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Malta, The Tiny Island In The Middle Of The Mediterranean Sea
The island state of Malta consists of the main island of Malta and the neighboring islands of Gozo, Comino and the uninhabited islands of Cominotto, Filfla, St. Paul's Island and Fungus Rock. The main island accounts for 247 square kilometers of the total area of 316 square kilometers. The archipelago is 81 kilometers south of Sicily, 285 kilometers east of Tunisia and 350 kilometers north of Libya's capital, Tripoli. All the Maltese islands are rocky, with the main island being a limestone ridge rising to 253 metres. The sheer, rugged coastlines of the south and southwest are nearly inaccessible. But between the rocks there are a few picturesque small bays that invite you to swim. Hills and flatter tracts of land can be found in the north and northeast. The coast there has many bays with beautiful sandy beaches. About 430,000 people live in Malta. Almost 90 percent of the population are Roman Catholic. The national language is Maltese, the second official language is English. In addition, many Maltese speak Italian.
Archaeological excavations and cave explorations show that Malta was settled more than 7000 years ago. The remains of the Neolithic culture are still very well preserved today. The Maltese temple complexes, some of which are more than 5800 years old, are among the oldest megalithic structures (large stone architecture) in the world. The temples of Tarxien and Hagar Qim are the most famous of the 30 or so complexes. Around 800 BC, the Phoenicians settled Malta and developed it into a trading center. During the Second Punic War, the Romans conquered the island in 217 BC. Under the rule of Rome, Malta prospered. Honey, wine, roses and fine linen made the island famous. In the year 60 AD the ship of the apostle Paul is said to have shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. He is said to have converted many residents to Christianity and became the patron saint of Malta. The Saracens (Arabs) first sacked the Maltese islands in 870 and took possession of them in 904. Traces of their more than 200-year rule in the architectural style and in the language bear witness. In 1090 the Normans, who had already conquered large parts of southern Italy, also took control of Malta. They gave the Maltese the white and red national flag and built the cathedral of the then capital, Mdina, as well as numerous other churches.
Spain ruled over Malta from 1284 to 1530. During this period, the islands withered away economically and culturally. In 1525, Emperor Charles V transferred the islands to the Order of St. John, who had been expelled from Rhodes. Five years later they built Malta into an impregnable fortress, reigned for 268 years and went down in history as the "Maltese Knights". Under her rule, Malta became one of the leading cultural centers in Europe. In 1565, the Knights Hospitaller, under their Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, succeeded in repelling an invading Turkish army. The same Grand Master also gave its name to today's capital, Valletta. Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Malta in 1798 and ended the rule of the Hospitallers. Just two years later, the French were driven out by the British, who finally incorporated Malta as a crown colony in 1814. In the period that followed, Malta experienced a great economic boom under the British.
In the two world wars, the islands finally had an important strategic importance as a naval base. Malta only became independent in 1964 after a long struggle within the Commonwealth. Ten years later, Malta became a fully independent republic. The Parliament of the Republic of Malta consists of 65 members. The first application for admission to the EU was made in 1990. When the socialist Labor Party won the elections in 1996, its leader Alfred Sant broke off accession negotiations.
In 2003, 53.6 percent of voters in a referendum voted for EU membership. The EU supporters were able to win the new elections that followed in April 2003, and the island state has formally belonged to the European Union since May 1, 2004. In terms of population and area, Malta is the smallest member state of the EU . In the capital Valletta, Malta is often referred to as the "Switzerland of the Mediterranean". This refers to a historically neutral political position between Europe and North Africa. Although the Maltese have decided to become a member of the EU, there are still good contacts with North African countries such as Libya and Tunisia. Thanks to Malta's favorable geographical location, the ports of Valletta - one of the largest natural harbors in the world - and Marsaxlokk on the south-east coast of the main island have become important trading hubs. Malta's shipping register is one of the largest in the world. Around 200 foreign industrial companies are represented in Malta, including numerous high-tech companies from the telecommunications sector. This was made possible by favorable tax rates and low rents. More than 50 of the companies are from Germany.
Tourism, with more than one million visitors per year, accounts for around 13 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). A real niche are the language courses, which also fill the inexpensive hotels in the off-season. The money generated by tourism is impressive. Malta's per capita income is among the highest in the entire Mediterranean region. At the time of the Phoenicians in the first millennium BC, the island was still heavily forested. However, shipbuilding and cotton cultivation have severely decimated the forests. In addition, the general scarcity of water does not allow for lush vegetation. Due to higher precipitation in the winter months, colorful carpets of flowers grow on some barren rocks. Otherwise, dry specialists such as agave, prickly pear, caper and carob trees dominate. In the countryside, only small animals and birds can be found in the wild. Numerous migratory bird species make a stopover in Malta on their way south. Many become victims of trigger-happy amateur hunters. Malta is a true paradise for divers, as the sea water around the island is among the clearest and cleanest in the Mediterranean. Visibility is excellent at depths of up to 30 meters. In caves and shipwrecks , on reefs and sandbanks, the marine fauna and flora offers everything a diver's heart desires. Here you can even find fish that are rarely found in the rest of the Mediterranean Sea.
