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The Republic of Malta

Repubblika Ta' Malta

CAPITAL: Valletta

FLAG: The national flag consists of two equal vertical stripes, white at the hoist and red at the fly, with a representation of the Maltese Cross, edged with red, in the canton of the white stripe.

ANTHEM: L'Innu Malti (The Maltese Hymn).

MONETARY UNIT: The Maltese lira (lm) consists of 100 cents, with each cent divided into 10 mils. There are coins of 2, 3, and 5 mils and of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents, and notes of 2, 5, 10, and 20 lira. Gold and silver coins of 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, and 100 lira also are in circulation. ml1 = $2.70270 (or $1 = ml0.37) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some local measures are still in use.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; National Day, 31 March; May Day, 1 May; Assumption, 15 August; Republic Day, 13 December; Christmas, 25 December. Movable holidays include Good Friday.

TIME: 1pm = noon GMT.


Malta lies in the central Mediterranean Sea, 93 km (58 mi) south of Sicily and 290 km (180 mi) from the nearest point of the North African mainland. There are three main islandsMalta, Gozo to the nw, and Comino between themas well as two small uninhabited islands, Cominotto and Filfla. Extending for 45 km (28 mi) senw and 13 km (8 mi) nesw, Malta's total area is 316 sq km (122 sq mi)Malta, 245.7 sq km (94.9 sq mi); Gozo, 67.1 sq km (25.9 sq mi); Comino, 2.8 sq km (1.1 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Malta is slightly less than twice the size of Washington, DC. The total coastline is 252.81 km (157 mi).

Malta's capital city, Valletta, is located on the east coast of the island of Malta.


The islands of Malta are a rocky formation (chiefly limestone) running from east to northeast, with clefts that form deep harbors, bays, creeks, and rocky coves. The highest point of the nation is Ta'Dmejrek (253 m/803 ft), located on the southwest shore of Malta. Beaches range from rocky to sandy terrain. The northern beach of Ramla Bay is known for its red sands.


The climate is typically Mediterranean, with fairly hot, dry summers and rainy, mild winters. The average winter temperature is 9°c (48°f); the average summer temperature, 31°c (88°f). Rainfall occurs mostly between November and January and averages about 56 cm (22 in) per year.


The islands are almost treeless. Vegetation is sparse and stunted. Carob and fig are endemic and the grape, bay, and olive have been cultivated for centuries. There are some rock plants.

The weasel, hedgehog, and bat are native to Malta. White rabbits and mice have been introduced. Many types of turtles, tortoises, and butterflies and several varieties of lizard also are found. Common varieties of Mediterranean fish, as well as the seal and porpoise, inhabit the surrounding waters.


Malta's most significant environmental problems include inadequate water supply, deforestation, and the preservation of its wildlife. The country's extremely limited fresh water resources have led to increasing dependence on desalination. The nation's agriculture suffers from lack of adequate water for crops due to limited rainfall.

Malta was one of the first countries to ratify the 1976 Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean from pollution. Malta's government has made recent efforts to control environmental damage including passage of the Environmental Protection Act of 1991 and the creation of a Ministry for the Environment. The Ministry of Health and Environment belongs to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. In cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund, the Ghadira wetland area was made a permanent nature reserve in 1980.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 1 type of mammal, 10 species of birds, 11 species of fish, and 3 types of mollusks. Endangered species include the slender-billed curlew, Mediterranean monk seal, hawksbill turtle, and Atlantic ridley.


The population of Malta in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 405,000, which placed it at number 165 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 13% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 18% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 99 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 0.2%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 396,000. The population density was 1,266 per sq km (3,278 per sq mi), which makes it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The UN estimated that 91% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.56%. The capital city, Valletta, had a population of 83,000 in that year. Other major cities (and their estimated populations) include Birkirkara (25,000), Qormi (19,900), and Sliema (14,000).


High population density and unemployment have led to emigration. Most foreigners living in Malta are British nationals and their dependents. Malta has no national refugee law, and all recognized refugees in Malta are resettled in third countries. Since 1983, Malta has received some 2,400 asylum applications. Of these, 1,860 have been resettled. The total number of migrants in 2000 was 9,000. In 2004 refugees in Malta numbered 1,558. There were 141 asylum seekers in that same year. Migration News reported that Malta had allowed asylum seekers to stay up to three years, but recent influxes of boatloads of migrants from Africa resulted in migrants held in detention centers, and Malta's threat in August 2005 to suspend its obligations under the 1951 Geneva refugee convention. In 2005 the net migration rate was 2.06 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory. In 2003 remittances to Malta were $633,760.


Most Maltese are believed to be descended from the ancient Carthaginians and Phoenicians, but there are strong elements of Italian and other Mediterranean stock. A few thousand people are of Arab, African, or Eastern European origin.


Maltese, a Semitic language with Romance-language assimilations, is the national language and the language of the courts. Maltese and English are both official languages.


Roman Catholicism is the official state religion, but there is freedom of worship for all faiths. An estimated 95% of the population is Roman Catholic, with about 63% actively practicing. Most of the Protestants in the country are not Maltese; British retirees and vacationers from other countries tend to form the Protestant population. Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches, and the Bible Baptist Church have active groups on the island. There is one Muslim mosque and one Jewish congregation. Zen Buddhism and the Baha'i Faith are also represented.


Malta has no railways. In 2003, there were 2,254 km (1,402 mi) of roadways, of which 1,973 km (1,227 mi) were paved. Passenger cars in 2003 totaled 200,509, while there were 44,586 commercial vehicles in use that same year. Ferry and hydrofoil services connect Malta and Gozo.

The harbors of Valletta, among the finest in the Mediterranean, are a port of call for many lines connecting northwestern Europe and the Middle and Far East. Roughly 3,000 ships dock at Valletta each year. As of 2005, a total of 1,140 vessels of 1,000 GRT or more totaling 27,208,819 GRT were registered in Malta (a flag of convenience registry with ships from 49 countries). There was one airport in 2004, the principal airport at Luqa. A new terminal is designed to handle 2.2 million passengers per year (or 2,000 at any given moment). The national air carrier is Malta Airlines. In 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), 1,405,200 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The strategic importance of the island of Malta was recognized in the time of the Phoenicians, whose occupation of Malta was followed by that of the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Romans. The apostle Paul was shipwrecked at Malta in ad 58, and the islanders were converted to Christianity within two years. With the official split of the Roman Empire in 395, Malta was assigned to Byzantium, and in 870 it fell under the domination of the Saracens. In 1090, it was taken by Count Roger of Normandy, and thereafter it was controlled by the rulers of SicilyNorman and, later, Aragonese. The Emperor Charles V granted it in 1530 to the Knights of St. John, who had been driven from Rhodes by the Turks. The Knights surrendered Malta to Napoleon in 1798. Two years later, the British ousted the French garrison, with the aid of a revolt by the Maltese people. British possession of Malta was confirmed in 1814 by the Treaty of Paris.

During almost the entire 19th century, a British military governor ruled the colony. After World War I, during which the Maltese remained loyal to Britain, discontent and difficulties increased. The 1921 constitution granted a considerable measure of self-government, but political tensions reemerged, and the constitution, after having twice been suspended, was revoked in 1936. A new constitution in 1939 reinstated Malta as a British crown colony. In World War II the Maltese again remained loyal to the United Kingdom, and for gallantry under heavy fire during the German-Italian siege (194043), the entire population was awarded the George Cross.

Substantial self-government was restored in 1947. The Maltese, however, carried on negotiations with the United Kingdom for complete self-government, except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In August 1962, Prime Minister Borg Olivier requested the United Kingdom to grant Malta independence, and Malta became a sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth of Nations on 21 September 1964. At the same time, mutual defense and financial agreements were signed with the United Kingdom. Under subsequent accords negotiated between 1970 and 1979, British troops withdrew from Malta, and the NATO naval base on the main island was closed.

On 13 December 1974, Malta formally adopted a republican form of government, and the former governor-general, Sir Anthony Mamo, became the first president. Dom Mintoff, leader of the Malta Labor Party and prime minister from 1971 through 1984, instituted socialist measures and initiated a nonaligned policy in foreign affairs. Although the Labor Party narrowly lost the popular vote in the 1981 elections, it retained its parliamentary majority; to protest the gerrymandering that allegedly made this possible, the opposition Nationalist Party boycotted parliament, and strikes and civil violence ensued. In January 1987, a new law guaranteed that, following future elections, the new government would be formed by the party that won a majority of the popular vote.

On 23 November 1985 Malta became the scene of one of the deadliest hijackings in history, when an Egypt Air flight commandeered by three Palestinian terrorists was forced to land there. In a gun battle, an Egyptian sky marshal on the plane shot and killed the hijackers' leader, and the pilot landed the plane in Malta. After an Israeli and an American passenger were executed, Egyptian commandos set off an explosive charge and rushed the plane, but 57 passengers and another hijacker died in the raid from smoke inhalation, explosive wounds, or gunshots. The surviving hijacker, Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq, was released from prison by Maltese authorities in 1993 under a general amnesty program. He was later apprehended in Nigeria and extradited to the United States for air piracy, and convicted and sentenced in 1996.

In May 1987, the Nationalist Party won a popular majority but only 31 of 65 seats in parliament. In accordance with the new law, the Nationalists were given four additional seats, for a total of 35 in an expanded 69-seat parliament, and the Nationalist Eddie Fenech Adami became prime minister, replacing the Laborite Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici. The Nationalists were returned to power in February 1992 with a slightly higher majority. Eddie Fenech Adami remained prime minister. Vincent Tabone, president, had been elected in 1989.

