Mdina is a great place to visit and walking the tiny streets and the ancient battlements of the "Silent City" are very interesting things to do. The different audio visual "experiences" vary in quality but canbe interesting as well (see seperate tip). For me, and as the title suggests, the jewel in Mdina's crown is undoubtedly the Cathedral of St. Paul right in the centre of the city. In a country well-endowed with impressive places of worship, this one really does stand out.
So where does this wonderful building originate from? Local legend has it that it stands on the site where Publius met St. Paul when he was shipwrecked on Maltain the first century. Nobody is entirely sure when the first Church was built here but it fell into disuse during the Tirkish Islamic occupation of the island. After the Turks left, another Cathedral was built but this was almost totally destroyed in the great earthquake of 1693. A new structure was called for and was built to the design of Lorenzo Gafa primarily between 1697 and 1702 although the final work of adding the cupola was not complete until 1705. This is essentially the Baroque structure you see today.
From the outside it is impressive enough and it is worth noting the two barred cross on the roof as opposed to the single barred cross I am more used to in Western Europe. Also of note are the clocks. Look closely and you will see they are not both standard clocks, one serves as a calender. However, it is only when you go inside the building that it's true glory is revealed. It truly is magnificent.Fortunately, (non-flash) photography is allowed and I did take full advantage of that. I intend to let the images speak for themselves rather than describe in great detail every point of interest. As the VT format only allows for five images here, I have also constructed a travelogue to showcase some more of my photographic handiwork, such as it is.
I would make one suggestion for the visitor. I am always speaking on tips about the value of looking up as you travel around as it is amazing what you see above eye level. This holds true as the work on the cielings is outstanding. In the Cathedral, the visitor is also advised to look down as you are effectively walking on the memorial stones of literally dozens if not hundreds of members of the Knights of St. John of Malta and they do make fascinating reading.
To the logistics now.
The Cathedral, like the Cathedral Museum (see seperate tip) is open Monday to Friday 0930 to 1630 and Sunday 0930 to 1530 with last admission 30 minutes before closing. Admission is €5 for adults (obviously including admission to the Cathedral proper) and €3:50 for students. Under 12's are free. You should buy your ticket in the Museum as there is no ticket office in the Cathedral itself. Also note that the entrance to the Cathedral is not by the front door as you might expect but the door on the right side of the building as you look at the front.
I believe it would be wheelchair accessible as it is all on a level and I did not see any major obstacles.
No visit to Mdina is complete without a visit to the Cathedral and I really do recommend it.
If you visit Mdina, you simply must see the magnificent Cathedral of St. Paul right in the centre of the old walled city. I have a seperate tip and travelogues about this wonderful building. Included in the ticket price and giving rise to the title of this tip, is admission to the Cathedral Museum which is situated in the old Archbishop's Palace just across the square from the Cathedral itself. In fact, you have to go here to get your ticket for the Cathedral. As you can see from the images, it is an impressive building.
The Palace actually resulted form a natural disaster, namely the great earthquake of 1693 which caused huge damage to the original Cathedral. the building plans for the now structure, which you see today, included encroaching on what had been the previous Palace and so a new building was required. This is the result.
Whilst the building is interesting, I have to say that the actual Museum is less so. There are some good things to see, including some very good paintings but generally it is not that exciting. As I say, though, it is included in the price and you should have a look round. Regrettably, photography is not allowed inside, hence the paucity of images, but the attached website has some good images should you want a look.
To the logistics now.
the Museum is open Monday to Friday 0930 to 1630 and Sunday 0930 to 1530 with last admission 30 minutes before closing. Admission is €5 for adults (obviously including admission to the Cathedral proper) and €3:50 for students. Under 12's are free.
I would not normally write tips about a place you cannot enter but I shall make an exception in this case as it is possible to look in from outside and it is a place of significance in the ancient town of Mdina (Imdina in Maltese). It is the chapel of St. Agatha and I am unsure if it is generally open to the public or I was just unlucky when I visited. There was no information at the site and I can find nothing online on the subject.
There has been a place of Christian worship here since 1410, built initially by Francesco Gatt, a local noble. The reason this place so important to the Maltese is because of an event which occurred in 1551 when the Ottoman Turks under Sinam Pasha invaded the island and laid seige to the city which was then called Notabile and was capital of the country. A local nun claimed to have had a vision from St. Agatha who instructed her to have a Mass said and to then process around the bastions in view of the enemy and carrying her image. This was duly done and the beseiging Turks decided to take ship again and went off to invade nearby Gozo instead. How the residents of Gozo feel about the Saint I have no idea. For many years this event was comemorated with a procession around the bastions on the 5th of February every year.
