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If you’re looking for a bit of down time on your holiday - somewhere peaceful to spend a moment doing some serious relaxing - then you need to head for the quietest place in Malta. Ha ha, you think, but who’s to say where that might be? Well, we reckon an active monastery in ‘the Silent City’ must have a decent chance of taking the title!
That Silent City is Mdina, the old capital of Malta prior to the construction of Valletta. It has that name because aside from those belonging to the few residents who live there, cars are not allowed through the gates so the majority of the vehicles running around are horse-drawn carriages. Aside from that it’s a very sleepy little city for the most part.
Tranquillity is most certainly the name of the game at Mdina’s Carmelite Priory, the only working monastery in Malta that has thrown its doors open to visitors. This unprecedented move has allowed the public to experience the day-to-day activities of the Carmelite friars. They still live here in quarters on the second floor and though you won’t see them, they celebrate mass early each morning before the visitors arrive.
Opening the spectacular 17th century priory up as a museum in November 2008 was the culmination of a substantial two-year restoration project. It has brought the building, and many of the artefacts within, back to their former glory.
Much structural work was undertaken in the priory building, which can be best appreciated in the eye-catching cloisters around the supremely tranquil courtyard. If you want to experience this but are not hugely interested in the interior of the building, then you can, as this area is left open to the public to enter free of charge. So, take five minutes and enjoy the peace and quiet on your Mdina visit.
However, don’t dismiss paying to go in because if you do then you can see several of the meticulously-restored rooms - a typical friar’s cell, an authentic kitchen, the oratory, a decorative refectory and an impressive church.
The priory is in the Baroque style and another of its many highlights is the refectory with its superb frescoes. It’s not alone though as the décor is jaw-dropping in many other parts of this historic building and that’s before you consider the many works of art and museum exhibits.
The beautiful refectory is also used as a venue for Baroque music concerts every Wednesday and Sunday at noon. And look out too for the other stimulating events and exhibitions, which relate to spirituality, art, literature and music held at the building.
While at the priory make time to visit the very nice café set amid the golden stone building but with its modern white tables and see-through perspex chairs. This is a great place to enjoy some excellent local food and wines. They serve hearty lunches and delicious cakes and pastries with afternoon tea or coffee. The gift shop specialises in Maltese crafts, handmade jewellery and local gourmet foodstuffs.
Mdina is easy to get to on public transport or, if you have a hire car, then this fortress city is very well signposted and being on the top of a huge hill is not hard to spot.
The Carmelite Priory and Museum are open daily from 10.00am to 5.00 pm. The entrance fee is €4 for adults, with a €1 discount for OAPs and students. There are also special rates for group visits.
If you want a more involved description of the many things on display in the museum, guided tours are offered every day at 11am and 3pm.
Address: Villegaignon Street, Mdina, Malta
Phone: +356 2702 0404
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