The history of Malta is a long and colourful one dating back to the dawn of civilisation.
The Maltese Islands went through a golden Neolithic period, the remains of which are the mysterious temples dedicated to the goddess of fertility. Later on, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines, all left their traces on the Islands.
In 60 A.D. St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island while on his way to Rome and brought Christianity to Malta. The Arabs conquered the islands in 870 A.D. and left an important mark on the language of the Maltese. Until 1530 Malta was an extension of Sicily: The Normans, the Aragonese and other conquerors who ruled over Sicily also governed the Maltese Islands. It was Charles V who bequeathed Malta to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem who ruled over Malta from 1530 to 1798. The Knights took Malta through a new golden age, making it a key player in the cultural scene of 17th and 18th century Europe. The artistic and cultural lives of the Maltese Islands were injected with the presence of artists such as Caravaggio, Mattia Preti and Favray who were commissioned by the Knights to embellish churches, palaces and auberges.
In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte took over Malta from the Knights on his way to Egypt. The French presence on the islands was short lived, as the English, who were requested by the Maltese to help them against the French, blockaded the islands in 1800.
British rule in Malta lasted until 1964 when Malta became independent. The Maltese adapted the British system of administration, education and legislation.
Modern Malta became a Republic in 1974 and joined the European Union in May 2004.
Demography / Geography
Malta’s location in the Mediterranean
Malta is an archipelago located in the Mediterranean Sea nearly 93km south of the Italian Island Sicily, and approximately 300km North of Libya. Even though Malta is a European island, it is located further south than some African countries such as the capital of Tunisia and Algeria. However, Malta is not Europe’s most southern point; the Greek Island of Gavdo is even more to the South.
The Maltese Islands, how many?
There are 18 uninhabited islands forming part of the archipelago, and three inhabited - Malta, Gozo (G?awdex) and Comino (Kemmuna). Then there is Manoel Island, Filfla and the Fungus Rock which are historically and ecologically very significant. The others are mere large rocks. The Maltese islands were formed from the higher points of the land bridge that connected Sicily with North Africa. The land bridge became isolated when sea-levels rose after the last ice age, leading to the formation of the archipelago that now lies at the edge of the African tectonic plate, where it meets the Eurasian one.
The landscape of the Maltese Islands
The landscape of Malta and the other islands are characterised by terraced fields, dry vegetation, rock and limestone. This is due to the long hours of strong sunshine that the Islands receive throughout the year and because there are no permanent rivers or lakes in Malta. However, there are a few waterways that supply limited fresh water throughout the year such as Lunzjata Valley in Gozo. Occasional temporary small rivers appear after times of heavy rainfall. The Maltese woods were cut down centuries ago and the only trees that survive today are the olives, ficus, citrus, pine, tamarisk and carob trees. On Malta and Gozo, hills are cultivated for both grapes and vegetables.
The coastline of Malta, Gozo and Comino
Just like the islands themselves, the coastline of Malta, Gozo and Comino is primarily rocky. Sandy beaches can be found mostly on the North side of the islands such as Golden Bay and Mellieha Bay in Malta, and Ramla Bay in Gozo. While the North boasts sandy beaches the south side is just the opposite, remarkably high cliffs drop straight down to the sea. The eastern side of the island is divided by three large bays, while in the West there is a concentration of natural harbours.
Malta has limited resources but a thriving economy
Malta does not have any natural resources and experiences a limited fresh water supply; and it only produces around 20% of the food requirements. Thus, the economy is dependent on the human resources and foreign trade. Malta’s economy is practically driven by financial services, tourism, real estate, Igaming and manufacturing, particularly of electronics. Other significant sectors are pharmaceuticals, information technology, and call centres.
The development of Malta’s Economy
Before the 1800, most Maltese were farmers or fishermen, even if there was considerable commerce. At the time there were very few industries apart from cotton, tobacco and shipyards. During wars, Malta's economy flourished because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Malta saw a substantial rise in the number of ships entering the port, as the Mediterranean became the main trade road.
Malta's Economy after the Second World War
By the end of the Second World War, Malta lost its strategic importance and the British had to wonder about alternative ways of income. When Malta got its independence in 1964, economic activity was minimal, but huge government efforts to start up the manufacturing and tourism industry yielded good results. Aided by agreeable international economic conditions and policies that supported foreign investment, the Maltese economy sustained fast growth right to the end of the 20th century.
Malta's Economy in the aftermath of EU membership
Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone in 2008. When comparing the per capita GDP in the EU, the country falls just above the middle with respect to wealth. The Maltese Government has pursued a policy of gradual economic liberalization and privatisation, taking some steps to shift the emphasis in trade and financial policies from reliance on direct government intervention and control to policy regimes that allow a greater role for market mechanisms. While change has been very substantial by international standards, the economy remains fairly regulated and continues to be hampered by some longstanding structural weaknesses.
The Economy in Malta today
Malta managed to maintain a relatively low unemployment rate, mainly because of the constant growth and by policies encouraging continuous training for the labour force. Globally, Malta ranks sixth in inward Foreign Direct Investment and amongst the top twenty among countries most likely to sustain economic growth over the medium and long term.