5 September 2008
Malta, officially the Republic of Malta, is a small and densely populated European microstate, comprising an archipelago of seven islands, making it an island nation. Situated in Southern Europe, 93 km (58 mi) off the coast of Sicily (Italy), it is located in the Mediterranean Sea, giving the country a warm, Mediterranean climate, while a further 288 km (179 mi) to the island's south is Libya. The capital city is the historic Valletta.
Throughout much of its history, Malta has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part to its position in the Mediterranean Sea. It was held by several ancient cultures including Sicilians, Romans, Phoenicians, Byzantines and others. The island is commonly associated with the Knights Hospitaller who ruled it. This, along with the historic Biblical shipwreck of St. Paul on the island, ingrained the strong Roman Catholic legacy which is still the official and most practiced religion in Malta today.
The country's official languages are Maltese and English, although there are strong historical ties to the Italian language on the islands. Malta gained independence from Britain in 1964 and is currently a member of the European Union which it joined in 2004.
By C.S. M.P.