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Malta’s chequered past is evident in the wealth of historical sites and monuments that have survived hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years
Malta’s colourful and diverse history has its roots in the islands’ location, at the heart of the Mediterranean. Ever since the dawn of history, Malta has been a coveted possession of 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. Indeed, Malta’s magnificent megalithic temples, evidence that the country has been inhabited since prehistoric times, rank as 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, the and old medieval capital, Mdina, are all designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
ISLAND PATCHWORK OF CIVILISATIONS
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 Malta ideal for trade and defensive purposes. The first recorded people to have settled in Malta were people from the Neolithic era. For the next millennia, the Maltese Islands were colonized by a succession of peoples. The Greeks, followed by the Phoenicians, conquered Malta. In around B.C. 480 the Maltese Islands fell under the control of Carthage, and in B.C. 218 Malta was incorporated into the Roman empire. St Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on the Islands 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 bloc.
ARAB COLONY TO KNIGHT’S DOMAIN
The Arab expansion reached Malta in A.D 870 and the country remained under Arab domination until 1090, when Count Roger of Normandy added Malta to his conquest of Sicily. 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 rules for two years. Malta became a British Crown Colony in the early 19th century and remained so until September 21st, 1964, when it became an independent sovereign state. In 1974, Malta was declared a republic. The country is a member of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations. Soon after independence Malta was admitted to the Council in Europe. In December 1989 the country 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 members state of the European Union on May 1st, 2004 and adopted the euro as it’s currency on January 1st, 2008. Malta joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in March 2008 and is a keen participant in the European Union’s Euro-Med process.
Special thanks to Sonja Lindenberg, CountryProfiler, for allowing us to re-publish this article.