Mdina is the old capital city of Malta with a rich history that includes St Paul, the Romans, and a devastating earthquake. The city greets visitors with an extravagant archway and upon walking through there is a significant decrease in noise because of Mdina’s ban of domestic vehicles, excluding permanent residents. This makes walking around Mdina a very quiet and peaceful experience, and there is plenty to see and do including the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral, Mdina Dungeons, Mdina Glass, the catacombs, The Knights of Malta exhibit, and the numerous palaces that are now used as private residences. Mdina is a unique place that appeals to anyone seeking history and adventure, a quiet area to relax, or a culture found no where else in the world.
- St Paul’s Cathedral – Rebuilt in 1702 after being destroyed by an earthquake, St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most extravagant examples of Baroque architecture in Malta. The Cathedral rises above the rest of Mdina with two large bell towers either side of its entrance. Inside, St Paul’s Cathedral contains beautiful architecture, paintings on the walls and roof depicting religious moments in history including “The Conversion of St Paul”, and impressive furnishings. The Cathedral’s museum is located in a separate building next door. It’s worth visiting to see the vast collection of religious artwork, silverware, and other church treasures. The Cathedral and museum are open 9am-1pm and 1:30pm-4:45pm. €2.50 will buy entry to St Paul’s Cathedral and its accompanying museum.
- The Mdina Experience – Located in an old medieval building on Mesquita Square, the Mdina Experience is an audio-visual tour into the detailed history and fascinating mysteries that surround Mdina. The theatre is air-conditioned with comfortable seating, high-resolution projections, and surround sound headphones that provide a fantastic viewing experience. The 25-minute long presentation provides really interesting information about Mdina’s history with St Paul, the Romans, Knights of Malta, and the earthquake. It’s all delivered in an entertaining and easily digestible manner. The Mdina Experience is open 9:30am-4:30pm (Monday-Saturday) and 9:30am-3:30pm (Sunday). Entry is €4.
- Mdina Dungeons – The Mdina Dungeons is an interactive experience that is equal parts spooky entertainment and educational history. The Dungeons consists of one tour underneath the streets of Mdina. The tour focuses on the darker side of Mdina’s history and each area reveals a particular incident or individual(s) that left a lasting impression on the city and country. Visitors learn about hideous torture techniques, the punishments for being a witch, the violent French rule of Malta, and hangings, through detailed information and displays. The Mdina Dungeons are open 10am-4:30pm (last admission 4:15pm) and cost €4 per person.
- Mdina Glass – Mdina Glass is a unique glassware shop, because all its products are made in the same building. The actual shop sells beautifully hand-blown glassware including clocks, decorations, glasses, and mirrors. However, what really makes this place worth a visit is the opportunity to watch the glassblowers craft numerous objects from molten glass. The workshop is open 9:00am-4:30pm (Monday-Friday) and 10:00am-1:00pm (Saturday).
- Catacombs – Mdina has the St Agatha’s Catacombs, which is basically a chapel where it’s believed St Agatha, a patron saint of Malta, prayed. Taking the guided tour inside gives visitors an opportunity to learn about the various paintings and grave markings. Tours last for 30 minutes and run on the hour from 9:30am-4:30pm (except Sunday). There is also the St Paul’s Catacombs, which is a series of dark and narrow paths through ancient tombs. These catacombs can be entered from 9am-5pm. Entry costs €3.50 and €5 for the St Agatha’s Catacombs and St Paul’s Catacombs respectively.
- City Streets and Views – Once inside Mdina there’s no need to immediately start searching for things to see and do, because the entire city is worth taking the time to explore. The streets and buildings are very different to those found in other countries and the tranquil silence of the city creates an excellent atmosphere for exploring at a leisurely pace. Walking deeper into the city, visitors will eventually reach Bastion Square (Pjazza Tas-Sur on the map). Bastion Square has magnificent panoramic views over the surrounding Malta countryside and some affordable places to eat and sit down.
