Mdina Heland Project


In the face of cultural homogenization, urban development, and globalization, distinct places are fighting for survival.  ICON—in conjunction with Heland, an EU-funded initiative—aims to protect Maltese heritage and foster sustainable tourism through interactive technology.  Its state-of-the-art “Mdina through Time” augmented reality system will provide tourists with a digital tour of the Silent City.


ICON strives to combine tourist needs with cultural immersion.  A major feature of the “Mdina through Time” site, produced by ICON, involves geo-localized paths powered through a Google Maps API —a familiar interface and expected feature for modern destinations.  Online guests can currently choose from four heritage trails.  Once a route is selected by a user, it loads on the screen with numbered waypoints.  Each selection reveals an informative description of a building or feature of interest.

The site also encourages easy browsing with its attractive design and layout.  A hero image of Mdina greets the viewer on the homepage, while free-flowing pages with call-to-action buttons are just a scroll away.  On top are visible navigation links that connect to the tour’s four key timelines.  People can pick from Medieval Times, the Knights of St. John, British Rule, and Contemporary Mdina.  All pages have an appealing feature image, bold block of colour, and font in a large typeface. Sliding sections with historical facts—like diet and clothing—also appear as the viewer scrolls down.

media through time app

The App

ICON and its partners developed virtual reality tours.  Using augmented reality—a process that uses a device’s compass, camera, GPS, and accelerometer—the “Mdina through Time” app represents technology at its most versatile.  Tourists using their iOS or Android devices can view 3D characters and scenery depending on their gestures and actions.  One of the most impressive features involves the smartphone or tablet’s camera, which can target specific buildings and display computer-generated views of it by request.

The app also incorporates the latest historical research available.  University of Malta scholars intensively studied sites and buildings for the tour.  Mdina’s long past often made it difficult to determine what predated certain sites.  Solving these problems was necessary, since the app’s accuracy depended on it.  Casa Gourgion illustrates the depth of this program.  For a while, the house’s past eluded historians until someone talked with its current owner.  As it transpired, the proprietor had an antique print that showed what existed previously: a walled garden.  The 3D tour of Mdina reflects nuances like these.  Tourists can therefore count on the highest possible standard of historical accuracy and technology.

You can download the APP here: iOS App Store and Android Marketplace.

Future Plans

Preserving the “Silent City” and sharing it with future generations is something that ICON deeply values.  The company already plans on extending “Mdina through Time”‘s capabilities.  ICON shall add more features to the site and APPs, like more historical facts, recommendations, and improved caching for those lacking Internet connectivity.

Key deliverables for this project:

  • The development of a Virtual Reality Experience platform for visitors to experience different historical eras.
  • 3D reconstruction of specific geographic zones through time.
  • Integration with wearables such as the Oculus Rift in a way that allows the 3D model to explored through means of a head-mounted virtual reality head set.
  • A Mobile Guiding Application with Augmented Reality on Android and iOS platforms which is location-aware and orientation-aware.
  • The identification and development of content around a list of attractions based on GIS data which is itself mapped through an API to Google Maps.
  • Development of on-device caching strategy to facilitate usage without Internet connectivity.
  • Geo-tracking of user flows within defined geographic boundaries through anonymised tracks and movements for research purposes.
  • Implementation of an Open Source Content Management System (CMS) to update and feed data to multiple platforms (web, native APPs, APIs).
  • Provision and Management of hosting infrastructure.
  • Corrective Maintenance and User Support.