Last weekend the Silent City hosted the annual Medieval Mdina Festival. It is, as the name implies, a celebration of medieval life – with a lot of pomp and pageantry thrown in. For two days re-enactors in period costumes roam the streets while different activities take place around Mdina. This year I particularly enjoyed a breath-taking show by a group of Italian sbandieratori (flag throwers).
Other events that took place included art exhibitions, human chess games, jousting and a falconry display. The entrance fee to museums and other places of interest was reduced. The Medieval Mdina Festival has become a permanent fixture in our events calendar and draws hundreds of tourists and locals to the old capital.
Jousting and jostling humanity aside, there is a lot more that is medieval about Mdina than this annual festival but, in the general commotion that such an event creates, it is easy to overlook them. So let me take you on a small ‘guided tour’ of the medieval parts of this little city.
I have already written about the early history of Mdina in They Called Me Maleth, And Then Melite, and They Came, They Conquered And They Called me Medina. My next installment in Mdina’s story would have touched the medieval era but I will leave the historical facts for another time. In reality a great part of the buildings that made up medieval Mdina were destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. Subsequent replacements were built in the Baroque style. So finding traces of the middle ages is not as easy as it might sound but they do exist.
Palazzo Falson – a two-storey medieval palace with rooms built around an internal courtyard.
St Peter’s monastery – (formerly St Peter’s hospital) convent to an order of cloistered Benedictine nuns since 1430.
Casa Inguanez – a medieval palace that occupies an entire block and is home to Malta’s oldest aristocratic family. In 1432, King Alfonso V of Spain and Sicily stayed here while visiting the island.
Palazzo Santa Sofia – purported to be the oldest existing building in Mdina, a building in the Siculo-Norman style. The ground floor of this building is said to have been built in 1233.
But apart from the palaces and the churches the true medieval identity of Mdina can be better seen in the houses of the ‘common folk’. The small doors and tiny windows, usually situated on a higher storey, are reminiscent of an age when pirate attacks were common and every household had to defend itself in the best way possible.
I always find it fascinating that, even with hundreds of visitors thronging its streets, I was still able to find silent streets and quiet nooks. The festival and re-enactments are interesting but, for me, it is the lure of the Silent City itself which never ceases to fascinate me. Because no matter how many times I walk through those narrow, winding streets, I always find something new that draws my eyes upwards or downwards. With each visit I learn a new secret and this tiny, walled city continues to ensnare me in its mesh of spells.