Malta ( MOL-tə, MAWL-tə, Maltese: [ˈmɐltɐ]), officially known as the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta’ Malta [rɛˈpʊbːlɪkɐ tɐ ˈmɐltɐ]), is an island country in the European Union consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, and considered part of Southern Europe. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Sicily (Italy), 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. The official languages are Maltese and English, and 66% of the current Maltese population is at least conversational in the Italian language.
Malta has been inhabited since approximately 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 having contested and ruled the islands, including the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British, amongst others.
With a population of about 516,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world’s tenth-smallest country in area and fourth most densely populated sovereign country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area and population. According to the data from 2020 by Eurostat, the Functional Urban Area and metropolitan region covered the whole island and has a population of 480,134, and according to the United Nations, ESPON and EU Commission, “the whole territory of Malta constitutes a single urban region“. Malta increasingly is referred to as a city-state, and also listed in rankings concerning cities or metropolitan areas. Malta is one of the two island countries in the Mediterranean, along with Cyprus.
Malta became a British colony in 1813, serving as a way station for ships and the headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. It was besieged by the Axis powers during World War II and was an important Allied base for operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean. 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 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; it became part of the eurozone monetary union in 2008.
Malta has had Christians since the time of Early Christianity, though was predominantly Muslim while under Arab rule, at which time Christians were tolerated. Muslim rule ended with the Norman invasion of Malta by Roger I in 1091. Today, Catholicism is the state religion, but the Constitution of Malta guarantees freedom of conscience and religious worship. The economy of Malta is heavily reliant on tourism, and the country promotes itself as a Mediterranean tourist destination with its warmer climate compared to the rest of Europe, 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.