Malta, officially the Republic of Malta, is a small and densely-populated island nation comprising an archipelago of seven islands, three of which are inhabited. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea within Southern Europe just 93 km (58 miles) south of Sicily; 288 km (179 miles) to its south is North Africa, giving the country a warm climate.
Throughout much of its history, Malta has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part to its location in the Mediterranean Sea. It was held by several ancient cultures including Sicilians, Romans, Phoenicians, Byzantines and others. The island is commonly associated with the Knights of St. John who ruled it, this along with the historic Biblical shipwrecking of St. Paul on the island, ingrained the strong Roman Catholic legacy which is still the official and most practiced religion in Malta today.
The country's official languages are Maltese and English, the latter of which is a legacy from Malta's period as a British colony – the United Kingdom is the most recent outside ruling power. Malta gained independence in 1964 and is currently a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as the European Union which it joined in 2004. [more]