Malta,an island country in the Mediterranean Sea between the southern tip of Italy and North Africa. It consists of Malta, Gozo, and Comino islands and several islets, with a total area of 122 square miles (316 km 2 ). The land is stony and moderately hilly; the highest elevation is 831 feet (253 m), on the island of Malta. The soil is generally thin and the vegetation scanty. There are no forests, permanently flowing rivers, or lakes. The country has a fairly typical Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot and almost rainless; winters are mild. The annual precipitation is roughly 20 inches (510 mm).
For many years Malta was heavily dependent on revenues derived from British military personnel and bases, centered around the port at Valletta, the capital. To prepare for the withdrawal of British forces, which occurred in 1979, the government encouraged industrialization and economic diversification, with fairly good results. Tourism and light manufacturing are the most important activities. Manufactured goods include textiles, clothing, footwear, and plastics. Substantial income and employment are derived from port facilities and from shipbuilding and ship repairing. Farming, livestock raising, and fishing supply mainly local needs.
Malta has good roads, and there is bus service to virtually all towns. Ferries connect the main islands. The international airport is at Luqa; Valletta is the main port.
The Maltese people are descendants of the ancient Phoenicians, with a mixture of Italian and Arab. English and Maltese (a Semitic language that has a strong Italian element) are the official languages. Italian is widely spoken. Roman Catholicism is the established religion and the faith of 98 per cent of the population.
Education is free and compulsory from ages 6 through 16. Secondary schooling begins at age 11 and lasts five years. After two years, a secondary school student can choose either to continue in a general academic course or to transfer to a technical or trade school. Institutions of higher learning include a number of technical institutes and the University of Malta (founded in 1592), at Msida.
|Facts in brief about Malta|
|Official languages: Maltese and English.|
|Area: 122 mi2 (316 km2).|
|Population: Current estimate—409,000; density, 3,352 per mi2 (1,294 per km2); distribution, 92 percent urban, 8 percent rural. 2005 census—404,039.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—grapes, milk, onions, potatoes, tomatoes. Manufacturing and processing—beverages, processed food, shipbuilding and repair.|
|National anthem: "Innu Malti" ("Maltese Anthem").|
|Flag: Malta's flag is white on the left, and red on the right. A replica of the George Cross, a British medal awarded to Malta for bravery in World War II, appears in the upper-left corner.|
|Money: Basic unit—Maltese lira. One hundred cents equal one lira.|
Under the constitution of 1964, as amended in 1974, Malta is a republic. A president is the head of state and serves a five-year term. He is chosen by the House of Representatives, the country's legislature. Members of the House are popularly elected for five-year terms. The president appoints the prime minister (head of government) and his cabinet. The highest courts are the Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court. Malta is a self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations.