074_G19_InFocus_Malta

Global

In Focus Malta The Mediterranean jewel Malta is the European Union’s smallest nation, but the swathes of settlers from Africa and Europe who have been and gone in the 7,000 years since the island was first inhabited have left it with history and culture to rival any European country Davinia Hamilton A group of small islands in the heart of the sparkling blue Mediterranean, Malta is a melting pot of cultures with a rich history spanning many millennia. With numerous picturesque beaches, a mild, sunny climate and stunning architecture, as well as a laidback culture and ever-growing industrial sector, Malta is a favourite destination for tourists and explorers. Malta is a democratic republic and a member of the Commonwealth, having gained independence from Britain in 1964. A mere 316 sq km in size, and with a population of just over 410,000, it became the European Union’s smallest member state when it joined in 2004. The earliest inhabitants are believed to have been a prehistoric civilisation from Sicily, who arrived in Malta around 5000 BCE. There is evidence of a fertility cult, similar to those of many other neighbouring Mediterranean countries, in the temples and remains that are dotted around the islands. Ggantija temples, found on the Maltese island of Gozo, are among the world’s oldest man-made religious structures, and date back to 3000 BCE. Since then, Malta has been inhabited by Phoenicians, Romans, Muslims, Greeks, Normans, the Spanish and the English, all of whom left a mark on the country’s culture – but none more so than the Knights of St John, who presided over the islands from 1530 until Napoleon’s arrival in 1798. Their indelible influence on Malta can be seen clearly in the country, especially its capital Valletta – a fortified city built by the Knights after the Great Siege of 1565. Even today, one can explore the beautiful churches, palaces and gardens they left behind and enjoy the rich patrimony they bequeathed – from works of art and silverware to furniture. The Maltese Cross – the eight-pointed cross worn by the Knights – is now one of Malta’s most recognisable emblems. The main languages spoken by islanders are Maltese and English. Maltese is a Semitic language descended from the Siculo Arabic dialect that developed in Sicily between the ninth and 12th centuries. It is the only Semitic language in the European four 74 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global


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