Mdina was inhabited and possibly first fortified by the Phoenicians around 700 BCE. The Phoenicians called it Maleth. The region benefits from its strategic location on one of the island's highest points and at maximum distance from the sea. Under the Roman Empire Malta became a Municipium and the Roman Governor built his palace in Mdina. Tradition holds that the Apostle St. Paul resided in the city after his historical shipwreck on the islands. Much of its present architecture reflects the Fatimid Period which began in 999 AD until the Norman conquest of Malta in 1091 AD. The Normans surrounded the city with thick defensive fortifications and widened the moat . The city was also separated it from its nearest town, Rabat .
Malta passed to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in 1530 AD. Mdina hosted the public ceremony in which each Grand Master swore an oath to protect the Maltese Islands and the rights of his subjects. A strong earthquake in 1693 AD led to the introduction of Baroque design within the cityscape. The Knights of Malta rebuilt the cathedral , to the designs of Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa . Palazzo Falzon , the Magisterial Palace and major restoration works are other projects undertaken by the Knights.
Most of Mdina's palaces serve as private homes. The impressive Cathedral of the Conversion of St Paul is fronted by a large square . Only a limited number of resident and emergency vehicles, wedding cars and hearses are allowed within Mdina.