Mdina, Malta’s Ancient “Silent City”

by Christy on

While Malta’s gorgeous, crystal-clear water makes it best known today as a Mediterranean vacation hotspot, the island nation also has its share of incredible history.

The land was settled in 5200 BCE – almost seven thousand years ago – by the Phoenicians.

The country is strewn with the ruins of ancient Megalithic temples (built around 3000 BCE) and boasts a still-functional walled medieval village crowning the “mountain” at the center of the island.

This town, the “Silent City” of Mdina, used to be Malta’s capital and dates back to 700 BCE. It’s still home to approximately three hundred – likely very wealthy – individuals today.

Mdina (the Silent City) in Malta

Mdina looms impressively from below, but once you’re within the walls it’s actually quite small. You can visit the church or the museum or any one of the dozens of shops, but the real magic comes from exploring the narrow, twisting streets.

Most are wide enough for a horse-drawn carriage to slip through, but just barely! Decorated with brightly colored plants, iron light fixtures, and cheerfully painted doors, it’s not an exaggeration to say that these quiet historical passageways were the highlight of our trip to Mdina.

Walking silently through the street and trailing your fingers along the stucco wall, you can’t help but imagine what it would have been like to live here thousands of years ago…

The narrow streets of Mdina (the Silent City) in Malta

Mdina (the Silent City) in Malta Mdina (the Silent City) in Malta

And while I was primarily enamored with what’s on the inside, even I can admit that the view from the top isn’t exactly one to scoff at!

From Mdina you can see much of Malta – its farms, cities, and the sea – laid out before you.

View of Malta from Mdina (the Silent City)

View of Malta from Mdina (the Silent City)

General Tips for Visiting Mdina

  • Admission into Mdina itself is free.
  • Visit early in the day, before the large tour buses start arriving. The timeless charm of the Silent City is significantly diminished with hundreds of tourists clogging the narrow streets!
  • If you’d like to visit the beautiful old Catholic church, wear modest clothing. Mdina gets hot, but summer attire (shorts/tanks) are not permitted inside.
  • For a stunning view while dining, try Fontanella Tea Garden. The food was delicious (the best we had in Malta) and reasonably priced, there was a cool breeze blowing over the ramparts… and the view is quite likely the best in the whole country!

View of Malta from Mdina (the Silent City)

Getting to Mdina

  • Taking a bus is the cheapest option (approximately €2.50 roundtrip from Buggiba or Valetta) and takes 20-30 minutes.
  • Don’t trust bus numbers found online; Malta’s bus system underwent a complete renovation in August 2011, so much of the information you’ll find is outdated. I can tell you that we took line X3 from Buggiba to Mdina, but your best bet is to check in person before your trip.
  • The bus actually drops you off in the neighboring town of Rabat, but from the bus stop it’s only a five-minute walk into Mdina itself.
  • Many people opt to take a taxi, which will cost about 2€0 from Valetta or €25 from Buggiba.
  • You can also visit Mdina as part of a day tour, which can be booked at any one of the zillion excursion shops around Malta.

Mdina (the Silent City) in Malta

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Caanan @ No Vacation Requiredtwitter: NVRguys September 29, 2011 at

Looks beautiful. Love the way the doors contrast with the stone.

As a side note, I had not seen BCE before. I actually had to look it up. I appreciate a demarcation point that is a not directly tied to a single, christian figure. Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?!
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Christy September 29, 2011 at

Very much so — I learned BCE and CE a few years ago and have used them ever since for that very reason. :)

CE = “Common Era” (rather than AD… which means “Year of Our Lord”)
BCE = “Before the Common Era” (rather than “Before Christ”)
As Wikipedia explains, “usage of CE and BCE has been popularized in academic and scientific publications, and more generally by publishers emphasizing secularism or sensitivity to non-Christians.”

