Mdina, Exploring Malta

Mdina – Exploring Malta

Mdina is the former capital of Malta and a fortress at the center of the main island. Known as the “Silent City”, due to the lack of traffic, it has become one of the most popular tourist sights on the main island. It might be small, but the fortifications still make it an impressive town with a view out over a large part of the island. It has today a population of slightly more than 200 inhabitants. However, it is adjoined by its former suburb and the much larger town of Rabat, which is directly outside its gates.

The History of Mdina

This is a town with a long and mysterious history. People are believed to have lived here for thousands of years. In fact, there was a town there already several centuries before Christ. The Phoenicians founded the city of Maleth after their arrival in Malta around the 8th century BC. The Romans later replaced them and renamed the town Melite.

The current boundaries of Mdina were established after the fall of the Western part of the Roman Empire when the Byzantine Empire took over and remade the defensive structures of the town. However, the town of Melite only survived to the year 870 when the Aghlabids conquered and destroyed it.

What is today Mdina has its origins in the 1040s when Muslim settlers established Medina. The Arab control was not long-lived and the ownership of the town changed many times. The Kingdom of Sicily conquered the town in 1091 and it would also come under the control of Aragon before the Order of Saint John took over in 1530.

Mdina lost its status as the capital with the arrival of the Order. The capital moved to Birgu instead. However, the development of Mdina continued and especially the fortifications were improved during the 16th century. It is time and the earthquake of 1693 that damaged the town during the rule of the Order. The grandmasters of the Order continued with repair projects until the town was conquered by the French in 1798. The unrest that followed the French invasion led the way to British Rule in 1800.

During British rule, Mdina survived the Second World War and has, at least after Malta’s independence, become one of the country’s most visited tourist sights.

Sights in Mdina

There is a lot to see in Mdina. The narrow streets, the many 18th-century buildings, and especially the fortifications that encircle the city are impressive. Mdina’s city walls offer a great view out over a large part of Malta. Don’t be surprised if you manage to spot the Grand Harbor or the highrises of Saint Julian’s.

D’Homedes Bastion

D’Homedes Bastion is along the city wall that is facing Rabat. It dates back to the 1540s and is also known as the Saint Paul Bastion. In comparison with the other bastions, this one is rather small.

Greeks Gate

The Greeks Gate has a medieval past but it was renovated in 1724. It is the second gate to Mdina and is the only accessway for the few vehicles that have permission to enter Mdina.

Mdina Cathedral Museum

The cathedral museum dates back to 1897. It is since 1969 in the former Seminary at the Archbishop’s Square.

Mdina Dungeons Museum

Mdina Dungeons Museum is a museum of crime and punishment and might not be so suited for children. It describes the torture methods of the inquisition and other times in Maltese history.

Mdina Gate

Mdina Gate, also called the Main Gate or the Vilhena Gate, was completed in 1724. It faces the town of Rabat. This is the main gate to the fortified city. A city that in many parts was built or restored by the Order of Saint John.

Palazzo de Piro & The Tools, Trades and Traditions Museum

Palazzo de Piro is a 17th-century palace that houses The Tools, Trades, and Traditions Museum. The museum showcases a private collection of several tools and other objects related to historical trades.

Palazzo Falson & The Historic House Museum

Palazzo Falson is a residential building in Mdina that dates back to the 15th century. The palace is today turned into a museum, where the 17 rooms showcase different rooms such as the kitchen.

Palazzo Vilhena and The National Museum of Natural History

Palazzo Vilhena, or the Vilhena Palace, is an 18th-century palace that was built in the 1720s. This was when the Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena started his restoration of Mdina. The palace has since also served as a hospital in the 19th century and was in 1973 converted into a museum, more precisely the Museum of Natural History. The museum is run by Heritage Malta and it showcases the Maltese exosystems.

Saint Agatha’s Chapel

Saint Agatha’s Chapel is a small Roman Catholic church that dates back to the 17th century. It replaced an even older church from the 15th century that should have occupied the same location.

Saint Mary Bastion

Saint Mary Bastion was built prior to 1565. It is facing the northwest and it is close to Bastion Square.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, or just Mdina Cathedral, was completed in 1705. It is dedicated to the apostle St Paul and replaced an earlier cathedral that was damaged during the earthquake of 1693.

Saint Peter Bastion

Saint Peter Bastion dates back to the 1550s and is part of the fortifications and facing west. It is also known as the Greeks Gate Bastion, as it houses the second gate to Mdina.

Mdina Activities

As one of the country’s main tourist attractions, there are many activities in and around Mdina. Just walking around and enjoying the fortified city is an activity in itself, but there is a lot more to do here.

Beaches in Mdina

Mdina is as far from the sea as you can come anywhere in Malta. That doesn’t mean that the sea is far away and due to its central location all beaches on the island are within easy reach for anyone who has a means of transport to get there.

Shopping in Mdina

There are a few tourist shops in Mdina. Another option for shopping is the shops that are outside the city gate in Rabat. For any more extensive shopping, you probably need to head over to larger towns such as Sliema or Saint Julian’s.

Excursions from Mdina

The entire main island is within reach of Mdina. The only issue might be that if you go by public transport, you will many times need to first go to Valletta for connecting buses.


Marsaskala is another coastal resort town to the east. This former fishing village has grown into one of the larger towns in South-Eastern Malta.

From our visits:


Marsaxlokk is an old fishing village famous for its traditional colorful boats and the daily market. This is one of the main tourist attractions in the eastern part of Malta. The colorful fishing boats, Luzzu, are an addition to the Maltese culture dating back to the early 12th century.

From our visits:

Saint Julian’s

Saint Julian’s is a seaside resort town and the main tourist destination for many visiting Malta. This is where many of the hotels are located and it is popular for its restaurants and shopping. It is also the home of Paceville, an area that is both loved and hated for its many bars and nightclubs.


Sliema is one of the busier towns in Malta and a modern commercial center. For anyone looking for shopping or other urban activities, then Sliema is usually among the options on the island. Together with Saint Julian’s, Sliema makes up one of the main tourist resorts in Malta.

From our visits:

The Three Cities – Birgu, Cospicua, and Senglea

Cospicua is part of the are the Three Cities, the other two are the cities of Birgu and Senglea. These two cities are within easy access for excursions from Cospicua as they are just a short walk away.

From our visits:


Valletta, the capital of Malta, is one of the places that most people visiting the country will try to see at least once. It is also that city that you will see across the Grand Harbor each time you look out over the water. Its high walls and other fortifications make it an impressive sight and the view of the sea is never far away. The capital is just a short ferry ride away from Cospicua and the Three Cities.

From our visits:

Mdina with a Kid

The lack of traffic really makes Mdina perfect for kids. Well, as long as you keep them on the ground and not climbing the city walls. As always, there is a need to keep a watching eye. But Mdina feels safer compared to many parts of Malta where there is barely any space for pedestrians.

Read more about Malta with kids:

Playgrounds in Mdina

We have during our visits not found any playground within the city walls. There is, however, one right outside the main gate once you head over to the town of Rabat.

Rabat Playground

Squeezed in between the moat of Mdina and the town of Rabat is a medium-sized playground. Its location is perfect when you are waiting for your bus or taxi if you have visited the city and are heading home. The playground has a slide, swings, and other attractions for the kids.

There are more towns and villages to discover. Join us in Exploring Malta >>

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