Sunday, October 12, 2014

Walled city of Mdina is truly a 'Citta Notibile'

The next morning after our morning espresso in a Sicilian coffee shop and bakery we were back on the bus this time going to Mdina, the silent city. Mdina is one of Europe's finest examples of an ancient walled city and extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture. The walls were massive and it took us a few moments to find the gate, which has had several names over the centuries but is known today as "Citta Notibile," the noble city.

The history of Mdina goes back more than 4000 years. According to tradition it was here in 60 A.D. that the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands. My how he got around. Furthermore it is said that St. Paul resided inside the grotto know as Fuori le Mura, now known as St. Paul's Grotto in Rabat, just outside the walls of Mdina.

Mdina was home then, as now, to Malta's noble families; some are descendants of the Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords who made Mdina their home from the 12th century onwards. Impressive palaces line its narrow, shady streets. It was very quiet wandering around. Perhaps it was because the only cars we saw belonged to the residents. I would like to have seen it lit by lamps at night.

We visited a lovely shop filled with beautiful items of brightly coloured Malta glass, vases, glasses, ornaments and jewellery. It reminded me of visiting Murano. There were a few of these shops along the streets as well as little stores selling local Maltese products such as honey, olive oil and wine. There were several churches in Mdina. The one we peeked into was very ornate.

Eventually it seemed that we had walked up and down most of the streets, and had earned some lunch. We spotted a restaurant that was already very busy and full of Italians. This seemed like a good spot to eat but unfortunately it was a private party. Finally, we settled on a modern, bright restaurant in an extension of the church museum. We shared a beautiful salad with tiny plum and cherry tomatoes that had been partially sun-dried. They were very sweet and so good that I am going to try this. Our other sharing dish was a mezze plate with a little more salad, prosciutto, pecorino and parmigiana cheese, crackers like the ones we bought on Gozo, bread sticks and four little ramekins filled with artichokes, olives, an amazing sun-dried tomato paste and aioli. Of course there was lots of delicious bread and wine to accompany the meal. It was difficult to resist sharing some pannacotta topped with some juicy red currants. We wandered back through the main gate glad that we had visited Mdina for it's timeless atmosphere.

Outside the gate we were back in Rabat, which played a major role in Malta's past and is also a prime source of its cultural heritage. This large provincial town was part of the Roman city of Melita, with the sites and archaeological relics found testifying to the town's importance during the Roman period. We visited the excavations of a large Roman villa with some lovely frescoes.

For many centuries, religious orders have established themselves within the precincts of Rabat, and Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians still flourish here in their spacious convents and monasteries, catering for the religious needs of parishioners in their churches.

We took the bus back to Valletta, where we joined the late afternoon throng. As I've mentioned, cruise ships are regular visitors to Valletta. Passengers disembark and quite literally flood through Valetta’s main gate and along the two main pedestrian areas. As the ships’ departure times approach, the city becomes quite enjoyable. In fact we watched, from our terrace, as that day’s ship left....just to make sure.

Not terribly hungry, we decided to visit a Neapolitan pizzeria for dinner. It was quite funny as we made a slight faux pas sitting outside the restaurant next door instead of where we wanted to be, which explained why there was no pizza on the menu. We politely explained and went next door to eat, inside I might add.

After our pizza, it was time to walk. This time we ended up in a nearby square where illuminated fountains danced at various heights. We watched as local went into the fountains and controlled the height of the spray with their hands. I tried and it was easier than it looked. At least I didn't get a soaking like some people. We ended up sitting on one of the benches listening to a jazz quartet playing at one of the restaurants, another lovely ending to a busy day.

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