The vision clashes with those who had become accustomed to those who, like us, arrive from the coastal heights of Valletta and its Three Cities.
We advance through a straw-yellow plain, broken up by irrigated and verdant plantations.
Little by little, we approached a detached plateau, supported by a series of terraces, walled along its entire length and crowned by a houses of the typical yellowish limestone of Malta.
Three towers and a vault are projected from this cramped house, on top of the main Christian temples in the village.
The Triq L-IMdina route leads through a boulevard that disappears into a tunnel of cedars and stone pines.
When we leave it, we make our way to the slope. Moments later, we find ourselves on the equally or more wooded edge of the southwestern face of the fortress.
Facing its moat and the gate of Mdina, the main entrance to the city, guarded by lions who display the coat of arms of the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.
The Vilhena Gate Adapted to the War of Thrones
The gate also has its Portuguese name: Vilhena.
António Manoel de Vilhena, Grand Master from 1722 until his death in 1736, was responsible for the then urgent renovation of Mdina, along with other imposing Maltese works: the Borgo Vilhena Floriana, Forte Manoel and, on the same path of narcissistic baptisms, Teatro Manoel.
Vilhena hired the architect and military engineer Charles Francois de Mondion for several works of his time. The Frenchman built the Vilhena Gate in a lauded baroque style, recovered over and over again and, today, with worldwide fame.
The gate was one of two places from Mdina (among many more from Malta) used in the filming of "War of Thrones".
The first occasion was in episode 3 (Lord Snow) of Season 1, while “Kings landing”. We would also pass by another place made up of scenery, Praça da Mesquita.
In successive crossings of the gate, what we see is largely the result of the city's extrapolated beauty and notoriety.
Horses are crossing the bridge, pulling coaches from other times with dazzled visitors on board, jalopies with newlyweds destined for the cathedral of São Paulo.
And even a boxed jeep, loaded with vegetables, resulting from some gardening operation.
The transit of Mdina is, however, sporadic.
UNESCO Waiting List and the City of Silence Impasse
Authorities do everything they can. With one or another exception like those we have witnessed, the walled stronghold of Mdina is the only one in the archipelago where motor vehicles are prohibited.
After all, Mdina stayed for the History as the “Silent City” of Malta. This title and the complementary ones of “Old City” and “Remarkable City” are assets that the Maltese government knows UNESCO cannot ignore.
When we enter Mdina, we are immediately lost in a maze of streets, alleys, squares, doors, windows, balconies, patios and so on, with secular urban elements, with Norman and Baroque lines, all of them improved.
Moments of wandering later, the pressing issue was installed.
Why on earth was such a complex and majestic historical legacy kept waiting?
Falson Palace: Symbol of Faust and Persistence of the Nobles of Mdina
We looked for Palazzo Falson, one of the buildings we paid particular attention to.
Today, a museum, the palace maintains its seventeen rooms still furnished, equipped with various historical belongings and a chapel decorated with religious paintings in which, even on the altar itself, there is a painting of Jesus Christ cared for by a retinue of angels.
At Palazzo Falson, we discover the luxury in which the homonymous family lived, in Mdina, in the image of the wealthy and powerful nobility of Malta.
In this fortified luxury and refinement, most of the island's nobles resisted abandoning it, even when Malta's political-military action moved to other parts.
The Millennial Past of the Silent, Old and Remarkable City
The story goes that Mdina was founded, in the 8th century BC, by the Phoenicians. In due epochs of occupation of Malta, it was taken by the Romans, Byzantines and Arabs, the latter being the people who gave it the name it preserves.
Overlooking, far from the Mediterranean coast and less vulnerable to attacks by pirates and all kinds of enemies such as the coastal towns of Malta and those from the neighboring island of Gozo, Mdina remained the island's capital.
Until the Hospitaller Knights of the Order of St. John, trained in Jerusalem, conquered Malta from the Arabs. Even if it took refuge in Mdina during the Ottoman Siege, the Order preferred Birgu, one of the current Three Cities.
Neither this unexpected impudence, nor the Sicilian earthquake of 1693, which caused significant destruction in Mdina.
Or even the plans of one of the Order's favorite military engineers, the capomast Girolamo Cassar, to reduce it and make it a pure and hard fortress, convinced the nobles to leave.
The Ambitious Work Dictated by António Manuel de Vilhena
Fast forward to 1722. António Manuel de Vilhena arrived at the command of Malta. In a short time, he acquired an image of benevolence and respect for his subjects that they were not used to seeing in the Hospital Masters.
Vilhena dictated the complete recovery of Mdina and its fortification in keeping with the historic importance of the city and the forces that continued to covet Malta, some of them, on the island's gates.
In addition to the gate that we have already covered, Vilhena ordered several public buildings: the Municipal Palace and the Corte Capitanale which, in our days, is used as a town hall.
The nobles left to stay.
Years later, among other social and, above all, military upheavals, the French and the British disputed Malta over the coast of Birgu, Valletta and other villages on the east coast of the island.
Also on that occasion, the privileged nobility class resisted moving from its walled backwater. It was this kind of self-retreat and the subsequent absence of vehicles that gave rise to the epithet City of Silence.
Shipwreck of the Apostle Paul and the Early Christianity of Malta
As we walked along it, as a result of the abundance of foreign tourists, the silence remained partial, more complete in the catacombs of São Paulo, part of an underground system of almost 4km that includes other galleries.
The catacombs were used as a cemetery for the Phoenicians and Romans, in use until at least the XNUMXth century and, again, during the island's reconversion to XNUMXth century Christianity.
A current of history holds that the apostle Paul was taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel when a fulminating storm caused the ship to wreck.
Paulo and the other passengers on board managed to swim to Malta. Part of a much richer narrative, it is believed that during his forced stay, Paulo took refuge in a cave in Rabat, the city that today extends outside the walls of Mdina.
Come winter, he will have been invited by Publius, the Roman leader of the island, to his house. In those days, Paul healed an intense fever that afflicted the Roman. Recognized, he will have converted to Christianity. He even became the first Bishop of Malta.
The shipwrecked presence of Paul and his decisive role in the alleged early Christianization of Malta, justified the baptisms in the cathedral of Mdina, the church of Rabat and other monuments as we passed.
The Silent City's Twilight and Slow Gold
Alley after alley, triq behind trich, the already long day of the Silent City is drawing to a close.
We were delighted to see how the sunset yellowed corners contemplated by the great star.
Shadows lengthening in the alleys and pedestrians appearing from centuries-old tunnels like projected ghosts.
We see them wandering around the base of the cathedral, which the twilight and the lighting bless with a warm almost pink.
We remember that that resplendence would have to be impressive doubled, if seen from a distance, almost taking off from the highlands of Mdina.
So we hurried down to its eastern foothills.
Already on a trail that furrowed the surrounding minifundia, disturbing corridors that cultivated their physical form, we were enchanted by the celestial structure, spatial environment of the Cathedral of São Paulo in a dramatic fire against the firmament.