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The Cathedral of St Paul in Mdina Malta
Mdina, ancient capital of Malta
Mdina was the ancient capital of Malta, so named after the Arabs who built enormous 19 metre high walls around their city. The walls also shut out the poorer inhabitants who lived in the in the surrounding area, which grew into the separate town of Rabat. Today, Mdina stands above the town of Rabat and the surrounding countryside, a fascinating and compact town to drive to in your Malta rental car.
Driving to Mdina Malta by hire car
Mdina stands high above the surrounding countryside, so as you approach, it can seem impossible even to drive your hire car close. However, there is parking within the city itself; just follow the sign,s or take the back road that runs actually up the side of the ramparts and in through a tunnel under the walls. Never fear, your Malta hire car will fit through, so park your car and start to explore on foot.
The medieval city of Mdina, Malta
The walled town of Mdina is small, less than 250 metres across at its widest point, but it was the capital of Malta until the Knights of the Order of St John moved to Valetta in 1571. Mdina remains at heart a medieval city, with narrow streets and beautifully crafted houses. Every building tells a story, such as the Greek Gate, named after the Greeks from Rhodes who came to Malta with the Knights.
The pride of Mdina is the impressive St Paul’s Cathedral, whose bell towers and dome can be seen from miles around. Built between 1697 and 1702, the interior is a stately combination of reds and golds that suggest opulence without shouting about it. The original church built here was destroyed in 1693 by an earthquake, and all that remains are the Irish bog-oak doors on the sacristy. Everywhere you look there are frescos by the artist Prati, while the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament holds an older, rarer icon from the 12th century. The Cathedral Museum has unexpected treasures such as woodcuts by Dürer and engravings by Rembrandt as wellas a complete set of Roman coins actually minted on the island. .
The Palazzo Santa Sophia is the oldest building in Mdina, dating from 1233, although the extremely convincing top floor was added in 1938! Opposite is the church of St Roque, probably moved here from its original position near the Mdina Gate because the Grand Master of Valetta did not want a church on his doorstep dedicated to the patron saint of diseases. Just outside the walls is evidence of much earlier settlers, as the Museum of Roman Antiquities is built over the site of a Roman townhouse discovered in 1881.
Things to Do with Children in Mdina, Malta
If the kids are getting restless with all this fine architecture, no need to return to your Malta rental car yet. The Mdina Dungeons offer a suitably grisly waxwork and lights display in the original medieval dungeon chambers. (They can also play Indiana Jones and explore over 3 square kilometres of tombs in the catacombs under the Church of St Paul in Rabat.) Or, whisk them up to the Fontanella Café and Tea Gardens for a massive ice cream, accompanied by great views for the adults.