Fortifications of Mdina

Mdina, Malta

Mdina, the former capital of Malta, has been fortified since antiquity, but the majority of the present fortifications were built by the Order of Saint John between the 16th and 18th centuries. The city walls have survived completely intact except for some outworks, and are among the best preserved fortifications in Malta. Mdina has been on Malta's tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998.

In around 700 BC, the Phoenicians founded the fortified city of Maleth on one of the highest points of the island of Malta, far away from the sea. Eventually the city was taken over by the Roman Empire and it was renamed Melite. The Punic-Roman city was much larger than present-day Mdina, and its walls also surrounded part of modern Rabat. In the early Middle Ages, probably when Malta was part of the Byzantine Empire, a retrenchment was built within the city, reducing it to its present size. The Byzantines also possibly built a fort at the southeast corner of the city, near the main entrance.

In around 870, the Maltese Islands were occupied by the Arabs. The city was renamed to Medina, which led to its present name Mdina. The digging of Mdina's ditch possibly began under Arab rule.

Malta became part of the County of Sicily in 1091, and was then dominated by a succession of feudal lords. Various alterations to Mdina's city walls were made over the following centuries. The Byzantine fort was converted into a castle known as the Castellu di la Chitati. By the 15th century, Mdina's land front consisted of a series of double walls, flanked by four towers, including the Turri Mastra near the main entrance and the Turri di la Camera at the southeast corner of the land front.

By 1522, modern artillery had been introduced to Mdina, and the city walls began to be upgraded. Most of Mdina's medieval fortifications were later dismantled and rebuilt by the Hospitallers, especially during the 18th century. Despite this, some foundations of the ancient Punic-Roman ramparts, as well as various medieval remains, were recently discovered during excavations.

The medieval fortifications of Mdina were upgraded during the reign of Juan de Homedes y Coscon, and the city withstood a brief Ottoman attack in 1551. At the end of the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, the defenders of Mdina scared away the Ottoman army that was retreating from their failed siege of the Order's base in the Grand Harbour by firing their cannons, despite having very little ammunition.

Mdina's fortifications were again upgraded in the 17th century, when the large De Redin Bastion was built. The main gate, the area around Greeks Gate, and other parts of the fortifications were modernized or rebuilt by the architect Charles François de Mondion in the early 18th century, while Despuig Bastion was built during the reign of Ramon Despuig between 1739 and 1746.

Mdina's fortifications were considered to form part of the Victoria Lines during the late 19th century.

The present configuration of Mdina's fortifications consists of an irregular perimeter of medieval or Hospitaller curtain walls, which are stiffened by the five bastions, all of which were built during the Hospitaller period. The Torre dello Standardo, located just within the city walls near the Main Gate, also forms part of the city's fortifications since it was used as a signalling tower to communicate with the coastal watchtowers. It was built in 1725 on the site of the medieval Turri Mastra, which also had the same function.

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Triq Mesquita, Mdina, Malta
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Founded: 700 BC-1746
Category: Castles and fortifications in Malta

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