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Malta is a small and densely-populated island nation comprising an archipelago of seven islands in the Mediterranean Sea. A country of Southern Europe, Malta lies south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. The country's official languages are Maltese and English. Roman Catholicism is the most practised religion but a significant decline has been noted among young adults in recent years. The islands constituting the Maltese nation have been ruled by various powers - most recently the United Kingdom - and fought over for centuries. Malta is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It has been a member state of the European Union (EU) since 2004 and it is currently the smallest EU country in both population and area.

Early settlements of Malta

Malta is home to what is the oldest freestanding structure in the world: the oldest of all the megalithic temples on the islands is il-Ggantija, in Gozo (Ghawdex) dating back to before 3500 BC. One of the very earliest marks of civilization on the islands is the temple of Hagar Qim, which dates from between 3200 and 2500 BC, stands on a hilltop on the southern edge of the island of Malta. Adjacent to Hagar Qim, lies another remarkable temple site, l-Imnajdra. The society that built these structures eventually died out or at any rate disappeared. Phoenicians colonized the islands around 700 BC, using them as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean.

After the fall of Tyre, the islands later came under the control of Carthage (400 BC), a former Phoenician colony, and then of Rome (218 BC). The islands prospered under Roman rule, during which time they were considered a Municipium and a Foederata Civitas. Many Roman antiquities still exist, testifying to the close link between the Maltese inhabitants and the people of Rome. The island was a favorite among Roman soldiers as a place to retire from active service. In AD 60, the islands were visited by Saint Paul, who is said to have been shipwrecked on the shores of the aptly-named "San Pawl il-Bahar". Studies of the currents and prevalent winds at the time however, render it more likely that the shipwreck occurred in or around Dahlet San Tumas in Marsascala[citation needed].

After a period of Byzantine rule (fourth to ninth 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, and irrigation systems. Arab influence can be seen most prominently in the modern Maltese language, a Semitic language which also contains significant Romance influences, and is written in a variation of the Latin alphabet.

The period of Arab rule lasted until 1091, when the islands were taken by the Siculo-Normans. A century later the last Norman king, Tancredo di Lecce, appointed Margarito di Brindisi the first Count of Malta. Subsequent rulers included the Angevin, Hohenstaufen, and Aragonese, who reconstituted a County of Malta in 1283. The Maltese nobility was established during this period; some of it dating back to 1400. Around thirty-two noble titles remain in use today, of which the oldest is the Barony of Djar il-Bniet e Buqana.

Knights of Malta and Napoleon

In 1530, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain gave the islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. (The Crown of Aragon had owned the islands as part of its Mediterranean empire for some time). These knights, a military religious 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, at the time the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean sea. After this they decided to increase the fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean 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 Valletta. The Grand Master knew that he could only allow a few ships at a time to enter the harbour, due to the Treaty of Trent. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim capitulated, and Napoleon stayed in Malta for a few days, during which time he systematically looted the movable 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. Their financial and religious reforms did not go down well with the citizens. 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 Dominion, being presented by several Maltese leaders to Sir Alexander Ball.

British rule and World War II

In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire, and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. Malta's position half-way between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal proved to be its main asset during these years, and it was considered to be an important stop on the way to India.

In the early 1930s, the British Mediterranean Fleet, which was at the time the main contributor for the commerce on the island, was moved to Alexandria as an economic measure. Malta played an important role during World War II, owing to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes. The bravery of the Maltese people in their long struggle against enemy attack moved H.M. King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis on 15 April 1942, "to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history". Some historians argue that the award caused Britain to incur disproportionate losses in defending Malta, as British credibility would suffer if Malta was subsequently surrendered to the Axis, as Singapore had been.[3] A replica of the George Cross now appears in the upper hoist corner of the Flag of Malta. The collective award remained unique until April 1999 when the Royal Ulster Constabulary also received a collective George Cross.


After the war, and after 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 adopted an official policy of neutrality in 1980 and, for a brief period was a member of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. In 1989, Malta was the venue of an important summit between US President Bush and Soviet leader Gorbachev, their first face-to-face encounter, which signalled the end of the Cold War.

Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.[4] Following the conclusions of the European Council of 21 to 22 June 2007 it will be joining the Eurozone in 2008.

Politics and government

Politics of Malta

Malta is a republic, whose parliamentary system and public administration is closely modelled on the Westminster system. The unicameral House of Representatives, (Maltese: Il-Kamra tar-Rapprezentanti), is elected by direct universal suffrage through single transferable vote every five years, unless the House is dissolved earlier by the President on advice of the Prime Minister. The House of Representatives is made up of sixty-five Members of Parliament. However, where a party wins an absolute majority of votes, but does not have a majority of seats, that party is given additional seats to ensure a parliamentary majority. The Constitution of Malta provides that the President appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House who is best able to command a (governing) majority in the House.

The President of the Republic is elected every five years by the House of Representatives. The role of the president as head of state is largely ceremonial.

The main political parties are the Nationalist Party, which is a Christian democratic party, and the Malta Labour Party, which is a social democratic party.

The Nationalist Party is currently at the helm of the government, the Prime Minister being Dr. Lawrence Gonzi. The Malta Labour Party, led by Dr. Alfred Sant, is in the opposition.

There are a number of smaller political parties in Malta that presently have no parliamentary representation.


Geography of Malta

Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea (in its eastern basin), some 93 km south of the Italian island of Sicily across the Malta Channel; east of Tunisia and north of Libya in Africa. Only the three largest islands Malta Island (Malta), Gozo (Ghawdex), and Comino (Kemmuna) are inhabited. The smaller islands, such as Filfla, Cominotto and the Islands of St. Paul are uninhabited. 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 is at Ta' Dmejrek on Malta Island at 253 metres (830 ft) near Dingli. Although there are some small rivers at times of high rainfall, there are no permanent rivers or lakes on Malta. However, some watercourses are found randomly around the island that have fresh water running all year round. Such places are Bahrija, Intahleb and San Martin. Running water in Gozo is found at Lunzjata Valley.
The island of Comino
The island of Comino

Contrary to popular belief, the south of Malta is not Europe's most southern point; that distinction belongs to the Greek island of Gavdos.


The climate is Mediterranean (Köppen climate classification Csa), 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. However, strong winds can make Malta feel cold during the spring 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. Malta depends on underground reserves of fresh water, drawn through a system of water tunnels called the Ta' Kandja galleries, which average about 97 m. below surface and extend like the spokes of a wheel. In the galleries in Malta's porous limestone, fresh water lies in a lens upon brine. More than half the potable water of Malta is produced by desalination, which creates further issues of fossil fuel use and pollution.

In January 2007, International Living chose Malta as the country with the best climate in the world.

Lowest temperature ever recorded was in January 1905, at +1.1C, and the highest temperature was +43.8C recorded in August 1999. Snow is virtually unheard of, with very few and brief snowflurries recorded in February 1895, January 1905 and March 1949.

Month Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg high °C (°F) 21 (71) 15 (59) 15 (59) 16 (61) 18 (65) 22 (72) 27 (80) 30 (86) 30 (86) 28 (82) 24 (75) 19 (67) 16 (61)
Avg low temperature °C (°F) 15 (60) 9 (49) 9 (49) 10 (51) 12 (54) 15 (59) 19 (66) 22 (71) 22 (72) 20 (69) 18 (64) 14 (57) 11 (52)
Source: Weatherbase

Local councils

Main article: Local councils of Malta

Since 1994, Malta has been subdivided into sixty-eight local councils. These form the most basic form of local government. There are no intermediate levels between local government and national government. A list of them is below:

v • d • e
Local Councils of Malta and Gozo
Malta Island

Attard · Balzan · Birgu (Città Vittoriosa) · Birkirkara · Birzebbuga · Bormla (Città Cospicua) · Dingli · Fgura · Floriana · Gharghur · Ghaxaq · Gudja · Gzira · Hamrun · Iklin · Isla (Senglea, Città Invincita) · Kalkara · Kirkop · Lija · Luqa · Marsa · Marsaskala (Wied il-Ghajn) · Marsaxlokk · Mdina (Città Notabile) · Mellieha · Mgarr · Mosta · Mqabba · Msida · Mtarfa · Naxxar · Paola (Rahal Gdid) · Pembroke · Pietà · Qormi (Città Pinto) · Qrendi · Rabat · Safi · St. Julian's · San Gwann · St. Paul's Bay · Santa Lucija · Santa Venera · Siggiewi (Città Ferdinand) · Sliema · Swieqi · Tarxien · Ta' Xbiex · Valletta (Città Umilissima) · Xghajra · Zabbar (Città Hompesch) · Zebbug (Città Rohan) · Zejtun (Città Beland) · Zurrieq

Gozo Island

Fontana · Ghajnsielem · Gharb · Ghasri · Kercem · Munxar · Nadur · Qala · Rabat (Victoria) · San Lawrenz · Sannat · Xaghra · Xewkija · Zebbug


Main article: Economy of Malta

Until 1800, Malta had very few industries except the cotton, tobacco, and shipyards industry. The dockyard was later used by the British for military purposes. At times of war, Malta's economy prospered due to its strategic location. This could be seen during the Crimean War of 1854. This benefited those who had a military role, as well as the craftsmen.

In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal benefited Malta's economy greatly as there was a massive increase in the shipping which entered in the port. Entrepôt trade saw many ships stopping at Malta's docks for refuelling, which brought great benefits to the population.

By the end of the 19th century, the economy began declining and by the 1940s, Malta's economy was in serious crisis. This was partially due to the longer range of newer merchant ships which required less frequent refuelling stops.

Presently, Malta’s major resources are limestone, a favourable geographic location, and a productive labour force. Malta produces only about 20% of its food needs, has limited freshwater supplies, and has no domestic energy sources. The economy is dependent on foreign trade (serving as a freight trans-shipment point), manufacturing (especially electronics and textiles), and tourism. Tourism infrastructure has increased dramatically over the years and a number of good-quality hotels are present on the island. An increasing number of Maltese now travel abroad on holiday.[9] Although they are still a net importer of tourism, the ratio of inbound tourists to outbound tourists is decreasing. Film production is a growing contributor to the Maltese economy, with several big-budget foreign films shooting in Malta each year. The country has increased the exports of many other types of services such as banking and finance.

Another important resource for the Republic is Human Resources. The government is investing heavily in the country's provision of education. As all education is free, Malta is currently producing a pool of qualified persons which heavily contribute to the country's growing economy.

Malta has recently privatised some state-controlled firms and liberalised markets in order to prepare for membership in the European Union, which it joined on May 1, 2004. Malta and Tunisia are currently discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for petroleum exploration.

The Maltese government entered ERM II on 4 May 2005, and will adopt the euro as the country's currency on 1 January 2008.[10] Maltese euro coins will feature the Maltese cross.

Recently in Malta, investments have been increasing and the strength of the Maltese Economy is increasing. A fine example is SmartCity, which, when fully completed, will provide well over 5600 new jobs.

Although Malta is now a member of the European Union, it is not a member of the Schengen Treaty yet. It is currently adopting Schengen regulations with the goal of joining in March 2008.


Main article: Armed Forces of Malta

The objectives of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) are to maintain a military organisation with the primary aim of defending the Islands' integrity according to the defence roles as set by Government in an efficient and cost effective manner. This is achieved by emphasizing the maintenance of Malta's territorial waters and airspace integrity.

The AFM also engages in combating terrorism, fighting against illicit drug trafficking, conducting anti-illegal immigrant and anti-illegal fishing operations, operating Search and Rescue (SAR) services, and physical/electronic security/surveillance of sensitive locations. Malta's Search and Rescue area extends from east of Tunisia to west of Crete covering an area of around 250,000 km².

As a military organisation, the AFM provides backup support to the Malta Police Force (MPF) and other government departments/agencies in situations as required in an organised, disciplined manner in the event of national emergencies (such as natural disasters) or internal security and bomb disposal.

On another level, the AFM establishes and/or consolidates bilateral co-operation with other countries to reach higher operational effectiveness related to AFM roles.