Since 1974, Malta has been an independent republic belonging to the Commonwealth. Due to its location close to the Arab world, Malta maintained good contacts, especially with Libya, for a long time. But in the meantime, Malta is oriented towards Europe. The archipelago has been a full member of the EU since May 1st, 2004 and since January 1st. 2008 Member of the European Monetary Union. Malta has - together with Gozo and Comino and a few uninhabited islands - an area of over 310 square kilometers, about 520,000 inhabitants and has the highest population density in Europe with almost 1300 inhabitants per square kilometer. The capital of the Republic of Malta is Valletta, which is also where most of the people live. The Maltese language comes from Maghrebi, an Arabic language, but is interspersed with many foreign Italian words. The culture of the Maltese is also an interesting mixture of Arabic, British and Italian cultural elements. The Maltese are a Mediterranean people with Italian and Arab roots, 93% of the population belong to the Roman Catholic Church.
Economically, the country lives primarily from tourism and export goods (electronics, plastic, textiles, toys). Fishing is rather insignificant due to overfishing in the Mediterranean, agriculture is not so pronounced due to the lack of water sources. Archaeological research in Malta reveals an amazing fact: the oldest buildings on earth are not the pyramids of Giza, as was long assumed, but the megalithic temples in Malta. It is estimated that they are at least 500, maybe even 1000 years older than the Egyptian pyramids. Huge stones were piled up here with primitive means to form huge temples with cloverleaf-shaped ground plans. It is believed that the many mysterious drag marks on the island can be traced back to the simple carts used to transport the hewn blocks of stone.
Traces of this peaceful, matriarchal culture, some of which are still in surprisingly good condition, can be found everywhere on the islands today. However, they end abruptly around 2000 BC. It is still puzzling today whether this was the result of an epidemic or whether foreign conquerors wiped out the population of the island so that it remained almost uninhabited for centuries. Due to the frequent changes of the occupiers, an independent Maltese culture could hardly develop in all these centuries. The Knights of the Order of St. John, expelled from Rhodes by the Muslims, received Malta as a fief from Emperor Charles V in 1530. But as early as 1565 their new refuge was again besieged by Suleiman the Magnificent for over three months. Together with an army called to help from Sicily, the Turks were ultimately successfully routed. Shortly thereafter, the new capital was founded, a heavily fortified city named "Valletta" in honor of the then Grand Master (Jean Parisot de la Valette).
Malta gained independence in 1964, but remained a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta and a Governor-General as head of government. Since 1974, Malta has been a republic with a head of state elected by parliament, but is still a member of the Commonwealth. More than 150 years of British rule have shaped the Maltese to this day. With the collapse of the great colonial empires after the Second World War, the desire for independence also awoke in Malta. It didn't even need an uprising. After a congress in London, Great Britain granted Malta formal independence as a member of the British Commonwealth in 1964 with the then regent Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. September 21 (Independence Day) is a national holiday today. However, the state only became really independent ten years later: on December 13, 1974, the republic was proclaimed. Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and adopted the euro in 2008.
The Republic of Malta is a parliamentary democracy headed by the President. Since April 2019, this is George Vella from the social democratic Malta Labor Party (MLP). Actual policy is made in the 65-member House of Representatives, which is headed by the Prime Minister. Recently, Maltese politics has drawn the EU's displeasure several times. Above all, the practice of selling “golden EU passports” to wealthy foreigners, who thus gained access to the Schengen area, was criticized. The country is also considered a tax haven, where many letterbox companies are based.
The immediate period before and after independence was characterized by increasing polarization between Malta's two major political parties. From 1962 to 1971, Malta was governed by the Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista; PN), which pursued a policy of clear western orientation. In 1971, however, The Malta Labor Party (Partit Laburista; LP) came to power, embracing non-aligned policies and aggressively asserting Malta's sovereignty. The MLP forged a special friendship with China and Libya, and negotiated an agreement that resulted in the complete withdrawal of British forces from Malta by 1979. The closure of the British base was hailed by the Maltese government as the arrival of 'true' independence.
The PN returned to power in 1987 and sought full membership of the European Economic Community (later to become the European Union [EU]). But when the MLP took over again in 1996, the party froze Malta's bid for EU membership. The LP's tenure was short-lived, however, as Prime Minister Alfred Sant called snap elections in 1998 (three years ahead of schedule) after losing support from his own party. The PN returned to office in 1998; it reactivated the application to join the EU and initiated major social and economic changes in pursuit of this goal. After considerable political disputes between the PN and the MLP, Maltese voters voted in a referendum in 2003 to join the EU, which joined Malta on 1 May 2004. Malta introduced the euro as its currency on January 1, 2008. The PN came to power again in 2008 and won the parliamentary elections just ahead of the LP.
