Malta, The Silent City of Mdina

Malta Mdina

We slept well until about five o’clock next morning when there was an explosive thunderstorm that shook the room as though there were an earthquake with lightning flashes dramatically illuminating the sky and rain falling in bucket loads.  The wind rolled moaning down the corridor outside the room which made it sound much worse than it really was and fortunately by breakfast time it had cleared away and the sky looked more promising.

This was our last day in Malta and our plan was to visit the town of Mdina, the old capital of the country and situated in the centre of the island.

Mdina is called the silent city…

because it is a quiet pedestrianised medieval walled town with twisting narrow streets, dead ends and crooked alleyways all of which lead inevitably to the centre piece of the cathedral of St Paul.

St Paul is important to Malta because a shipwreck in 60 AD is recorded in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles and is supported by archaeological excavations that prove beyond doubt that his arrival in Malta is a historical fact.  He was only there for three months but in that time he managed to introduce the Christian Religion to Malta and if you have been paying attention you will know that Malta is the most religious country in Europe.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Malta…

Except for the modern bus service things get done quickly on Malta it seems.  During a six day stay on the island in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte carried out an exhausting and rapid programme of modernisation.  He reformed national administration with the creation of a Government Commission, twelve municipalities, a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish slaves. On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organised along principles laid down by Bonaparte himself, providing for primary and secondary education. After this whirlwind visit he then sailed for Egypt and the Maltese people probably gave a collective sigh of relief.

Mdina Malta

Public Transport issues in Malta…

“Unfortunately, the new designed routes take you half way around Malta in order to save money on buses – that is the problem when an accountant comes in with an Excel sheet and dictates with no real knowledge of what the people need, want or require.” – Malta Tourism Authority (2013)

I am fairly certain that in 1997 there was a direct bus service from Mellieha to Mdina but this is not so today so we had to compete for space on a bus to Buggiba and then wait for a transfer to our destination.  As we waited at the bus stop the skies clouded over, white at first and then grey and then very dark grey indeed and finally ominously black.  The temperature sank like a stone and soon there was another fearsome thunderstorm which made us consider going straight back to the hotel and a day in the indoor swimming pool and spa.

We dodged the downpour in a roadside café and eventually the connecting bus arrived and we went ahead with our original plan.  The bus was empty but at the next stop about three hundred people tried to get on but only two hundred and ninety-eight made it.  This was a very uncomfortable thirty minutes but as we drove towards Mdina the clouds broke and were blown away and by the time we arrived there was glorious blue sky again.

Mdina, restored and modernised…

The bus dropped us off at the main gate where there was a flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins with pushy drivers waiting to ambush people as they stepped into the terminus and I am not sure how this happened but almost immediately we were sitting in the carriage and taking an unnecessary tour of the city and my wallet was a few Euro lighter.  Unnecessary because it is only a small place and it is much nicer to investigate it on foot anyway which is what we did as soon as the trip was over.

The first thing that struck me was that in twenty years there has been a lot of restoration in Mdina.  The once crumbling walls have been repaired and the untidy concrete streets have all been repaved.  I preferred it the old way because it seems to me that the Maltese have managed to transform this wonderful place into a sort of Disney World EPCOT interpretation of what it used to be like.

Mdina Malta 2015Malta Mdina 1996

Most of the guide books recommend a visit to Fontanella Tea Rooms for a cake and a coffee stop so we found it and made our way to the first floor terrace.  This had also had a very extensive makeover.

I’d like to be able to tell you how good it was but we sat at a table for twenty minutes or so without being served whilst all around us everyone was giving their orders and getting prompt service.  I asked two times to be served but I think I must have been wearing my invisible clothes that day and the waiter continued to ignore us so finally our patience ran out and we left, stopping only very briefly on the way out to lodge a complaint about poor service.  He said that he would serve us immediately but I told him it was too late, he had missed his chance!

Mdina MaltaMalta_Map (1)

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20 responses to “Malta, The Silent City of Mdina

  1. Really well-written, and informative. Funnily, my guidebook *does* suggest a visit to the Fontanella Tea Garden… was the view worth it, at least?

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    • The view is excellent but no better than that from the walls of the city. You really need a table on the balcony to enjoy this place. I think it is permanently busy. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. What answer did you get to your “too late”? I shall hold my breath till I hear any kind of answer. I cannot guess his response. 😮

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  3. Unfortunately that kind of poor service tends to leave a bad feel about a place. Like Tess I would be interested in the response.

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  4. Oh, one of the reasons for going to Malta was to see crumbly Mdina again….thanks for the warning, it looks over-restored, as you say, definitely shows in your photo….another place I’m too late for!

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    • I don’t think that you are too late even though it has become something of a tourist honey pot.

      I am not totally against restoration. After considering the issue I think I agree with Henry Miller who wrote about Knossos (Crete) in the Colossus of Rhodes: “There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration. I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact. However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know. I am grateful to him for what he did…”

      In 50 years time people will reminisce about Mdina and say ‘You really should have seen this place in 2015’!

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  5. You are too funny. I am glad you and the other 298 passengers were able to use the inconvenient bus. I am enjoying your Malta stories, and wonder why our politicians can’t overhaul entire educational, administrative, judicial, and financial systems in 6 days anymore. Not to mention abolishing slavery, which still needs to be done in some seedy business sections of the world.

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  6. Girl Gone Expat

    I had no idea Malta is the most religious country in Europe – learn something new every day. Would you recommend visiting Mdina? From the post it seemed like it was getting a bit too ‘polished’?

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  7. Having second thoughts about Mellieha Bay 🙂

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  8. Pingback: Game Of Thrones – Film Locations | Have Bag, Will Travel

  9. Malta is one of three European countries I am yet to visit. I won’t be rushing to Andora or Liechtenstein, but Malta looks very pleasant from your description.

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    • Liechtenstein is worth visiting for the scenery but Vaduz is definitely a place to avoid, a charmless concrete desert. Never been to Andorra and don’t believe I ever will. I always give Malta my highest recommendation. I went again just a couple of months ago!

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