If Malta had a crown, then Mdina would be its jewel. Situated on hill, it has seen its fair share of invading armies and battles. Yet its walls have withstood the test of time and today it passes its days silently dreaming of its past.
Mdina was the capital city of Malta until the construction of Valletta in 1566. Its narrow streets are lined with medieval buildings amongst which are interspersed various palaces from the Baroque era.
Unearthed remains indicate that Mdina has been inhabited since Punic times and was the chief city of Malta during the Roman era, when it was much larger and incorporated a large part of the neighbouring city of Rabat within its walls. During the Arab conquest of Malta, Mdina was reduced to its current size, but continued to maintain its status as the capital city of the island. It was during this time that the city was fortified with high bastion walls and a dry moat.
When Malta was handed over to the Knights of St John in 1530, the nobility residing in Mdina handed the keys of the city to Grand Master L’Isle Adam. Being a sea-faring Order, the Knights preferred to reside in the maritime city of Birgu where they could be close to their ships. After the Great Siege of 1566, Grand Master La Vallette laid the foundation stone of the new capital city, Valletta. Following this, Mdina faced a period of decline which was made worse by an earthquake in 1693 which destroyed many buildings of the old city including the Gothic cathedral. In later years various palaces and buildings were constructed by the Knights who tried to instill new life into the now almost deserted city. However it never quite recaptured the vibe of its heyday. Its inhabitants dwindled from 4000 in the middle ages to around 400 in the present day.
By day, Mdina is thronged with tourists. By night, it belongs to the ghosts of the past.
It has endured much and has emerged unscathed. In an age when everything is continuously changing, it has remained constant, its beauty undiminished, its mystery unsolved. Perhaps one day it will break the silence and tell us its story. Perhaps one day it will tell us the names of the people that walked its streets hundreds of years ago. But I think that we will have to be content to use our imagination and make up stories about its past. Because, like a proper lady, Mdina knows that its charm lies in revealing almost nothing about itself and so it beckons the intrigued visitor, inviting him to discover her charms. But, like the ladies of old, it remains aloof and discreet, sheltered behind its high walls and smiling secretly in the knowledge that it will endure long after the mortals that walk through the streets are no more.