hey, remember that australian guy from the plane? the one i mentioned in this post? well he turned out to be a perfect gentleman and offered to take noelle and i out to the ancient capital city of mdina for some pastizzi and site seeing.
we took the bus from the coast, through the desert of malta, toward its center. we saw it as we were approaching---the small, walled town atop the highest hill on the island.
mdina has played a pivotal role in malta's history (and the WORLD's history) since before 4000 BC... beeefoooore 4000 BC?! that's over 6000 years of civilized human history all happening in one very small space. and to think, america's 237 years make me dizzy.
so although some modern-day people don't even know malta exists, it was once one of the most significant pieces of land on the planet. because of its location in the middle of the mediterranean, malta was used strategically by almost every important power in european history. it has been conquered and ruled by Iberians, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Goths, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Germans, Knights of St John, French (Napolean), and British... just to name a few.
when the Knights of St John moved malta's capital from mdina to valletta, most of the population went with it. those people left the 5000-year-old town in favor of a new luxurious city by the sea. and mdina fell silent. i wonder, why then? did mdina suddenly fill its action quota? you've been going strong for 5000 years, take it easy now.
mdina exists now mostly as a tourist attraction, with only about 300 people living within its walls. there are strict rules about who can live there now, too. no cars are allowed to pass through the city, except for the few owned by its inhabitants---perhaps to keep true to the "silent" reputation.
because it really IS silent. an eery sort of silent. eery because you can sense that this place was once so full of life, and so significant, for SO long. as if centuries of past energies and anguishes and celebrations are vibrating chaotically behind the facade of time. it was all here and now it's gone and it feels wrong. the silence is alarming.
my favorite thing about mdina is the architecture and the logic behind its history. the city's streets are all very narrow and winding, for one specific reason: mdina was built for battle. in case of an intrusion, maltese warriors could shoot their arrows and quickly hide behind curved walls without much threat of being an open target. clever, right?
also, THAT VIEW. mdina was purposely built on a hill in the center of the island, at the point furthest away from the water on all sides. and because malta is mostly flat, nearly every square foot of land is visible from mdina's watchtowers.
standing atop that overlook, peering out at the fields of limestone and how they abruptly meet the blue of the sea, i thought, "how. perfect. what a lovely introduction to this fascinating island country: a day exploring its ancient capital city, a lesson on its history told by a maltese descendant with an australian accent ;) , and a view of it ALL. the whole country, right here, in sight. "
the awe of that moment was relentless. the past was palpable. and the future---those upcoming couple weeks---full of promise.