FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The silent city

Posted in Malta, Mdina, Rabat by folkestonejack on March 22, 2014

Our plans for today took us outside Valletta on the short bus ride to Mdina, the old capital of Malta. The journey took around thirty minutes and was quite interesting in itself, with our bus following the line of an impressive stone arched aqueduct on the stretch of road between Hamrun and Balzan.

The Wignacourt aqueduct was a rather ingenious solution to the acute water shortage suffered by Valletta in the sixteenth century. The aqueduct transported water from the higher ground around Mdina some 16km to Valletta, entering the city through underground channels. By chance my morning walk in Floriana had taken me to the water tower that was built to celebrate the inauguration of the aqueduct in 1615.

The Wignacourt Water Tower, Floriana, Malta

The Wignacourt Water Tower, Floriana, Malta

After getting off the bus we walked into the centre of Rabat, the town that sits just outside the walls of Mdina. Our plan was to visit St Paul’s catacombs, but this is easier said than done – Rabat has three sets of catacombs that are open to the public and the signage is not the easiest to follow. The first set of catacombs we came across were attached to St Paul’s Grotto, but rather confusingly these are not St Paul’s Catacombs! The catacombs we had come to see were round the corner, a short walk up Bajjada Triq Sant Agata. A little further down the same road is the entrance to St Agatha’s catacombs. It is no wonder that many tourists end up missing the very sights they came to see.

The steps down to St Paul's Grotto

The steps down to St Paul’s Grotto, Rabat

The grotto underneath St Paul’s Church is said be the cave that St Paul took shelter in after being shipwrecked on Malta. It makes for a rather unusual arrangement, with steps leading straight down from the nave into the rock cut chambers that include the grotto. The associated catacombs are the least impressive of those open to the public in Rabat but not without interest. It was definetly worth walking round the corner to reach St Paul’s Catacombs, though we decided to skip Agatha’s delights. Two catacombs in one day was quite enough…

After a morning catacombing it was good to return to the daylight, stopping off at a rather wonderful store (Parruccan Confectionery) serving up all sorts of irresistible sweet Maltese treats, including cinnamon and clove biscuits, soft nougat and cannoli.

A ten minute walk through Rabat brought us back to the gates of Mdina and into the tranquil, narrow streets of the the ancient walled city. The city is largely car free, so the label of the silent city is quite appropriate, especially out of season when the number of visitors is much reduced (bearing in mind that the population of Malta triples in the summer months with the influx of tourists).

Empty streets in the silent city

Empty streets in the silent city

It would be quite enough to wander the streets and take in the wonderful views over the Maltese countryside, but the Palazzo Falson is well worth a visit. This medieval palace housing the diverse collection of Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher (1889-1962) and one of the best audio guides I have come across in my travels. The eclectic collection included some wonderful items, though the watch set to French revolutionary time was a particular delight.