Maltese politics have revolved around foreign policy issues, in particular, Malta's relationship with Europe. The Nationalist Party government has been a strong proponent of EU membership. In July 1990, Malta applied for full membership in the European Union. However, after the Labor Party won the 1996 elections, the government's stance shifted towards maintaining neutrality. The Labor government also adopted economic policies, such as raising utility rates, that alienated both the electorate and elements within its own party, which withdrew their support for Prime Minister Alfred Sant. He called new elections three years ahead of schedule, in September 1998, and the Nationalist Party won a majority in a vote seen at least partly as a referendum on the European Union membership question. In March 1999, Guido de Marco of the Nationalist Party was elected president by the House of Representatives. Having regained the post of prime minister, NP leader Fenech Adami moved to reactivate Malta's EU membership application and adopted policiessuch as the reimposition of a controversial value-added taxintended to pave the way for membership approval. Malta was one of 10 new candidate countries formally invited to join the European Union in December 2002. Malta held its referendum on EU membership on 8 March 2003, with 53.6% voting in favor of joining the body versus 46.4% against. Malta became an official member on 1 May 2004.

Elections were held on 12 April 2003, resulting in a win for the Nationalist Party (35 seats); the Labor Party received 30 seats. The next scheduled elections for the legislature were to take place in April 2008. On 29 March 2004, the House of Representatives elected a new president, Eddie Fenech Adami; Lawrence Gonzi, former deputy prime minister, took over the post of prime minister. The next presidential elections were scheduled to take place in 2009.


The Malta independence constitution came to force on 21 September 1964. Ten years later, Malta became a republic, while remaining within the Commonwealth of Nations. The unicameral parliament, the House of Representatives, consists of 65 members elected for a five-year term by universal adult suffrage (18 years of age and over), under a system of proportional representation. Additional seats may be allocated until a majority of one seat is obtained.

The House elects the head of state, the president of the republic, who holds office for five years. The president appoints the prime minister and, on the latter's advice, the other members of the cabinet. The prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party, is responsible for general direction and control of the government.


There are two major political parties, the Nationalist Party (NP) and the Malta Labor Party (MLP), which have alternated in political power. The Nationalist Party was returned to government in 1987 after 16 years of Labor Party rule, and won reelection in February 1992 with a three-seat majority (34 to 31) in parliament. The MLP regained control in October 1996 but lost it again following early elections held in September 1998, which the NP won by a five-seat margin. Elections held in April 2003 returned the NP to power; it took 35 seats in the House of Representatives to the MLP's 30. The next elections were scheduled for 2008.

Parties not represented in parliament include Democratic Alternative (AD), Malta Democratic Party (PDM), and the Malta Communist Party (PKM).

After the elections of 1996, MLP leader Alfred Sant became prime minister after a narrow upset victory (official results gave the MLP 50.72% of the vote). The MLP campaigned for Maltese neutrality by pledging to stop efforts to join the European Union, to end Malta's associate membership with NATO, and to seek closer ties with Libya. Following the NP victory in the 1998 election, party leader Eddie Fenech Adami was returned to the post of prime minister and took steps to reactivate Malta's application for EU membership. When voters approved EU membership in a March 2003 referendum, Fenech Adami looked upon the NP win in the April 2003 elections as a confirmation of Malta's desire to join the European Union.


Local government was established in 1993 with the approval of the Local Councils Act, setting up 68 local councils in Malta; there are 54 on the main island of Malta, and 14 in Gozo.


The superior courts consist of a Constitutional Court (with the power to review laws and executive acts), two courts of appeal, the civil court, court of magistrates, criminal court, and special tribunals. The president, on the advice of the prime minister, appoints the chief justice and 16 judges. Retirement is at age 65 for judges and age 60 for magistrates. The judiciary operates in an independent manner. Defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel of choice. Indigent defendants are afforded court-appointed counsel at public expense.

The constitution guarantees the right to free speech, assembly and association. Trade unions are legal and limits on the right to strike were eased in 2002. However, the law permits compulsory arbitration to be held even if it is requested by only one of the parties involved, this is against the International Labor Organization's principles.

Divorce is illegal on the island and violence against women continues to be a problem. Malta is a member of most international organizations including the UN and the WTO.


The armed forces of Malta numbered 2,237 in 2005 and were divided into three regiments. Malta's defense budget in 2005 totaled $48.5 million. Equipment included eight patrol/coastal vessels, two transport aircraft, and seven utility helicopters. Italy has 49 military personnel stationed in Malta.


Malta joined the United Nations on 1 December 1964 and participates in ECE and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, World Bank, ILO, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the WHO. Malta is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the OSCE. Malta joined the European Union in 2004. The country is an observer affiliate in the Western European Union. Malta is a part of the Nonaligned Movement. The nation also participates in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

In environmental cooperation, Malta is part of the Basel Convention, Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Malta has few natural resources besides limestone. Agriculture is limited by the rocky nature of the islands, and most food must be imported. Industrial raw materials are lacking and also must be imported. Until 1964, the dominant factor in the economy was the presence of British military forces; with the withdrawal of UK military personnel by 1979, the dockyards were converted to commercial use. Malta's economy now relies on light industry, tourism, and other service industries, in addition to shipbuilding, maintenance, and repairs. The government holds shares in a variety of enterprises, including joint ventures. A stock exchange opened in 1992.

In 2001 GNP per capita (purchasing power parity) was $15,000. That same year, GDP real growth was estimated at 4%. Agriculture contributed 3% to GDP, industry amounted to 23%, while services were 74%. Malta became a full member of the European Union in May 2004.

The country's economic performance in recent years has been anything but spectacular. While in 2002, the GDP registered a modest growth rate of 2.2%, in 2003 it fell to -1.8%, and recuperated to 1.4% in 2004; in 2005, the economy was expected to grow by 1.5%. Inflation has been kept stable at around 2.5%. The unemployment rate was on the rise, growing from 4.7% in 2002, to 5.7% in 2003, and 7.2% in 2004.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Malta's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $7.5 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $18,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.4%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 2.8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 3% of GDP, industry 23%, and services 74%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $1 million or about $3 per capita.


Malta's workforce in 2005 was estimated at 160,000. In 2005 it was estimated that services accounted for 75% of employment, while 22% were engaged in industry and the remaining 3% in agriculture. The unemployment rate in 2005 was estimated at 7.8%.

Labor is highly organized in Malta, and about 63% of Malta's workers were unionized in 2002. As of that year there were 38 registered trade unions. The largest union, the General Worker's Union, although independent, is informally associated with the Labor Party. The General Workers' Union was integrated with the Socialist Labor Party until 1992, when this affiliation was formally ended. Although certain compulsory arbitration and mediation provisions limit the right to strike, workers still enjoy a broad right to strike including antidiscrimination provisions to protect striking workers' employment. Comprehensive collective bargaining is practiced.

The legal minimum working age is 16, and this is effectively enforced by the government. The standard workweek is 40 hours but workers in some trades can work up to 45 hours per week. Occupational safety and health standards are set by law but enforcement is uneven and accidents remain frequent. In 2002, the weekly minimum wage was $112 for adults.


Agriculture is carried out in small fields, consisting usually of strips of soil between rocks, and is characterized to a large extent by terracing. The total area under cultivation was about 11,000 hectares (27,200 acres) in 2003. Most farms are small. Wheat, barley, and grapes are the principal crops for domestic consumption, while potatoes, onions, wine, cut flowers, seeds, and fruit are the chief export crops. The total value of agricultural crops exported in 2004 was estimated at $76 million, while agricultural imports amounted to nearly $400.3 million that year.


Malta's livestock population in 2005 included 17,900 head of cattle, 73,000 pigs, 14,900 sheep, 5,400 goats, and 1,000,000 poultry. Total meat production in 2005 was 18,838 tons, half of it pork.


Fishing is primarily for local consumption. In 2003, the total catch was 2,019 tons. Principal species included gilthead seabream, European sea bass, dolphinfish, and bluefin tuna. Exports of fish products were valued at $18.8 million in 2003.


There are no forests on the islands. In 2004, $85 million in forest products were imported.


In 2004, Malta produced 6,000 cu m of salt, obtained in the desalination of sea water; 20 hard limestone quarries yielded 1.2 million cu m of limestone. The country also produced small amounts of cement, fertilizer, lime and plaster. The mining sector accounted for less than 0.5% of GDP, and the broader mineral industry economy depended mainly on trade and the storage of crude oil, refinery products, and other nonfuel mineral commodities for transshipment.


Malta, with no proven reserves of oil, natural gas, nor any refining capacity, is totally dependent on imported fuel for its energy requirements.

In 2002, imports of petroleum products averaged 17,980 barrels per day, while demand came to 18,050 barrels per day. There were no imports of natural gas or coal in 2002.

Electricity is the main source of power. In 2002, thermal power stations on the main island made up Malta's total installed capacity of 0.570 million kW. Production of electrical energy that year was 1.929 billion kWh, of which 100% was generated from fossil fuels. Consumption of electricity was 1.794 billion kWh. Since 1995, the Maltese government has been exploring offshore areas for crude oil with the help of foreign companies such as Amoco, Royal Dutch Shell, and Nimir of Saudi Arabia.


Malta's principal industries are shipbuilding, maintenance and repairs, food processing, electronics, footwear, and textiles and clothing. Other products include beverages, tobacco products, lace, metals, rubber products, and plastic goods. Total industrial production amounted to 26% of GDP in 1999, the most recent year for which figures are available. The manufacturing sector grew by 17% from 199599. As of 2002, Malta's manufacturing sector was seen to be benefiting from the global economic downturn. Some foreign-owned companies closed operations elsewhere in the world and concentrated a degree of production in Malta, which was considered a competitive location for manufacturing activity. Manufacturing output rose 3% in 2001.

In 2003, industry made up 23% of the overall GDP, and was estimated to employ about the same percentage of the labor force; agriculture represented 3% of the GDP, while services came in first with 74%.


Malta's technological development has been confined largely to the shipbuilding and repair industry and the manufacture of electronic computer parts. The University of Malta has faculties of dental surgery, mechanical and electrical engineering, medicine and surgery, and science. In 1988, research and development expenditures amounted to 10,000 lira; 5 technicians and 34 scientists and engineers were engaged in research and development. The Agrarian Society founded in 1844 is headquartered in Valletta. The Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers is headquartered in St. Andrews. In 2000 (the latest year for which data was available), Malta spent $5.382 million on research and development.


