25 November 2010
Mdina has been witness to some of the most exciting episodes of Malta’s colourful and rich history. From the earliest settlers who chose the position for strategic reasons to Citta Notabile - The Noble City.
This name came about in medieval times when it was the favoured residence of the Maltese aristocracy and the seat of the “Universita’” or Governing Council, to the Silent City it is known as today. It has seen numerous sieges, an earthquake, when much of the city was rebuilt, leading to the introduction of Baroque design within the cityscape. It became a retreat of the Maltese nobility after the Knights built Valletta and to this day has preserved its medieval aristocratic atmosphere.
Mdina was inhabited and possibly first fortified by the Phoenicians around 700 BCE. The Phoenicians called it Maleth. The region benefits from its strategic location on one of the island's highest points and at maximum distance from the sea. Tradition holds that the Apostle St. Paul resided in the city after his historical shipwreck on the islands. It is believed that by the time of the Arab conquest, in 871 AD, Malta had been Christian for centuries as the Christian tombs and catacombs indicate. The Normans, who conquered the island in 1091 AD, surrounded the city with thick defensive fortifications and widened the moat. Mdina was also separated from its nearest town, Rabat. The different powers that ruled Malta have left a lasting impression on the architecture still visible in Mdina today.
From the Roman period until 1530, Malta was ruled jointly with Sicily, Malta was no more than an auxiliary base, with no particular value other than keeping it out of the hands of a hostile power. The history of the Maltese islands was to change dramatically with the advent of the Order of St. John. Malta was essentially a self contained island with its own form of civilization. With the arrival of the Knights of St John, Malta became integrated into the shipping route of the central Mediterranean and its culture was transformed, bringing about a new way of life and an entirely different civilization. The Knights took Malta through a new golden age making it a key player in the cultural arena of 17th and 18th century Europe. The artistic and cultural lives of the islands were injected with the presence of artists such as Caravaggio, Mattia Preti and Favray (amongst many others) who were commissioned by the Knights to embellish churches and palaces.