Positioned in the central Mediterranean,95km (60 miles) south of Sicily and half way between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, Malta has enjoyed a strategic maritime importance ever since ships first needed to take coal on board as fuel.
With huge natural harbours, dry docks and a Free Port, Malta still plays a role in the transhipment of goods from the Far East to Europe. Tourism is an important sector of the economy and apart from a wonderful climate many attractions exist, not the least of which are the defensive forts and beautiful public buildings created by the Knights of Malta during the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries.
Malta’s human history predates the Knights by thousands of years. The world’s oldest free-standing structure, a megalithic temple, dates from 3500BC and it is known that there were settlements on Malta as long ago as 5200BC. In more recent times, Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire in 1800 and a British Crown Colony in 1814 thus providing Britain with an important overseas naval base. The country attained independence from the UK in 1964 and, in 1974, became a republic. Malta remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and in 2004 joined the European Union as a full member.
Malta’s population of a little more than 400,000 has to share just 320km² (125 sq miles) of land spread over the two main inhabited islands of Malta and Gozo. The highly educated workforce benefits from Malta’s excellent university and provides a human resource that greatly contributes to the country’s growing economy. English and Maltese have been the official languages since 1934 when Italian was dropped in favour of English. Nevertheless, visitors will find that many Maltese are trilingual. Arabic is also taught in schools along with French, German and Spanish. Malta’s currency is now the EURO. The republic’s parliamentary system and public administration is closely modelled on the Westminster system in the UK.
The Maltese people have kept themselves at the forefront of information technology. Microsoft, HSBC and other international organisations have chosen Malta as a regional centre for that reason. Modelled on the Dubai Internet City, Malta’s recently announced Smart City (a joint venture between Dubai Holding members and the Government of Malta) is now in an advanced planning stage. As a self-sustaining township, Smart City is expected to create 5,600 new jobs between the operational commencement date in 2009 and completion in 2021. When finished, the project is forecast to have a US$3 billion real-estate development value.