Valletta is the commercial center of Malta. Most large importers prefer to distribute goods through their own shops. Small retail establishments predominate with a few larger supermarkets and outlet stores springing up in the past few years. Billboards, newspapers, radio, and television are the main advertising media.

Shopping hours are from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 to 7 pm. Banks are open from 8:30 am to 2 pm, Monday through Thursday, and from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm on Friday. Some bank branches are open on Saturdays from 8:30 am to 12 noon. Businesses and industries are open on weekdays from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and on Saturdays from 8 am to 1 pm. Most establishments are closed on Sundays and many places have shorter hours during the summer months.


Because it depends on external sources for much of its food, fuel, raw materials, and manufactured articles, Malta imports considerably more than it exports.

Most of Malta's commodity exports are electronic microcircuits (62%). Other export commodities include clothes (5.9%), refined petroleum products (4.4%), and toys (4.3%).

In 2004, Malta's exports totaled $2.6 billion (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $3.4 billion (FOB). Its main export partners were the United States (which received 15.7% of total exports), France (15.5%), Singapore (14.5%), United Kingdom (11.2%), and Germany (10.8%). Imports included machinery and transport equipment, manufactured and semi-manufactured goods, food, drink, and tobacco, and they mainly came from Italy (25.4%), France (13.1%), United Kingdom (12%), Germany (8.9%), the United States (5.2%), and Singapore (4.1%).


Traditionally, Malta has had a large trade deficit because it must import most of its food and raw materials. The expansion of industry and the improvement of living standards in recent years have further increased the deficit, which is made up by other foreign receipts in the form of tourist revenues, transfers, and financial assistance, formerly from the United Kingdom and more recently from Italy and Libya. Malta's outstanding debt stood at close to $2 billion by the end of 1999.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Malta's exports was $2 billion while imports totaled $2.8 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $800 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Malta had exports of goods totaling $2 billion and imports totaling $2.5 billion. The services credit totaled $1.11 billion and debit $791 million.

Exports of goods and services continued to grow in the following years, reaching $2.5 billion in 2003, and $2.7 billion in 2004. Imports followed a similar path, totaling $3.2 billion in 2003, and $3.6 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, at around -$700 million in 2003 and -$900 million in 2004. The current account balance was on a downward path, dropping to -$274 million in 2003, and -$543 million in 2004. Reserves of foreign exchange and gold reached $2.9 billion in 2004, covering more than nine months of imports.


In June 1968, activities of the Currency Board were transferred to the new Central Bank of Malta. The Central Bank is responsible for the regulation of the banking system, the money supply, the issue of currency, and the administration of exchange control. The Central Bank manages the official external reserves and advises the Minister of Finance regarding the exchange rate of the Maltese lira. The Maltese lira is calculated on the basis of a currency basket, which currently consists of the ECU, pound sterling, and

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 1,958.8 2,726.8 -768.0
United States 388.0 315.3 72.7
Germany 255.8 238.9 16.9
Singapore 230.9 182.3 48.6
France-Monaco 182.8 409.3 -226.5
United Kingdom 169.5 273.5 -104.0
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 132.4 37.0 95.4
Bunkers, ship stores 127.5 127.5
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 67.4 543.8 -476.4
Belgium 60.9 34.0 26.9
Japan 58.5 58.3 0.2
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -270.7
    Balance on goods -689.2
      Imports -3,194.1
      Exports 2,504.9
    Balance on services 435.6
    Balance on income 37.3
    Current transfers -54.3
Capital Account 6.3
Financial Account 166.4
    Direct investment abroad -23.7
    Direct investment in Malta 309.5
    Portfolio investment assets -1,545.7
    Portfolio investment liabilities -10.5
    Financial derivatives 25.1
    Other investment assets -38.9
    Other investment liabilities 1,450.6
Net Errors and Omissions 241.8
Reserves and Related Items -144.0
() data not available or not significant.
Revenue and Grants 532.77 100.0%
    Tax revenue 371.85 69.8%
    Social contributions 94.97 17.8%
    Grants 9.55 1.8%
    Other revenue 56.4 10.6%
Expenditures 623.77 100.0%
    General public services 112.28 18.0%
    Defense 10.23 1.6%
    Public order and safety 24.15 3.9%
    Economic affairs 86.8 13.9%
    Environmental protection 1.78 0.3%
    Housing and community amenities 15.77 2.5%
    Health 71.12 11.4%
    Recreational, culture, and religion 9.52 1.5%
    Education 72.3 11.6%
    Social protection 219.82 35.2%
() data not available or not significant.

US dollar. Foreign reserves, excluding gold, totaled $1,605 million at the end of 1995. There are four commercial banksthe Bank of Valletta, HSBC Bank Malta, Lombard Bank Malta, and APS Bankas well as the National Savings Bank.

In November 1995, Midland Bank (United Kingdom) became the first foreign bank to be granted a license to operate in the domestic market. In 1999, Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) acquired 67.1% of the shares of Mid-Med. The bank was subsequently renamed HSBC Bank Malta and became the largest bank operating on the island. Six international banking institutions are established in Malta: Turkiye Garanti Bankas, First Austrian Bank Malta, First International Merchant Bank, Izola Bank, Bank of Valletta International, and HSBC Bank Malta. Total assets/liabilities of the deposit-money banks stood at lm1.88 billion in 1995, while the assets/liabilities of domestic and international banking institutions amounted to lm155 million and lm407.7 million, respectively.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $1.4 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $6.1 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 4.25%.

Turnover at the Malta Stock Exchange dropped sharply to lm75.8 million ($70 million) in 2002, a fall of lm93.7 million compared with levels in 2001. Total market capitalization in 2002 was lm1.6 billion. In 1994 the Malta International Business Authority became the Malta Financial Services Center (MFSC), responsible for the regulation and registration of financial services provided in and from Malta.


All customary types of insurance are available. Many foreign insurance companies have representatives in Malta. In 2003, the value of all direct insurance premiums written totaled $235 million, of which life insurance premiums accounted for $118 million. For that same year, Middlesea Valletta was Malta's top life insurer, with gross written life insurance premiums of $58.4 million.


The principal sources of recurrent revenues are income taxes, and customs and excise taxes. Tourism is steadily increasing as an important segment of the economy, although the 11 September terrorist attacks put a damper on it. Malta has developed a fairly high budget deficit in recent years, and fiscal policy has been dedicated to reversing the situation. Public debt grew from 24% of GDP in 1990 to 56% in 1999, but by 2000 it had been brought down to just 6.6% of GDP.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Malta's central government took in revenues of approximately $2.5 billion and had expenditures of $2.7 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$200 million. Total external debt was $130 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2000, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were lm532.77 million and expenditures were lm623.77 million. The value of revenues was us$2,331 million and expenditures us$2,722 million, based on an exchange rate for 2000 of us$1 = lm0.22851 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 18.0%; defense, 1.6%; public order and safety, 3.9%; economic affairs, 13.9%; environmental protection, 0.3%; housing and community amenities, 2.5%; health, 11.4%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.5%; education, 11.6%; and social protection, 35.2%.


In 1999, the ruling Nationalist government announced that it would raise taxes in an effort to bring the budget in line. An integral part of the new package would be measures to combat tax evasion, a phenomena that Finance Minister John Dalli characterized as a "national sport." In 1998, one of the Nationalist's first steps was the reintroduction of the value-added tax (VAT) that the previous Labor government dismantled. As of 2005, the corporate tax rate was a flat 35% and was the only tax imposed on company profits. Generally, capital gains are taxed as income for both companies and individuals. However gains received from securities listed on the Malta Stock Exchange are exempt. Dividends paid out of resident company profits that have already been taxed at the 35% rate are not taxed further at the individual level. However, dividends paid out of untaxed income to a resident are subject to a 15% withholding tax. Dividends paid out of company income that was taxed below the 35% rate are subject to a withholding tax that is the difference between the current and lower rates.

Individual incomes were taxed according to a progressive schedule with 35% as the top rate. Social security taxes totaled 19%, 10% paid by the employer and 9% by the employee. Reduced rates were available under certain circumstances on both corporate and individual income taxes. The main indirect tax was the VAT, set at a standard rate of 18%. There were also stamp taxes.


Although traditionally a protectionist state, Malta's nationalist government is moving to dismantle its trade barriers in an effort to prepare for EU accession. Customs are collected mainly in the form of ad valorem duties; there are specific duties on petroleum, spirits, and tobacco. Preferential treatment is accorded to imports from the European Union. There is also a value-added tax (VAT) of 18% on all imports.


Malta encourages foreign investment through tax holidays, export incentives, investment and accelerated depreciation allowances, reduced taxes on reinvested profits, grants to cover training costs and management services, a generous attitude toward repatriation of profits and capital, and few restrictions on foreign ownership of Maltese firms. No data for the total value of foreign direct investment in Malta is available; the only investment figures that are kept are those collected by the government at the time of the original application for assistance by the companies. SGS Thomson Ltd. (Italy and France), first established in Malta in 1981, had an investment of $266 million in machinery as of 1995.

In 1998, foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows were $267 million, up from $80.8 million in 1997, and then soared to $822 million in 1999. FDI inflows fell to $652 million in 2000 and then to $314 million in 2001. For the period 1998 to 2000, Malta was fifth in the world in terms of success in attracting foreign investment. Malta's share of world FDI flows was 4.6 times its share of world GDP during this period.

Capital inflows totaled $555 million in 2002, and an estimated $333 million in 2003. Most investments came from Germany, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Austria. Foreign companies employ a significant part of the Maltese population.


The Nationalist government's primary aim was to radically transform Malta's economy in an effort to meet EU standards in time for the next round of enlargement. The elimination of trade barriers, deficit reduction, and more efficient tax collection comprise the most significant elements of the government's EU-harmonization plan. Malta was formally invited to join the European Union in December 2002, and was finally accepted as a full member in May 2004.

