Mdina Introduction Walking Tour, Mdina

Mdina Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Mdina

A picturesque walled city in the heart of Malta, Mdina is a true gem of the Mediterranean located atop a hill that overlooks most of the country.

Mdina's history spans almost 3,000 years, making it one of Europe's oldest continuously inhabited cities. Originally settled by the Phoenicians in around the 8th century BC, it has been inhabited by various civilizations, including the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Knights Hospitaller.

The name "Mdina" derives from the Arabic word medina, which means "the Enlightened City." Also known in Italian as "the Old City" (Città Vecchia) and "the Notable City" (Città Notabile), this fortified city once served as the capital of Malta, throughout the Middle Ages, until the arrival of the Order of St John in 1530, when the capital moved to Valletta.

Over the next two centuries, Mdina experienced a period of decline but then saw a revival in the early 18th century. The city remained the center of the Maltese nobility and religious authorities, although it never regained its pre-1530 importance.

In 1798, Mdina was captured by French forces during the French invasion of Malta. Two years later, the French surrendered and the city became a part of the British protectorate.

Today, Mdina is one of Malta's major tourist attractions, hosting about 750,000 visitors a year. No cars (other than a limited number of residents, emergency vehicles, wedding cars, and horses) are allowed in the city, partly why it has earned the nickname 'the Silent City' (Maltese: Il-Belt Siekta).

Mdina displays an unusual mix of Norman and Baroque architecture, including several palaces, such as Saint Sofia Palace, most of which serve as private homes. Other historical properties of note include the Gourgion House, the Falson Palace, and more.

The magnificent Baroque Cathedral of Saint Paul stands as one of Mdina's most iconic landmarks, much like the Carmelite Church and Priory, known for its serene atmosphere.

If you wish to delve into the darker side of Mdina's history, the Dungeons Museum is the place. Also, Mdina Gate, the grand entrance to the city, is a popular spot for photos to commemorate your visit.

With its narrow quiet streets, ancient buildings, and breathtaking views over the entire island of Malta, Mdina makes a perfect getaway from the bustling city of Valletta. If you wish to be transported back in time and savor the enchantment of one of the best well-preserved medieval cities in Europe, take this self-guided tour.
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Mdina Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Mdina Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Malta » Mdina (See other walking tours in Mdina)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St Paul's Cathedral
  • Gourgion House
  • Saint Sofia Palace
  • Carmelite Church and Priory
  • Falson Palace
  • Bastion Square
  • Knights of Malta
  • Greeks Gate
  • Fortifications of Mdina
  • Mesquita Square
  • Saint Agatha's Chapel
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • Mdina Dungeons Museum
  • Mdina Gate
  • Howard Gardens
St Paul's Cathedral

1) St Paul's Cathedral (must see)

St. Paul's Cathedral is a remarkable Roman Catholic cathedral. It is dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle.

Originally founded in the 12th century, the cathedral's history is intertwined with a legend. According to tradition, the cathedral stands on the very spot where the Roman governor Publius met St. Paul after the Apostle's shipwreck on the island of Malta. This historical connection has made the cathedral a place of pilgrimage and reverence for Christians around the world.

However, the original cathedral suffered severe damage in the devastating 1693 Sicily earthquake. As a result, it had to be dismantled and subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque style. The reconstruction project was carried out between 1696 and 1705, under the skillful design of the renowned Maltese architect, Lorenzo Gafà. His work on St. Paul's Cathedral is considered his masterpiece and showcases the elegance and grandeur typical of Baroque architecture.

St. Paul's Cathedral serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta. Nevertheless, since the 19th century, its responsibilities have been shared with St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, which is also of great significance to the island's religious heritage.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the Cathedral Museum, which was established in 1897. The museum's collection is a treasure trove of secular and ecclesiastical artifacts. Spanning from the 14th to the early 20th century, the exhibits encompass an array of religious and secular artworks.

