Mdina is Malta's oldest city. Inhabited by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Sicilians, it was the island's capital before the Knights of St John arrived, and remained home to much of its nobility.
The first of Malta's citadels remains heavily fortified, enclosed by high walls and entered by one of two gates. The main entrance, Mdina Gate, is by the Howard Gardens bus stop, where all the services from the coast pull in. Immediately through the gate is St Publius Square, the Museum of Natural History and the Mdina Dungeons on the right. Take a left and you'll find yourself among a tight warren of narrow, high-walled streets, opening suddenly into odd-shaped squares each with its own cafe or church or museum, all returning eventually to Triq Villegaignon, which runs straight through the centre from St Agatha's Chapel to the rear bastion. Aside from the tourist traps - the Knights of St John Experience, the Mdina Experience - and St Paul's Cathedral (Malta's most important place of worship along with St John's in the capital) there isn't a massive amount to actually see in Mdina: stay any longer than half an hour and you'll end up crossing and re-crossing your steps. St Paul's sits just off the main street, less richly decorated inside than its co-cathedral in Valletta, but worth a visit for the museum across the square (the 2.5 euro admission gets you in to both).
Despite the proclamations of the travel guides, Mdina is no longer traffic free. If the only cars here belong to the 400-or-so residents then there's a striking number of one car, one van families. With such narrow streets, I was constantly forced to duck against walls or into corners. For a while the Silent City was vaguely disappointing - the kind of place you've been primed to like but can't. Then I came to the little square at the rear bastion walls, stood on some steps and found myself looking all the way down the coastline from St Paul's down to Valletta, the dome of Mosta still huge in the foreground. Walking back through the maze of honey-coloured buildings, I stopped for a moment and listened: no engines, just the wind - and my groan of dismay as I stepped in yet another puddle.
There are far worse ways to spend an afternoon.