Malta's economic growth has fluctuated over the past years, going into the negative in 2001 and 2003. Nonetheless, the economy is projected to grow stronger in the future as a result of higher investments in construction, and due to government efforts to meet fiscal criteria for euro qualification. Also, a slight increase in exports and private consumption are expected to help this trend.


The National Insurance Act of 1956, as amended in 1987, provides benefits for sickness, unemployment, old age, widowhood, disability, and industrial injuries. Coverage includes all residents aged 16 and over, and excludes full time students and unemployed married women. Pensions are funded by contributions from employers, employees, and the government. These benefits are supplemented by social assistance under the National Assistance Act of 1956. Legislation establishing family allowances was enacted in 1974, and maternity benefits were mandated in 1981. As of 2004, employers were required to provide 14 weeks of maternity leave with pay set at a flat weekly rate. Work injury laws have been on the books since 1929.

Women make up a growing portion of the labor force due to changing social patterns and economic necessity. However, they are often channeled into traditionally female occupations or work in family-owned businesses, and remain underrepresented at the management level. Working women generally earn less than men. Domestic violence against women remains a problem but is addressed by the government through specialized police units, legal assistance, shelters, and legislation. These efforts paid off with a decrease in domestic violence in 2004. Women have equality in matters of family law, although divorce is not legal.

The law mandates protection of all groups against economic, social, and political discrimination. The government is committed to protecting human rights, and human rights organizations are free to operate in Malta.


Free health services are administered by the government run polyclinics. British, Belgian, and other foreign medical personnel work in Malta's hospitals. Infant mortality decreased from 23.3 per 1,000 live births in 1973 to an estimated 3.89 in 2005. Average life expectancy at birth was 78.86 years. As of 2004, there was an estimated 293 physicians, 377 nurses, 40 dentists, and 192 pharmacists per 100,000 people. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 500 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 100 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Malta has the somewhat unusual situation of having a large surplus of housing stock. In 1995, about 23% of the housing stock was vacant, translating into about 35,723 dwellings. About 36% of vacant homes are considered to be second homes in private ownership. In 2003, an estimated 52,000 homes were vacant. Despite the surplus, the government continues to issue an overabundance of housing construction permits. For the period of 19942001, the Planning Authority issued about 3,000 permissions for housing development per year. The average increase in households was only about 1,700 per year for the same period.

Many new homes are being built in rural or suburb areas, a move which has been somewhat detrimental to urban areas since residents leaving the cities are often simply abandoning their urban properties. Some of these properties have fallen into disrepair, but many are still considered to be in adequate and good condition. Residential property is seen as a good investment for those who can afford to own their own homes and about 70% of all homes are owner occupied. Unfortunately, those who own a second home are often not willing to offer the property for affordable rental. Which also means that those who cannot afford to own their own home often find it difficult to find an affordable place to rent. The government provides some rental properties for low-income families and have made plans to encourage property owners to open their properties for rental.


Maltese law requires that the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church be included in the public school curriculum, and legislation passed in 1983 requires all schools to provide free education. Education is compulsory for 11 years for children between the ages of 5 and 16 and is free in public schools. Primary school covers six years of study, followed by five years of junior lyceum (lower secondary). Students then have an option of attending a two-year high school or a four-year vocational school. Private independent and church secondary schools may have more specialized curriculums. The academic year runs from October to June.

Most children between the ages of three and four are enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 96% of eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 87% of eligible students. It is estimated that nearly all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 19:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 10:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 36.5% of primary school enrollment and 27.3% of secondary enrollment.

Institutes of higher education include the University of Malta, the International Maritime Law Institute, and the School of Art. In 2003, about 30% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 87.9%, with 86.4% for men and 89.2% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.6% of GDP.


The National Library of Malta (founded in 1555) is located in Valetta and held 380,000 volumes in 2002. The National Archives is housed in Rabat. The University of Malta Library (1769) is in Msida and contains over 700,000 volumes. The Malta Public Libraries consist of the main Central Public Library at Floriana, 7 regional libraries and 38 branch libraries. There is also a Gozo Public Library. There are over 50 school libraries throughout Malta.

Valletta is the site of the National Museum of Archaeology, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace Armory, the National War Museum, and the St. John's Museum. The Folk Museum and the Museum of Political History are at Vittoriosa, where the Malta Maritime Museum also opened in 1992. There is an archeological museum located in a Copper Age temple in Mgarr and a museum of Zomon antiquities in Rabat.


In 2003, there were 208,300 mainline phones and 290,000 mobile phone in use nationwide.

Malta's government radio service transmits on two channels (one Maltese, one English). The Labor Party and the Nationalist Party both own one radio and one television station. The Catholic Church also sponsors a radio station. There are other private stations as well. Television programs are received primarily from a local service and from Italy. As of 2001 there were 1 AM and 18 FM radio stations and 6 television stations, plus 1 commercial cable network. In 1997, there were 255,000 radios and 280,000 television sets throughout the country. In 2002, there were 120,000 Internet users.

The press includes daily and Sunday newspapers, published in both Maltese and English. Leading papers (with estimated 2002 circulations) are It-Torca (Maltese, 30,000 daily), L'Orizzont (Maltese, 25,000 weekly), the Times (English, 23,000 daily), Il-Mument (Maltese, 25,000 weekly), and In-Nazzion Taghna (Maltese, 20,000 daily).

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government is said to respect these rights in practice.


The Chamber of Commerce is located in Valletta. There are several professional and trade organizations representing a variety of occupations. The largest independent private business organization is the General Retailers and Traders' UnionMalta. The Malta Federation of Industry also has some influence. The Medical Association of Malta represents the interests of doctors and patients. Other professional unions and associations are active on a national level.

The Malta Cultural Institute promotes primarily the arts of music and dance. Sports associations include organizations for such sports as cricket, football (soccer), weightlifting, and badminton. National youth organizations include the Malta Youth Labor Brigade, Nationalist Party Youth Movement, Scout Association of Malta, Student Democrats of Malta, University Student Council of Malta, University Students' Catholic Movement, and the Young Christians. The National Council of Woman of Malta encourages equal opportunity for women in business and education.

Multinational organizations based in Malta include the International Ocean Institute and Greenpeace Mediterranean. There is a national chapter of the Red Cross Society.


Tourism, a major industry, has played a large role in developing the Maltese economy since the 1990s. Malta has many scenic and historical attractions, especially in Valletta, plus excellent beaches. Football (soccer) is the national sport; hockey, badminton, darts and rugby are also popular as well as billiards and snooker.

US citizens and most Western Europeans do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. In 2003, about 1,127,000 visitors arrived in Malta, of whom 40% came from the United Kingdom. That year there were 41,365 beds available in hotels and other accommodations with a 53% occupancy rate.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Malta at $209.


The city of Valletta derives its nomenclature from Jehan Parisot de la Vallette (14941568), Grand Master of the Knights of St. John, who successfully withstood a great Turkish siege in 1565. Dominic (Dom) Mintoff (b.1916), a founder of Malta's Labour Party, was prime minister during 195558 and 197184. Agatha Barbara (19232002), a former cabinet minister, was elected the first woman president of Malta on 16 February 1982. Edward Fenech-Adami (b.1934), who served as prime minister from 198796 and from 19982004, became president in 2004.


Malta has no territories or colonies.


Balbi, Francesco. Trans. by Ernle Bradford. The Siege of Malta, 1565. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 2005.

Berg, Warren G. Historical Dictionary of Malta. Lanham, Jd.: Scarecrow, 1995.

Five Small Open Economics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Gregory, Desmond. Malta, Britain, and the European Powers. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

Holland, James. Fortress Malta: An Island under Siege, 19401943. New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion, 2003.

Spooner, Tony. Supreme Gallantry: Malta's Role in the Allied Victory, 19391945. London: J. Murray, 1996.

Terterov, Marat (ed.). Doing Business with Malta. Sterling, Va.: Kogan Page, 2003.

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Republic of Malta

Major City:

Other Cities:
Birkirkara, Floriana, Mdina, Sliema, Victoria


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated November 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


MALTA , whose first known inhabitants were the Phoenicians, is the product of a long and fascinating past. Its story spans thousands of years, and is told in its archaeological and historical sites which range from Copper-and Bronze-Age temples, through Roman and early Christian settlements, to the 16th-and 17th-century architecture of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. This small nation is made up of islands and islets positioned in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a true collage of cultures, existing in a setting where folk patterns of the past blend freely with modern life-styles.

Malta was ruled by foreigners for all of its history until it became an independent republic within the British Commonwealth in 1964.



The capital city of Valletta, a powerful naval base for the British Mediterranean fleet in the 19th century, is located on a peninsula with deep-water harbors on two sides and the open sea on the third. It is a major port of call and important center for ship repairs because of its position midway between Gibraltar and Port Said.

The city is one mile long and several hundred yards wide. Its narrow streets are lined with buildings dating from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Pedestrians throng the streets during the day, and parking space inside the city is extremely limited. Modern office buildings are few, since new construction is restricted by the many national monuments that cannot be razed or radically altered. Valletta had an estimated population of 195,000 in 2002.

More than half of the 395,000 residents of the major island of Malta live in the central urban Valletta-Floriana-Sliema area, where nearly all major commercial firms and government offices are located. A number of British have retired here or have come to Malta to reside and invest in the island's development. Thus, urban Malta has a British flavor and is strongly British-oriented. Shops carry English and European goods of all types. Most tourists are British, but European and American visitors are increasing in number. The government has recently expanded its tourist programs, emphasizing the summer season.

This capital city was named for Jean Parisot de la Valette, grand master of the Knights of St. John, who successfully withstood the infamous Turkish siege of 1565. Valletta (also correctly spelled Valetta) and its environs were so besieged in World War II that the area was given the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed spot in Europe. Twelve hundred separate raids by German and Italian aircraft damaged or destroyed the garrisons and as many as 3,500 surrounding private homes. The attacks began in June 1940 and lasted throughout the war.

Schools for Foreigners

Verdala International School, at Fort Pembroke, was set in 1976 by an international oil-exploration firm, but is now financially supported by another sponsor. This coeducational institution has an American and British curriculum and takes pupils from kindergarten to grade 12. French, Spanish, and Italian are offered; special programs include English as a Second Language, advanced placement and remedial aid. The school has an American headmaster and American teachers.