Among them are medieval panels, which were formerly located within the cathedral, providing insight into the island's historical religious art. The museum also houses a money gallery featuring numerous ancient coins (although closed for refurbishment in early 2020), religious vestments, historical furniture, and a remarkable permanent exhibition of 76 original woodcuts by the renowned German artist Albrecht Dürer.
Gourgion House

2) Gourgion House

Gourgion House is a captivating architectural gem located in the heart of the main square. Unlike the surrounding buildings, which typically boast Baroque designs, Gourgion House stands out with its unique neo-Gothic architecture, making it a rarity in the country.

Designed by the talented and eclectic Maltese architect, Andrea Vassallo, the house reflects the distinct Gothic Revival architectural roots. When it was first revealed in the early 20th century, the building faced some criticism for its unconventional style, as it deviated from the prevailing Baroque aesthetics seen throughout Malta.

One cannot help but marvel at the ornate facade, adorned with intricate details that pay homage to the Gothic era. The rooftop, an exceptional feature of the building, boasts elaborate embellishments that add to the overall allure of Gourgion House. The notable arches, another hallmark of Gothic architecture, lend an air of grandeur to the structure, making it a captivating sight to all who pass by.

Andrea Vassallo's architectural brilliance extends beyond neo-Gothic creations. Throughout his career, he explored various styles, leaving an indelible mark on Malta's architectural landscape. From neo-Classical to Rococo Revival, Art Nouveau to neo-Romanesque, Vassallo's versatility is evident in his works. One of his most acclaimed masterpieces is the basilica of Ta’ Pinu on Gozo, the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago. This basilica, too, faced criticism for its unique appearance, standing out amidst its more traditional counterparts.

Gourgion House, along with the basilica of Ta’ Pinu, represents Andrea Vassallo's unwavering dedication to pushing the boundaries of architectural design and adding diversity to Malta's architectural heritage.
Saint Sofia Palace

3) Saint Sofia Palace

Saint Sofia Palace is a historic and architecturally significant palace. The palace's ground floor was constructed in 1233, a date that is proudly inscribed on one of the window moldings. The upper floor, in contrast, is a more recent addition and was built in the 20th century, sometime after 1938. Throughout its existence, the palace has played various roles, being periodically rented and used as a school by Roman Catholic nuns.

In recent times, Saint Sofia Palace has been privately owned and is managed by the Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, a local heritage foundation. Although it is not open to the general public, the palace can be hired for special events such as dinner or cocktail parties, lectures, and other gatherings. The palace has been designated as a Grade 1 national monument and is listed in the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.

The original design of Palazzo Santa Sofia featured a single-story structure built around a central courtyard. The main entrance to the palace was through an arched passageway called a siqifah, which led to the courtyard. Over time, this passageway was transformed into the narrow street known as Saint Sofia Street. The ground floor's facade is relatively simple, adorned with two doors flanking the passageway. A two-tiered palline losanghe cornice serves as a distinctive feature, separating the ground floor from the first floor.

The upper floor, added in more recent times, boasts four ornate mullioned windows, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication to the palace's exterior. At the roof level, a one-tiered palline losanghe cornice further enhances its visual appeal. Both floors of the facade proudly display several coats of arms, adding a sense of heraldic charm and historical significance to the building.
Carmelite Church and Priory

4) Carmelite Church and Priory (must see)

The Carmelite Church and Priory, nestled in the heart of Mdina, offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the spiritual way of life embraced by the friars who reside within its walls. Stepping into this captivating 17th-century building allows visitors to explore not only the impressive church but also the rooms of the priory and a museum that holds treasures from the past.