[edit] Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Malta

[edit] Population

A census of population and housing is held every ten years. The last census was held over three weeks in November 2005 and managed to enumerate an estimated 95% of the population. A preliminary report was issued in April 2006, and results were weighted to an estimate for 100% of the population.

The resident population of Malta, which includes foreigners residing in Malta for at least a year, as of 27 November 2005 was estimated at 404,039 of whom 200,715 (49.7%) were males and 203,324 (50.3%) were females. Of these, 17.1 per cent were aged 14 and under, 68.2 per cent were within the 15–64 age bracket whilst the remaining 13.7 per cent were 65 years and over. Malta's population density of 1,282 per square kilometre (3,322/sq mi) is by far the highest in the EU, and one of the highest in the world. The only census year showing a fall in population was that of 1967, with a 1.7% total decrease, attributable to a substantial number of Maltese residents who emigrated.[13] The Maltese-resident population for 2004 was estimated to make up 97.0% of the total resident population.[14]

Through all the censuses since 1842 there was always a slightly higher female-to-male ratio. Closest to reaching equality were 1901 and 1911 censuses. The highest female-to-male ratio was reached in 1957 (1088:1000), and since the ratio has been constantly dropping. The 2005 census showed a 1013:1000 female-to-male ratio.

Population growth has slowed down, from +9.5% between the 1985 and 1995 censuses, to +6.9% between the 1995 and 2005 censuses (a yearly average of +0.7%). The birth rate stood at 3860 (a decrease of 21.8% from the 1995 census) and the death rate stood at 3025. Thus, there was a natural population increase of 835 (compared to +888 for 2004, of which over a hundred were foreign residents).[15]

The population's age composition is similar to the age structure prevalent in the EU. Since 1967 there was observed a trend indicating an aging population, and is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. Malta's old-age-dependency-ratio rose from 17.2% in 1995 to 19.8% in 2005, reasonably lower than the EU's 24.9% average. In fact, 31.5% of the Maltese population is aged under 25 (compared to the EU's 29.1%); but the 50-64 age group constitutes 20.3% of the population, significantly higher than the EU's 17.9%. In conclusion, Malta's old-age-dependency-ratio is expected to continue rising steadily in the coming years.

Maltese legislation recognizes both civil and Canonic marriages. Annulments by the ecclesiastic and civil courts are unrelated and are not necessarily both granted. There is no divorce legislation and abortion within Maltese territory is illegal. A person has to be 16 to marry. The number of brides aged under 25 decreased from 1471 in 1997 to 766 in 2005; while the number of grooms under 25 decreased from 823 to 311. There is a constant trend that females are more likely than males to marry very young. In 2005, there were 51 brides aged between 16 and 19, compared to 8 grooms.[15]

[edit] Languages

Main article: Maltese language

The national language of Malta is Maltese, a Semitic language which descended from Maghrebi Arabic, with many borrowings from Italian and, in particular, Sicilian.[16]

The Maltese alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, but uses the diacritically altered letters z, also found in Polish, as well as the letters c, g, gh, h and ie, which are unique to Maltese. The official languages are Maltese and English. Italian was an official language of Malta until the 1930s, and is widely spoken as a second or third language.[17] French, Arabic, German and Spanish, amongst other languages, are taught as foreign languages in secondary schools.

[edit] Religion
The Mosta Dome
The Mosta Dome

Main article: Religion in Malta

The Constitution of Malta provides for freedom of religion but establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion.[18] Freedom House and the World Factbook report that 98 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, making the nation one of the most Catholic countries in the world. The Sunday Mass Attendance Census 2005[19] commissioned by the The Archdiocese of Malta reports that 52.6% of the population attends regular religious services. This is one of the highest rate of attendance in Europe.

Around 22% of the population is reported to be active in a church group, movement or community. Malta has the highest concentration of members per capita of the Neocatechumenal Way in the world, since it was introduced in the islands in 1973 by three Italian catechists, who started the first community in the Immaculate Conception Parish in Hamrun.