Because the quality of high school education available on Malta does not reach American standards, many American parents prefer to have their high school aged children attend boarding schools, the nearest of which are in Rome.

American history, government, and spelling are not taught in any Maltese schools, so this instruction must be given at home by American parents. Science programs in schools are adequate, but not advanced. Some states in the U.S. may not accept the British system of grade classification, which could create difficulties for students returning home.


Hiking in the rural areas of Malta, particularly the thinly populated north and northwest, can be pleasant and interesting. A number of picnic spots, many accessible only by foot, provide lovely sea vistas. Walking clubs tour the island on weekends. Malta has a mediumsized botanical garden.

The waters around Malta are beautiful, with deep shades of turquoise and green. Swimming, sailing, windsurfing, and skin diving can be enjoyed six months of the year. Sailing activities are available through the Valletta Yacht Club. The one golf course is used throughout the winter. Tennis is played year round at the Union Club, Holiday Inn, and Marsa Sports Club, which also have squash courts. Limited facilities exist for horseback riding.

Water polo is a popular sport in summer. Soccer, the favorite Maltese spectator sport, is played year round, except during the hottest summer months. A surprising number of fine trotting horses are on the island. Trotting races start when the weather begins to cool in the fall, and continue until spring. Races are held on Sundays and holidays, and betting for small stakes is permitted.

Fishing from small boats or from the shore may be readily undertaken. No facilities exist, however, for deep-sea fishing from chartered boats equipped with heavy gear. In winter, hunting (small birds) is popular with Maltese men, who use both net and gun.

There are many sights to see. Perhaps most interesting are buildings from the period of the Knights, and prehistoric sites, several of which are still being excavated. Nonetheless, a week of concentrated sight-seeing would exhaust the principal attractions, including the most important architectural monuments and museums.

Despite Malta's relative proximity to a number of other Mediterranean ports (e.g., Greece), neither direct ship nor air service exists to points other than a few of the major cities of Europe and to Catania, Tunis, and Cairo. Therefore, travel to other areas in the Mediterranean basin must be via Italy.


During winter, Malta offers many concerts, theater, and opera presentations. While such performances are not first class, some fine talent can be found among composers and performers alike.

Most major American and foreign films eventually arrive in Malta, usually one to two years after their premieres. All are censored by a government-appointed board, which includes a church representative. English-language films are shown in the original version; most other foreign films have English subtitles. Movie prices are low, but many cinemas are Spartan and ill-kept. The majority of movie theaters are neither air-conditioned nor heated.

A government-licensed casino operates year round, offering roulette, blackjack, and chemin de fer (a variation of baccarat).

In terms of local folklore, the village festa, held mostly between May and October, retains interest. Festas combine religious processions and ceremonies with elaborate street lighting, band parades, and fireworks displays. Similar celebrations take place during Mardi Gras season.

The resident American community is comprised of a handful of diplomatic and business representatives and their families, perhaps 50 spouses and children of oil and aviation company employees working in North African and Middle Eastern countries, and about 500 Americans (almost all of Maltese origin) who have retired in the area.

Because of the small size of the American community in Valletta, the American Women's Club is the only U.S.-related social organization. It sponsors limited cultural and charitable activities.

Many international and British charitable and philanthropic organizations have branches and/or active chapters on Malta. These include Rotary International, Lions, Round Table, St. John's Ambulance Brigade, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and the Playing Fields Association. Several Boy Scout troops are on the islands, but they are not fully accredited. Merit badges earned here are not entirely recognized in the U.S. Girl Guides are also present in Malta.

Three local clubs with some available memberships provide useful facilities and social contacts. The Union Club in Sliema has a bar and a restaurant open for lunch and dinner. This club holds weekly dances and a biweekly tombola, (similar to bingo), and has an active bridge group, four tennis courts, and two squash courts. The Marsa Sports Club, in the center of the island, has several athletic fields, 18 tennis courts, three squash courts, a swimming pool, and Malta's only golf course. Marsa is surrounded by the island's race (trotting) track. Membership fees at local clubs are low by U.S. standards.

The Marsa Sports Club and Union Club jointly operate a May-to-October beach facility in Sliema (open only to members). The Valletta Yacht Club on Manoel Island operates an informal bar and restaurant, mainly in the summertime.

The National Tourist Organization is located on Harper Lane in Floriana.


BIRKIRKARA and QORMI are small towns within three miles of the capital. Their respective populations are approximately 22,000 and 18,000.

FLORIANA is a suburb of Valletta, and the site of the Argotti Botanic Gardens. The U.S. Embassy also is located here.

MDINA , one of the oldest towns in Europe, lies just inland from Valletta. Walled on all sides, it is the Città Vecchia (Old City) which was the capital of Malta until 1570. It is also known as Notabile. Pre-Christian catacombs are found here, as are a 17th-century cathedral and the old palace of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta, or Knights Hospitalers. It was at this spot that the Knights, the celebrated military religious order of the Middle Ages, defended Malta against the Turks in 1565.

SLIEMA , northwest across the bay from Valletta, is part of the capital city complex, although it stands as a town in its own right. The population is 12,000.

VICTORIA is the capital and main community of Gozo Island (ancient Gaulus). Its population is about 7,000.


Geography and Climate

The Maltese Islands are a small archipelago of six islands and islets in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Malta (95 square miles) is the largest island of the group, followed by Gozo (26 square miles) and Comino (one square mile). Cominotto, Filfla, and St. Paul's are small uninhabited islets. The total area of Malta is approximately one-tenth the size of Rhode Island.

The longest distance on Malta is about 17 miles, from southeast to northwest; the widest part is nine miles in an east-west direction. The length and width of Gozo are nine miles and four-and-a-half miles, respectively. Gozo lies northwest of Malta across a narrow channel; Comino is in this channel. Malta's shoreline is 85 miles; Gozo's is 27 miles.

Some of Malta's and most of Gozo's villages are situated on hilltops overlooking the terraced fields that characterize the islands. Northern Malta is a series of ridges, valleys, bays, and promontories. The western side is dominated by 800-foot-high cliffs. Shorelines are quite rocky, and few sandy beaches can be found.

The islands are bare and rocky, with scattered fertile patches. Gozo has less high ground and more arable land than Malta, while Comino is almost completely barren. In summer, the landscape is brown and arid but, soon after the onset of the fall rains, the countryside becomes green.

Malta lies 58 miles south of Sicily, near the center of the Mediterranean Sea, with Gibraltar 1,141 miles to the west and Alexandria (Egypt) 944 miles to the east.

Annual rainfall averages 19 to 22 inches, but may vary from 40 to less than 10 inches. Temperatures range from 35°F in winter to 95°F in summer. The climate is temperate. First rains come in September, are heaviest from November to January, and ease off slightly in February and March. Beginning in March, rainfall diminishes until it stops in May which, next to July, is the driest month.

Summer is hot and dry with almost cloudless skies. The scirocco, a warm, humid, southeast wind, occurs in spring and from mid-September to mid-October. The gregale, a cold Greek wind, blows from the east and northeast in winter, sometimes reaching gale force. Winter is chilly to cold with occasional heavy downpours, but also has many fine days.


Malta is one of the world's most densely inhabited countries. The total population of the Maltese Islands is approximately 395,000. Density is greater than 3,000 persons per square mile, compared to 55 per square mile in the U.S. A high percentage of Maltese live around Valletta and the harbor area.

Neolithic settlements date to at least 5,000 B.C. The first known inhabitants to settle in Malta and Gozo were the Phoenicians, followed by the Carthaginians. Later came the Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, Italians, French and, the British. The present population derives from this amalgam.

The Maltese remained a distinct ethnic group through the centuries, despite considerable intermarriage with the people who controlled the islands. Today's Maltese language incorporates Italian and English words, but is more like Arabic than any other language; speakers of the latter tongue can understand and be understood by the Maltese. Arabic influence is also somewhat apparent in the island's architecture, folklore, and proverbs.

Knowledge of English is widespread among urban dwellers, and many young educated adults, students, and the upper-class older generations also know Italian and French. However, Maltese is the lingua franca. Since the early 1930s, both Maltese and English have been taught in the schools.

Maltese did not develop as a written language until the 20th century. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian was the language of the schools, law courts, and Maltese society. Despite the country's small size, several variations of Maltese are spoken. Villagers at distant points on the islands use distinct idioms and pronunciation, and none speak the "pure" Maltese taught in the schools.

The 1964 constitution established Roman Catholicism as the religion of the country, but also guaranteed freedom of worship. Religion is a required subject in all government schools. Traditionally, Malta is 98 percent Roman Catholic. Over 360 Roman Catholic churches are on the islands, more than one for every 1,000 Maltese. No other religion has gained ground among the people, but a significant decrease has occurred in the strict observance of religious duties by urban dwellers. However, in the villages and, to a slightly lesser extent in towns, the parish church remains the focal point of community life. The annual festa of each town or village parish, in honor of the patron saint on his or her name day, is still the most important day of the year for the inhabitants. The people contribute substantially for church and street decorations, lights, floats, and fireworks, all essential to local observance of this ostensibly religious event.

In the absence of local or regional government authority, the village church was, and still is, the people's spokesman to secular authorities. The parish priest reads government notices from his pulpit, serves as legal adviser, banker, and letter writer for his parishioners, and retains his traditional role as the people's "patron" or spokesman to the government. This role, however, is rapidly diminishing.

More than 25 percent of Malta's population lives in essentially rural areas. The urban Maltese resembles, in outlook and sophistication, other Europeans of the same educational background and employment level. However, the typical rural Maltese is a provincial person whose life centers around the village. Many older villagers have not visited Valletta for years. In fact, thousands of Maltese have never left the main island, even to visit Gozo.

Italian, English, and American films and TV programs have had a great impact in broadening the Maltese viewpoint, but all cultural imports (films, TV programs, books, etc.) are subject to evaluation and control by a censorship board.