The Church, erected between 1660 and 1675, holds significant importance in the realm of Baroque architecture, making it a must-see for history and art enthusiasts alike. Notably, it stands out as the first church to be constructed in Malta with an elliptical plan, adding to its architectural distinction. As visitors enter the church, their attention is immediately drawn to the focal point of the main altar, where a spectacular painting of The Annunciation by Stefano Erardi (1677) commands reverence. The artistic splendor doesn't end there, as other notable works by the renowned local artist Giuseppe Cali adorn the church, further enriching the visual experience for all who visit.

Venturing into the Priory, guests are met with even more impressive artistic treasures. The Refectory, where the friars gather for communal meals, serves as a true testament to the grandeur of Baroque art. Here, paintings, sculptures, and architecture seamlessly intertwine, creating an atmosphere of awe and wonder. The attention to detail and the blend of artistic elements in the Refectory make it a place of deep contemplation and reflection.

Wandering through the Priory's cloisters, visitors will find themselves bathed in natural light, courtesy of a courtyard that connects the Priory to the Church. These serene cloisters serve as a tranquil space for the friars to meditate and find solace amidst their spiritual practices.
Falson Palace

5) Falson Palace

Falson Palace is a remarkable medieval townhouse. Originally constructed around 1495, it stands as the second oldest building in Mdina, after the ground floor of Saint Sofia Palace. The palace was purposefully built as a residence for the Maltese nobility and was named after the Falson family, who have historical ties to the property.

Over the centuries, the palace underwent several alterations and expansions. During the rule of the Order of St. John, it might have hosted important figures, such as Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, the first Grand Master in Malta. The architect responsible for the distinctive upper floor windows remains unknown, although it is speculated that Jacobo Dimeg might have been involved in their creation.

Since 2007, the palace has been open to the public as the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum, managed by the Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, a Maltese heritage foundation. The museum provides a unique glimpse into the past, recreating the atmosphere of a historic home. With seventeen rooms to explore, visitors can step back in time and witness the domestic belongings and antique collections that once adorned the residence.

Each room serves a specific purpose, capturing different aspects of daily life. Among them are the Kitchen, Armoury, and Carpet Gallery. Additionally, visitors have the opportunity to explore Capt. Gollcher's Library, Studio, and Study, offering insights into his personal interests and passions.

One of the most prized possessions in the museum is the rare 10-hour French Revolution-era timepiece. This extraordinary watch is one of only three known to exist, crafted by the renowned maker Robert Robin (1742-1799). Robin, who had been the favored watchmaker of King Louis XVI, created this watch during the time of the Revolution's Decimal time. The timepiece holds immense historical significance and is a testament to both craftsmanship and historical events.
Bastion Square

6) Bastion Square

Amidst the enchanting alleys of Mdina lies Bastion Square, a treasure trove of history where various civilizations have left their mark. The square's unique atmosphere, bustling with tourists and locals, invites you to savor the present moment. From charming cafes, you can admire the surrounding city of Rabat and the majestic Mosta dome in the distance. Bastion Square serves as a bridge between Mdina's rich past and modern life, leaving visitors captivated by its timeless allure.
Knights of Malta

7) Knights of Malta

The Knights of Malta is a stunning visual and sensory spectacle, housed in the historical gunpowder vaults of the city's battlements. These vaults, dating back to the era of the Knights of St John, provide a perfect backdrop to this majestic recreation of the past.

This immersive experience showcases a series of meticulously detailed tableaux that bring to life the time of the Knights of St John in all its grandeur and pageantry. The exhibit has been five years in the making, encompassing three levels and displaying an array of 120 life-sized figures that embody the spirit of the knights. Each character is clothed in period attire, lending authenticity and a tangible sense of time to the scene.

The tableaux are housed within some of the most historic chambers of Mdina, each one an architectural marvel in its own right. The chambers are adorned with a lavish array of period décor that provides a glimpse into the past, allowing visitors to traverse time and place as they walk through the exhibit.

But the Knights of Malta is more than just a visual experience. It is a sensory journey that utilises dramatic lighting and evocative sound effects to create a vivid, palpable atmosphere. Visitors will feel as though they have been transported back to the time of the knights, experiencing their world as if they were there.