- The Knights of Malta – This exhibit is set out in a similar style to Mdina Dungeons, using wax figures and audio to present a detailed history about the Knights of St John. There’s a lot of written information to read, but everything combined presents a thorough and interesting look at the entire ruling of the Knights from when they were first founded until their exile. There’s a lot of information to take in, but fortunately visitors can go through the exhibit at their own pace. The Knights of Malta is open 10am-5pm and entry costs €4.
|St Paul’s Cathedral and Museum||€2.50|
|The Mdina Experience||€4.00|
|St Agatha’s Catacombs||€3.50|
|St Paul’s Catacombs||€5.00|
|The Knights of Malta||€4.00|
- Eating – Mdina has a wide range of restaurants that possess a traditional and fun Maltese atmosphere. Menus typically include meals with inspiration from Italy and Malta. One of the gems that can be found in Mdina is Fontanella Tea Garden in Bastion Square. It’s very open, with incredible views of the countryside. The specialty is cake, and more than a few sweet teeth will be satisfied by the options. If money is an issue, visitors can always bring in their own food and enjoy a picnic anywhere in the city.
- Walking and Time – Because only residential and other certain vehicles are allowed in the city, expect to do a lot of walking if you intend to see everything. This means that Mdina can take a little while to see, but it’s a great place to spend hours exploring.
- Special Events – Events are held in Mdina throughout the year including the Grand Prix, choir performances, and marathons. Check online to see if anything is happening during your visit.
- Bus – The local bus provides an easy and cost-effective way of reaching Mdina. Catch bus number 51, 52, or 53 to Rabat. Mdina is a short walk from the Rabat bus station. Buses run every 10 minutes and a typical ride will take 30 minutes to reach Mdina. A 1-day ticket costs €2.60 or a 7-day ticket can be purchased for €12.00.
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus – The Hop-on Hop-off Bus provides cheap and easy transport for anyone wishing to visit more than one attraction in Malta. Tickets cost about $22 each and entitle the holder to unlimited use of the bus for a 24-hour period. To get to Mdina, catch the Malta North Tour and disembark at the Mdina stop.
- Taxi – A taxi from Valletta will take about 20 minutes to reach Mdina and will cost about 20-25 euros.
Mdina was originally called Maleth by the Phoenicians, who were the first to inhabit and fortify the area in 700 B.C.. From that first inhabitation, numerous people have passed through the historic city.
During the Roman Empire’s reign, a Roman General built his palace in Mdina. Sometime around 60 A.D. St Paul was shipwrecked on Malta and eventually spent time living in the city. When the Saracens arrived to Malta, they gave the city its current name of Mdina and influenced a lot of the architecture.
After the Norman conquest of Malta in 1091 A.D., additional fortifications like a wider moat and thicker walls were added to the city. The Knights of St John first occupied Mdina in 1530 and helped the city withstand a Turkish siege in 1551.
At the end of the 17th century a devastating earthquake shook Malta, destroying a lot of Mdina. Everything that had been lost was rebuilt, including St Paul’s Cathedral, which was reconstructed by the Knights of Malta between 1697 and 1702. Most of the city’s restoration was completed by 1725.
When Napoleon arrived in the late 18th century, he ordered all the Maltese coats of arms be replaced with the French Republic’s. The French also stole the silver from the Mdina Cathedral.
Rioting broke out after more crimes were committed against the Maltese by the French. France’s hold over Mdina fell within two days and the French were quickly driven out of Malta, sparking the beginning of Malta’s British occupation.
During World War II, Mdina helped give shelter to those who had lost homes in bombing attacks. Today, most of the palaces are privately occupied, and the buildings used as a means to preserve the history for all people.
- Mdina is also known as ‘the Silent City’ because of its ban on non-residential cars.
- Mdina was used in the television series Game of Thrones.
- Mdina has featured in fiction books including the Alex Rider series.