|Republic of Malta|
|Anthem: L-Innu Malti
("The Maltese Hymn")
|Capital||Valletta (de facto)
|Official language(s)||Maltese, English|
|Ethnic groups||Maltese 95.3%, British 1.6%, other 3.1% |
|-||Prime Minister||Lawrence Gonzi|
|-||from the United Kingdom||21 September 1964|
|-||Republic||13 December 1974|
|EU accession||1 May 2004|
|-||Total||316 km2 (200th)
121 sq mi
|-||2010 estimate||412,966 (171st)|
|GDP (PPP)||2010 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2010 estimate|
|HDI (2010)||0.815 (very high) (33rd)|
|Currency||Euro (€)2 (
|Time zone||CET (UTC+1)|
|-||Summer (DST)||CEST (UTC+2)|
|Drives on the||Left|
|Internet TLD||.mt 3|
|1 Total population includes foreign residents. Maltese residents population estimate at end 2004 was 389,769. All official population data provided by the NSO.
2Before 2008: Maltese lira
3 Also .eu, shared with other European Union member states.
Malta (), officially the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta), is a Southern European country and consists of an archipelago situated centrally in the Mediterranean, 93 km south of Sicily and 288 km east of Tunisia, with the Strait of Gibraltar 1,826 km to the west and Alexandria 1,510 km to the east.
Malta covers just over 300 km² in land area, making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. Its de facto capital is Valletta and the largest city is Birkirkara. The main island is made up of many small towns, which together form one Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) with a population of 368,250 (majority of the population of the country) according to Eurostat. The country has two official languages – Maltese and English – with Maltese being considered the national language.
Throughout history, Malta's location has given it great strategic importance and a sequence of powers including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Fatimids, Sicilians, Knights of St John, French and the British ruled the islands. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, whilst retaining membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. It is a member of the United Nations (since 1964) and a member of the European Union (since 2004). Malta is also party to the Schengen Agreement (since 2007) and member of the eurozone (since 2008).
Malta has a long Christian legacy and is an Apostolic See. According to the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible, St. Paul was shipwrecked on "Melite", as the Greeks called the island, and ministered there. Catholicism continues to be the official and dominant religion in Malta.
Malta is internationally renowned tourist resort with regard on recreational repose and historical monuments, including nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most prominently the Megalithic Temples which are the oldest free-standing structures in Europe.
The origin of the term "Malta" is uncertain, and the modern-day variation derives from the Maltese language. The most common etymology derives from the Greek word μέλι (meli), 'honey'. The Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melite) meaning "honey-sweet," possibly due to Malta's unique production of honey; an endemic species of bee lives on the island, giving it the popular nickname the "land of honey". The Romans went on to call the island Melita, the romanization of the Greek Μελίτη. Another etymology is the Phoenician word 𐤈𐤄𐤋𐤀𐤌 Maleth, the Phoenician name for the islands, meaning "a haven" in reference to Malta's many bays and coves.
Pottery found by archeologists at Skorba resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BC mainly by stone age hunters or farmers who had arrived from the larger island of Sicily, possibly the Sicani. The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta. The most probable means by which people came to Malta was by using rafts. When they came to Malta they first settled in caves, such as Għar Dalam, and later built huts.
The Sicani were the only tribe known to have inhabited the island at this time and are generally regarded as related to the Iberians. The population on Malta grew cereals, raised domestic livestock and, in common with other ancient Mediterranean cultures, worshiped a fertility figure represented in Maltese prehistoric artifacts as exhibiting the large proportions seen in similar statuettes, including the Venus of Willendorf.
Pottery from the Għar Dalam phase is similar to pottery found in Agrigento, Sicily. A culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose from this early period. During 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest existing, free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ġgantija temples on Gozo; other early temples include those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra.
The temples have a distinctive architecture, typically a complex trefoil design, and were used from 4000–2500 BC. Animal bones and a knife found behind a removable altar stone suggest that temple rituals included animal sacrifice. Tentative information suggests that the sacrifices were made to the goddess of fertility, whose statue is now in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. The culture apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BC. Archeologists speculate that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease. Others have speculated on the links between this event and Plato's account of the disappearance of Atlantis.
Another interesting archeological feature of the Maltese islands often attributed to these ancient builders, are equidistant uniform grooves dubbed "cart tracks" or "cart ruts" which can be found in several locations throughout the islands with the most prominent being those found in an area of Malta named "Clapham Junction". These may have been caused by wooden-wheeled carts eroding soft limestone.
After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta.