The Republic of Malta is a small and densely populated island nation consisting of an archipelago of seven islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Malta lies directly south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, and the country's official languages are English and Maltese. The strategically located islands constituting the Maltese nation have been ruled by various powers and fought over for centuries. Malta is currently the smallest European Union country in both population and area. Malta is the only nation in the world whose flags bear a decoration awarded by a foreign country.
Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC. A significant prehistoric culture, that predates the Pyramids of Giza by a millennium, is believed to have existed on the islands. Phoenicians colonized the islands around 1000 BC, using them as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean. In 736 BC, they were occupied by the Greeks who called the colony "Melita".
The islands later came under the control of Carthage (400 BC) and then of Rome (218 BC). The islands prospered under Roman rule, during which time they were considered a Municipium and a Feodorata Civitas. Many Roman antiquities still exist, testifying to the close link between the Maltese inhabitants and the people of Rome. In AD 60, the islands were visited by Saint Paul, who is said to have been shipwrecked on the shores of the aptly-named "Saint Paul's Bay".
After a period of Byzantine rule (4th to 9th century) and a probable sack by the Vandals, the islands were conquered by the Arabs in AD 870. The Arabs, who generally tolerated the population's Christianity, introduced the cultivation of citrus fruits and cotton, irrigation systems, and most notibly, the Arabic language, which the majority of the population adopted as their mother tongue. Its influence can be seen most prominently in the modern Maltese language, which has also been heavily influenced by Romance languages and is written in a variety of the Latin alphabet.
The period of Arab rule lasted until 1090, when the islands were taken by the Sicilian Normans. Subsequent rulers included the Angevine, the Hohenstaufen, and the Aragonese (1287). The Maltese nobility was established during this period; some of it dating back to 1090. About 32 noble titles remain in use today, of which the oldest is "Barons of Djar il Bniet and Buqana".
In 1530, the islands were given by Spain to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. (The Kingdom of Aragon had owned the islands as part of their Mediterranean empire for some time.) These knights, a militant monastic order now known as the "Knights of Malta", had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. They withstood a full-blown siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1565. The Turks, at that time, were considered to be the greatest non-European military power. After this they decided to increase the fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, was built.
Their reign ended when Malta was captured by Napoleon en route to his expedition of Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. As a ruse, Napoleon asked for safe harbour to resupply his ships, and then turned his guns against his hosts once safely inside Valetta. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim capitulated, and Napoleon stayed in Malta for a few days, during which he systematically looted the moveable assets of the Order, and established an administration controlled by his nominees. He then sailed for Egypt, leaving a substantial garrison in Malta. The occupying French forces were unpopular, however, due particularly to their negative attitude towards religion. The Maltese rebelled against them, and the French were forced behind the fortifications. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, sent munitions and aid to the rebels. Britain also sent her navy, which instigated a blockade of the islands. The isolated French forces, under General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois, surrendered in 1800, and the island became a British protectorate, being presented by several Maltese leaders to Sir Alexander Ball.
In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire, and was used as a shipping waystation and fleet headquarters. Malta's proximity to the Suez Canal proved to be its main asset during these years, and it was considered to be a most important stop on the way to India. In the 1930s, due to Malta's cultural and geographical proximity to Italy, the British Mediterranean Fleet was moved to Alexandria. Malta played an important role during World War II, owing to its vicinity to Axis shipping lanes, and its people's bravery led to the awarding of the George Cross now seen on the Flag of Malta.
After the war, and after a short period of political instability due to the Malta Labour Party's unsuccessful attempt at 'Integration with Britain', Malta was granted independence on September 21, 1964 (Independence Day). Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta, with a Governor-General exercising executive authority on her behalf. On December 13, 1974 (Republic Day), however, it became a republic within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. A defence agreement signed soon after independence (and re-negotiated in 1972) expired on March 31, 1979 (Freedom Day) when the British military forces were withdrawn. Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.
Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea, some 93 km south of Sicily. Only the three largest islands Malta Island (Malta), Gozo (Għawdex), and Comino (Kemmuna) are inhabited. Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbours. The landscape is characterised by low hills with terraced fields. The highest point, which even many locals have no idea how to locate, is the Ta' Dmejrek on Malta Island at 253 metres (830 ft) near Dingli.
The Malta Channel to the north separates Malta from the island of Sicily, the largest Italian isle.
The local climate is Mediterranean temperate climate with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. There is no real thermal dormant season for plants, although plant growth can be checked briefly by abnormal cold in winter (patches of ground frost may occur in inland locales), and summer heat and aridity may cause vegetation to wilt. Effectively there are only two seasons, which makes the islands attractive for tourists especially during the drier months. Water supply poses a problem on Malta, as the summer is both rainless and also the time of greatest water use, and the winter rainfall often falls as heavy showers and runs off to the sea rather than soaking into the ground.
Contrary to popular belief, the south of Malta is not Europe's most southern point: Malta is Europe's 4th southernmost country; Spain (Punta de Tarifa), Cyprus and Greece (island of Gavdos), rank 3rd, 2nd, and 1st respectively.
Since 1993, Malta has been subdivided into 68 local councils or localities. These form the most basic form of local government. There are no intermediate levels between local government and national government.
Weather in Malta