Italian TV broadcasts, not subject to this censorship, have a large audience.


Malta's location has for centuries given it political and military importance out of proportion to its size and natural resources. The islands have been occupied and ruled by alien peoples from ancient times until independence from the United Kingdom was granted in 1964.

In recent history, the two longest and most significant periods of occupation were by the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem from 1530 (after their ejection from Rhodes by the Turks) to 1798, and by the British from 1814 to 1964.

The high point of the Knights' rule was their victory in 1565 when they withstood a four-month siege by 30,000 Turkish troops. Aided by their strong fortifications, the divided command of the Turks, and their own determination, the Knights and their Maltese allies resisted so stoutly that the Turkish army left in humiliation.

Almost equally famous was the prolonged and intense air bombing during World War II when Malta was the Mediterranean headquarters of the Royal Navy. The islands' population and defenders were close to starvation when a relief convoy of four surviving ships reached them on August 15, 1942. The danger of starvation did not abate until the spring of 1943, when control of the Mediterranean passed to Allied hands. In April 1942, Malta was awarded the George Cross for "a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history." President Roosevelt also saluted Maltese heroism when he visited the islands on December 8, 1943.

Malta, a self-governing republic, gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and became a republic in 1974. Malta's parliamentary system is led by a prime minister. Parliament consists of a unicameral House of Representatives with 65 members, representing two partiesthe Malta Labor Party and the Nationalist Party. The country has no local governments. The current president is Guido de Marco and Eddie Fenech Adami is the prime minister.

The judiciary consists of nine judges who sit in the superior courts, and nine magistrates who sit in the inferior courts. The legislative and judicial systems closely follow British practices, but the judiciary also owes much to Roman law, French law and the Napoleonic Code, as well as to the Italian judicial system.

Italian was, by default, the written language of government (including the law courts) and the spoken language of society throughout the 19th century to the early 1930s. Precedent law of this period is all in Italian. Italian was commonly used by the elite of Maltese society until the 1940s, when Axis bombing raids rendered it politically unpopular. Since 1934, Maltese and English have been the official languages of government, including the legislature and courts. Government officials at all levels must have a minimum-tested level of competence in both languages.

Malta is a member of the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the Non-Aligned Movement, among other organizations.

The flag of Malta consists of two equal vertical bands, white at the staff and red at the fly. A design of the George Cross, edged in red, is carried at the upper left corner of the white stripe.

Arts, Science, Education

Malta's opera house in Valletta, destroyed in World War II bombings, has not been rebuilt. The Manoel Theater, a charming 18th-century structure, is used for local and visiting cultural attractions. During the winter season, a number of orchestral, choral, and chamber music concerts are presented by visiting groups. The Malta Amateur Dramatic Club, Atturi Theater Group, and other drama companies present plays and musicals in English at the Manoel, the Deporres Arts Center, San Anton Gardens, and other locales in winter and spring.

Malta has a number of architecturally interesting churches, mostly of the baroque or rococo periods. Other architectural classics are the fortifications of the "Three Cities," built during the 16th century by the Order of St. John of Jerusalem; several 17th-century forts; and some secular architecture (principally the Auberges) of Valletta, also built by the Knights of St. John. The old walled town of Mdina is lovely.

Principal Maltese art collections are at St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Mdina, and the National Museum of Fine Arts and Grand Master's Palace in Valletta. All four contain works of interest.

Local branches of the Alliance-Française, Dante Alighieri Society, and German Maltese Circle (each affiliated with the embassy of its respective country) operate in Malta, and frequently sponsor concerts and other cultural events.

Education in Malta has a long tradition of excellence, dating from the 16th century, when Jesuits founded an institution which developed into the University of Malta. During the British colonial period, English became the primary language of instruction, and the British educational system took root. The British system remains essentially intact, and English is still the major classroom language, but the system has been altered and the use of English has declined, especially in government schools.

University intake has been increased by around 200 percent, and the work/study concept has been made optional. The work phase has been reduced from five-and-one-half to two months during summer. The previous university entry requirements of sponsorship by an employer and Arabic language ability have been abolished. The points system which gave a 10 percent advantage to students coming from state schools over those applying from private schools has also been abolished. The study of liberal arts, basic sciences, and research has been reintroduced along with a traditional grading system. Some of the university professors who went overseas to work between 1977 and 1987 have returned and resumed their faculty positions.

English is the basic language of instruction in most private primary and secondary schools, and Maltese is the language of instruction in government schools at least up to the higher secondary level.

Finding places for children in one of the private primary schools, virtually all of which are Catholic, is difficult. Demand far exceeds the number of places available, and entrance is determined principally by competitive examination. Placing foreign students in secondary private schools is somewhat less difficult.

The literacy rate in Malta is approximately 89 percent.

Commerce and Industry

For many centuries, Malta had a "fortress" economy dependent on various occupying powers for most of its national income. The country's excellent harbors and strategic location made it an important naval base and bunkering station. Even after independence in 1964, Malta remained heavily dependent on employment with, and expenditures by, British forces on the islands. Loans and grants from the U.K. were also important.

Since the mid-1960s, however, Malta has enjoyed impressive, broadly based, economic growth. Heavy foreign and domestic investment created a large number of new tourist facilities and export-oriented or import-substitution industries. The Maltese Government greatly expanded social services and certain basic infrastructures, and converted many ex-British service facilities to other uses. The former Royal Navy Dockyard became the Malta Dry-docks and, with over 4,000 workers, remains the country's largest industrial employer. By the time the U.K./ NATO Bases Agreement expired and the last British forces left the islands (March 31, 1979), Malta's economy had made a largely successful transition to civilian production and services.

Malta lacks natural sources for energy, although there are possibilities for offshore oil and natural gas. The only natural resource is limestone. Agricultural and fisheries account for a little over four percent of Malta's gross domestic product. The country's requirements for foodstuffs, consumer goods, raw materials, and semi-manufactured goods for the export industries out-paced export growth.

In recent years, The European Union and the U.S. have been Malta's most important export markets. Manufactures comprise much of Malta's export; the most significant these have been transistors, valves and clothing. Other significant exports include electrical machinery and equipment, printed matter, yarns and textiles, rubber products, beverages, tobacco, and food.

Tourism has increased and is now a major source of income, accounting for approximately 40% of the GDP. About two-thirds of the tourists are from the U.K.

Since independence, Malta's income from tourism, investment income from abroad, substantial foreign aid, other transfers, and capital inflows have enabled the country to maintain, despite a widening trade deficit, an unbroken string of balance-of-payments surpluses. Foreign reserves have continued to grow, and Malta has one of the world's highest non-OPEC reserve/import ratios. Large aid donors include Italy, the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the European Community (EC) and, through concessional oil sales which ended in mid-1980, Libya.

The United States and Malta formed the Maltese-American Business Council in 1983 to promote commercial cooperation. The largest U.S. manufacturing firm in Malta is V.F. (Malta) Ltd., formerly Bluebell (Wrangler jeans).

Malta's economic progress and continued growth is highly dependent on external factors. Privatization and economic restructuring are high priorities for the Labor administration. The Labor administration is also seeking to reduce public expenditures.

The Malta Chamber of Commerce is located in Valletta at the Exchange Building on Republic Street, Kingsway.


Malta is 58 miles from the nearest point in Sicily and 180 miles from the closest point on the North African mainland. Regularly scheduled direct flights go to most destinations in Europe and North Africadaily to Rome and London, and twice weekly to Paris, Munich, Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Lyon, Zurich, Catania, Tunis, Tripoli, and Cairo.

Scheduled airlines operating from Malta include Air Malta (the national carrier), British Airways, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Tunisavia (Tunisian), Air Algerie, Libyan Arab Airlines, Swissair, Aeroflot, and Balkan Air.

Throughout the year, the Tirrenia Line sails round-trip from Malta to the Sicilian cities of Syracuse (Siracusa) and Catania, as well as to Reggio Calabria and Naples on the Italian mainland. The ship serving this route carries passenger cars. Ships on this line are far from luxurious, but are the only satisfactory way of traveling with private cars from Italy to Malta.

In Malta, transportation is by private or rented car, taxi, or public bus. Paved roads, even to remote villages, are common, but their condition is less than satisfactory. Few roads have shoulders. Children, unlit horse-drawn carts or antique motor-driven vehicles, and animals abound, both in villages and on the highways. In summer, tourist-driven cars add to the confusion, and minor accidents often occur.

Traffic moves on the left. However, left-hand-drive cars are permitted, and an "LHD" emblem on the rear is not mandatory. Road signs along highways are frequently defaced or missing, and rarely indicate the right-of-way at intersections. Fortunately, driving speeds are relatively low because of the poor condition of most roads.

Persons planning to arrive in Malta with a private car must have valid auto tags of some foreign country, proof of ownership, and auto insurance valid for driving in Malta. There is no vehicle inspection or published traffic code. Automobile repair is only fair, but usually costs far less than in the U.S. Parts are difficult to obtain.

With an international insurance "green card," valid for Malta, a car can be driven on a 90-day tourist certificate. During these 90 days, locally issued third-party insurance and Maltese license tags must be obtained.

Public buses go to all parts of the main island, with one or more transfers needed to reach remote areas. Fares are low, but buses are crowded during morning and evening rush hours. Service on most lines stops early in the evening, or runs only infrequently after the evening rush. Use of public buses is not practical for evening social engagements.

Some garages operate taxi services. Cabs must be called for, since they do not cruise looking for fares. Also, the fare should be negotiated in advance. Car rentals vary according to season, model, type of insurance, and individual garages.


International phone service is available to Europe, parts of North Africa, and the U.S. Collect calls to the U.S. can be processed. International calls should be placed as early as possible. A direct-dialing service links Malta to the U.K., Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Libya, at varying rates per second. Commercial cable service is available worldwide. International postal service is adequate for letters, but inconvenient for outgoing packages because of customs formalities.