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Caanan @ No Vacation Required September 29, 2011 at

Smart people are cool. You’re cool.
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Christy September 30, 2011 at

I’m inclined to agree with you. ;)

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jill- Jack and Jill Travel The Worldtwitter: jacknjilltravel September 29, 2011 at

Very cool – learned a lot about a city I’ve never heard of before AND what all of these different baffling acronyms actually mean :)
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Kris Koellertwitter: kriskoeller September 29, 2011 at

Looks gorgeous. Planning a trip to the Med soon. Definitely would like to stop in and check it out.
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Christy September 30, 2011 at

Cool, where do you plan to visit on the trip? It’s a huge area. :)

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Jonathan Look, Jr.twitter: lifepartII September 29, 2011 at

Awesome article. Vonda and I have Malta on our radar for a place to live for a year maybe in 2 or 3 years. Currently we are enthralled with Mexico and Central America but we did promise ourselves we would keep moving. What is the cost of living like in Malta? I keep hearing favorable reports.

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Christy September 30, 2011 at

Hi Jonathan – that sounds really cool! Are you looking to get a work visa? We’re still just on the schengen visa and it’s so annoying having to be out of the E.U. every three months out of six. We were just talking about how we should spend Christmas in Switzerland this year (hot chocolate and snow!) but then realized we have to vacate Europe at the beginning of December. Oh well.

Anyway! Malta was sort of affordable… certainly cheaper than a lot of Europe (like the U.K. or Paris), but definitely nothing close to the affordability of Central America or SE Asia. :) Most stuff has to get shipped in, so that sort of raises the cost of stuff… but then we also found produce strangely cheap! And we did find a number of furnished apts on Airbnb that were quite affordable, though of course the mess we happened into isn’t a great measuring stick! I wish I could give you a more definitive opinion… but it’s sort of all over the place. =/

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jamie - cloud people adventurestwitter: thecloud_people September 29, 2011 at

great photos as always! love the stucco walls. very fairytale-esque.

id never heard of the BCE before either. definitely going to pick it up now though!
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Christy September 30, 2011 at

Seriously – it felt like we were in a storybook! Just waiting for a villain to pop out, lol.

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Annie - FootTracker September 29, 2011 at

XD Looks like the “silent city” is not so quiet with all the tourist.

I really love the color contrast of the buildings and the doors, makes it so beautiful. How hot was it there ? (Because I have no immune system when it comes to heat XD)
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Christy September 30, 2011 at

Ugh, the tourists seriously were annoying. We got most of our photos earlier in the day when it was still quiet, which was lucky for us because as soon as the tour buses showed up it was madness. I didn’t post it, but I have one photo where you can see one of the main (though still narrow) streets completely packed with people! I finally just stopped taking photos because I kept growling at people who not only would step in front of me, but would actually smack into my camera.

Okay, enough ranting. Obviously I have issues with crowds. :P

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Christy September 30, 2011 at

Oh, and I was so busy ranting I forgot to answer: Malta is super hot! September is cooler, but we were still sweating buckets at Mdina.

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Christopher September 30, 2011 at

Excellent look at one positive aspect of Malta.
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Christy September 30, 2011 at

Thanks, Christopher. Malta has a lot to offer. :)

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler September 30, 2011 at

The buildings are so gorgeous. Amazing photos! Now I really want to visit this place.
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Christy October 1, 2011 at

Thanks, Christy!

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jenjenktwitter: jenjenk September 30, 2011 at

oh how gorgeous!!
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Christy October 1, 2011 at

Agreed. :)

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John D. Wilson October 1, 2011 at

Nice article and pictures.
Malta does not lack in history, that is for sure!
Great pics of the town.
Cheers,
John D. Wilson
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Christy October 1, 2011 at

Thanks for the comment, John! I think I was more surprised by Malta’s history than anything else; the gorgeousness of the water was unexpected, but that’s nothing compared to seven thousand years of history.

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Stephanie - The Travel Chicatwitter: thetravelchica October 1, 2011 at

Love the photos inside the walls.
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Christy October 1, 2011 at

It was so bizarre how those narrow streets made up the vast majority of the city – there were some open squares and the church, but mostly tiny cobblestone walkways.