The great earthquake of 1693 more or less laid the old building waste although it was quickly rebuilt in 1694 to the deign of Lorenzo Gafa, who was also responsible for the nearby Mdina Cathedral (see seperate tip). Opened in the presence of the then Grand Master of the Knights of St. John of Malta Adrien de Wignacourt on 26th June 1695, this is the building you presently see.
Despite the popularity of St. Agatha, the church eventually fell into disrepair and it was necessary to launch a public appeal for funds for refurbishment. The building looked OK to me, although there may still be work to do that is not obvious. I do hope they succeed and save what is a very important building. I know the European Union is throwing a vast amount of money at Malta presently and perhas there will be some for this building.
As I mentioned, I was not able to enter the building although I did get a look in through a mtetal gate and took the image you can see of the wonderful inside of the place, which actually looks quite small. It is worth having a look at and perhaps you will be luckier then me and get inside.
I know it mightt seem like a very obvious thing to say but the very best way to see the glory that is Mdina (Imdina) is to walk it. If you are afraid of getting lost, you can get a free map from the excellent Tourist Information centre (see seperate tip on this page) but it really is not necessary. the walled city is not that large and is easy to navigate. In fact, you cannot roam too far as you are enclosed by the walls. Get yourself off the main streets and go and have a wander rould some of the fascinating little back alleys, it really is very rewarding and there is something interesting to see round every corner you turn.
I have enclosed a few images here of the types of things you may see. Of coursae, I have left the best until last, it is absolutely free!
This "experience" as they like to style them, was the third one I had visited in a short period of time in an afternoon, having been encouraged to purchase a discounted ticket for all three. The first was the Mdina Experience, the second the "Knights of Malta" and this, the third, the so-called "medieaval Times experience".
Perhaps I was a little jaded with all the "experiences" I had had that afternoon but this really was somewhat of a disppointment. It is effectively a bit of a walk-through selection of tableaux put together in an upstairs room of the "Palazzo Costanzo", one of the many auberges belonging to the various branches of the Knights of St. John of Malta. On entering the building, which I did on an off-season midweek afternoon, I was directed by a sign to the right and into the souvenir shop where I found myself totally alone. Had I been criminally minded, which I am most definitely not, I could have made off with a good proportion of the stock as there was nobody there. There were a few people in the cafe across the corridor.
Eventually, a man turned up and looked slightly surprised when I presented my ticket. He pointed me towards some stairs and off I went. I'll not bore the reader but I walked through a designated route comprising several decently rendered tableaux but it really was nothing special. There was little factual information given and no audio guide. Ralistically, I could have done the whole thing comfortably in fifteen minutes. Frankly, it was a disappointment and really not worth bothering about. If you want to do one "experience" in Mdina, stick to the "Mdina Experience" and then spend the rest of your time actually walking round the streets of this wonderful place soaking up the real history for yourself.
Readers of my other pages will know I do not like writing negative tips but I can find little good to say about this. Give it a miss.
I visited this place in company with a middle aged British couple I had met in the "Mdina Experience" nearby, where we had bought composite tickets for several attractions operated by the same company. The visitor should note that this is a commercial operation and not run by either Heritage Malta or Witt Artna, the two Government / charitable bodies that run many attractions in the country. Having been ushered out of the back door of the first location, we were given fairly comprehensive directions to this place which is fairly nearby and the walk is pleasant enough along some atmospheric little streets. I should add here that much of Mdina, but it's very nature, is perhaps not suitable for mobility impaired visitors as it is very uneven underfoot.
We were greeted by a slightly brusque lady and asked what language we spoke, English for us all. We were given headsets and ushered into a small cinema type place where the presentation had already begun. There were two ladies there, evidently Italian, and the soundtrack was quite understandably in that language. Here was the first problem. The PA system was so loud that it was very difficult to hear the English commentary through the headphones and the sound quality was not great. Aditionally, much of the historical content we had already seen in the previous "Mdina Experience".
After the presentation, the screen raised to show us a brief tableau of some medieaval figures and then the lady came and ushered us through a door into a small corridor. We were told to follow the corridor round, which we did. Movement sensitive sensors lit up the various tableaux and triggering an appropriate commentary on the headsets. The tableaux were well done but again my complaint would be that we had already had most of the information earlier. I know you cannot seperate the history of the Knights of St. John from the history of the island, they are far too closely linked, but it was a little repetitious. If you had done this as the first "experience" in Mdina, no doubt it would have been a lot more interesting.
