The Phoenicians founded Mdina around 700 BC. The city was then called Maleth and later, under Roman rule, Melite. Either the Byzantines or the Arabs reduced Mdina to its present size. Medieval Mdina was protected by double walls on the land front, with a tower, Turri Mastra, close to the main entrance which then had three gates separated by courtyards. The main gate was reconstructed by Grandmaster Vilhena in the early 17th century along with a general renovation of Mdina. The Turri Mastra was replaced by the Torre dello Standardo.
St Paul, St Publius and St Agatha adorn the inside of the Main Mdina Gate.
Mdina also has two other gates, the Greek Gate, which survives from the mediaval era and the third entrance to Mdina was created in the 19th century to give a more direct access to the train station. This is known as Għarreqin Gate. Some also refer to it as the ‘hole in the wall’ because it is literally an excavation through the Mdina city walls with a ramp leading down to the ditch in the direction of the train station.
St Mark & Saqqajja Hill
Saqqajja refers to the plateau immediately outside Mdina leading towards Rabat and downhill from the main Mdina Gate towards Zebbuġ, Siġġiewi, Attard and so on.
An Augustinian friary was established on Saqqajja Hill in the mid-15th century. But in 1551 it was destroyed because of its proximity to the Mdina walls and the possibility of being used by the enemy in the event of an Ottoman invasion. During the 16th century, the land was returned to the Augustinians and a new friary was built by architect Girolamo Cassar. This is where the church of St Mark now stands. Girolamo Cassar built St Mark’s as a prototype on which he modelled his masterpiece, the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta.
On Saqqajja hill, a niche of St Paul was built by Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena in the early 18th century at a time when the island was experiencing famine.
The word “Saqqajja” originates from semitic/arabic and means “springs of water”. A prominent feature in Saqqajja is the fountain built by Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt underneath where the Casino Notabile was subsequently built.
Despite the intricate detail and splendour of this relatively small ‘club’house reminiscent of the earlier, golden era of the knights of Saint John, the Casino Notabile is a 19th century building commissioned and used as a club house by Maltese nobility during the British era. The designs are of Webster Paulson, a British architect that was originally sent to Malta to supervise the construction of the Royal Opera House in Valletta and, later, also designed the Holy Trinity Church in Sliema. The Casino Notabile is Paulson’s last work and he did not live to see it completed. Sicilian sculptor Giuseppe Valenti sculpted the intricate building’s exterior.
With the Casino Notabile on our right we descend the Saqqajja steps towards the pedestrian crossing towards the Saqqajja racing lodge, il-Loġġa tal-Palju.