Visiting the former capital of Malta
Rising from the Maltese countryside, Mdina is an ancient medieval fortified town and one of the island’s most visited attractions. It was the old capital city of Malta and the most important centre of the island during the Middle Ages until the arrival of the Knights of St John, who moved the centre of power first to Birgu and then to Valletta. The first settlement dates back to the Bronze Age (around 1500 BC), when the Phoenicians settled all over the island. The city was later continuously fortified up to especially during the Arab domination and the reign of the Knights of the order of St John. The town was hit and severely damaged by an earthquake in 1693 and immediately rebuilt and restructured in the Knights of St John’s image, who ruled the island at the time. Mdina is known as “The noble city” because it was home to Malta’s most noble and dignified families, some of which are descendants of the Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords who lived within its walls from the 12th century onwards. It is also known as “the silent city” because businesses have strict noise restrictions, and cars are also strictly limited.
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What to see in Mdina
1. Get lost through its narrow alleys
As soon as you enter the Mdina main gate, an architectural gem built under the patronage of Grandmaster de Vilhena in 1724, you are going to be stepping back in time. With its fortified walls, narrow cobbled streets, Baroque and medieval-style architecture, decorated palaces, noble houses, and wonderfully adorned and preserved churches, the unique beauty of Mdina will immediately leave you speechless.
Although Mdina is a tiny town, it’s worth exploring its fascinating network of narrow streets with calm to admire the most suggestive views.
2. St. Paul Cathedral
Dating back to the 17th century, this church is dedicated to St. Paul, believed to have been shipwrecked on the island in 60AD and laid the foundations for Christianity here. It was built on the remains of a Norman cathedral dating back to medieval time, destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. The Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà was entrusted with the plan to rebuild the completed church that was consecrated in 1703.
- Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9.30-17; Sunday 15-17
- Entrance fee: 10 euro (including the interesting cathedral’s Museum located in front of the church)
- Mass time: 9.00, 11.00 (only on Sunday), 18.00.
3. Palazzo Vilhena and the National Museum of Natural History
The Magisterial Palace at Mdina, more commonly known as Palazzo Vilhena because was commissioned by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736), served as the seat of the local Government, the Mdina law court and subsequently was turned into a temporary hospital during the cholera outbreak in 1837. Nowadays, the palace houses the National Museum of Natural History that boats several important collections related to the country’s fauna, flora, and minerals (the fossil collection is impressive).
4. St. Agatha’s Chapel
The chapel of St. Agatha is of great historical interest dating back to 1410. The chapel was damaged during the great earthquake of 1693 but was rebuilt in 1694 to Lorenzo Gafa’s design, the architect responsible for the Mdina St. Paul Cathedral. Bishop David Palmieri consecrated it in the presence of Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt on the 26th June 1696. Commemorative medals were buried in the masonry to mark the event.
5. Palazzo Falson
It is an ancient Maltese noble palace that dates back to 1495 and built by Admiral Falson, open to the public since 2007 after a lengthy restoration. The palace boasts many collections belonging to the last owner Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher (1889-1962), artist, philanthropist, and collector of objets d’art and historical items. The palace often hosts a temporary exhibition as well. An audio guide (with the voice that personifies Falson) will lead you through the richly furnished rooms of the Palace, explaining information, details, curiosities to be discovered step by step.
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 until 17:00, weekly closing on Monday.
- Entrance ticket: 10 euro.
6. Palazzo de Piro
The 17th-century palace, built by Malta’s most revered architect Girolamo Cassar, hosts the Museum of Tools, Trades & Traditions. It is a unique museum in Malta presenting a single private collection of objects and tools related to an array of trades. Five main sections offer a window on past tools and trades and explaining how crafts such as tailoring, carpentry, food production and many others were practised. Palazzo De Piro also houses an extension to the Cathedral Museum that displays artistic and historical patrimonial artefacts from Maltese parishes and other sources.
- Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9-22; Saturday 12-18; Sunday 12-15.
7. Bastion square
From the square’s bastions, you can spot a beautiful view of Malta, from Valletta, Sliema and Mosta with its visible Rotunda church dome.
8. Fontanella Tea garden
Located on the bastions, this restaurant-cafè offers a beautiful panoramic view from its terrace and, above all, delicious home-made cakes (don’t miss the hazelnut-stuffed strawberry meringue).
9. Other attractions
If you still have time, you could visit the Mdina Dungeons, a series of secret underground passageways, chambers and cells where you can retrace the interesting events from the dark side of Maltese history; the Tales of the silent city, a series of animated tableaux, significant events in the long history of Mdina up to the WWII housed inside the palazzo Gatto Murina; Mdina experience, a cinema where a film of about 30 minutes on the history of the city is showed.
Need to know about Mdina
How to get there
Several bus routes serve Mdina. From the Valletta bus terminal, you can catch the bus n. 51/53/56/TD13/TD14; from Sliema the bus n. 202; from St Paul the bus n. 186.
We suggest planning a whole day tour starting with the visit of Mosta, then Medina and Rabat. In front of the Mdina gate, you’ll also find the bus stop of the Sightseeing buses.