Moreover, the Knights of Malta is designed to appeal to a global audience, offering a simultaneous digital commentary in five languages. This ensures that visitors from all over the world can fully engage with and appreciate the history being shared.
Greeks Gate

8) Greeks Gate

The Greeks Gate is a fascinating historical landmark that holds within its walls the stories of a bygone era. Originally built during the medieval period, this iconic gate has witnessed centuries of change and transformation, yet its captivating history remains preserved for modern generations to explore.

The Greeks Gate, constructed in the medieval era, was once flanked by a formidable D-shaped wall tower, serving as a defensive stronghold for the city. It stood as one of the primary entrances into the fortified city of Mdina, a place of strategic importance and a testament to the architectural prowess of its time. Over the years, the gate has seen various modifications, the most significant being in 1724 when the skilled military engineer and architect Charles François de Mondion added a Baroque-style portal, giving it the appearance it proudly wears today.

Despite the subsequent alterations, the rear part of the Greeks Gate still retains its original form, showcasing a rare and captivating glimpse into the medieval walls of Mdina, a reminder of the city's storied past.

One peculiar aspect that sets the Greeks Gate apart is its association with the passage of slaves into the city. Historically, this was the sole entrance through which slaves were permitted to enter Mdina.

Recognizing the gate's immense cultural value and historic importance, it was included in the Antiquities List of 1925. Today, the Greeks Gate is listed as a Grade 1 national monument and holds a prominent position in the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.
Fortifications of Mdina

9) Fortifications of Mdina

The fortifications of Mdina bear witness to the city's long history and strategic importance. Founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC as Maleth and later known as Melite during the Roman era, Mdina was enclosed by protective walls from its early days. Over time, various powers ruled the city, leading to multiple reconstructions of its defenses.

The Byzantine Empire's control in the 8th century AD saw significant fortification enhancements, recognizing Mdina's strategic value. The Arabs, arriving in the 11th century, further fortified the city. Later, the Kingdom of Sicily made substantial contributions during the medieval period until the 15th century.

The most substantial and well-preserved fortifications we see today were constructed by the Order of Saint John between the 16th and 18th centuries. The Knights Hospitaller invested heavily in enhancing Mdina's defenses, resulting in massive defensive walls with bastions, gates, and watchtowers.

Mdina endured numerous sieges and battles throughout its history, with victories and defeats. Despite challenges, its fortifications demonstrated effectiveness and resilience. Today, the city's walls remain largely intact, making them some of Malta's best-preserved fortifications.

Mdina's rich history and well-maintained fortifications earned it recognition on Malta's tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998. This acknowledgment emphasizes the city's unique heritage and the importance of preserving its impressive defensive walls for future generations to appreciate and learn from.
Mesquita Square

10) Mesquita Square

Mesquita Square holds a distinct charm that sets it apart as a truly special place. Serving as a central hub, this square acts as a connecting point between different parts of the city, making it an essential thoroughfare for both locals and tourists alike. Visitors from all corners of the globe find themselves traversing through this historical landmark as they explore the wonders of the city.

One of the square's most remarkable features is the small, ancient well that stands as a testament to its rich history. This historic well, shrouded in tales of the past, serves as a symbol of the city's enduring heritage and traditions. It acts as a source of fascination for both history enthusiasts and casual wanderers who happen upon its unique presence.

Surrounding the well are an array of striking stone buildings, each steeped in history and dating back to the captivating era of the Middle Ages. The architectural beauty of these edifices mesmerizes visitors, transporting them back in time as they imagine the lives and stories of those who once inhabited these grand structures.

Adding to its allure, Mesquita Square boasts an intriguing connection to the world of entertainment. Fans of the renowned series "Game of Thrones" may recognize the square as the backdrop for some of the show's captivating scenes.