Malta television uses the European PAL system, and unmodified sets cannot receive programs from TV Malta (TVM). Color transmission began in July 1981. About half of TVM programming is local and broadcast in Maltese. The rest, imported mainly from the U.S. and the U.K., is broadcast in English. Several Italian stations also can be received, and the previous evening's American network news in English can be received via Italian TV stations each morning.

A variety of periodicals are published both in Maltese and in English. Many are affiliated with churches or political parties and have small circulations, parochial themes, and uneven journalism.

International editions of Time and Newsweek are sold on newsstands the day after publication. British daily newspapers and weekly periodicals are usually available on newsstands the same afternoon as publication. The International Herald Tribune is available via airmail subscription.


Malta's health-care system has a long history of high standards, but it has recently undergone drastic changes caused by the government's efforts to establish a national health service.

Some Maltese physicians resisted the government's plan. All of those who contested the reforms were barred from hospital facilities and, as a result, have been limited to private practice without access to hospitals, or have left Malta for positions in other countries. The government has obtained replacement doctors from India, Pakistan, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia but, despite their presence, uncertainty about health care remains.

Fortunately, a number of good general practitioners and specialists are available to the American community and can deal with most routine health problems. These physicians will make house calls.

Foreign and Maltese doctors staff the government's large, well-equipped, public facility, St. Luke's Hospital, in Valletta, which is adequate for routine cases and emergencies. Currently, no private hospitals are in operation. For other than routine ailments, it is advisable to seek hospital care elsewhere.

Dental care is generally good, and several dentists here have British and American experience.

Common medicines, particularly of British origin, are usually available from local pharmacies. Those on long-term assignment who need special medications should have a six-month supply on hand.

No unusual health hazards exist in Malta, but incoming visitors or personnel should be aware of some conditions. Tap water is chlorinated, but has a high saline content and, for cooking or ice cubes, must be filtered and boiled. Americans drink bottled water and other bottled beverages, which are readily available at moderate cost. Various filters can be bought locally, but they will neither remove biological contaminants from the water nor eliminate the high salt content.

During summer, unrefrigerated foods are a source of bacterial contamination leading to food poisoning. Special care must be taken in the treatment of fruits and vegetables which are to be eaten raw.

Swimming and other water sports are major forms of recreation in Malta, and safety consciousness is essential, especially since there are no lifeguards at the beaches. Malta's strong summer sun and occasional violent offshore currents must be respected.

Mosquitoes and sand fleas are common during the summer months and, although they are not dangerous except to those with particular allergies, their stings are bothersome. Repellents and ointments are desirable, but common American products are not sold locally. Black-light insect lamps, which attract and kill flying insects, can be bought. There is no government spraying or insect-control program.

Winters are damp and windy, but Maltese homes do not have central heating. Precaution must be taken in the use of electric, bottled gas, or kerosene (called paraffin locally) space heaters.

Regular TB screenings and routine immunizations for polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and measles are necessary. Illnesses contracted in Malta are those familiar in the U.S. (i.e., virus infections or the common cold). Prudent care and attention to good health practices are urged.

Sanitation is good. Waste water is usually treated before being pumped into the sea. Sea water is clean and safe for swimming in most areas, except when stinging jellyfish are nearby. Due to the absence of heavy industry, air and water pollution, except for automotive exhaust and open burning of refuse, are not major problems.

Trash collection is daily, except Sunday, in urban areas.

Clothing and Services

Clothing available in Malta is mostly of English, Italian, or Maltese manufacture. Quality is mixed, and prices are high. Women's styles usually follow the latest fads. The grade of children's and men's clothing is uneven. Good-quality English and European woolen material is sold at high prices, and many men's tailors do good work.

Some ready-made clothing is available, ranging from formal dinner attire to sportswear. Selection is both limited and expensive, making it wise to depend on local supply for emergencies only. Clothing for women in size 18 or larger is almost impossible to find.

Some women either make their own clothes or have them made by the good local dressmakers. Others arrive in Malta with an adequate wardrobe, which they can later supplement on trips to the continent, or by the occasional use of a dressmaker.

Hats and gloves are rarely seen, and women do not wear hosiery during the hot summer months. However, a certain decorum should be observed by both men and women for street wear. Shorts are worn for sports only.

School children wear uniforms, but since children's clothing is so expensive in Malta, many parents buy certain items at home rather than wait until arrival. For example, black leather slip-on or laced shoes, white athletic shoes, and long or short-sleeved white shirts/blouses are standard items in most school uniforms. Blazers, ties, and dresses or skirts must be bought locally.

Evening clothes for men and women are essential on some occasions. Men's formal wear may be rented if necessary. Long dinner dresses are worn for the most formal occasions, but short dresses also are appropriate. Hostesses are accustomed to guests who wear fur jackets, stoles, or other covering throughout the evening.

Since houses and buildings are heated below U.S. minimum standards in the winter season (home temperatures below 60°F are not unusual), sweaters, heavy slacks, and other warm items are essential. Some Americans living and working in Malta find thermal underwear useful.

Summer clothes should be of lightweight cotton or cotton/synthetic fabrics for women, and of the lightest available suit materials for men. Children also need suitable cool fabrics during the hot Maltese summer.

Toiletries, common medicines, and cosmetics sold locally are mainly English brands or English-manufactured American products. Imports of certain items, such as toothpaste and shampoo, are restricted. Variety is adequate for normal needs.

Supplies commonly used for housekeeping, home repairs, etc., are sold but, without American-style supermarkets and department stores, it is often difficult to find exact needs. Quality and variety of some items (toilet tissue, paper towels, paper plates, and detergents) range from good to poor.

Shoe repair is good and inexpensive. Dry cleaning facilities are uneven, and both laundries and cleaners are hard on clothes and do not iron or press well. Barbers and hairdressers do adequate work.

Radio and TV repair services are fair, but parts for some makes, particularly American, are unavailable. Other types of electrical repairs range from fair to good.

Generally speaking, community services in Malta are less adequate than those in the major cities of Western Europe.

Domestic Help

Finding Maltese women for employment as domestics, whether full or part time, is difficult, and requires patience to acquire. Domestic jobs tend to be specialized, so a housekeeper may not be willing or competent to cook, and a cook may not be willing to clean. Employers are generally required to pay social security insurance for full-time help. It is difficult to find live-in help or people willing to work on Sundays.

Malta has several catering firms that will provide the necessary number of workers needed for the type of entertaining that has been contracted for.

Malta does not have American-style day care centers. There are part-time nursery schools for preschoolers, but a nanny would have to be employed for full-time day care.


Jan. 1New Year's Day

Feb. 10St. Paul's Shipwreck

Mar. 19St. Joseph' Day

Mar. 31Freedom Day

Mar/Apr.Good Friday*


May 1Malta Labor Day

June 7 Sette Giugno (Anniversary of 1919 Riot)

June 29 Sts. Peter and St. Paul Day

Aug. 15Feast of the Assumption

Sept. 8 Our Lady of Victories

Sept. 21 Malta Independence Day

Dec. 8Immaculate Conception

Dec. 13Republic Day

Dec. 25Christmas



Daily flights to Malta arrive from London and Rome, and most travelers from the U.S. use one of these routes.

A passport is required, but no visa is necessary for a stay up to three months. Maltese visas are not required for official personnel and their dependents, regardless of the time period involved.

No health papers are necessary. However, when a contagious disease reaches epidemic proportions in any part of the world, persons arriving from infected areas are subject to isolation and surveillance.

The Maltese government permits cats or dogs to be imported into the islands under strict conditions.

Local law requires that all firearms taken into Malta be licensed with the police department.

Malta has over 360 Roman Catholic churches. Masses are usually held in Maltese, but some churches in Valletta offer masses in English. Several Anglican churches are found here, as are a Greek Orthodox and a Greek Catholic church. Services at Anglican churches are held in English.

The time in Malta is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus one.

Malta has its own currency. It adopted the decimal system in 1972. The Maltese lira (LUM) is the main unit; it is divided into 100 cents (c), and each cent into 10 mils (m). The American Express office in Valletta does not provide a full range of services.

The metric system is used. Gasoline is sold by the liter, and weights and measures are in grams and centimeters.


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Eadie, Peter M. Malta and Gozo. New York: Norton, 1990.

Kanzler, Peter. Practical Travel A to Z: Malta. Chatham, NY: Hayit Publishing USA, 1992.

Malta. New York: Prentice-Hall General Reference and Travel, 1991.

Malta Travel Guide. New York: Berlitz, latest editions.

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The Republic of Malta

Repubblika Ta' Malta



Malta consists of a series of small islands in the Mediterranean Sea, 97 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Italian territory of Sicily and 288 kilometers (179 miles) north of Africa. It is at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. While Malta is an archipelago (a group of islands), only the 3 largest islandsMalta, Gozo, and Cominoare inhabited. Malta's land area is just 316 square kilometers (122 square miles), and the coastline of the Maltese islands is 140 kilometers (87 miles). Malta is about twice the size of Washington, D.C. The largest city is Valletta, which is also the nation's capital, and the second largest is Sliema.


The population of Malta was estimated to be 391,670 in July of 2000. The Maltese people are mainly descendants of ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians who originally settled the islands. There are also descendants of Italians and other Mediterranean people in Malta, in addition to British influences from the colonial period. Nonetheless, the population is mainly homogeneous and overwhelmingly Roman Catholic (91 percent).

Malta's population growth rate is low (0.74 percent) and the population is aging. In 2000, 13 percent were over the age of 65, while only 20 percent were under the age of 15. The birth rate is 12.75 births per 1,000 people or 1.92 children born per woman. In 2000 the death rate was 7.7 deaths per 1,000, but the infant mortality rate was low at 5.94 deaths per 1,000 births. Life expectancy is 75.49 years for males and 80.62 for females. The Maltese emigration rate is low. Each year there are 2.39 migrants per 1,000 inhabitants.

The country is one of the most urban and densely populated nations in the world. The United States has 21 people per square kilometer (55 per square mile) compared to Malta's population density of 1,160 people per square kilometer (3,000 per square mile).


