Mdina Malta

Mdina Malta is a medieval walled city that was once the ancient capital of this little Mediterranean archipelago. The history of Mdina dates back for more than 4,000 years, and was first fortified by the Phoenicians sometime around 700 years before the Christian era. After the Norman conquest of 1091, the city was further fortified. It was given to the Knights of Malta in 1530, and these powerful knights built one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country here. Set strategically on a hill that is one of the highest points on the island, it remains one of the finest examples of a medieval fortified city in all of Europe.

It was in 60 A.D. that the history of Mdina gained worldwide significance when St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island and took refuge in a nearby grotto known as Fuori le Mura (meaning, "outside the city walls"), now known as St. Paul's Grotto in the suburb of Rabat. The name Rabat comes from the word meaning "suburb" and this much larger city abuts the Mdina Malta walls. One of the things to do in Mdina is to take tours of the attractions that have to do with St. Paul, the most important of which is the magnificent St. Paul Cathedral that is located inside the ancient city walls. It was designed in the ornate baroque style and built between 1697 and 1702 by Lorenzo Gafa, the same architect who designed the Cathedral of the Assumption on Gozo Island. Its opulent interior is similar to St. John's Cathedral in Valletta. In the suburb of Rabat, the parish church of St. Paul stands over the legendary grotto, and both are open to the public. Nearby are the Catacombs of St. Paul, which do not actually have anything to do with the saint but are named for their proximity to the grotto. Mdina tours of these four religious sites are what most people come here for.

Other very rewarding Mdina sightseeing is possible simply by strolling through the narrow cobbled streets of the picturesque walled city, which is quite pleasant since no vehicles are allowed inside the walls. In fact, it is often called the Silent City because of the lack of vehicle noise. It's easy to get lost in this labyrinth of alleys, but you won't be lost for long as the city is quite small. Throughout much of the history of Mdina it has been called Citta Notabile (the Noble City) because of the many noble families who lived here beginning in the twelfth century. The streets are lined with beautiful villas and impressive palaces, many of which are still private homes. Several others are now fascinating museums.

The Palazzo Falson is one of these, and is built along the same lines as similar palaces in nearby Sicily. But the entire city is a living museum, where even the elaborate doors and doorknockers boast a rich history. One palace is actually the city police station, and another houses the Museum of Natural History. One of the things to do in Mdina after your stroll through history is to stop at one of the tea houses set along the bastions. Here you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and lovely views of the surrounding countryside. Some of these tea houses are actually restaurants that allow dining on traditional Maltese cuisine.

Other things to do in Mdina include making an excursion to the dramatic Dingli Cliffs, only about two miles away. These white cliffs tower over the sea. The views are breathtaking, and there is a good hiking path along the coast. Here also is Verdala Palace, summer residence of the President of Malta. The palace is closed to the public, but it is set in a park like forest (Buskett Woods) that was once the protected hunting grounds of the Knights of Malta. Today, this is one of the very few forested areas on any of the islands and is a popular picnic site.

Most visitors come to Mdina Malta as a day excursion included during vacation packages. Sometimes these are shore excursions for passengers on Mediterranean cruises, and sometime the visitors will be staying for a few days in one of the many Valletta hotels. Few people stay here overnight, and there are no Mdina hotels inside the city walls. However, there is an excellent 5 star hotel in Rabat as well as several other hotels and guesthouses. You might also want to check out the nightlife. Surprisingly, the largest nightclub in the country is located in Rabat.

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