Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta‘ Malta), is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. The country covers just over 316 km2 (122 sq mi), with a population of just under 450,000, making it one of the world‘s smallest and most densely populated countries.
Malta‘s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands.
The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km2, is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English.
The Saluting Battery (Maltese: Batterija tas-Salut) is an artillery battery in Valletta. It was constructed in the 16th century by the Order of Saint John, on or near the site of an Ottoman battery from the Great Siege of Malta.
The Saluting Battery was mainly used for firing ceremonial gun salutes and signals, but it also saw military use during the blockade of 1798–1800 and World War II. The battery remained an active military installation until its guns were removed by the British in 1954. It was restored and opened to the public in the early 21st century, and it is now equipped with eight working replicas of SBBL 32 pounders which fire gun signals daily at 1200 and 1600.
Valletta (/vəˈlɛtə/; Maltese pronunciation: [ˈvɐlɛ.tɐ]) is the capital city of Malta, colloquially known as Il-Belt (IPA: [ˈil.bɛlt]; lit. “The City“) in Maltese. Geographically, it is located in the South Eastern Region, in the central-eastern portion of the main island of Malta having its western coast with access to the Marsamxett Harbour and its eastern coast in the Grand Harbour. The historical city has a population of 6,444 (as of March 2014), while the metropolitan area around it has a population of 393,938. Valletta is the southernmost capital of Europe and the second southernmost capital of the European Union after Nicosia.
Valletta contains buildings from the 16th century onwards, built during the rule of the Order of St. John also known as Knights Hospitaller. The city is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture in selected areas, though the Second World War left major scars on the city, particularly the destruction of the Royal Opera House. The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.
The official name given by the Order of Saint John was Humilissima Civitas Valletta—The Most Humble City of Valletta, or Città Umilissima in Italian. The city‘s fortifications, consisting of bastions, curtains and cavaliers, along with the beauty of its Baroque palaces, gardens and churches, led the ruling houses of Europe to give the city its nickname Superbissima—Most Proud.
King George VI of the United Kingdom awarded the George Cross to Malta in 1942 for the country‘s bravery in the Second World War. The George Cross continues to appear on Malta‘s national flag. Under the Malta Independence Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1964, Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom as an independent sovereign Commonwealth realm, officially known from 1964 to 1974 as the State of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its head of state. The country became a republic in 1974, and although no longer a Commonwealth realm, remains a current member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and to the European Union in 2004; in 2008, it became part of the Eurozone.
Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Malta is claimed to be an apostolic see because, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta. Catholicism is the official religion in Malta.
Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, 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.
The origin of the term Malta is uncertain, and the modern-day variation derives from the Maltese language. The most common etymology is that the word Malta derives from the Greek word μέλι, meli, “honey“. The ancient Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melitē) meaning “honey-sweet“ (which was also, inter alia, the name of a Nereid), possibly due to Malta‘s unique production of honey; an endemic species of bee lives on the island. The Romans went on to call the island Melita, which can be considered either as a latinisation of the Greek Μελίτη or the adaptation of the Doric Greek pronunciation of the same word Μελίτα. Another conjecture suggests that the word Malta comes from the Phoenician word Maleth “a haven“ or “port“ in reference to Malta‘s many bays and coves. Few other etymological mentions appear in classical literature, with the term Malta appearing in its present form in the Antonine Itinerary (Itin. Marit. p. 518; Sil. Ital. xiv. 251).