Mdina’s Medieval Festival is now an established annual event. It takes place a little later than usual this year, 7-8 May, probably to avoid the unseasonally damp weather it’s enjoyed in the past. This year it seems to have a larger programme – more enactments and street drama, alongside the old favourites – the crafts market, games and falconry displays. So long as the birds behave! One year, the falcons decided to perch on the bastions and preen!
More details, see our What’s On listing.
Here, Amanda Holmes give a low-down on a past festival. Her verdict: whatever the weather, it’s fun for families.
Mdina is a beautifully-preserved UNESCO World Heritage site, but perhaps for some it is ironically too well conserved. I once had a discussion with a tourist who said he found it too quiet – almost a ghost city. I could appreciate his point. But, I always love wandering around Mdina; it’s small enough for even the youngest (or oldest) legs to get around.
On a damp, chilly, grey Saturday in mid April, my family was delighted to find the streets full of knights, noble-folk, falconers, wenches and the odd town crier. Chain-mail clad soldiers wandered past stalls selling strange, (medieval-style?) vittles (soup in a rock-hard roll, and dry cabbage and onion pies). Museums, chapels, churches and cafes were all wide open, with attractions such as The Mdina Experience charging a reduced entrance fee. Since rain stopped many people venturing out, there were relatively few folk in twenty-first century garb, which made the overall effect better for those of us who had made the journey.
My daughters were delighted with a little square where we found traditional crafts. An enormous loom and a hand pottery wheel were set up beside a man making baskets and another selling local honey and beeswax produce under an ancient tree. The girls spent ages tasting the different jars fruit-flavoured honey, which were so delicious that my eldest opted to spend €4 of her pocket money on a tiny jar of strawberry honey. Meanwhile the lady selling the hand-woven rugs took great pains to point out that they were all machine washable. And at €25 for a large bedside rug, probably a better investment!
Outside the walls, the defensive ditches were the location for games which appealed to all ages. Strapping young men sat on horses (from a gym, not stable), trying to imitate jousting by prodding each other with a long wooden stick. For those who were slightly more risk-averse, a wooden walkway and frame had been erected with swinging axes, hammers and spiked balls, each over a metre in size, looking incredibly dangerous but made of foam. The idea was to get from one side to the other without getting knocked off. You could, however, choose to play safe (or play executioner) and opt to pull on the ropes to swing the ‘weapons’.
You could also have a go at firing a catapult loaded with ‘rocks’ aimed at cardboard figures attempting to breach the city’s defences. It was pretty realistic and made quite some bang on firing, so the kids recoiled with eyes shut and missed seeing where their missile went.
At a safe distance from the catapult we found a mobile climbing wall; not particularly medieval at first glance, but conveniently the same height as the Mdina walls, so it gave a good impression of what it must have been like to attempt to scale the walls at a time of battle. Well, minus the armour, arrows and burning oil of course.
All-in-all we had a fantastic day. Six hours after we arrived the kids were still going strong, but I was chilled to the bone so dragged my complaining family back to car. Luckily for me, we found some olde mulled wine beside one of the city gates, so even I was happy as we headed for home.
Photo: courtesy Mdina Medieval Festival