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Malta ( i /ˈmɒltə/; Maltese: [ˈmɐltɐ] ), officially known as the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta), is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. The country covers just over 316 km 2 (122 sq mi), with a population of just under 450,000 (despite an extensive emigration programme since the Second World War), [3] making it one of the world's smallest [8] [9] [10] and most densely populated countries. The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km 2, is the smallest national capital in the European Union. [11] Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English.

Malta's location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians,Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands.

King George VI of the United Kingdom awarded the George Cross to Malta in 1942 for the country's bravery in the Second World War. [12] TheGeorge Cross continues to appear on Malta's national flag. [13] Under the Malta Independence Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1964, Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom as an independent sovereign Commonwealth realm, officially known from 1964 to 1974 as theState of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its head of state.

The country became a republic in 1974, and although no longer a Commonwealth realm, remains a current member state of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta is claimed to be an apostolic see because, according to the Acts of the Apostles, [15] Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta.

Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, [19] Valletta, [20] and seven Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.

Etymology [edit]


The origin of the term Malta is uncertain, and the modern-day variation derives from the Maltese language. The most common etymology is that the word Malta derives from the Greek word μέλι, meli, "honey". [24] The ancient Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melitē) meaning "honey-sweet" (which was also, inter alia, the name of a Nereid [25] ), possibly due to Malta's unique production of honey; an endemic species of bee lives on the island. The Romans went on to call the island Melita, [26] which can be considered either as a latinisation of the Greek Μελίτη or the adaptation of the Doric Greek pronunciation of the same word Μελίτα. [27]

Another conjecture suggests that the word Malta comes from the Phoenician word Maleth"a haven" [28] or "port" [29] in reference to Malta's many bays and coves. Few other etymological mentions appear in classical literature, with the term Malta appearing in its present form in the Antonine Itinerary (Itin. Marit. p. 518; Sil. Ital. xiv. 251). [30]

History [edit]


Main articles: History of Malta and Timeline of Maltese history

See also: Megalithic Temples of Malta, Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, and Għar Dalam

Pottery found by archaeologists at the Skorba Temples resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BCE mainly by Stone Age hunters or farmers who had arrived from the Italian island of Sicily, possibly the Sicani.

The Sicani were the only tribe known to have inhabited the island at this time and are generally regarded as being closely related to the Iberians.

Pottery from the Għar Dalam phase is similar to pottery found in Agrigento, Sicily.

The temples have distinctive architecture, typically a complex trefoil design, and were used from 4000 to 2500 BCE.

Another interesting archaeological feature of the Maltese islands often attributed to these ancient builders, are equidistant uniform grooves dubbed "cart tracks" or "cart ruts" which can be found in several locations throughout the islands with the most prominent being those found in Misraħ Għar il-Kbir, which is informally known as "Clapham Junction".

After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta.

See also: Magna Graecia, Phoenicia, Cippi of Melqart, Ancient Rome, Sicilia (Roman province), and Byzantine Empire

Phoenician traders, [44] who used the islands as a stop on their trade routes from the eastern Mediterranean to Cornwall, joined the natives on the island.

After the fall of Phoenicia in 332 BC, the area came under the control of Carthage, a former Phoenician colony.

During the First Punic War, the island was conquered after harsh fighting by Marcus Atilius Regulus.

In the 1st century BC, Roman Senator and orator Cicero commented on the importance of the Temple of Juno, and on the extravagant behaviour of the Roman governor of Sicily, Verres.

In 395, when the Roman Empire was divided for the last time at the death of Theodosius I, Malta, following Sicily, fell under the control of the Western Roman Empire.

See also: Arab–Byzantine wars and Emirate of Sicily

Malta became involved in the Muslim–Byzantine Wars, and the conquest of Malta is closely linked with that of Sicily that began in 827 after admiral Euphemius' betrayal of his fellow Byzantines, requesting that the Aghlabids invade the island.

The Christians on the island were allowed freedom of religion; they had to pay jizya, a tax for non-Muslims, but were exempt from the tax that Muslims had to pay (zakat).

Malta was ruled by the House of Barcelona, an Aragonese dynasty from 1282 to 1409, with the Aragonese aiding the Maltese insurgents in theSicilian Vespers in a naval battle in Grand Harbour in 1283.

Relatives of the kings of Aragon ruled the island until 1409, when it formally passed to the Crown of Aragon.

On 23 March 1530, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller under the leadership of Frenchman Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order, [72] [73] in perpetual lease for which they had to pay an annual tribute of one single Maltese Falcon.

In 1551, the population of the island of Gozo (around 5,000 people) were taken as slaves by Barbary pirates and brought to the Barbary Coast in present-day Libya.

