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Until you’ve been to Mdina you’ll never truly understand what all the fuss is about. But you should go to Mdina! After all, prior to Valletta being built in the 16 th century this was the island’s capital. It is a place of some stature and immense history and its fascinating story is recounted at an attraction called the Mdina Experience.
Mdina is known today as the ‘Silent City’ and it is a very quiet, peaceful and pleasant place to spend some time. It’s quiet largely because it’s a fortified settlement at the top of a large hill, where only the cars of residents are allowed through the main gates. As there are not many residents, there are not many cars and not much noise!
Traffic here is mainly restricted to horse-drawn carriages called karozzins clip-clopping about the place, where even the tourist shops and cafés seem to be that touch much more classy than most other places.
The Mdina Experience is a 30-minute audio-visual presentation designed to give you an insight into what was behind the making of this unique place, which has origins that can be traced back beyond 4,000 years. It tells you the story of fortifications, the ancient streets and its mix of medieval and fine Baroque architecture.
For a flavour of that history, we can tell you that it is thought the Phoenicians inhabited Mdina in around 700BC. The Greeks were replaced by invaders from the Roman Empire and the Roman Governor built his palace in Mdina. Tradition also has it that the apostle St Paul lived in this very city after his shipwreck. This episode is one of the Malta’s most famous legends and still prompts an annual national holiday.
But despite being inhabited by great fighting empires, it was the French – Normans to be precise – that first built the thick defensive fortifications around the city and widened the moat.
When the Knights of Malta arrived on the island, forced from the Greek islands by the Ottoman army in the 1530s, Mdina was the venue for the public ceremony in which their leaders, the Grand Masters, swore an oath to protect the Maltese Islands. They showed they were true to their word when in 1565 those Ottomans reached Malta and attempted an invasion.
A bloody battle followed that would come to be known as the Great Siege. Malta lost a third of its population and a third of its knights but together they defeated the 40,000-strong Ottoman force and sent them packing never to return. The battle proved massively significant as it halted the march across Europe of the Islamic Ottomans and secured the Christian status for many countries.
The victory saw the demise of the city as the island capital. Grateful Catholic countries bestowed large gifts of cash on the knights for seeing off the Muslim threat so they used it to build a great new fortified city around the port. This was Valletta.
The fine Baroque buildings in Mdina are there as a result of a rebuilding programme. This was employed after a massive earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1693. The same seismic shift also took out many of the towns on Sicily’s south eastern quarter – hence towns like Noto, Catania, Ortygia, Modica, Ragusa and Palermo have many Baroque buildings.
The Mdina Experience’s commentary is available in many languages but most importantly in English. The theatre boasts modern technology with high-resolution digital projection systems, as well as state-of-the-art sound and lighting.
You’ll find it in an impressive medieval building. In here there’s also a cafe and souvenir shop, so you can take home a little piece of Mdina with you.
You can sample the Mdina Experience from Monday to Friday from 10.30am to 4pm. Admission is €6 for adults or €3 for children.
Mdina is very well signposted and is towards the south of the island beyond Mosta. Being the former capital it’s very well signposted on the roads and is also served by regular bus services.
Address: 7 Mesquita Square, Mdina
Phone: +356 2145 4322
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