The Maltese archipelago lies almost at the centre of the Mediterranean, with Malta being 93km south of Sicily and 288km east of Tunisia. The archipelago is made up of the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino (plus the tiny uninhabited islets of Cominotto and Filfla) with a total population of 404,000 inhabitants over an area of 316sq km. Malta is one of the most densely populated countries of Europe..
Malta is the largest island with Gozo being the second. Both islands are habited but Gozo is more rural and characterised by fishing, crafts and agriculture.
The origin of the word "Malta" is uncertain but it is believed to have come from the Greek word meli meaning honey possibly due to Malta's unique production of honey. Another etymology is the Phoenician word Maleth, meaning "a haven” in reference to Malta's many bays and coves.
Malta's capital city is Valletta whilst the country's official languages are Maltese and English and have a long legacy of Roman Catholicism, which continues to be the official and dominant religion in Malta.
Throughout its history, Malta's location in the Mediterranean Sea has given it a strategic importance. A sequence of powers including the Sicilians, Phoenicians, Romans, Knights of St. John and British have all conquered Malta. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and is currently a member of the European Union, which it joined in 2004.
Malta is known for its world heritage sites, most prominently the Megalithic Temples which are the oldest free-standing structures on Earth, for the shipwreck of St. Paul mentioned in the Acts of Apostles and as a potential location for the mythical lost island of Atlantis.