The Maltese Islands
Member State of the EU.
|Year of EU entry
||currently Maltese Lira
The Maltese archipelago lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean, with Malta 93km south of Sicily and 288km north of Africa. The archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino with a total population of 400,000 inhabitants over an area of 316sq km and a coastline of 196.8km (not including 56.01 kmfor the island of Gozo).
Malta is the largest island and the cultural, commercial and administrative centre. Gozo is the second largest island and is more rural, characterised by fishing, tourism, crafts and agriculture while Comino is largely uninhabited.
The Maltese Islands are positively mythic. The terrain is low and rocky with coastal cliffs. The narrow streets of Malta's towns and villages are crowded with Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque palaces. As the countryside is dotted with the oldest known human structures in the world, the Islands have rightly been described as 'an open-air museum'. Malta has a history stretching back thousands of years. Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC and a significant prehistoric civilisation existed on the island prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians who named the main island Malat, meaning safe haven. Later the islands were for centuries the seat of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John and part of the British Empire.
Malta became independent in 1964.
The long relationship between the Islanders and the various nationalities that occupied Malta over the centuries has created a marriage of styles and traditions, giving the Islands a fascinating eclectic culture.
Malta's national languages are English and Maltese and many Maltese also speak Italian. The unit of currency is currently the Maltese Lira (Lm), with a central parity rate against the Euro of 0.4293. The adoption of the Euro is expected in 2008.