Malta is a small island nation located approximately 58 miles (93 km) south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Its population of 400,000 (2005) inhabits only three of its seven islands: Malta Island, Gozo and Comino. Its location midway between the Suez Canal and Gibraltar has made it a highly desired location today, as well as throughout history.
Malta was settled as early as 3200 to 2500 BCE, which is evidenced by a temple that is one of the world’s oldest structures, built by a society that is now extinct. In 700 BCE, the Phoenicians settled the islands, and it was used as a stop on the Mediterranean trade route. As with most nations in the region, Malta fell under Roman control in 218 BCE. The Romans would prove to be one of Malta’s greatest influences, which is evidenced today in its culture and architecture.
One of the most famous shipwrecks of antiquity is when St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta in 40 CE. For Christians, it was perhaps, divine intervention — the Pagan population was subsequently converted, and Roman Catholicism remains the number one religion practiced.
From the 4th to 9th centuries, Malta was under the control of the Byzantine Empire, followed by the Vandals, then the Arabs in the 9th century CE. The biggest mark the Arabs made on Malta was its influence on the nation’s primary language, Maltese. By the end of the 11th century, a laundry list of Europeans took turns ruling Malta. In the 1500s, the Spanish King Charles V bestowed the island nation to an order of knights, resulting in the well known “Knights of Malta.”
Malta was also occupied by Napoleon’s troops for a time, but in 1814, became a member of the British Empire. On 21 September 1964, Malta became an independent nation, and is currently governed by a parliamentary system. Malta’s location has proven to be its greatest asset throughout history, with few exports besides its primary export, limestone. Educated workers are another Maltese export — education is free to all citizens.
Due to its location, beautiful architecture and Mediterranean climate, Malta is a fairly popular tourist destination with diving, nightlife, golfing and beach and water sports as favorite diversions. Malta’s film industry is growing, with many major movies being filmed there. Malta is a member of the European Union (EU), and will adopt the Euro as its main currency on the first of January 2008.