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Kris Koellertwitter: kriskoeller October 1, 2011 at

Another great collection of photos. Really wanting to visit Malta now (thanks a lot). ;)
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Christy October 1, 2011 at

Just doing what we can. ;)

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Michael Figueiredotwitter: struxtravel October 1, 2011 at

SO pretty! I’d love to visit Malta someday!
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Christy October 3, 2011 at

It’s a destination worth considering. :)

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Artitwitter: artisdiary October 2, 2011 at

So so beautiful,.. The colorful doors and windows look so cute!! The views are awesome too…
Have a fabulous Sunday:)
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Christy October 3, 2011 at

Colorful doors just make everything look more cheerful! If I ever buy a house I think I’m going to paint my front door teal. ;)

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Scott - Quirky Travel Guytwitter: quirkytravelguy October 2, 2011 at

Lands that are 7000 years old would really be overwhelming to see. That’s a great shot of the buildings on the hillside.
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Christy October 3, 2011 at

Thanks, Scott…. our trusty zoom lens came in handy. ;)

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gayE @ pinaytraveljunkie October 2, 2011 at

Oh, this place just made it to the top of my bucket list! Walking through the narrow, twisting alleys seems like an adventure in itself.
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Christy October 3, 2011 at

I was worried about getting lost in those streets, but we quickly realized that Mdina is so small that’s pretty much impossible. Although I’m sure some folks could manage to prove me wrong, lol.

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Turkey's For Life October 4, 2011 at

Wow, beautiful photos that brought back happy memories. Malta was our first summer holiday abroad together. I remember the wonderful architecture, the buses(!!) and visiting the catholic church at Mdina. It was also my first ‘getting angry at tourists’ experience. I’d brought conservative clothing to slip into and packed my camera away (as the guidebook had said) and then wandered in to find tourists in Bermuda shorts (they were in fashion at the time :) ), weaving in between ladies praying and taking photos of them! Strange the things you remember.
Julia

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Christy October 5, 2011 at

Oh wow… some people are so clueless! Taking photos of people praying has to be in the top ten list of “obnoxious things to do on a vacation”, and especially in a church, where they’ve likely gone for some privacy and quiet. We didn’t actually go into the church because I was indecently dressed (okay, in a tank) and hadn’t wanted to carry a shawl with me. And the old Malta buses are gone now! We were a month too late to see the old vintage buses, and now they’re new and steam-lined and apparently quite bad at sticking to a schedule. :P

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Andrew October 30, 2011 at

Narrow streets definitely seem to make it feel older, than our modern two-lane highways and city streets. it reminds very clearly and directly that cars didn’t exist then. Although the tourists are definitely annoying, especially in their bad attire and rude camera-knocking ways, but did the crowds give any sense of what it might be like if the town was “full” or was it only annoying and distracting? There is something nice about a town that feels bustling even if it is a tourist bustle and not a resident one.
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Christy November 1, 2011 at

That’s a really interesting point, Andrew – there is something about a small town that feels “bustling”. There certainly was a lot of energy with all the tourists, and in some areas it was kind of neat that Mdina didn’t feel deserted. The main square was just madness, though! But who knows – it also could have been madness several hundred years ago, lol.

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Travelling Manc February 4, 2012 at

Great article! I am going to Malta for the second time in April (the first time I went with my ex and we argued most of it!) and I cant wait, its so beautiful. However this time, i’m going alone!
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Christy February 5, 2012 at

Ooh, April will probably be a great time to visit Malta! It’s probably waaaay too hot in the height of summer, but by April it will be warm enough to swim and cool enough to avoid heat stroke. :P I can’t wait to see any photos you post! Do you know yet what area you’ll be staying in?

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Travelling Manc February 5, 2012 at

I went in April last time and the weather was glorious. I will definately be posting photos, I’ll let you know. When I travel I generally use a company call Interhome, they rent apartments, and like you i’m quite introverted so its perfect! I’m really not into the whole hotel/package holiday thing. I’m going to try and get a place near or in St Julian’s as its quite a vibrant part of Malta and most things are on your doorstep. The first time I stayed in Mellieha but there was nothing in the immediate vicinity and we had to get a bus to get necessities. Nice and quiet though!
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