A small note here. I have included the website for this place which, at time of writing (08/0/2013) does not appear to be working properly but I include it in the hope it will be fixed soon.
If given the choice again, I would pick the Mdina Experience over this. No mannequins but the quality of the presentation is so much better. I really would not recommend this place and a look at various respected websites suggests I am not alone in this view. Regular readers of my pages will know that I do not writing negative tips but I can find little positive to say about this place and I really cannot recommend it to the visitor.
There are certainly many wonderful things to experience on Malta in the proper sense of the word and then there are a number of "experiences" you may like to try. If this sounds a little cryptic, allow me to explain. For it's relatively small sixe, the island seems to have a disproporionate amount of "experiences", normally audio visual presentations perhaps with a few tableaux and / or special affects and it is easy to become "experienced out" in the same way as visitors to Southeast Asia speak of being "templed out" after visiting so many. Often these "experiences are in direct competition with each other and whilst none of the several I visited were bad, they do vary in quality so it pays to shop around. If you do several, you will be getting the same information over and over again so it pays to do a bit of research first.
The first such place I visited on the island was in Mdina (Imdina) \nd is called the Mdina Experience, situated in a very pleasant old building in Mequitta Square as you can see in the image. I wandered in on a not particularly sunny off-season midweek afternoon and was pleasantly greeted by a lady waeing a vaguely period peasants costume. As seems to be the norm in Malta I was offered a choice of various combination tickets for other "attractions" operated by the same company which I took as it offered a decent discount. I shall deal with the other attractions in other tips. Please note that this is not run by Heritage Malta or Witt Artna, it is a purely commercial operation. The next show was not due for some minutes so I was invited to either purchase something from the well-stocked if expensive shop to having a bite to eat or a drink in the associated cafe. I declined having just enjoyed a coffee shortly before.
There were only myself and another middle aged British couple and we were led into a cineam typr room upstairs which would probably have held a couple of hundred, which felt a bit odd. We were then treated to a forty or so minute, mostly re-enacted, film accompanied by a narrative voiced by an American actor. It was interesting enough and the quality of the film and sound was very good. When it was over, the lady came and ushered us out a back door which was a shortcut to the next "experience" (The Knights of Malta) we were going to visit a little way away. The third attraction on the combined ticket is the "Medieaval Times Experience" in yet another location.
It was OK and the film very well-produced but whether I would recommend it I am not so sure. Reading a decent guidebook or looking here on VT or other internet sites will give you all the same information and you can spend your time actually walking the streets and soaking up the history instead of watching it on a screen. I suppose it just depends on your personal preference.
The name given to the former moat now a wide ditch that surrounds the city's fortress walls,cleared of its natural citrus trees and now replaced by new Laurel trees,very peaceful and illuminating place to take gentle strolls after walking the city streets.There was much debate several years ago when the Government decided to up root thousands of trees that had grown hear naturally but enough money and time has been spent in making the area somewhat more attractive to both locals and visitors.
Mdina is completely surrounded by bastions 185 metres above sea level,fortified as long ago as 1000 BC when the Phoenicians built a protective wall here and called their settlement Malet meaning 'place of shelter'.It was given its present name after the Arabs arrived in the 9th century-Medina is Arabic for 'walled city'.they built strong walls and dug deep moat between Mdina and its surrounding suburbs.
This is the main entrance to the city of Mdina and is located not far from the bus terminus in Rabat.It was designed by 'de Mondion' ,a prodigious builder for the Order of St.John.This gate was built a few metres to the left of the original gate in 1724.The location of the original gate is clearly visible in the now solid wall.The building of the new gate was to enlarge the Palace,Palazzo Giuratale,damaged in the great earthquake of 1693.The new palace built for 'Grand Master Vilhena' was renamed 'Palazzo Vilhena'.The coat of arms above the gate are of Lions,the lions are repeated as statues at the front of the bridge that leads you to the gate.
Although the Greek Gate in Mdina is well preserved,it was built in the 17th century.Some are of the opinion that a Greek community once lived here.The site is actually called 'St.Nicholas square',St.Nicholas being the patron saint of Greece,there also used to be a chapel in the area which was also dedicated to St.Nicholas.
