mesquita Square Mdina Experience
Mesquita Square is a leafy gap under the evergreen ficus trees. The Mdina Experience is in an extremely well converted old building with a cool ground-floor cafe and souvenir shop. Audio-visually the experience recounts in a modern auditorium the history of Mdina.
Palazzo Gatto Murina
Tucked away in Gatto Murina Street, the early 15th C. palazzo has a fine example of restored arched windows above strident arcaded coursework. The eponymous murina or lamprey motif is set above the spindly colonettes. The building is off Mewquita Street.
Chapel of St Roque
St Roque is the patron saint of diseases, often invoked during the plague-infested 14th-19th centuries when the sick would congregate and pray for their succor. The earlier chapel of St Roque was demolished and this one was built in 1798.
Feast of St Peter and St Paul
This feast, celebrating the summer harvest, takes place every year from June 28 - June 29. There are donkey and bare-back horse races, as well as feasts of rabbit dishes.The festival takes place on the Siggiewi Road.
Palazzo Santa Sophia
This is considered the oldest building in Malta. The date on the plaque of this manor says the structure dates from 1233 but this may be unreliable. The upper floor was added in 1938.
The Testaferrata family still lives behind the red main door. The Marquisate was created by Grand Master Pinto in 1745.
Chapel of St Nicholas
This is one of the oldest and tranquil quartiers, built in 1550 and many of the 16th and 17th C. buildings have survived. The little chapel was remodeled in 1698.
Set in the old cells below the Courts of Justice are more than 20 waxwork set pieces of British torture methods used in the early 1800s.
Signal Tower of the Standard
This tower was once a guard house and is now the police station. The original 16th C. building formed part of the island's chain of signaling stations.
This is a local nobleman's house that once belonged to the Strickland family. It served as an RAF officers' mess during World War II and is now a hotel.
This is a refuge for light refreshment at the very edge of the north bastion.
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