Malta is an archipelago of islands about halfway between the coasts of Sicily and North Africa.
Once home to ancient civilisations and Europe’s most noble families, Malta’s history has been at the heart of the Mediterranean’s development. Its people, the Maltese, are a friendly, multilingual race. The official languages are Maltese and English, the latter a legacy of the almost 200-year British rule. Maltese is a language of Semitic origin written in the Latin script. Over the centuries, it has incorporated many words derived from English, Italian and French. Italian is also widely spoken.
Malta’s climate is strongly influenced by the sea and is typical of the Mediterranean. The Islands have a very sunny climate with a daily average of five to six hours of sunshine in mid-winter to around 12 hours in summer. Winters are mild, with the occasional short chilly period brought about by the north and north-easterly winds from central Europe.
Annual rainfall is low, averaging 568mm a year, and the length of the dry season in summer is longer than in neighbouring Italy. Sea bathing is quite possible well into the ‘winter’ months, and the peak beach season can last until mid- to late October.
Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC and a significant pre-historic civilisation existed on the islands before the arrival of the Phoenicians who named the main island ‘Malat’, meaning "safe haven".
This strategic position has made it a crossroad in the history of several nations. The powers of Europe's past knew Malta well as a stepping-stone between Europe and North Africa, to its shores have come Stone-Age and Bronze-Age people, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans, Carthaginians, Castilians, French and British; from whom Malta became independent in 1964.
Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004, and the Eurozone in 2008.