Mdina, the old capital of Malta and the oldest city is located in the middle of the island in the highest region. It is definitely a throwback in time, which is why it’s a very popular place for filming. People are very proud of the movies and will tell you immediately what’s been filmed here, listing off Gladiator with Russell Crowe and The Count of Monte Cristo and more important, the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, was filmed in Mdina. (BTW I can’t wait for Season 3 … if you’ve never seen this show, go out and download it now!)
A couple facts about your 2 hours in Mdina:
This city was fortified as long ago as 1000BC with the name of Malet – hence the city is at least 3,000 years old.
Then the Romans built a large town around it and called it Melita.
Then the Arabs arrived in the 9th Century, and of course they changed its name for Mdina which means “walled city”.
In the medieval times Mdina was known as the residence of the Maltese aristrocracy.
The Main Gate was built in 1724
Walking into town from the main tourist bus stop, you’ll have to enter over a moat into the city through the Main Gate
Once you’re inside the city, then head for your nearest tourist information stop and you can get a free street map of Mdina. It is immensely useful and will guide you to main part of the old town. Once you walk through the gates, you can head directly to St. Paul’s Square
The highlight of your little city walkabout will be St. Paul’s Cathedral … here is a bit about the church (taken directly from Sacred Destinations.com)
What to See
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a fine structure, designed by architect Lorenzo Gafa. Its impressive façade wows visitors as they emerge from Mdina’s narrow streets. The cathedral’s magnificent dome, with red-and-white stripes, dominates the skyline. The dome’s interior has been decorated by a succession of painters; today’s decoration dates from the 1950s.
The lavish interior of the cathedral is similar in many ways to the Cathedral of St. John in Valetta. There are great works by the Calabrian artist and knight Mattia Preti and a marble-inlaid floor with tombstones carrying the coats of arms and inscriptions of the bishops of Mdina and other members of the cathedral chapter.
Surviving from the original Norman church is a monumental depiction of the conversion of St. Paul by Mattia Preti, between the apse and main altar. Also surviving from the old church are: the 15th-century Tuscan panel painting of the Madonna and Child; the baptismal font; the frescoes in the apse depicting St. Paul’s shipwreck; and the old portal, made of carved Irish bog wood, which now serves as a door to the vestry.
The cathedral’s museum has a collection of coins, silver plate, religious vestments and some woodcuts by the German artist Albert Dürer.
As Mdina was built upon a hill, the city offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, which is always useful when you want to defend your main base from attack. To get the panoramic view, head directly to Bastion Square … once you’re there, you can follow the crowds or the view.
I also really loved all the shadowing in the city … which offers exceptional photo opportunities. With the tiny alleyways, the walls seemed to shut out all noise from the outside, which makes it a bit eerie – I wouldn’t like walking alone in those alleys during the night. As people still live in the old buildings inside the walls, it made Mdina feel like Venice or Old Montreal.
Things to see while in Mdina
St Pauls Cathedral : This is easily the highlight of the city. It’s just a gorgeous cathedral.
Mdina Dungeons: This is kinda cheesy to me, and there will be a lineup to get in …
Palazzo Falson : Really nice house/museum, it has great audio tour included in the ticket price.
One great thing to know:
Malta’s yellow public buses are really cheap, as are most things here. In fact I think that Malta is quite possibly the cheapest place I have been to in the EU. You could actually live here on a backpacker’s budget with little trouble at all. If you’re here for two or three days, you can see everything the island has to offer and maybe even go over to Gozo, which is another Maltese island. Food is definitely much cheaper than everywhere else in the EU.