Mdina (English: Notabile, or Maltese: L-Imdina [lɪmˈdɪnɐ]; Phoenician: , Melitta, Ancient Greek: Melitte, Μελίττη), also known by its titles Città Vecchia or Città Notabile, is a fortified city in the Northern Region of Malta. It served as the island’s capital from antiquity until 1530, when the capital was moved toBirgu.
Mdina is a medieval walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the island. Punic remains uncovered beyond the city’s walls suggest the importance of the general region to Malta’s Phoenician settlers. Mdina is commonly called the “Silent City” by natives and visitors. The town is still confined within its walls, and has a population of just under 300, but it is contiguous with the village of Rabat, which takes its name from the Arabic word for suburb, and has a population of over 11,000.
Evidence of settlements in Mdina goes back to over 4000 BC. It was possibly first fortified by the [Phoenicians] around 700 BC, because of its strategic location on one of the highest points on the island and as far from the sea as possible. When Malta had been under the control of the Roman Empire, the Roman Governor built his palace there. Legend has it that it was here, in around 60 CE, that Paul the Apostle lived after his shipwreck on the islands.
Mdina owes its present architecture to the Arab period, from 870 until the Normans conquered Malta in 1091. They surrounded the city with thick defensive fortifications and a wide moat, separating it from its nearest town, Rabat.
When the Order of Saint John arrived in Malta on 26 October 1530, Grandmaster Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam promised to uphold the rights of the Maltese people, and was given the keys of Mdina. The Order went on to settle in Birgu, and Mdina lost its status as capital city. The nobility of Mdina were rather hostile to the Order since they lost most of their power over the rest of the population. The medieval fortifications of Mdina were upgraded during the reign of Juan de Homedes y Coscon, and the city withstood a brief Ottoman attack in 1551. At the end of the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, the defenders of Mdina scared away the Ottoman army that was retreating from their failed siege of the Order’s base in the Grand Harbour by firing their cannons, despite having very little ammunition. Mdina’s fortifications were again upgraded in the 17th century, when the large De Redin Bastion was built.
The city was severely damaged by the 1693 Sicily earthquake, and a large number of buildings were destroyed. After the earthquake, the cathedral was demolished and rebuilt on the designs of the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafà. Mdina was extensively restored in the course of the eighteenth century, and Baroqueelements were introduced in the largely medieval city. Plans were made to strengthen the city with more fortifications but these were never implemented as the Order focused on the fortifications at the harbour area.
Mdina was briefly occupied by French forces from June 1798. French rule did not last long because Mdina was taken over by Maltese rebels on 2 September 1798. This event marked the beginning of a two-year uprising and blockade of French forces in Malta’s harbour area, by Maltese insurgents aided by British, Neapolitan and Portuguese troops. Mdina was an important base for the Maltese insurgents during the blockade.