Malta officially known as the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta), is a Southern European island country in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km south of Italy, 284 km east of Tunisia, and 333 km north of Libya. The country covers just over 316 km2 (Malta, the largest island, is 237 sq. kms in area; Gozo is 68 sq. kms and Comino, 2 sq. kms.), with a population of just under 450,000 (despite an extensive emigration programme since the Second World War), making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. On the Malta island is population circa 370,000, 28,000 live in Gozo. Comino is only inhabited by a few farmers. The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km2, is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English.
Because of their strategic position, Malta and Gozo have been inhabited for the past 7,000 years. The two islands have a long and varied prehistoric period: Neolithic, Copper and Bronze age civilisations lasted more than 4,000 years; one can still admire vestiges of those remote times in form of impressive stone temples, a unique hypogeum and remains of skilful handicrafts.
The first known people to settle in Malta were the Phoenicians, who reached these shores on their trading ventures in the 9th century BC. They were succeeded by their Punic kinsmen, the Carthaginians, who were eventually conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BC. The Romans governed these islands until the division of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. Arabs from North Africa occupied the Islands from the 9th to the 11th century and when the last Arab rulers were driven out, they left behind them notable imprints of their culture on the language of the Maltese people.
After the Norman overlords, Swabian and Angevin dynasties ruled for brief periods and at the beginning of the 14th century, the Islands fell under Aragonese domination. In 1530, the King of Spain, Emperor Charles V, granted the Islands on fief to the international Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.
The Knights administered the Islands for 268 years until 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte drove them from these shores and occupied the country in the name of the French Republic. Following a brief occupation the French were forced to surrender after two years of a land and sea blockade by combined British and Maltese forces, and in 1800, Malta became a part of the British Empire.
In World War II, the bravery of the Maltese people during the second Siege of Malta moved King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis in 1942.
In 1964, Malta attained its Independence and ten years later, in 1974, it was declared a Republic within the Commonwealth.