Malta (/ˈmɒltə, ˈmɔːl-/ (About this sound listen); 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. At over 316 km2 (122 sq mi), and with a population of just under 450,000, Malta is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. Malta’s capital city is Valletta, which at 0.8 km2, is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area; its largest city and chief economic center is Birkirkara. Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English, with the former also recognized as the national language. Maltese is the only Semitic language to be officially recognized in the European Union.
Malta has been inhabited since around 5900 BC. Its location in the centre of the Mediterranean has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, with a succession of powers — including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, Turkish, French, and British — having contested and ruled the islands. Most of these foreign influences have left some sort of mark on the country’s ancient culture.
Malta became a British colony in 1815, serving as a critical way station for ships and the headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. It played an important role in the Allied war effort during the Second World War, and was subsequently awarded the George Cross for its bravery in the face of an Axis siege. The George Cross continues to appear on Malta’s national flag. Following intense negotiations, the British Parliament passed the Malta Independence Act in 1964, giving Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its head of state and queen. The country became a republic in 1974. It has been a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations since independence, and joined the European Union in 2004; in 2008, it became part of the Eurozone.
Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Archdiocese is claimed to be an apostolic see because, according to Acts of the Apostles, St Paul was shipwrecked on “Melita”, now widely taken to be Malta. Catholicism is the official religion in Malta. Article 40 of the Constitution states that “All persons in Malta shall have full freedom of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective mode of religious worship.”
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,Valletta, and seven megalithic temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.
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