Malta is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, 80 km south of Sicily.
It is one of the most densely populated countries worldwide. The de facto capital city of Malta is Valletta; the largest town, Birkirkara.
The country has two official languages, Maltese (constitutionally the national language) and English.
Throughout history, Malta's location has given it great strategic importance, and a succession of powers including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Habsburg Spain, Knights of St John, French and the British ruled the islands. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, whilst retaining membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and to the European Union in 2004. Malta is also party to the Schengen Agreement and in 2008 it became part of the eurozone.
Malta has a long Christian legacy and is an Apostolic see. According to the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, St. Paul was shipwrecked on "Melite", as the Greeks called the island, and ministered there. Catholicism is the official religion in Malta as declared by the Maltese constitution.
Malta is internationally renowned as a tourist destination, with numerous recreational areas and historical monuments, including nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most prominently the Megalithic Temples which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.