For lovers of history and ancient architecture, Mesquita Square is nothing short of a treasure trove. Stepping foot in this enchanting location evokes a sense of awe and wonder, as it offers a glimpse into the past, bridging the gap between ancient times and the modern world. Every corner of the square echoes with the whispers of history, leaving visitors captivated by the richness of its heritage.
Saint Agatha's Chapel

11) Saint Agatha's Chapel

Saint Agatha's Chapel is a cherished Roman Catholic church that holds a rich history and a testament to the enduring faith of its people. The present structure was rebuilt after the devastation caused by the 1693 Sicily earthquake, which also brought down much of the medieval cathedral.

The origins of the chapel date back even further, tracing its roots to 1417 when it was originally erected by Francesco Gatto, a nobleman, and his wife Paola de' Castelli.

In 1575, the chapel welcomed the esteemed inquisitor Pietro Dusina during his apostolic visit to Malta, an event that undoubtedly left a lasting mark on the local religious community. The chapel remained in the possession of the Gatto Murina family until 1661 when it was generously gifted to the broader church in Malta.

After the earthquake, the indomitable Maltese spirit led to the construction of a new chapel designed by renowned architect Lorenzo Gafà, leaving a lasting artistic imprint.

It was on the auspicious day of 26th June 1696 when the chapel was blessed by Archdeacon Antonio Cauchi, in the esteemed presence of Bishop Davide Cocco Palmieri and the Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt.

At the heart of the chapel's sanctity lies the titular painting, an exquisite depiction of St. Agatha, the beloved patroness of Malta, accompanied by St. Adrian. The masterpiece was crafted by the skilled hands of Giuseppe D'Arena, adding to the chapel's cultural and artistic significance.
National Museum of Natural History

12) National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is a remarkable repository of biodiversity and historical artifacts. Housed within an elegant 18th-century palace, it boasts an extensive collection of nearly 1 million specimens, forming the National Biological Collections.

Visitors are immediately captivated by its extraordinary exhibits, which include a rare 1980s discovery of a Flying Squid washed ashore, a 4000-year-old mummified Nile crocodile from ancient Egypt, and the skull of a False Killer Whale and fossilized head of a Crocodilian species found in Gozo's rocks, shedding light on the region's diverse marine life.

The museum's true show-stopper is the tooth of the extinct Giant White Shark, Charcarocles megalodon, a reminder of the awe-inspiring creatures that once ruled the seas. The new Habitats hall showcases Malta's diverse ecosystems and their rich avian and faunal inhabitants.

Steeped in history, the palace served various purposes over the years before becoming the official National Museum of Natural History on 22nd June 1973. The museum's mission centers on the acquisition, display, and conservation of natural history specimens, with a focus on local flora and fauna.

The diverse display areas cover topics ranging from local biodiversity, geology, and paleontology to human evolution, marine fauna, insects, and shells. Each hall pays tribute to local natural historians who contributed significantly to the understanding of Malta's natural heritage.

Notably, the museum honors the late Joe Sultana, dedicating a room to the ecological importance of islands like Filfla and Fungus Rock. The L. Mizzi Hall showcases a fraction of Lewis Mizzi's mineral collection, offering insight into geology and mineralogy.
Mdina Dungeons Museum

13) Mdina Dungeons Museum (must see)

Nestled just a stone's throw away from the main gate of Mdina, the ancient walled city of Malta, lies a unique and intriguing tourist attraction known as the Mdina Dungeons. Located beneath the historic Vilhena Palace, this museum offers visitors a glimpse into the forgotten and often grim aspects of medieval Malta's past.

As visitors venture into the dimly lit passageways, they are transported back in time to an era when the dungeons served as a place of confinement and punishment. The labyrinthine underground passages and chambers exude an authentic atmosphere, immersing guests in the eerie ambiance of a bygone era. Sound effects heighten the experience, allowing visitors to feel the chilling presence of the past.

