Malta is a small, island nation located in the Mediterranean Sea. Its geographic shape can be best described as a quadrilateral, with the exception of the south west which is an indented coastline. Malta’s total area covers just 268 km², making this small country one of the world’s smallest.
Malta’s climate can be classified as Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot summers. Average wind speeds reach 5 m/s during the winter, and 17 m/s during summer, making it a suitable location for both year-round human habitation and year-round agricultural production.
The Maltese archipelago was first inhabited over 7,000 years ago by the ancient race of people known as the Tal-qrn (or Tal-maġin) – a name derived from the root tala, meaning ‘stone’. The first reference to Maltese history was made in 950 BC. However, it is generally accepted that Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC.
The ancient Tal-qrn were forced to leave Malta when the islands were conquered by the Phoenicians (circa 1200 BC). The Phoenicians occupied Malta for a short period of time before passing control on to other groups such as the Greeks, the Carthaginians and finally the Romans (218 BC). The Phoenicians and the Greeks had a significant impact on Maltese culture, as they merged with the Tal-qrn to produce a hybrid society.
The Romans referred to Malta as Melite, meaning ‘honey’. It was this name that became contracted into the word Malta. Legend has it that St Paul was shipwrecked in Malta during his voyage to Rome in AD 60.
Arrival of Christianity in Malta
The arrival of Christianity in Malta was during the time that St Paul was shipwrecked, and this event is considered to be highly significant by Maltese Christians, who believe that Malta’s well-being is intrinsically linked with Christianity. This belief is due to the fact that St Paul converted Publius, the Roman Governor of Melite, to Christianity.
An established culture in Malta dates back to around 5200 BC when Tal-qrn inhabitants inhabited the islands. The Tal-qrn were followed by other groups including Phoenicians (circa 1200 BC), Greeks (753 BC) and Carthaginians (circa 400 BC).
With the exception of a few years under Napoleon Bonaparte, Malta has been ruled by the English, French and Italians over the course of history. Today, Malta is known as an independent country with close ties to Britain. The Maltese population numbers around 410,000 people. Those who identify themselves as Maltese are primarily Roman Catholic (92%).
Exports of Maltese goods include textiles, chemicals and processed foods. Malta is also a significant tourist destination (9.9 million tourists in 2010), and is known for its historic temples and fortresses, fine wines and cuisine. The Maltese language – Għarbi – is spoken by around 94% of the population.
Malta is known for exporting textiles, processed foods and wines. Maltese wine is produced in over 30 vineyards located on the island of Malta – with most vines being established around 5200 BC! The local wine industry has developed significantly since 2000, rising to international recognition with awards for its quality wines.
The majority of Maltese people identify themselves as Roman Catholics (92%), and many place a lot of significance on the Christian faith. At Easter, most Maltese attend religious ceremonies that draw attention to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Public holidays in Malta include Good Friday and Easter Monday. During these times workers tend not to come into work, and most businesses and stores close.
February 9 is a holiday called Freedom Day, which commemorates the expulsion of the French from Malta in 1800.
April 29 is a public holiday known as Labour Day or Workers’ Day. This day is celebrated to recognise the importance of workers in society. Most Maltese people attend church on this day, and a public fair is held in Floriana. Workers prepare and share a meal of traditional Maltese dishes.
Malta holds the European record for the smallest difference between male and female life expectancy (5.7 years). Maltese men generally live to around 77 years old, while women are expected to live until they are 82 years old.
Major Cities in Malta
Maltese cities such as Sliema and St Julians offer a range of dining experiences. Traditional Maltese dishes include Qaq-in-Saħeb (the national dish), Ħobż bi żejt (almond pastry) and Spanakopita (spinach pie). Oriġinali Malti (Maltese bread), made from flour and yeast, is baked and sold daily in most towns and villages.
The local cuisine also includes a wide range of international food, such as Chinese, Indian and Italian. A popular dish among tourists is pastizzi (a pastry filled with ricotta cheese or mushy peas). Maltese desserts include the delicious sfenj (fried dough balls) and qaq-tal-ghasel (ball of dough filled with honey).
Malta enjoys a Mediterranean climate, characterized by warm, dry summers and mild winters. Summer air temperatures can exceed 26°C in June and July, while winter averages around 10°C. Autumn and Spring are typically mild with an average temperature of around 18°C.
Maltese people love to spend their free time outdoors, especially during the summer months. This is when they enjoy water sports, such as swimming, diving and sailing. Other popular activities include cycling, picnicking at parks or walking through scenic locations like Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra.
Happiest Country in World
According to the World Happiness Report, Malta is one of the world’s happiest countries – with a 2012 happiness score of 7.439 out of 10! The Maltese also enjoy a good work-life balance: they only work an average 38 hours per week, and frequently take advantage of a five-week holiday entitlement.
Malta is found in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, roughly 140 kilometres from Sicily and 500 kilometres from North Africa. It is an archipelago composed of three islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino. The largest island, also known as Malta, has a land area of 316 km2.
Constitution & Judicial of Malta
Malta is a parliamentary constitutional republic with the Prime Minister as head of government. The unicameral Parliament has 65 members, known as Members of Parliament or MPs. These include 12 members nominated by the President, who can choose one or more candidates depending on the popular vote received by each party.
Malta’s highest court is the Constitutional Court, composed of five justices. It oversees election challenges and ensures that Maltese laws do not contradict the Constitution.
The judiciary consists of civil courts (which hear cases concerning contracts and torts), criminal courts (which deal with criminal offences) and a court of summary jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from lower courts, up to the Crown Court.
Malta’s most popular sports are football and waterpolo. The National Football Team, known as the ‘Hawks’, was ranked 85th in the world by FIFA in 2013. Maltese women enjoy playing netball, which is somewhat similar to basketball or volleyball. However, there are no official national teams for either of these sports.
Malta’s most popular games include snooker and backgammon. The Malta Community Chest Fund, a charity set up in 1969, provides free hospital treatment to both Maltese and foreign patients on the basis of need.
The average annual income was estimated at €14,918 in 2014, while the unemployment rate was 4.7%. Maltese citizens enjoy generous social security benefits, with healthcare, education and certain transport costs either fully or partly covered by the state.
Italian is Malta’s national language. English is also spoken, together with Maltese – which uses a Latin-based alphabet. A majority of men speak Italian fluently, while most women can hold a basic conversation in English.
Malta is a safe country with no natural hazards. However, it has been struck by several earthquakes and tsunamis over the centuries. In around 1530, for example, an earthquake destroyed many homes in Malta and Gozo – killing between 40% and 60% of the island’s population.
Is Malta Safest Country ?
Malta’s most recent earthquake was in 1856, when an earthquake originating near Sicily caused widespread damage on the island.
For more information about climate change and how it affects different countries, visit our climate change pages. To find out why it isn’t possible to measure sea levels precisely with GPS, read our article on levels.
For information about Malta’s main exports and imports, visit our economy page. Sources: Europa (web), CIA World Factbook (web)
Malta Population & Area
Malta has a population of 422,500 and covers an area of 316 km². It is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. The first inhabitants were farmers who migrated from Sicily around 3800 BC. They were followed by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs – all of whom left their mark on the country’s history.
Today about 93% of Maltese are Roman Catholic. The official language is Maltese, but most people also speak English. Malta has no official religion.
The National Anthem is ‘L-Innu Malti’ which means ‘The Maltese Anthem’.
Malta has the world’s second highest life expectancy, with an average age of 82 years. The literacy rate is very high – 99%. Schooling is compulsory until the age of 16. Schools are run by the state, the Church or by private associations.