Holiday in Malta … a tale of 2 cities (Mdina and Valletta) Part 1 …

Mdina and Valleta are probably the two most famous ‘cities’ in Malta. The first was the old capital and the second is the current one. Both are equally beautiful and interesting. A visit to Malta will not be complete without visiting both ‘cities’. Since Mdina is the older of the two, so I will write on Mdina first lah.

dscn3823Although it is derived from the Arabic word ‘Medina’ (which means ‘walled city’), Mdina in Malta certainly does not look like its twin namesake in Saudi Arabia. The name remains as a legacy to the period of time when it was ruled by the Arabs. However, the history of Mdina goes back several centuries before that, to the Bronze Age, when it was already used as a fortified hilltop settlement. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians continued to develop the site (almost smack in the centre of the island) … so that by the time the Romans came (they called it Melite and continued to use it as their administrative centre), it covered a much larger area than the present Mdina.

While Mdina looks very impressive from a distance with its heavy fortifications … it is equally impressive when seen up close … with its beautiful mix of medieval and baroque architecture. It was truly a pleasure to meander through its narrow streets, admiring all the interesting buildings, houses, churches, shops, restaurants and cafés that are ‘protected’ inside the city wall … in spite of the rain that Monday morning … at least for me! 🙂

Although Mdina has had different names depending on its rulers and the role it played through the centuries … it is its medieval name that is said to describe it best – ‘Città Notabile’ or ‘The Noble City. As the name implies…  Mdina was home to Malta’s noble families many centuries ago … and still is today. After Valletta was built, it came to be known as ‘Citta Vecchia‘ (the ‘old city’).

But nowadays, Mdina is often called the ‘Silent City’ as only limited traffic is allowed to pass through its ancient walls.

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The medieval city of Mdina … as seen from the bus as we were making our way to it. As there was a direct bus that goes from Qawra (where we stayed) to Mdina, we had no problem making our way to this famed city.

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Getting closer …  as we went up the hill to where this city is located.

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We have arrived … outside of the city gate. If you don’t feel like walking … or are too tired to walk … you can always choose to ride on one of these horse carriages … and enter the city in style. 🙂

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The entrance to the city of Mdina.called … the Mdina Gate. It was designed by a French architect called Charles François de Mondion in 1724. As you can see, it was a wet outing for us because …  unlike these people here, we didn’t have an umbrella with us … shucks!! It was not raining when we began the excursion … but started when we were halfway en route …

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… which explains the splotches (of water) in this picture of the external wall of the city! This is the view of the (now dry) moat on the right side of the gate … full of orange trees bearing fruit.

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They look very tempting … these oranges on the trees, no? It is not uncommon to see orange trees in the yards of some houses in Malta.

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And this is the view on the left .. .not as interesting to see … to me, that is!

Dungeon at Mdina

This is one of the first things you will see when you enter the city gate …. the Mdina dungeon!!  But we skipped this, though.

Natural History Museum

And then this … is the National Museum of Natural History of Malta.

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The courtyard inside the gate to the museum. Lovely! But we skipped this too….

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… and proceeded to explore the rest of the city.  Luckily, the rain was not too heavy … so that we could still walk without an umbrella.

Streets

The narrow medieval streets in the old city of Mdina.

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Not much traffic inside the city walls as vehicles within Mdina are restricted to those belonging to the residents (there are about 300 of them living there) as well as those for emergencies, hearses and wedding. Oopps … and horse carriages, too! 🙂

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Heading towards St Paul’s Square located in the centre of Mdina. Noticed the plaque with street names (in both Maltese and English) on the wall? Nice, isn’t it?

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The Cathedral of St. Paul at the square.

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An area near the Bastions.

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The view of the countryside and another town (in the distance) from the Bastions.

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Another view to the right. It is so easy to spot a town in Malta from far. The colour of the buildings really stands out against the green of the countryside.

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Very picturesque, is it not?

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A tea room called Fontanella Tea Garden, right at the edge of the city next to the bastions. It would have been nice to have a drink or light snack in its open terrace while enjoying the view but … as it had started to rain again we decided to go elsewhere. We found ourselves a small but nice tea room inside the city which had been renovated and done up very nicely with a courtyard garden. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos there lah!

While the medieval and baroque architecture in the city was really lovely, however … I think that one of the things that really fascinated me when I was in the old city was these …

Knockers

… beautifully designed door knockers and knobs! They are so gorgeous looking!! They look really good on these painted doors of Maltese homes in the city. But these are not just for decoration, you know … they also serve as talismans to ward off evil!

Door knobs

And I think the most popular must be these dolphin designs … as I saw many of them on the doors. They might look quite similar but they are not. There were some slight differences in the design details, if you look very closely. Hmmm … I would love to have something like these for my own home! Oh yes … I forgot … we don’t own a home … hehehe … 🙂

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If you don’t like any of the above designs,you can chose something different … there is quite a selection to choose from, here.

Alternatively, there are these pieces of Mdina glassware you can buy … as souvenirs … and they are very beautiful, too.

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The range that was offered in one of several shops found inside Mdina – clocks, candle holders, coasters, ash-trays, etc. etc. So very colourful!

Souvenirs

A more elegant design on the left … and a beautiful standing lamp on the right (there is a bulb behind the glass picture). The lamp must have looked spectacular when lit up at night!

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Can’t help but noticed this old, majestic-looking building with a particularly ornate roof decoration just outside the city gate (technically, in Rabat, which is the name given to the suburbs of Mdina) as we were walking towards the bus stop … bearing the name …

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Casino Notabile‘. Hmm … I wondered what it was? Was it an old casino for the nobles? Apparently, from what I have found on the Internet I was correct: it was indeed a casino for the local gentry. But not for gaming lah … its for social gathering (as ”casino’ also means ‘lodge’ in Italian)!

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And a row of nice old houses … opposite the bus stop where we had to wait for our bus.

Despite the rain … I enjoyed our excursion to Mdina. And not just the old city itself … but also the bus trip going there! It was nice and fun. I loike … very much!! 😀

So … it is nice to know that I have managed to visit both Medina cities. Although I am in the two Medina(s) for different purposes … both cities certainly left a deep impression on me.

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