Malta, formally known as the Republic of Malta, is a European Union island republic made up of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea that is regarded to be part of Southern Europe. It is located 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Sicily (Italy), 284 kilometers (176 miles) east of Tunisia, and 333 kilometers (207 miles) north of Libya. The official languages are Maltese and English, and 66 percent of the contemporary Maltese population can converse in Italian.
Malta has been inhabited since about 5900 BCE. Its central location in the Mediterranean has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, with a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British, among others, contesting and ruling the islands. The majority of these foreign influences have left their imprint on the country's historic culture.
Malta is the world's tenth-smallest nation in terms of size and fourth-most densely inhabited sovereign country, with a population of around 516,000 spread over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi). Its capital, Valletta, is the European Union's smallest national capital in terms of land and population. According to Eurostat statistics from 2020, the Functional Urban Area and Metropolitan Area spanned the whole island and had a population of 480,134, and the United Nations, ESPON, and EU Commission all agreed that "the entire territory of Malta comprises a single urban region." Malta is increasingly referred to be a city-state, and it is frequently included in rankings of cities or metropolitan regions. Malta, along with Cyprus, is one of the two island nations in the Mediterranean.
Malta became a British colony in 1813, operating as a ship's way station and headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. During World War II, it was besieged by the Axis forces and served as a major Allied base for operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean. The Malta Independence Act was approved by the British parliament in 1964, granting Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its queen. In 1974, the nation became a republic. Since its independence, it has been a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations, and it joined the European Union in 2004; it joined the eurozone monetary union in 2008.
Malta has had Christians from the period of Early Christianity, while it was largely Muslim throughout its time under Arab sovereignty, when Christians were permitted. The Norman conquest of Malta by Roger I in 1091 brought an end to Muslim authority. Although Catholicism is the national religion today, the Maltese Constitution provides freedom of conscience and religious worship.
Malta is a popular tourist destination due to its mild climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the al Saflieni Hypogeum, Valletta, and seven megalithic temples, which are among the world's oldest free-standing structures.