Mdina: The Silent City of Malta

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Mdina Church

Driving through the Maltese countryside, a white city appears in the distance. It stands atop a hill, layered like a wedding cake from its walled edge, surveying all of Malta from one of the highest points on the island.

It’s a city older than Valletta, dating back 4,000 years. It was built by the Phoenicians and conquered by the Normans, later run by the Knights of Malta. And many believe that St. Paul the Apostle once lived here.

Allow me to introduce you to Mdina.

Streets of Mdina

Mdina (pronounced um-DEE-na) is one of my favorite places in Malta — it’s a beautiful city and the most immaculate place on the island. It’s also the oldest continuously inhabited city on the island, dating back 4,000 years to when the Phoenicians founded it.

The Normans arrived in 1091, and you can see their architectural influence throughout the city. At this time, Mdina was made the capital of Malta — in part because it had a protected inland location surrounded by a wall, yet it was high enough to keep an eye on the seas.

Mdina View

In the 1500s, the Knights of Malta arrived. However, after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the Knights moved Malta’s capital to what is now Vittoriosa, one of the Three Cities across the Grand Harbour from Valletta.

That may be how Mdina became known as the “Silent City.” Once the capital left Medina, it became a virtual ghost town.

Mdina takes its silent status seriously to this day. Very few cars are allowed to enter the city walls, and the businesses here have strict noise regulations. You even see signs urging silence all over the city.

Odd as it may seem, keeping the noise to a minimum allows you to see Mdina as it once was, whether it were decades or centuries ago.

Mdina Alley

Mdina’s Norman influence pops up in random locations all over the city — none more overtly than in this building.

Norman Architecture in Mdina

This former church is like something you’d expect to see in gothic Europe, not on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean.

But Mdina has more traditional Maltese doors as well…

Mdina Door

And with Maltese doors come Maltese door knockers. The Maltese are huge fans of bling in all its forms, and this certainly extends to the front of their doors.

Mdina Door Knocker

Giant lion’s head door knockers are common throughout Mdina and Malta; dolphins are very popular as well. Occasionally you’ll see a seahorse.

Today, Mdina has a population of just 300. Some of them live in tiny apartments on the backstreets of the city; others are living in opulent villas like this one.

Mdina Villa

What is there to do in Mdina? This is a city that’s best seen while getting lost in the back streets. Follow an alley and see where it takes you. Take pictures. Imagine what it was like living here in the time of the Knights.

Mdina Balconies

Oh, and be sure to stop at Fontanella for a delicious hazelnut-stuffed strawberry meringue.

Strawberry Meringue Fontanella

But it’s not enough to just visit Mdina during the day — you need to come back at night as well.


Come to Mdina in the evening and you’ll enjoy the stillness of the streets, the ambient light of the gas lamps. The city is in shadows, and the silence feels more natural at this time.

Another reason to come back? Fontanella is open until late!

Mdina is a special city, and you can’t come to Malta without stopping here and getting lost in its perfect monochromatic streets. Make this part of your Malta itinerary for sure.

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35 thoughts on “Mdina: The Silent City of Malta”

  1. I felt Malta had marks from the era when it it was rule by the Muslims as well. Even some words in Maltese seem to have arabic origin. Mdina itself reminds me of the arabic word – Medina which means city and is also a major city in Saudi Arabia. It seems like a missing chapter whenever I read about Maltese history.

    1. Hey Kashan you are right about the language. Maltese is a semitic language. It’sbulk is made up of Siculo-Arabic – which means the arabic that used to be spoken in Sicily (since Malta is so close to Sicily) – but then there is a great number of Italian words as well, plus some English and even a speck of French words (such as Bongu meaning good morning, coming from the French “Bon Jour”, and Bonswa meaning Good Evening from the French “Bon soire”), and then we use words like Kittla meaning kettle from the English – and many more such loan words. We sometimes have no Maltese equivalent to certain words so we just borrow them from English as if they are our own – and write them the Maltese way (such as telefon (telephone), frigg (fridge), kompjuter (computer) ) and many others. Its quite a complex language and stranger still although it has semitic roots its written in roman characters.

      1. indeed! I guess it’s all due to the location in the Med, and with changing empires around it, Malta is very exposed. Yet that is the most beautiful thing about Malta, the language, the architecture and the natural beauty.

        1. I read that Mussolini asserted that Malti was a dialect of Italian! But understand that it’s closer to the Arabic of North Africa. Many people that I met in Malta were fluent in Italian and English.

  2. Hello – some things you write here are not totally correct. After the Great Siege, the city of Valletta was built. Mdina had not been the Capital City at all during the rule of the Knights – Vittoriosa was the capital then, before Valletta.

    1. Hi Joseph,
      is it true that when the Turks approached Mdina, during the siege, that the entire population of the city (including women) came out onto the ramparts dressed as soldiers and the Turks turned back thinking it was strongly defended? I read this in The Sword and the Scimitar and so hope it is true.

  3. Off-topic from this post, but I’m still crossing my fingers you will write a post in celebration of your birthday that just passed – those are always my favorite! ๐Ÿ™‚ I enjoy reading about places you visited, but my favorite posts of yours have always been the more personal ones. Hope to see some of those soon!

    1. Aww, thank you, Kristen. I appreciate that. I’ve just been SO busy — every freelance project I had been working on was due either on my birthday or the day before. I wore myself out. Let me think about it…

  4. Love these photos. I have to say I’ve never really heard much about Malta or thought too much into visiting, but it looks like a really quaint and scenic place perfect for a relaxing holiday. It’s got a touch of European charm – but something else I can’t quite put my finger on. Beautiful place.

  5. I m a Maltese History teacher and it pains me to see that you got numerous inaccuracies in both your write up and as well as in your labeling of photos.

    I do agree though that Mdina is a beautiful city and appreciate you trying to promote.

  6. It’s a little odd that they have noise restrictions, but then it looks like the kind of place that would be most enjoyable on a quiet stroll. Lovely photos!

  7. Beautiful coverage of a beautiful city. Thankyou so much for sharing, I am sure this is a treasure of a place for travel lovers. Amazing pictures too!. Keep travelling and keep blogging.

  8. This is one of my favourite posts! I love the picture at night. Hop on Hop off buses can take you to many places at reasonable prices but watch it, different companies have different coloured buses and they all go different places so be sure you get on the correct bus. We got on the wrong bus in Valletta, see my post on my blog (I don’t try to sell anything, it is just our vacation pictures mostly).

  9. Game of Thrones, Bolibar, Black Eagle, Sons of the Sea… Mdina is not only ‘like’ a film set – it actually is.
    These walled cities are called citadels; a simple item of information your source(s), who by-the-by also gave you a lot of inaccurate or misleading ‘facts’, failed to provide.

  10. Great piece! I must admit I was only slightly intrigued when my brother visited last year, but all I saw of their photos were of the resort and little more. This post have definitely made me put Malta on my list of places to go! Thank you!

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