"Mdina, Old Capital of Malta" Mdina by starship
Mdina Travel Guide: 280 reviews and 842 photos
Mdina is a small jewel of a town that time seems to have passed by. A brief visit to medieval Mdina was enough time only to whet my appetite and leave me wanting to explore in more depth "The Silent City" and its interesting history.
We chose to take a tour which would introduce us to Mdina as well as Valletta and which would eliminate the extra time it would take to use public transportation and the tour departed directly from our ship also saving time. Mdina was relatively a short ride from our port, Grand Harbor. Our excellent guide was a pleasant person who did a wonderful job of explaining the highlights of the rich history of the towns of both Mdina and Valletta. I only wish that I had taped her informative comments so that I could refer to them while building this page. I sometimes sacrificed listening to her in favor of taking photos.
Situated on a rocky hilltop about 30 minutes from Valletta, Mdina is a medieval, walled city with its origins dating back at the very least to the classical period (beginning about 8 A.D. when the inhabitants of Malta made connections with the Phoenicians, including the time of Roman rule which began about 218 A.D. with the 2nd Punic War. Then lasting most likely til the fall of Roman rule in 395 A.D.) Mdina served as the first capital of Malta and was a sizable city which at one point included a portion of what is now Rabat. Obviously Mdina was then the seat of power in Malta and it was populated by wealthy families and nobility. Mdina became center stage for the "Order of the Knights of St. John", whose members were also descended from nobility, which played a major part in the history of Malta.
The city derived its name from the Arabic word "Medina" but has borne other titles prior to becoming known as "Mdina;" the other most important name being "Citta Notabile." Although the Arabs were expelled about the year 1250 and the islands thereafter came to be ruled by Christians, the name "Mdina" has remained, and such is the case with many of the streets names which have also retained their Arabic titles.
Mdina is the oldest city on the island and dates back to the time when it was inhabited by the Phoenicians (800 BC), but more probably back to pre-historic times. Like nearly the whole of Europe, Malta has been the prize going to many conquering nations: France and Spain to name but two.
The narrow streets, solid stone walls and buildings are beautiful and seemingly silent -- the streets can be so quiet that it almost seems that no one lives there. But behind each decorative door or graceful balcony, a family and piece of Mdina's interesting history is preserved. Where before Mdina was a great center of activity, now less than a thousand people live there today. The city lives up to its name "the silent city" due to the fact that open space within the city is minimal and only residents may have cars inside of the city so there is virtually little to no traffic.
One of the most intriquing aspects of Malta to me was its interconnection with the history of the Knights of St. John. Wikipedia states that the "Maltese cross or Amalfi cross is identified as the symbol of an order of Christian warriors known as the Knights Hospitaller or Knights of Malta." It's 8 points are said to represent the Beatitudes and also the 8 & most probably the 8 priories. My first introduction of any significance to the Knights of St. John came during our tour in Mdina. In the accompanying photo you see a marble version of the Maltese Cross found in the courtyard of the Vilhena Palace which now houses the Museum of Natural History in Mdina.
An Extremely Brief History of the Knights in Malta
The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem were originally established in 1085 as a community of monks (monastic order) responsible for looking after the sick at the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem. Sources state that "they later became a military order, defending crusader territory in the Holy Lands and safeguarding the perilous routes taken by medieval pilgrims. The Knights were drawn exclusively from noble families and the Order acquired vast wealth from those it recruited."
The Knights more formal name later became known as "Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta." The Knights accomplishments and defeats became important points of history around the Mediterranean, particularly Malta.
The Knights arrived in Malta about the year 1530, after earlier having been sent packing from Rhodes. It was the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who gave the Knights the option of establishing themselves in Malta. As you explore the city of Mdina, and even more so Valletta, you will find that the history of Malta and the Knights of Malta are inextricably linked. The Knights had a great influence on the transformation of Malta into a presence in the Mediterranean.
- Pros:Interesting history contained within beautiful stone walls!
- Cons:Can be quite crowded with tourists.
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