The last episode of the Maltese travel notes is dedicated to the former capital of Malta – Mdina and the adjoining village of Rabat. We visited them in our last full day on the island.

the old city of Mdina

Mdina was populated as early as the year 700 BC and may have been founded by the Phoenicians. It was the capital of the island until after the Grand Siege, when the knights moved their principal institutions in the fortified city of Valletta.

Mdina Main Gate

The city today has no more than 300 inhabitants, but the surrounding Rabat has a population of 11,000. The entrance to the city is made through a spectacular gate, more beautiful than the access gate in Valletta.

in the streets of the old city of Mdina

The old city offers the traditional views of narrow streets in former medieval city. A tourist accustomed with the old city of Jerusalem will not feel displaced here at all.

knights are still walking the streets

There is a lot of tourist exploitation going on in the old city. Photo opportunities with armored knights is one of them.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The most important building in the city is the imposing Cathedral of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Saint Paul is the patron of Malta. Arrested in Jerusalem in the year 60 for preaching the new Christian faith through the Eastern part of the Roman empire he was sent to trial to Rome, but on its way to the capital of the world at that time the ship was wrecked and Paul saved himself on the island, living according to the legend in a grotto in Rabat. He converted the governor and thus introduced Christianity to the island, but later was captured again and sent to Rome to be killed during the reign of Nero.

interior of the St. Paul's cathedral

The current impressing building was built in Baroque style by the end of the 17th century, after an earthquake destroyed a previous church built by the Normans on the same place. Here took place the inauguration ceremonies of the Grand Masters of the knights Order of Saint John.

floor of the St. Paul Cathedral

We had the last opportunity to admire here the tombs on the floor of the cathedral, specific to the religious art of Malta.

dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral

The decoration of the church is due to a large extent to the Calabrese painter Mattia Preti, among other beautiful frescoes depicting episodes from the life of Saint Paul.

Madonna and Child icon (13th century)

An old icon of Madonna and Child is one of the beautiful objects of art saved from the previous church destroyed in the quake.

Mosaic in the Roman Domus

another Mosaic in the Roman Domus

Out of the city of Mdina we visited the principal objectives in Rabat, the adjoining village. One of them is the Roman Domus, actually a 20th century reconstruction of a Roman villa, hosting a beautiful museum on the ruins of a 1st century townhouse built during the Roman epoch. The mosaics are exquisite, with both decorative motives as well as figurative symbolic representations.

statue of Claudius - Roman Domus

Among the statues a splendid statue of emperor Claudius.

theatrical masks - Roman Domus

Theatrical masks remind one of the favorite pastimes of the Roman inhabitants of the place.

Saint Paul's Catacombs

Saint Paul's Catacombs - 2

One almost mandatory stop in Rabat are the Roman catacombs, named somehow inaccurately Saint Paul Catacombs. They do not have too much with Saint Paul, in reality they were the burial places of the city of Mdina for a few centuries, as Roman law forbid burial inside the city. Today they are well within the streets of Rabat, but then they were safely remote from the walls of Mdina.  The underground labyrinth of corridors and burial chambers may have some macabre fascination, but it’s not my preferred kind of visiting objective.

the train does not come today

We did not miss the touristic minicar train ride of the city, which took us around the whole Mdina and Rabat and allowed us a few spectacular photo angles. One of the interesting objectives was the deserted train station. There is no train service today in Malta, and no need for one on an island whose diameter is 40 or 50 kilometers at most. Yet the British tried to build one during their rule, but it proved to be totally uneconomic and was abandoned after the second world was.

That was our last day in Malta. Early next morning Mr. David, the hotel driver took us back to the airport, to start our way home via Athens. It was the end of a visit in an interesting place, very much worth visiting once, probably not more than once.