The knights, led by Frenchman Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Order, withstood the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottomans in 1565.

The Knights' reign ended when Napoleon captured Malta on his way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798.

During 12–18 June 1798, Napoleon resided at the Palazzo Parisio in Valletta.

The French forces left behind became unpopular with the Maltese, due particularly to the French forces' hostility towards Catholicism and pillaging of local churches to fund Napoleon's war efforts.

General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois surrendered his French forces in 1800.

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.

Between 1915 and 1918, during the First World War, Malta became known as the Nurse of the Mediterranean due to the large number of wounded soldiers who were accommodated in Malta.

In 1919 British troops fired on a rally protesting against new taxes, killing four Maltese men.

Before the Second World War, Valletta was the location of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet's headquarters.

During the Second World War, Malta played a very important role for the Allies; being a British colony, situated close to Sicily and the Axis shipping lanes, Malta was bombarded by the Italian and German air forces.

Malta achieved its independence on 21 September 1964 (Independence Day) after intense negotiations with the United Kingdom, led by Maltese Prime Minister George Borġ Olivier.

Malta adopted a policy of neutrality in 1980.

On 16 July 1990, Malta, through its foreign minister, Guido de Marco, applied to join the European Union.

Malta joined the European Union on 1 May 2004.

Politics


Malta is a republic [110] whose parliamentary system and public administration are closely modelled on the Westminster system.

The House of Representatives is made up of 69 members of parliament.

The President of Malta is appointed for a five-year term by a resolution of the House of Representatives carried by a simple majority.

Until the Second World War, Maltese politics was dominated by the language question fought out by Italophile and Anglophile parties.

Malta has had a system of local government since 1993, [113] based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Each council is made up of a number of councillors (from 5 to 13, depending on and relative to the population they represent).

Local councils are responsible for the general upkeep and embellishment of the locality (including repairs to non-arterial roads), allocation of local wardens and refuse collection; they also carry out general administrative duties for the central government such as collection of government rents and funds and answer government-related public inquiries.

The Republic of Malta has the following sister cities:

  • Bainbridge Island, Washington

In addition, a number of individual cities, towns and villages in Malta have sister cities abroad: see List of twin towns and sister cities in Malta.

Aside from this, Malta, as a member of the European Union, has bilateral relations with most of Europe.

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 the government in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

The AFM also engages in combating terrorism, fighting against illicit drug trafficking, conducting anti-illegal immigrant operations and patrols and anti-illegal fishing operations, operating search and rescue (SAR) services, and physical/electronic security/surveillance of sensitive locations.

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.

Geography


Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean (in its eastern basin), some 80 km (50 mi) south of the Italian island of Sicily across the Malta Channel.

Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbours.

Phytogeographically, Malta belongs to the Liguro-Tyrrhenian province of the Mediterranean Region within the Boreal Kingdom.

Economy


Malta is classified as an advanced economy together with 32 other countries according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal gave Malta's economy a great boost, as there was a massive increase in the shipping which entered the port.

However, towards the end of the 19th century the economy began declining, and by the 1940s Malta's economy was in serious crisis.

Currently, Malta's major resources are limestone, a favourable geographic location and a productive labour force.

Film production is a growing contributor to the Maltese economy.

The government is investing heavily in education, including college.

In preparation for Malta's membership in the European Union, which it joined on 1 May 2004, it privatised some state-controlled firms and liberalised markets.

Malta has taken important and substantial steps to establish itself as a global player in the cross-border fund administration business.

Malta and Tunisia are currently discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for petroleum exploration.

Malta does not have a property tax.

According to Eurostat data, Maltese GDP per capita stood at 86 per cent of the EU average in 2010 with €21,000.

The two largest commercial banks are Bank of Valletta and HSBC Bank Malta, both of which can trace their origins back to the 19th century.

The Central Bank of Malta (Bank Ċentrali ta' Malta) has two key areas of responsibility: the formulation and implementation of monetary policy and the promotion of a sound and efficient financial system.

FinanceMalta is the quasi-governmental organisation tasked with marketing and educating business leaders in coming to Malta and runs seminars and events around the world highlighting the emerging strength of Malta as a jurisdiction for banking and finance and insurance.

Traffic in Malta drives on the left.

Malta has 2,254 kilometres (1,401 miles) of road, 1,972 km (1,225 mi) (87.5%) of which are paved and 282 km (175 mi) were unpaved (as of December 2003).

Buses (xarabank or karozza tal-linja) are the primary method of public transport. Established in 1905, they operated in the Maltese islands up to 2011 and became popular tourist attractions in their own right. To this day they are depicted on many Maltese advertisements to promote tourism as well as on gifts and merchandise for tourists.

The bus service underwent an extensive reform in July 2011.

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