Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Speaking About the Silent City (Mdina, Malta)

I think when it comes to travel writing in general, it can be rather easy to write nothing more than pieced together cliches, sprinkled with some timely punctuation. That's likely due to the fact that you can make these blanket statements about particular sights that have a good chance of ringing true for all sights. My two favourites, which I see all the time and I'm sure I've been guilty of at some point, are "it was a perfect mixture of old and new, history and modernity," and "I was transported back x number of years when I arrived there." Unless you're writing about a town that was founded yesterday, you're pretty safe with those two. I've found, more times than I can count, that modern travel writing can be just plain tiring to read, especially when you read a paragraph that says precisely nothing and applies to absolutely everywhere. Where am I going with this? Well, I'm writing about a place in which my "two favourite travel blanket statements" actually finally do apply. So here's my attempt to avert the temptation to use them.

Mdina in Malta is the sort of place that, if you were a Game of Thrones character or family, you'd be more than happy to settle and further fortify it. It's large, robust walls are nothing short of intimidating, which makes a lot of sense considering it served as the small island's capital city from antiquity until the turn of the medieval period. And, speaking of Game of Thrones, Mdina's city gates were actually filmed as the illustrious city gates of King's Landing early on in the development of the television series.

Most people would agree that visiting Mdina while on Malta is a must, and I tend to agree. It's unique, striking medieval façade is nearly unparalleled. Historically, the city was known as "The Silent City," as after the capital was relocated in the 16th century, it lost its prominence, and the liveliness of the city moved onwards to Valletta, likely with the money as well. Today, despite the tourist crowds, the name still rings very true, but this time in a positive way. Unlike in Valletta (which is still very pleasant and "quiet" by Istanbul standards to be sure), you can escape the crowds in the back alleys, which are completely void of people. It was a surreal experience to walk through the cramped streets and narrow passageways, and only hear the deep echo of our own footsteps.

If there were only high walls and little streets, it'd be awfully pleasant, but in all likelihood it wouldn't be worth a blogpost, or a strong consideration for a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But, alas, I'm writing this blogpost, and it's currently on the tentative list to become a UNESCO sight. And so, what bridges the gap? (nice pun for a post on a fortified city, no?) It's the grandiose churches, the fine statues, the outdoor restaurants, and the purple flowers that climb up the walls like excited children. The view from the city isn't bad either, but it's the sum of the city's parts that really make it special. This could be misconstrued as one of those blanket travel writer comments, but I just have to say it in this case - there's just no other city like it.

I want to at least attempt to continue to avoid the travel writing cliches, so I'm not looking to make a concluding paragraph which suggests with certainly that town x is the most the special town on the planet. In truth, it's not, but it is worth mentioning that it is legitimately special. Mdina is a place you can get lost in, both voluntarily and involuntarily, though, thankfully, it's small enough to merely embrace your disorientation, focusing only on the soft, rhythmic sound of your footsteps.

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