In May 2011, Maltese voters approved a referendum recommending legalizing divorce. Until then, Malta was the only EU country and one of the few countries in the world without a divorce law. In June, Parliament passed legislation allowing for divorce, which came into force in October. In 2013, the MLP, now known as the Labor Party after changing its name in 2008, came back to power with a relatively large majority, adopting broadly the same policies as the PN. However, the Labor Party took a more progressive position on social issues; In 2014, despite strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, legislation legalizing registered civil partnerships for same-sex couples was passed.
In 2016, the Panama Papers leak revealed that two of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's cabinet ministers, including his chief of staff, owned offshore companies in Panama. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist who investigated the Panama Papers, claimed that Muscat's wife also owned an offshore company the following year. Amid the aftermath and calls for his resignation, Muscat called snap elections in 2017. He advocated a booming economy with low unemployment, fast GDP growth and a budget surplus, and promised additional economic benefits and civil liberties. When elections were held in June, he became Prime Minister again and the Labor Party had an absolute majority in Parliament.
Months later, Caruana Galizia was assassinated. An investigation was launched and in November 2019 police arrested and questioned Yorgen Fenech, a businessman close to Muscat's chief of staff, in connection with the murder. Muscat's chief of staff was also questioned. Protesters called for Muscat's resignation and he announced on November 30 that he would resign once a new Labor Party leader could be elected. On January 12, 2020, Robert Abela, the son of a former President, was elected leader of the party and was sworn in as Prime Minister the following day. Although Labor enacted some government reforms under Abela's leadership, the remainder of the legislature was mainly focused on dealing with the health and economic crises, caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, the Labor Party easily won another majority in Parliament.
Most of the population lives in the cities, especially in the greater Valletta area. With 1,346 inhabitants per square kilometer, Malta has the fifth highest population density in the world. Only 5.9 percent of the residents living in Malta have foreign nationality. Most of them are British, Italian, Indian, Bulgarian and German. Malta has two official languages: English and the native Maltese language, which evolved from medieval Arabic. It is the only Semitic language that uses the Latin alphabet, which has been expanded to include five so-called graphemes to indicate throat and sibilant sounds. English is still widely spoken and there are numerous language schools in Malta that advertise English classes in the warm, Mediterranean climate.
The state of Malta consists of the three inhabited islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino and some uninhabited islands. In the northwest of Malta there are flat sandy beaches that attract countless tourists in summer. The rest of the geography is characterized by cliffs and a barren, rocky interior of the island. Water scarcity is a big problem. Around 66 percent of the Maltese population is concentrated in the capital region of Valletta. However, the actual city of Valletta is ranked 29th with a population of just 5,700. Tourism is now the main source of income for Malta. The most important group of visitors are still the British, followed by the Italians and the Germans. In addition to the summer bathing tourists, cultural tourists who come all year round and recently more and more cruise ships make the tills ring.
Thanks to generous state support, Malta has developed into an important location for the European film industry in recent decades. Parts of the Hollywood blockbusters "Gladiator", "Alexander" and "Troy" as well as episodes of the series "Game of Thrones" were created within the historic walls of Fort Ricasoli.
Malta, a captivating Mediterranean destination, offers a wealth of experiences for visitors. Here are some popular things to do in Malta and Gozo:
1. Roar of Valletta's Cannons: Stroll around Valletta and witness the ceremonial cannons at the Saluting Battery. These cannons were traditionally used to salute naval vessels and provide brilliant views across Grand Harbour to Fort St Angelo and the Three Cities.
2. Explore Malta's Three Cities: Hop into an eco-friendly electric buggy from Rolling Geeks and discover the historic Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua. Pre-programmed directions ensure you won't get lost as you explore museums, churches, and gardens.
3. Contemporary Art in Valletta: Inspired by Valletta's 2018 stint as a European Capital of Culture, heritage mansions now showcase contemporary art. Visit galleries like Valletta Contemporary and Blitz. The upcoming Malta International Contemporary Art Space (MICAS) will be a must-see.
4. Lascaris War Rooms: Explore the Lascaris War Rooms, concealed 40 meters below Valletta's Upper Baraka Gardens. These rooms served as the Allies' top-secret command HQ during WWII and played a vital role in Malta's defense during the 18-month Siege of Malta from 1940 to 1942.
5. Hike Clifftop Trails in Gozo: Take on the Xlendi Walk, a 12 km trail from Mġarr Harbour to the rocky bays around Xlendi in Gozo. Along the way, you'll encounter coastal watchtowers, the narrow cove at Mġarr ix-Xini, and the vertiginous Carolina Cave.
Remember, Malta may be small in size, but its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture make it a must-visit destination!

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