The Patron Saints are Saint Paul, Saint Agata and Saint George Preca, known as Dun Gorg - the first Maltese saint, canonized on 3 June 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI.

There are also some churches of other denominations, such as St. Andrew's Scots Church in Valletta (a joint Presbyterian and Methodist congregation) and St Paul's Anglican Cathedral.

[edit] Migration

EU nationals require neither a visa nor a passport (an ID card or an expired passport are enough) to enter the country. Citizens of a number of third countries are not required to apply for a visa and require only a valid passport when residing in Malta for up to three months. Visas for other nationalities are valid for one month.

Immigrants, even those with EU citizenship, are required to apply for a work permit. This exception to EU law was agreed upon before accession to safeguard the Maltese labour market. In practice though, all work permits to EU nationals are granted and currently this exercise is only used to monitor the labour market for any needed intervention. The safeguards negotiated in Malta's accession have never been put into effect and it is unlikely that they will.

The estimated net inflow (using data for 2002 to 2004) was of 1,913 persons yearly. Over the last 10 years, Malta accepted back a yearly average of 425 returning emigrants.[14]

During 2006, a total of 1,800 illegal immigrants reached Malta making the boat crossing from the North Africa coast. Most of them intended to reach mainland Europe and happened to come to Malta by mistake.[20][21] Given Malta's high population density, the impact of this figure on Malta is equivalent to that of an arrival of 369,000 irregular immigrants in Germany and other large EU member states.[22] In the first half of 2006, 967 irregular immigrants arrived in Malta – almost double the 473 who arrived in the same period in 2005.[23]

Around 45% of immigrants landed in Malta have been granted refugee (5%) or protected humanitarian status (40%). A White Paper suggesting the grant of Maltese citizenship to refugees resident in Malta for over ten years was issued in 2005. Historically Malta gave refuge (and assisted in their resettlement) to eight hundred or so East African Asians who had been expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin and to just under a thousand Iraqis fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime.

Presently the problem of illegal immigration has increased steadily, causing real or perceived strains on Malta's health, employment and social services, its internal security and public order and labour market. Detention costs for the first half of 2006 alone cost Lm320,423 (€746,385).

In 2005, Malta sought EU aid in relation to reception of irregular immigrants, repatriation of those denied refugee status, resettlement of refugees into EU countries, and maritime security.[25] In December 2005, the European Council adopted The Global Approach to Migration: Priority Actions focusing on Africa and the Mediterranean; but the deployment of said actions has been limited to the western Mediterranean, thus putting further pressure on the central Mediterranean route for irregular immigration of which Malta forms a part.

Political tension started developing as the EU persistently ignored Malta's precarious situation: member states party to the legally-binding Cotonou Agreement continued not to fulfill their obligations and East African countries, from which most central Mediterranean irregular immigration originates, were excluded from the Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development held 10-11 July 2006 in Tripoli).[23]


Education is compulsory between the ages of 3 and 16 years. While the state provides education free of charge, the Church and the private sector run a number of schools in Malta and Gozo. Most of the teachers' salary in Church schools is paid by the state.

Education in Malta is based on the British Model.Tertiary education at diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate level is mainly provided by the University of Malta (UoM).

The adult literacy rate is 92.8%.


Main article: Culture of Malta

The culture of Malta is a reflection of various cultures that have come into contact with the Maltese Islands throughout the centuries, including neighbouring Mediterranean cultures, and the cultures of the nations that ruled Malta for long periods of time prior to its independence in 1964.

Maltese cuisine

Maltese cuisine is the result of a long relationship between the Islanders and the many foreigners who made Malta their home over the centuries. This marriage of tastes has given Malta an eclectic mix of Mediterranean cooking. Many popular Maltese specialities are Italian/Sicilian or Moorish in origin.


Main article: Music of Malta

While Maltese music today is largely western, traditional Maltese music includes what is known as ghana. This consists of background folk guitar music, while a few people take it in turns to argue a point in a singsong voice. The aim of the lyrics, which are improvised, are to create a friendly yet challenging atmosphere, and takes a number of years of practice to be able to combine the required artistic qualities with the ability to debate effectively. (Credit: Wikipedia).