Malta’s former capital, the fortified ‘Silent City’ of Mdina, has fascinated tourists for centuries with its beautiful architecture, quiet cobbled streets and overflowing history.
Today, a visit to Mdina is still a must during any holiday in Malta, to soak up its many sights and attractions.
Here’s five things you might be interested to know about Mdina, to bear in mind as you explore this unique, ancient, and truly magnificent city.
1. It’s old – really old
Just a stroll through Mdina’s winding streets makes it clear that this is a city with a long history. In fact, the city’s history dates back further than you might think. It was first founded as the city of Maleth in the 8th century BC, when the Phoenicians colonised Malta. It was later renamed to Melite by the Romans (a name which even appears in the Bible in the passage about St Paul’s shipwreck on the island), before adopting its present name, which comes from the Arabic word Medina.
2. It was bigger back then too
The walled city of Mdina today is actually far smaller than it was at the time of the Romans. Ancient Melite was a vast, busy metropolis about three times the size of present-day Mdina, but it lacked the fortifications to fight off attacks. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, and with the new Byzantine occupation of Malta, the city was reduced in size and walled on top of a hill to make it safer, more secure, and more easily defended.
3. An earthquake nearly destroyed it
On January 11 1693 the Maltese islands experienced the worst earthquake in their history, which struck just off the coast of Catania. While in Sicily the magnitude 7.4 quake killed more than 60,000 people, just 60 miles away Malta felt a tremor that lasted four minutes and caused severe damage to buildings across the island, although luckily no citizens were killed. In Mdina, the earthquake nearly destroyed the medieval Sicolo-Norman cathedral, which was rebuilt in the coming years to the cathedral that still stands in the city today.
4. It’s Hollywood’s second home
…or it may as well be, considering how many films and television series have used historic Mdina as the ultimate authentic backdrop to their action. The square and side streets around St Paul’s Cathedral were used as a location for the 2002 adventure film The Count of Monte Cristo, while other parts of the city featured in Cutthroat Island and the TV opera film The Death of Klinghoffer. Mdina’s most recent – and perhaps most famous – turn as a Hollywood set has been in the first season of the NBC blockbuster series, Game of Thrones. In fact, the city’s picturesque entrance gate became the show’s pivotal location, The King’s Landing.
5. It could soon be a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, or UNESCO as it is better known, has named many sites around the world as World Heritage Sites, from the pyramids of Egypt to the Great Barrier Reef. While the city of Valletta is already listed as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining the capital city on the list may also soon be Malta’s former capital, Mdina. Currently on UNESCO’s tentative list, Mdina is believed by the organisation to be ‘deserving of every degree of protection possible to ensure its survival for the benefit of both future generations and national pride’.