The Silent City
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
As soon as I passed beneath the main gate I could feel something special in Mdina. The ancient walled capital wasn't given the name 'The Silent City' for nothing, and as soon as I turned off from 'Pjazza San Publiju,' just inside the main gate, I found myself in a quaint small street with nobody around
At the northernmost end of the city there was a viewpoint from the city walls, which took in all of northern and central Malta, as well as Valletta. I spent about half an hour here, admiring the incredible view over the tiny nation, reading about the history of the city, and patting some of the friendly felines who'd come in search of a second breakfast. I made sure I went past St Paul's Cathedral on my way out, by which time a wedding was just beginning to get underway. As beautiful as the setting was, with the bride amazing in her dress, and everyone looking their best, I couldn't help but wonder if it was a sign that the sun disappeared behind a great dark cloud just as they arrived, only to re-emerge an hour or so later. I'll never know.
After having a light lunch at a small snack bar outside 'Greek's Gate,' the second entrance to the city, I made my way into the neighbouring town of Rabat, to Mdina's south. My mum recommended I have a look at Rabat, and I'm glad I took her advice as I found it a town quite unlike any I'd ever seen before
I happily wandered around the town for about 20 minutes, before I made for the one sight I wanted to see, St Agatha's Catacombs. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, they were closed, but instead I was able to visit the nearby St Paul's Catacombs. My guidebook recommended St Agatha's over St Paul's because of the frescoes remaining from the 12th-15th centuries, but as I'd never actually been in a catacomb before I wasn't too disappointed. This Christian underground tomb, dating from the 3rd century AD contained a maze of rock-cut tombs, narrow stairs and passages, and my audio guide explained what each of the different tomb may have represented. It was an eerie experience, spending half an hour in a humid underground graveyard, but one that was worth the effort as it added just another small piece in the puzzle that was Malta's long history.
As it was still early in the afternoon and I wasn't sure if I'd get another chance, I continued on south to see another site mum recommended, the Dingli cliffs
After popping my head in the door at a Dominican Monastery, I continued past the Buskett Gardens (planted by the Knights as a hunting ground, and now the only area of woodland in the country) and Verdala Palace, which was built as a summer residence for the Grand Master of the Knights. I then came upon a road sign with an arrow pointing to the left for the 'Cart Ruts' and right for 'Dingli Cliffs.' I made a little side tour to get some water from a nearby hotel, and as I was doing well for time I decided to try and find the cart ruts. These are one of the biggest mysteries of Malta's prehistoric period. In places where bare limestone is exposed, parallel grooves can often be found, usually about 1.5m apart and up to 50cm deep. It is thought these were too big for cart wheels, meaning a sled was probably used. The interesting thing is that these ruts can be seen in other places in Malta, disappearing into the sea on one side of a bay, and then re-emerging on the other, or apparently even disappearing over the edge of cliffs in some locations
It was only a kilometre further to the southwest coast where the land fell away, forming the spectacular Dingli Cliffs, more than 200m high at some points. Unfortunately it was difficult to get a good view of the cliffs, as private sloping land formed a 200m barrier between the viewpoint and where the cliffs fell away. Nonetheless, the view south over the Mediterranean was amazing, as was the tiny Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, built in the 17th century right on the edge of the cliffs.
I saw a lot of Malta in my first three days, and I was satisfied enough to be ready to start work on the Monday. I had the following weekend to see some more sights at breakneck speed, before I spent my final four days on the even smaller island of Gozo. I somehow wished I could have a three week holiday in Malta, but I had to work for financial reasons. Little did I know what awaited me in the coming days.