This museum traces its origins to a fabulous donation made by 'Marquis Saverio Marchesi' ,who decreed,in his last will,that once his family became exstinct,all the artistic works the family possessed were to be given to the cathedral chapter.This came to be in 1896.The idea of turning some halls adjacent to the Cathedral into a museum matured during the 1960's.It was officially opened and named the Mdina Cathedral Museum in 1969.
Three large halls now feature the earliest painted panels from the Spanish Romanesque period to the 17th century as well as a small collection of 19th and 20th century paintings from both local and foreign artists.There are also a few smaller rooms displaying ornaments and artifacts donated from artists from all over Malta.
Opening times:Mon till Fri:09.00-16.30,Sat:09.00-15.30,closed Sunday,Admission is €5,Children under 12 free,students €3.50.
This is a Roman Catholic Cathedral situated in the heart of Mdina,it is built on the site where governor 'Publius' was reported to have met Saint Paul following his shipwreck off the Maltese coast.According to tradition,the firtst Cathedral of Malta was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin,Mother of God,but having fallen into ruin during the Muslin period,it was re-built following the Norman conquest and re-dedicated to Saint Paul.The old church was modified and enlarged several times.
The building you see today was designed by 'Lorenzo Gafa',it was built between 1687 and 1702 to replace a ruined Norman cathedral destroyed by the 1693 earthquake on Malta.Designed in Baroque style it sits at the end of a rectangular square with two bell towers at both corners and a light octagonal dome with eight stone scrolls leading up to a neat lantern.
Open daily:10.00-17.00,admission is free,no flash on photos.
I am sure there will be an audible sigh of relief from regualr readers of my pages when I tell you that this is going to be one of the shortest tips I have ever written.
This tip concerns the excellent Tourist information Centre in Mdina (Imdina). I wandered into the beautiful buidling you see in the image on my first visit to the city to be greeted by a charming young Maltese lady. I had only been in Malta a couple of days and was still finding my way around a bit. She answered my many (probably stupid) questions with a smile, suggested which of the many free brochures might suit me and sent me on my way feeling that I had encountered the Maltese hospitality of which I had heard so much.
That's it really, I suggest that if you visit Mdina, and you really should, that you drop in here.
Here are the logistics, with details taken from the very good attached website.
Opening hours are -
Monday to Saturday: 09:00 to 17:30 (Last admission 17:15)
Sunday and Public Holidays: October to March 1000hrs to 1400hrs (Last Admission 13:45); April to September 09:00 to 13:00 (Last Admission 12:45)
I have mentioned on other tips on this page the value of getting a combined ticket for the Domus Romana, St. Paul's catacombs and the National Museum of National History and this tip relates to the last named of the three, Full details of the combined ticket are at the bottom of this tip. I thoroughly enjoyed the Domus and the catacombs but was, frankly, a bit disappointed by this Museum which seems to be a bit of a makeweight.
Let's start with the building which houses the Museum as it really is the star of the show. It is the former Palace and law courts completely redesigned by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena of the Order of the Knights of St. John of Malta in 1726 and is a hugely impressive structure. Take a while to have a look at it bafore you enter. After a long and fascinating history including serious damage suffered during the Axis bombardment of the island during World War Two, it was eventually opened as a Museum in 1973.
The Museum itself is on three floors and I did not see a lift so it may not be suitable for mobility impaired visitors. There are sections devoted to various branches of science with some reasonably interesting exhibits but it did not really grab me at all. There are geological specimens, fossils, animal skeletons, stuffed animals, a few dioramas amongst the items on display. As the title suggests, if Natural History is your thing, you may well love it.
Should you want to visit, here are the logistics, taken from the official website.
Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January, Good Friday
Adults (18 - 59 years): €5.00
Youth (12 - 17 years), Senior Citizens (60 years and over), ISIC Card Holders, EURO26 Card Holders, ICOM Card Holders, University of Malta and MCAST Students: €3.50
Children (6 -11 years): €2.50
Infants (1 -5 years): Free
Multi Site Tickets
Rabat - Mdina Multi Site Ticket
(Domus Romana, St Paul's Catacombs & National Museum of Natural History)
Adults (18 - 59 years): €12.00
Students (12 - 17 years), Senior Citizens (60 years and over), ISIC Card Holders, EURO26 Card Holders, ISE Card Holders, ICOM Card Holders €9.00
Children (6 -11 years): €6.00
Infants (1 -5 years): Free