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Malta

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Republic of Malta
Repubblika ta' Malta
Location of Malta on the European continent
Map of Malta
Location of Malta on the European continent
Location of Malta on the European continent
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: L-Innu Malti
("The Maltese Anthem")

Patron Saint(s): Saint Paul and Saint George
CapitalValletta
Official language(s) Maltese
English
Demonym Maltese
Government Parliamentary Republic
 -  President George Abela
 -  Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi
 -  Speaker of the House Michael Frendo
Legislature House of Representatives
Independence
 -  from the United Kingdom 21 September 1964 
 -  Republic 13 December 1974 
Area
 -  Total 316 km2 (200th)
121 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.001
Population
 -  2011 estimate 452,515 increase (171st)
 -  2007 census 410,567 
 -  Density 1,306.8/km2 (7th)
3,413.9/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $10.757 billion 
 -  Per capita $25,428 
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $8.896 billion 
 -  Per capita $21,028 
Gini (2007) 26.0 (low
HDI (2011) increase 0.832 (very high) (36th)
Currency Euro (€)[a] (EUR)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Date formats dd/mm/yyyy (AD)
Drives on the Left
Internet TLD .mt
Calling code 356
a. ^ Prior to 2008, the national currency was the Maltese Lira (₤).


Malta, officially the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' 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. The country's official languages are Maltese and English. Roman Catholicism is the most common religion. The strategically located islands constituting the Maltese nation have been ruled by various powers and fought over for centuries. Malta has been a member state of the European Union since May 1, 2004. It 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, the British George Cross. Its capital city is Valletta.

History

Early History

Mnajdra temples.

The islands of Malta have been inhabited since the great migration of men after the Tower of Babel (2242 BC). A significant culture marked by Megalithic structures existed on the islands. The oldest of all the megalithic temples on the islands is il-Ġgantija, in Għawdex dating back to roughly 2250 BC. One of the very earliest marks of civilization on the islands is the temple of Ħaġar Qim, which dates from between 2250 and 2100 BC, stands on a hilltop on the southern edge of the island of Malta. Adjacent to Ħaġar Qim, lies another remarkable temple site, l-Imnajdra. The society that built these structures eventually died out or at any rate disappeared.

Ancient Civilizations

Phoenicians colonized the islands around 700 BC, using them as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians called the island Malat, which means a "safe haven." Two candelabra found in Malta bore an inscription in both Phoenician and Greek, which provided the key to deciphering the Phoenician language. 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 Fœderata Civitas. Many Roman antiquities still exist, testifying to the close link between the inhabitants of Malta and the people of Rome.

Advent of Christianity

The shipwreck of St. Paul in 60 AD is recorded in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles, and a Pauline tradition of long standing supported by archeological excavations carried out at San Pawl Milqghi prove beyond doubt that his arrival in Malta is a historical fact and it is also a fact that during his three-month stay on the Island he sowed the first seeds of the Christian Religion to which Maltese people overwhelmingly belong, but inevitably, a number of legends have grown up over the centuries, some verging on the impossible, but others not without a grain of truth. The Apostle Paul was, at this time, being conducted to Rome under arrest to be judged before Caesar as was his right as a Roman Citizen. Amongst the other prisoners was the physician St. Luke who recorded the account of that eventful journey.

The nearest habitation to the place of shipwreck was the villa of Publius, the Chief Man of the Island. All those who had been shipwrecked spent three days there and after they had regained their strength they moved on to Melita the chief town of rile island. In the city Paul cured Publius' father of a fever after which the Chief Man of the Island was converted to Christianity and later ordained Bishop by St. Paul. St. Publius was the first bishop of Malta. After three months, by which time, the sea was again reckoned to be safe for navigation, and loaded with gifts from his Maltese friends, Saint Paul sailed away to Rome and to his subsequent martyrdom. When the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire it may be assumed that Christian worship was better organized and that a number of places of assembly were built in various places in the islands. Tradition has it that one such church was built on the site of the palace of Publius, where St. Paul had cured the father of the Chief Man of the Island. Many times rebuilt, the site is now occupied by the Cathedral Church dedicated to Saint Paul at Mdina.

Middle Ages

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 notably, the Arabic language, which the Maltese population adopted as their mother tongue. Arab influence can be seen most prominently in the modern Maltese language, which also contains traces of Romance influence, and is written in a variety of the Latin alphabet.

The period of Arab rule lasted until 1091, when the islands were taken by the Sicilian Normans. Subsequent rulers included the Angevine, the Hohenstaufen, and the Aragonese (1283). The Maltese nobility was established during this period; some of it dating back to 1400. 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 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. 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-harbor 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 harbor to resupply his ships, and then turned his guns against his hosts once safely inside Valletta. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim capitulated, and Napoleon stayed in Malta for a few days, during which 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. 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.

British Rule

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 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. The bravery of the Maltese people in their long struggle against enemy attack led to them being awarded the George Cross on 15 April 1942, now included in the corner of the Flag of Malta.

Satellite image of Malta.

Independence

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.

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