Malta’s colourful and diverse history has its roots in the island’s location, at the heart of the Mediterranean. Since the dawn of history, Malta has been a coveted possession to the dominant nations of the region, and the structures, buildings and monuments they left behind form the backdrop to a story as fascinating as it is long. Malta’s magnificent megalithic temples, evidence that the island has been inhabited since prehistoric times, rank among the oldest free-standing structures in the world. These exceptional prehistoric sites, together with the baroque city of Valletta, built by the Knights of St John, and the old medieval capital, Mdina, are all designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Mediterranean Trading Post
Throughout history, Malta’s fortunes in peace and war were intrinsically linked to its strategic location at the confluence of shipping routes, with its deep natural harbours making the island ideal for trade and defensive purposes. The first recorded people to have settled in Malta were the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were followed by the Carthaginians, but after the destruction of Carthage, Malta was absorbed into the Roman Empire. St Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on the island in A.D. 60, converting the country to Christianity under the Roman governor Publius. In the later years of the Roman Empire, Malta formed part of the Byzantine Empire.
Arab Colony to Knight's Domain
The Arab expansion reached Malta in A.D. 870, and the country remained under Arab domination until 1090. The Arabs exerted a powerful influence on the Maltese, introducing citrus fruits and cotton and significantly altering the customs and language. Malti – the official language of Malta, alongside English – is still the only Semitic language to be written in a Latin script. Norman invaders from Sicily, led by Count Roger of Normandy, displaced the Arabs in 1090. Malta shared in the fortunes of Sicily until 1530, when, in an attempt to strengthen the southern frontiers of his domains against Islam, Charles V of Spain offered Malta to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, an international order of chivalry founded in the early years of the Crusades. For the next three centuries, the destinies of Malta and the Knights of St John were linked.
The Path to Independence
The Knights of St John were driven out of Malta by Napoleon in 1798, and the French ruled for two years. Malta became a British Crown Colony in the early nineteenth century and remained so until 21st September 1964, when it became an independent sovereign state. In 1974, Malta was declared a republic. Malta is a member of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations. Soon after independence Malta was admitted to the Council of Europe. In December 1989 Malta hosted the Bush-Gorbachev summit that sealed the end of the Cold War.
In 1990, Malta applied for European Union membership. Accession negotiations were concluded in December 2002 and the accession treaty signed in April 2003. Malta became a member state of the European Union on 1st May 2004 and adopted the euro as its currency on 1st January 2008. Malta also joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in March 2008 and is a keen participant in the European Union’s Euro-Med process.