Friday, November 18, 2011

The Silent City of Mdina, Malta

And we continued on to Malta, an island off the coast of Italy...

The Maltese Archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is the main island
with a population of 370,000 and Valletta is the capital.

The flag of Malta with the Maltese Cross...

Malta was first inhabited around 3000 BC, with temples being established at Mdina, which is the highest point on the island and its geographical centre. Phoenicians colonized the island around 800 BC with the Romans taking over in 200 BC.

The islands were eventually given to the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The Knights were started in Jerusalem by pious merchants who wanted to take care of the sick and disabled. They built a hospice and other facilities which were run by the Knights. They were expelled from Jerusalem by the Muslims because they were too powerful and important. They moved to Rhodes and were driven from there by the Ottomans. After searching for years for a place to live, they were given the islands of Malta by the Spanish crown in 1530.

Pope Pius V helped to establish the Knights in Malta where they built huge fortifications, and in 1565 defeated the Ottomans and became the saviours of Europe.

Entering the port, we could see some of the fortifications built by the Knights. This was such an interesting view. I couldn't recall coming into a port that looked anything like this.

Waves crashing against the breakwater which protects the inner harbour.

The massive fortifications continued. These walls helped 10,000 Maltese defeat the Ottoman fleet of 30,000 men in 1565. 

Coming into the port...

The yacht basin in the inner harbour...

Still more walls as we entered the present day industrial harbour.

Welcome to Valletta!

Because of Norovirus, we have been squirted with sanitizer every time we turn around. Megan pinned this notice on her mother’s back. It didn’t take much to amuse us, because we all thought this was hilarious.

These elegant Maltese residences have been constructed from the local limestone.

Approaching the ancient walled city of Mdina perched high on a hill.

One of the many carriages to transport tourists through the narrow streets of the old city.

The flag of Mdina flies over the gate to the city.

The ferocious lions guarding the gate.

Inside the gate, we could see St. Paul the patron saint of Mdina in the middle with Emperor Publious on the left and St. Agatha on the right.

Courtyard of the museum showing the influence of the French in the architecture...

The narrow streets were built for horses and carriages only. It still amazes us how clean everything was.

These unique door knockers were on palace doors and the doors of wealthy residents.

A knight in combat armour. Mdina was known as the “silent city” because it was largely palaces, residences and churches. Very quiet compared to the industrial cities.

The Maltese Cross with eight points signifying the eight countries the members of the Knights came from.

The intricate work over the doors of a private residence.

The Cathedral of St. Paul is the mother church of Malta. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and was rebuilt in the 1700s. The two clocks are interesting. The one on the right shows the time…

While the one on the left is a calendar clock showing November 18.

On a narrow street in Mdina on a beautiful sunny of the things I will remember about Mdina is the practical joke we played on Jeff. He was walking around with the zipper on his backpack open and Kathy managed to take everything out of it without him realizing it. At the end, she put in my bottle of water just for weight. All of a sudden we could hear Jeff muttering "Where did this bottle of water come from? Is this my backpack? Ka-thy!" Priceless!

Not only narrow streets, but curved to follow the contour of the hill.

A beautiful statue complete with awning on the corner of a building.

The view from Mdina showing lush countryside and the Mosta parish church dome in the centre of the picture. It is one of the largest unsupported church domes in the world. During air raids in WWII, a bomb smashed through the centre of the dome and landed in the aisle between parishioners but did not explode. Locals consider this a miracle; I think I would too...

Leaving Mdina via the Greeks gate...this gate once served the small Greek population living in the southwest corner of the city around St. Nicholas Square. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Greece.

This kitty was sunning himself on top of a car.

One weird tree…look at how the branch curves!

And then we arrived at the Hagar Qim Temples which date from the Phoenicians in 3600 BC!

A model of the temples without their wooden roofs.

The site was first recognized in 1839. Various excavations were carried out between 1885 and 1954. The question remains as to how these huge blocks of limestone were transported from the quarry and placed to form a building, given that the wheel was yet to be invented.

Our guide, Tessie, explaining the site to us. She was a great guide, but felt the need to talk continually. If she didn’t have anything to say, she would repeat what she had just said. Oy…my brain.

The spiral design was the symbol of eternity.

Stone altars used for sacrificing animals.

