Mdina is the oldest town in Malta. Along with it's suburb, Rabat, it's origin and history can be traced back more than 4000 years. Originally the capital of Malta before Valletta took over in 1570 it was first inhabited by the Phoenicians around 700BC who called it 'Malet' or 'Maleth'. After the Romans conquered Malta in 218BC they changed the name of the city to 'Melita'. In 60AD St Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked in Malta and it is traditionally held that he took up residence in the area of Rabat. Under Roman rule, as the island prospered and grew, the Governor built his Palace there and it became the seat of government. History records the area as having many beautiful buildings and a high standard of living. With the arrival in Malta of the Saracens in 870AD came it's current name 'Mdina' which is an Arabic derivation of the word 'Medina' meaning 'city'.
Fontanella Tea Garden
To increase defense they separated Mdina from Rabat by a deep moat. The structure and street plan of Mdina has hardly changed from it's layout 1000 years ago. After the Norman conquest of Malta in 1090AD Count Roger I of Sicily built a new church on the site of a small chapel which, according to legend, was the place where Publius converted to Christianity after St Paul healed his dysentery-afflicted father. This church was dedicated to St Paul. As the defensive properties of Mdina were enhanced with a widening of the moat between Mdina and Rabat, the local Maltese nobility began to move into the area. The Viceroy of Sicily granted the nobility the right of Internal autonomy
and Mdina gained in importance and influence. In 1530, with the approval of Pope Clement VII, Emperor Charles V gave Malta to the Order of St John (Knights) and there was friction between the Maltese nobility of Mdina and the Knights. An agreement was reached whereby the Grandmaster was acknowledged as the Island's master but had to respect the internal autonomy of Mdina. This agreement was renewed each time a new Grandmaster was elected. The nobility kept themselves to Mdina and the Knights took up residence mostly in Birgu and Valletta. In 1565, during the Great Siege of Malta by the Turks, a Turkish prisoner was hung on the walls of Mdina every night and, throughout the siege, the Turks were unable to destroy the fortress city. In 1693 there was a strong earthquake and the cathedral had to be rebuilt. This task was duly performed using the designs and plans of the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa. Today the town is know as 'The Silent City' due to it's tranquil setting - at night the streets are lamplit and only residents are entitled to take cars within the walls.