As I approached Rabat, I saw it from afar: Mdina The Silent City of Malta, sitting proudly atop the hill. Rooftops layered down to the walls and the roads which surrounded the fortified city.
I had taken the bus to Mdina for a day of exploring, and getting off at Ir-Rabat the walls of the silent city were immediately noticeable. But the gates? Not so much! So, I did what all good tourists who don’t know where they’re going do… I looked for people who looked as though they were walking with purpose, and followed their direction.
I was expecting to walk into Mdina through the majestic gate, featured in Game of Thrones, but instead, I managed to find a back entrance, by walking under a small bridge and through a small gate in the walls.
As I entered it was immediately obvious that Mdina was a beige-lovers dream. Floor to sky covered in limestone buildings, providing the perfect neutral contrast for Mdina’s brightly coloured doors.
I entered Mdina The Silent City of Malta with no concrete plans: I simply wanted to stroll around the city until I got hungry (standard travel style) and it was whilst doing this I realised how peaceful the city was. Nicknamed The Silent City due to how few cars there are, Mdina is famed for its noise levels, partly because businesses have strict noise restrictions, and partly because the name “The Silent City” inspires a natural peace. But to be honest, I wouldn’t go as far as silent—mainly because the handlers of the horse and carriage rides around the city repeatedly disturb the peace with bells and yells as they usher people out of the way. But hey, it’s better than being trampled on!
But putting that to the side, Mdina is extraordinarily pretty. With a unique mix of medieval and baroque architecture, the city’s history is visible—and the ancient walled city of Mdina has quite the history.
Dating back more than 4,000 years, the history of Mdina spans back through various times. It was built by the Phoenicians, conquered by the Normans and later run by the Knights of Malta. Even tradition states that in 60 A.D. The Apostle St. Paul lived in Mdina after becoming shipwrecked on the island (although it’s also rumoured that he lived inside the grotto known as Fuori le Mura in Rabat).
Since then, Mdina The Silent City of Malta has had many nicknames, depending on Malta’s rulers and Mdina’s role at the time. At the beginning of the 12th century, the fortified city was home to some of the noblest families on the island, from Spanish, Nordic and Sicilian descent and earned itself the medieval name of Citta’ Notabile: the noble city—and influences from this period can still be seen through the beautifully decorated Palazzos today.
I continued walking around Mdina with no real sense of direction. Simply choosing ‘left’ or ‘right’ each time I came to a junction. I walked past beautiful buildings, squares and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Occasionally stopping to snap the numerous doors which caught my eye.
I walked past brown doors
and red doors
and yellow doors
before stumbling across the most beautiful door of them all.
I’m not sure it’s a house I could live in, with people like me stopping to snap the beauty. But hot damn, I sure can appreciate it. I mean, look at the bougainvillaea!
My gardening skills could never.
But perhaps more excitingly than the door, was the restaurant next to it…
You see, I knew I would get hungry in Mdina so made a shortlist of options before my day trip, so I was prepared when I developed an appetite:
- Fontanella Tea Garden for cakes.
- Fior Di Latte for gelato.
- Coogis for lunch.
- Grotto Tavern for dinner.
But after walking past Coogi’s and seeing how inviting the courtyard looked, I was sold.
The greenery inside the courtyard has created a natural canopy which blocks out the Maltese sun, leaving just a few streams running through to brighten and warm the seating area. But if you don’t like to dine alfresco, there’s also a restaurant inside and a terrace upstairs which is perfect for drinks. But I knew that the courtyard was the place for me.
Inside the courtyard was a welcome respite from the blistering sun, filled with greenery and the sound of life and cutlery clinking against dinnerware. I settled in and began chatting to a neighbouring table, who it turns out visit Malta often. One chap lives in a village somewhere between Sliema and Bugibba with his wife and children, and the other visits them each year for three weeks or so. We sat and talked about all of their favourite things about Malta, whilst sipping on ice-cold drinks, before I had to embark on the quest of looking at the menu.
Unsure which restaurant I would end up choosing, I didn’t browse any menus prior to my visit. Which would usually mean it would take me an age to decide. But not on this day, because on this day, my new dining-neighbour mentioned how good the seafood was, so I knew I had to try some. I ordered the “Ravioli Neri di Granchio e Gamberi”
Which was black ravioli with a soft heart of crab and prawns, sautéed in Pachino P.G.I. cherry tomatoes and parsley.
It wasn’t a dish I’d typically order as I have a tendency to avoid “fishy” seafood dishes. Yeah, yeah, I know. But there’s certain seafood which tastes like you’ve fallen into the ocean and swallowed a giant mouthful of water (*cough* oysters *cough*) and dishes which involve crab, prawn and pasta coloured with squid ink, are usually one of them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. I mean sure, that first mouthful was a whole lot of fish, but it’s like whisky, once you get over the shock of the first taste, it becomes a lot more palatable.
So as not to spend a whole day sitting inside, I ventured out after lunch to carry on roaming around Mdina.
It really is a beautiful place to walk through; it’s immaculate, it’s clean and the narrow, shady streets act like a lifesize maze. The population of Mdina is only 300 and without the noise, it’s easy to lose yourself in the nooks and crannies and let your imagination run wild. To imagine how it was back then.
I explored during the day but I imagine it’s just as beautiful at night with the ambient light from the streetlights bouncing off the stone, and the stillness of the city. Although, as I type this out, that sounds kinda horror-movie-y. So make of that what you will! And with that, it was time to venture back to the hotel. Leaving Mdina The Silent City of Malta for its residents once more.