The museum meticulously recreates scenes from the past, shedding light on the harsh realities of prison life during the medieval period in Malta. Here, guests can witness and understand the brutality that prisoners endured in these cells. The Mdina Dungeons don't shy away from displaying the grim instruments of torture that were all too commonly employed during those times.

Stepping into the recreated cells, visitors can almost feel the weight of history bearing down on them. Scenes of despair, suffering, and survival come to life, leaving a lasting impression of the struggles faced by those held captive in these dungeons centuries ago.

The significance of the Mdina Dungeons lies not only in its haunting presentation but also in its educational value. While showcasing the darker side of Malta's history, the museum offers contextual explanations of the medieval era and the role prisons played during that time. It provides insights into the justice system of the past and how prisoners were treated in comparison to modern times.
Mdina Gate

14) Mdina Gate (must see)

The Mdina Gate stands as a grand entrance to the ancient fortified city of Mdina, connecting it to the newer suburb of Rabat. Designed by de Mondion, a renowned builder for the Order of St. John, the Mdina Gate was constructed a few meters to the left of the original gate in 1724. The remains of the original gate are still visible, integrated into the now solid walls that surround the entrance. The construction of the new gate was primarily aimed at enlarging the nearby palace, Palazzo Giuratale, which had suffered significant damage during the devastating earthquake of 1693. Upon completion, the new palace was renamed Palazzo Vilhena in honor of Grand Master Vilhena.

Above the gate, one can behold the imposing coat of arms. The lions featured in the coat of arms are not only displayed as statues on the bridge in front of the gate but are also replicated in the sculptures situated at the outer end of the bridge. These lions serve as powerful symbols of strength and nobility, encapsulating the spirit of the historic city they guard.

On the inner side of the Mdina Gate, visitors are greeted by three statues of patron saints, each carrying palm branches as a symbol of their martyrdom. These statues pay homage to three revered figures: St. Publius, St. Paul and St. Agatha.
Howard Gardens

15) Howard Gardens

Howard Gardens name pays tribute to the first Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Howard OBE (1862-1925), and the gardens were formally inaugurated in 1942.

Situated between the well-known towns of Rabat and Mdina, Howard Gardens plays a crucial role as a natural border between these two cities. Its strategic location adds to the allure of the place, as it is in close proximity to the Roman Villa, a fascinating historical site.

Once you step into Howard Gardens, you are welcomed by a delightful sight of an orchard adorned with orange trees, lending the air a sweet and refreshing fragrance. Alongside, you'll find a football ground and a tennis court, indicating that the gardens offer recreational facilities for sports enthusiasts.

The lush landscape of Howard Gardens is adorned with a variety of trees and shrubs, creating a picturesque setting that invites visitors to stroll along its pathways. These pathways lead to various corners of the garden, revealing enchanting views and hidden spots to explore.

For those who wish to take a moment of respite after a day of sightseeing in the neighboring towns of Mdina and Rabat, Howard Gardens provides a serene and peaceful environment. The benches scattered throughout the garden offer a comfortable place to sit and relax, surrounded by nature's beauty.

The garden's popularity as a sightseeing destination can be attributed to its captivating vistas of the imposing Mdina bastions. Visitors can enjoy the unique juxtaposition of natural splendor and historical architecture, making it a must-visit spot for both locals and tourists alike.

Walking Tours in Mdina, Malta

Create Your Own Walk in Mdina

Create Your Own Walk in Mdina

Creating your own self-guided walk in Mdina is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Rabat Walking Tour

Rabat Walking Tour

In ancient times, the city of Melite, the precursor of today's Mdina, was much larger than its counterpart. During the Arab occupation of Malta, the city was divided into two smaller towns: Mdina and Rabat.

Rabat's full name, Ribat al-Fath, translates literally to the “Victory Village”. Once considered to be the suburb of Mdina, this quiet neighborhood is located practically on...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.6 Km or 0.4 Miles