Mechanical supports are being used to restore certain structures.

A large roof has been erected to protect the ruins and for visitors to enjoy them in all weather conditions...and it was made in Alberta! Go Canada!

The smallest island of Comino which has a permanent population of four residents.

Stone fences are built to divide landowners’ holdings. Agriculture is a major industry with most fruits and vegetables being grown. Tessie started naming every fruit and vegetable known to mankind. Her way of speaking reminded me of Lawrence Welk. "And we have apples-ah, and oranges-ah, and lemons-ah, and corn-ah." Wine production is a growing industry.

Christmas decorations!

Vineyards...the grapes were harvested in August and September.

We travelled to Marsaxlokk (Marsa-locka), a fishing village, to try the local cuisine for lunch.

Lampuki is the local fish and it was good.

A view of the colourful harbour from the restaurant.

The usual suspects at lunch.

No running up and down the stairs for these waiters. A dumb waiter was a real energy saver.

The brightly painted fishing boats made a great picture.

A boy and his cat getting a fish from a fisherman.

The local church and a hotel. The area was spotless and buildings were really well maintained.

The Maltese language is very difficult. The double xx is pronounced like our “sh.”

This guy takes the prize, calling his boat Leonardo da Vinci.

Our next stop was Valletta, the capital of Malta. Here we saw many examples of the great riches of the Knights of St. John, including churches, auberges, gardens and beautiful streets. This street with its very steep slopes reminded us of San Francisco.

The Barrakka Gardens offer stunning views of the Grand Harbour and its fortifications. Origins of the garden date back to 1661, and they were the private gardens of the Italian Knights until 1824 when they were opened to the public.

Entering the gardens...

Views of the gardens showing the amazing limestone arches and fences.

The Street Boys by Maltese sculptor, Antonio Sciortino...

View of the harbour fortifications from the garden.

The Knights from each country had their own church and auberge. This is the St. Catherine of Italy Church. It is undergoing restoration for the first time in its 500 year history.

Knights who did not have a home would reside in the auberge of their country. This is the Italian auberge.

Merchants Street dates from the time of the Knights and was the main business area.

Merchants Street is a pedestrian way lined with beautiful buildings.

This was the auberge of the French Knights, which now houses Malta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 1798, Napoleon landed and conquered Malta. The once powerful Knights had become corrupt and surrendered without a fight. The Maltese defeated the French in 1800 and officially became part of the British Empire in 1814. Napoleon lived in the French auberge for seven days.

The Law Court of the Order from 1758 with figures of Justice and Mercy over the second story door. Justice, on the left, has lost her hand.

This is the Maltese law courts today.

Outdoor cafes abound on Merchants Street.

No cats…just fat pigeons.

Royal Pharmacy with "toilet preparations." Not exactly how we would describe pharmacy products!

The British influence continues including driving on the opposite side of the road and these phone booths.

High end shops with lots of customers.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral. It is called a co-cathedral because there can only be one cathedral under the Bishop and that was established in Mdina. Because this church was so significant, it was called a co-cathedral.

The bell tower of the co-cathedral.

This is the entrance to the cathedral that we used. The main entrance was being renovated.

Inside the church was a wall dedicated to Nicholas Cottoner, a Grand Master of the Knights. This wall contained his initials, his crown, the Maltese Cross and the cotton plant which was a significant crop.

The church is filled with magnificent paintings and columns carved from limestone.

The vaulted ceiling covered with frescoes and gold...

The church is being restored. The difference between the left and right side is that the left has been cleaned  using a very specialized process.

The Knights are buried in tombs under the floor covered with intricately carved marble.

Looking the length of the church…difficult to adequately describe.

More tombs of the Knights.

The chapel of the Italian Knights. The painting depicts the mystic marriage of baby Jesus.

The pulpit…what more can we say.

And the altar complete with silver candle holders, a painting of Jesus being baptized by John and a huge pipe organ.

Many of the frescoes are three dimensional. The man on the left appears to be stepping out of the painting.

The chapel of the Spanish Knights.

That church was hard to believe...

And then we were on our way back to the ship. A memorial to those who died in the world wars.

The view from our balcony at night. What a way to finish a great day!

Next, a sea day and then this leg of the cruise will end in Barcelona...

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