When the day arrived for me to visit Mdina, I couldn’t have been more excited. This was a city I had on the top on my list since the moment I booked my ticket to Malta. Mdina was once part of the same settlement as its neighbouring city of Ir-Rabat until the Arabs decided to wall Mdina off and make it into a fortress city with a lavish Baroque style gate leading into the city walls, which was added in 1724. Mdina is a lot older than Valletta and dates back approximately 4,000 years. It was built by the Phoenicians then conquered by the Normans and later run by the Knights of Malta. So cool!!!
As we drove through the Maltese countryside, I just kept thinking about how eerily beautiful Mdina looked in photos and I was about to see the real deal shortly. Then, I saw it…on top of the hill in the distance, a bright sandstone city came into full view. It was Mdina and it looked beautiful as the sun shone brightly on it causing it to glow.
As we came to a halt at the bus stop, a few locals and tourists poured out of the bus and we all made our way towards the magnificent gate and bridge. The sheer size of the wall just stunned me. For a tiny city, it had such a presence to it, as Valletta did when I first saw it.
As I walked towards the intricately designed Baroque gate on the bridge over what used to be a moat, I was in awe. The moment that I passed through the gate and into Mdina, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must’ve been like back in the 1500’s walking around these very streets with Knights roaming the grounds. The more I wandered around aimlessly, the more lost in thought I got. Mdina is also known as the Silent City, due to the fact that no cars, except those that belong to a limited number of residents, have permission to enter Mdina. This provides a relaxing atmosphere for the visitors walking its narrow streets and alleyways. There are signs everywhere reminding visitors to keep quiet and respect the residences, so you know they take the name of Silent City very seriously. You could hear a pin drop while walking through there. Occasionally, you will hear the trotting hooves of a horse drawn karozzin, which is a traditional horse drawn carriage, that dates back to the 19th century.
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Around every corner I turned, I just fell more in love with Mdina. It was like getting lost in a sandstone maze, not knowing where one street or alleyway would lead to next, and I was more than OK with that. The streets of Mdina are immaculately clean with not a speck of garbage on the ground, the doorways are brightly painted in colours that a Crayola crayon box would be envious of. The doors all had unique door knockers, or handles made of shiny brass in shapes ranging from lions to dolphins. Little restaurants and cafés are tucked away in locations that almost feel secretive and hidden away from the streets. Balconies stuck out of the sides of buildings lined with flowers and ivy, while the smell of fresh pasta made its way through the streets as lunch hour approached. Can I just quit my job and live there? Please!? I loved Mdina, so much!!
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I was getting a bit hungry, so I wandered down a path and noticed an adorable restaurant and tea garden called Coogi’s, which had a gorgeous patio that looked like something out of gardening magazine. I ducked inside to have lunch and sit on the outside patio, which was surrounded by greenery, a big change from the sandstone streets I had just been walking around all afternoon. I got the homemade cheese ravioli, which was insanely delicious and so fresh. It didn’t last long at all!
Once I was finished eating lunch, I obviously had to stop by Fontanella Tea Garden for dessert. Fontanella is famous for their decadent cakes and amazing coffee. The top terrace also boasts incredible countryside views over the bastions in which you can see the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. Make sure to get there early because there is almost always a waiting list, BUT not if you’re flying solo like I was. It was easy to seat me, since I was asking for a table for one. SCORE!! I ordered their banana cake, which was SO tasty and moist, I could’ve easily ate a second piece because calories don’t count on vacation, you guys!
Make sure to head over to St. Paul’s square to marvel at the Baroque styled architectural masterpiece that is St. Paul’s Cathedral. As you emerge from the maze like streets of Mdina and into the square, you are immediately awestruck by the impressive presence of the cathedral, which was designed by world famous architect, Lorenzo Gafa. Lorenzo Gafa was already well known throughout Malta as he had already designed several churches around the country and was then hired to rebuild Mdina’s cathedral. According to many Maltese stories, St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well most cathedrals around Malta, have a clock on the left that was placed there to confuse the devil, since it shows the incorrect time. The clock on the left actually shows the date and month of the year whereas the clock on the right has the correct time and chimes every 15 minutes.
The best way to explore Mdina is to put away the map and get lost within the quaint little alleyways and streets. If you’re like me, you’ll be taking a ton of photos every few steps. If you can make it back to Mdina at night, you’ll be greeted with gas lamp lit streets, which make the walls glow with an ambient, warm, orange hue.
Whether you visit during the day, or night, Mdina is definitely a place that will ignite your inner daydreamer and steal your heart with it’s colourful doorways and charming, picturesque streets.
I travelled to Mdina via Malta’s local bus route 202 directly from Sliema.