From glass blowing to medieval bastions, the Silent City of Mdina offers plenty of unique attractions
Before Valletta was built, Mdina was the capital of Malta. Known as the Silent City, the striking 4,000-year-old town has a timeless, peaceful ambience and a collection of beautifully preserved buildings surrounded by grand stone fortifications. In addition to the historical attractions, there’s plenty to entertain art, culture and food-lovers among its cobbled streets. From touring sites like St Agatha’s Crypt and museums like Palazzo Falson, to shopping for local Mdina Glass and relaxing at Vinum Wine Bar, here are 10 of the best things to do in Mdina.
St Paul’s Cathedral dominates Mdina’s skyline. A masterpiece of 17th century architecture, the Baroque church features grand Corinthian columns and a magnificent dome decorated in beautiful illustrations by celebrated artists such as Mattia Preti. Said to have been built on the holy spot where St Paul converted Maltese Saint Publius to Christianity, this important cathedral is worth making time for.
The city’s immaculately preserved fortifications (or Citadel) date back to medieval times and make for fascinating exploration, especially for those interested in history. Start at the Baroque-style Main Gate, built in 1724, and cross the bridge to admire the statues of lions holding the Vilhena coat of arms. Next, climb up the bastions surrounding the fortified city to enjoy impressive views out over the surrounding countryside.
Deep underground below the city are the fascinating St Agatha’s Catacombs. One of the best sites in Mdina for history and archaeology enthusiasts, the network of tombs sheds light on the lives, and deaths, of early Christian people in Malta. Visitors are welcome to explore an ancient section of the catacombs where Byzantine frescos cover the walls, and browse a small museum displaying Roman artefacts.
A museum of fine art and antiquities housed in a 13th century palace, Palazzo Falson is a must-see. The medieval building, the second oldest in Mdina, contains an impressive collection of art and silver, a giant library housing valuable manuscripts, an extensive armoury, and rooms containing original décor such as Oriental rugs and antiques. Art-lovers should look out for 17th century paintings by the liked of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin and Mattia Preti.
Malta’s National Museum of Natural History is based in the impressive 18th century Palazzo Vilhena. Containing a collection as captivating as the palace that houses it, the museum showcases display areas dedicated to Maltese geology and palaeontology, human evolution and ecology. It’s an educational experience for the whole family, with vast spaces dedicated to animals ranging from exotic mammals to Maltese birds, fish and insects, which are presented in their natural habitats.
Palazzo de Piro is a centre for arts and culture with an on-going programme of events, ranging from art exhibitions and classical music performances to artisan markets. The complex is also home to two museums. The Museum of Tools, Trades & Traditions presents a private collection of objects and tools related to a variety of ancient trades, while the Mdina Cathedral Museum Extension displays artistic and historical patrimonial artefacts collected by Maltese parishes.
Just outside of Mdina in the crafts village of Ta’ Qali, visitors can discover local crafts such as glass blowing. Mdina Glass was Malta’s first glass factory. Open since 1986, the factory and its artisans produce a wide variety of colourful glassware, not limited to vases, tableware, perfume bottles, lamps, candleholders and figurines. Visitors can watch craftspeople at work and shop for finished products in the factory shop.
Refuel ready for an afternoon of sightseeing at Bacchus, which has been open since 1976. Known for its flavoursome Mediterranean food and romantic, historic setting within the fortifications of Mdina, choose to dine inside the restaurant’s vaulted stone chambers or outside in the picturesque garden.
Located just off Mdina’s Cathedral Square, Medina is one of the city’s most popular restaurants. Housed in a historic Norman building, the charming eatery is full of Romanesque touches and features a beautiful inner courtyard and garden. It’s a great place to sample Maltese fare as the menu is full of local flavours such as Fenek Moqli Bit-Team U Bl-Inbid (rabbit ragout) and Stuffat Tal-Qarnit (octopus stew).
After completing your itinerary of things to do in Mdina, relax with a drink at Vinum Wine Bar. A unique space in the heart of the medieval city, Vinum offers a relaxing al fresco experience from its terrace overlooking Mdina’s ancient bastions, and a cosy stone cellar perfect for the colder months.