Malta has few natural resources. Most of its foodstuffs (almost 80 percent) must be imported, as must its energy needs. Its economy is based on the export of manufactured products and tourism. The majority of Malta's trade is with the European Union (EU). Malta has applied for membership in the EU and can expect to be among the next nations to join the trade organization in 2003-05. The government has based most of its future economic policies on EU membership. Trade between Malta and the United States rose substantially during the 1990s. For some time, Malta has had a trade deficit , which has increased steadily over the past decade.

Maltese wages are low when compared to other European nations. In 1998 the average annual wage was equal to US$18,620, but inflation has traditionally been low (1.9 percent in 1999), allowing workers to enjoy a fair to high standard of living. Unemployment has stood at about 5 percent for the past 5 years, while gross domestic product (GDP) rose steadily through the 1990s, increasing by 4 percent in 1999.

However, the nation's debt increased dramatically in the 1990s as the government began a series of large infrastructure programs. In 1999 debt was 56.1 percent of GDP, or US$765 million. This was an increase from 33 percent of GDP in 1994. Because of the government programs, the construction industry has become a major economic sector in Malta. Partly in an attempt to lessen the debt and partly to improve the country's competitiveness, the government has begun a large-scale program to privatize state-owned businesses. Now the government is responsible for about half of Malta's GDP and actively pursues outside investment, offering foreign firms full ownership of commercial enterprises. Because wages are substantially lower than those of most EU countries, foreign firms have begun relocating to the islands. This is especially true of companies that produce footwear and clothing. Foreign investment now accounts for 50 percent of all new investment in Malta.

Tourism is the mainstay of the Maltese economy, but manufacturing and financial services are the fastest growing economic segments. Ship repair and support is the country's main industrial sector, but there is also a growing electronics sector. Agriculture remains only a small fraction of the economy.


Malta was a British colony from 1814 until independence in 1964. After independence, the country became a member of the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. In 1974 Malta became a fully independent republic and replaced the queen with an elected president.

Malta is now a constitutional democracy, governed by the unicameral (one chamber) House of Representatives, whose 65 members are popularly elected to 5-year terms of office. The chief of state is the president, who also serves a 5-year term but is elected by the House of Representatives. The leader of the majority party in the legislature is appointed prime minister by the president. Because of the small size of the islands, there are no local or regional government bodies, and all police, education, and postal services are administered from the capital city of Valleta. The exception to this is the Isle of Gozo, which has a separate ministry.

Malta has 2 main political parties: the Nationalist Party and the Labor Party. The nation's political loyalty is evenly divided between the two. The Maltese people are passionate about politics and voter turnout for elections often exceeds 96 percent.

The Maltese government is deeply involved in the nation's economy. It accounts for almost half of the nation's GDP and employs 10 percent of the workforce . Because of several major infrastructure projects, the government has been forced to borrow to finance the resulting deficit. In 1999 Malta borrowed US$275 million. Major programs include a fiber optic telecommunications system, a new international airport, and improvements to port facilities. Loans are also used to support unprofitable government-owned businesses such as the Malta Dry-docks, which cost the government US$15 million in 1999 to cover shortfalls.

The government wants to privatize several state-owned enterprises. In 1997 partial privatization of the national telecommunications company, Maltacom, began, and in 1999 the government sold 70 percent of its ownership of the Mid-Med Bank (now known as HSBC Ltd.) to a Hong Kong company for US$200 million. Plans are in place to privatize the international airport, the Public Lotto (Lottery), the Bank of Valletta, and the Malta Freeport Terminal. There are also negotiations with Tunisia over oil exploitation in the Mediterranean Sea between the 2 countries.

The armed forces are small, composed of land troops, an air squadron, and a naval squadron. In 1999 the government spent US$201 million, or 5.5. percent of the nation's GDP, on defense.

Even though Malta is on the path to membership in the EU, there is long debate over the benefits of such a move. The Labor Party froze Malta's membership efforts after taking control of the government in the 1996 elections, but the Nationalist Party restarted the application process after its return to power in 1998.

The government of Malta offers several incentives to stimulate foreign investment. Most attractive among these is a 10-year tax holiday to industries that export over 95 percent of their goods. Income tax cutbacks, duty -free imports of machinery and equipment, plus deduction on training, research, and development entice foreign companies. The government earns its revenue through a variety of taxes. Approximately 23 percent of revenues came from income tax, 25 percent from social security tax , 17 percent from consumption taxes, and the remainder from licenses, taxes, and fines; customs and excise duties; and other forms of revenue collection.


During the 1990s, the government started several programs designed to make the infrastructure of Malta comparable to other EU nations. The centerpiece of these efforts is the new telecommunications system, and a new international airport that can handle increased passenger and cargo traffic. There are 4 Internet service providers in Malta and the islands are serviced by 1 satellite earth station and 2 undersea communication cables from Europe. There were 187,000 main phone lines in use in 1997. Significant road construction has been completed, but plans call for US$200 million in new highway improvements. The government also spent US$200 million to improve the Freeport cargo terminals, which now handle an average of 1.2 million containers per year. Much of this freight is trans-shipped from Europe to other markets globally.

Malta's energy needs are met through imported fossil fuels, mainly oil. In 1998 the nation produced 1.62 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and consumed 1.507 billion kWh. The country has 1,742 kilometers (1,082 miles) of roadways, of which 1,677 kilometers (1,042 miles) are paved. There are 2 major ports, in Valletta and Marsaxlokk, and a major airport. In 1999 the Maltese merchant marine included 1,484 ships. Many ships were actually owned by foreign firms from 49 different countries, notably Greece with 445 ships.

Maltacom, the nation's telecommunications company, has established GoMobile to provide cellular phone service. In 1999 there were about 15,600 mobile phones in use in Malta. Several international companies have established Internet and e-commerce businesses in Malta.


Malta has few natural resources and its small population makes for a limited domestic market. Consequently, Malta is dependent on foreign trade, and the government has supported export-based companies through tax breaks and other incentives. It has also looked for foreign investment by offering similar incentives. A prolonged period of economic growth through the 1990s and continued government spending on infrastructure programs has kept unemployment low.

Malta's economy is diverse. There is a small agricultural sector, which contributed 2.8 percent of GDP in 1999, but the poor soil of the islands prevents wide-scale crop cultivation. The industrial sector experienced some growth in the 1990s, as the low cost of labor attracted light industries such as electronics, textiles, and

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Malta 187,000 17,691 AM 1; FM 18; shortwave 6 (1999) 255,000 6 (2000) 280,000 2 40,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Italy 25 M (1999) 20.5 M (1999) AM 100; FM 4,600, shortwave 9 50.5 M 358 (1995) 30.3 M 93 11.6 M
Cyprus 488,162 (1998) 138,000 (1999) AM 10; FM 71; shortwave 2 366,450 8 (1995) 300,300 6 80,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

footwear. The government-owned drydocks provide the main heavy industry in the islands, and industry made up 25.5 percent of Malta's GDP in 1999. The service sector dominates the Maltese economy, accounting for 71.7 percent of the nation's GDP and providing 71 percent of employment. Tourism is one of the mainstays of the service sector.


Malta's agricultural sector is small and only accounts for about 2.8 percent of GDP, but it is diverse. In 1999 only 5 percent of workers were employed in agriculture and there were only about 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) of land under irrigation. In 1998 agricultural exports totaled US$42.1 million, but imports totaled US$304 million. Since 1995 agriculture has declined annually. In 1997 the decline was 10.3 percent, and in 1998 the decline was 11.6 percent.

Most farms are small and privately owned. Most of the crops and foodstuffs produced are consumed domestically. The main crops are potatoes, cauliflower, grapes, wheat, barley, tomatoes, citrus, and green peppers. Potatoes are by far the main crop and accounted for 32,000 metric tons of the total agricultural output of 38,000 metric tons. Medigrain, a Maltese company, annually imports about 50,000 tons of wheat, which is then sold to local bakeries and restaurants. It has silo capacity to hold 86,000 metric tons of grain. The company also acts as a trans-shipment agent for the distribution of imported grain to other countries. Livestock production includes beef, chicken, lamb, pork, rabbit, and turkey. The main livestock exports are prepared meat products and fish.


Several industries have experienced growth in Malta since the early 1990s. The principal growth industries include shipbuilding and repair, construction, electronics, and textiles. Industry provides 24 percent of employment and manufactured products account for 90 percent of Malta's exports. The Malta Development Corporation (MDC) is a government venture that works to attract foreign industry to the island. The MDC also oversees the management of Malta's 12 industrial parks and provides low-interest loans for foreign companies moving to the islands. There are now about 200 foreign manufacturing firms in Malta of which the largest is SGS Thomson, a French company that employs 1,800 people in Malta and has annual sales of US$1 billion.

Malta's location along major commercial sea lanes in the Mediterranean has made it a major port area and gateway for products being shipped to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. The government has developed extensive storage facilities for goods, including grain silos and an oil terminal. Goods are shipped to Malta and then transported throughout the Mediterranean region. All aspects of marine services, including shipbuilding, repair, loading, and unloading of goods, have experienced growth in the past decade. The government has promoted the island as a major port by eliminating all taxes and tariffs on goods that are imported by companies licensed to trade in the Malta Freeport terminals.

New construction of homes and businesses is a steady benefit of economic growth. The construction industry has been bolstered by heavy government spending on massive road-building projects. The electronics industry has experienced dramatic growth since several computer manufacturing companies have opened plants in Malta. There are several manufacturing companies in Malta, producing everything from footwear to machine products, and automobile parts to cigarettes.


Services represent the fastest growing sector of the Maltese economy, employing 71 percent of Maltese workers and producing 71.7 percent of GDP in 1999. Wholesale and retail services account for about 11 percent of the nation's GDP, against financial services at 8 percent.

Tourism is a major component of the services sector. Each year Malta receives about 1.2 million tourists, and the tourist industry is the country's main source of foreign currency. In 1998, to attract new visitors, the government began a US$40 million project to improve the waterfront of Malta, the largest island, with new hotels and improvements to existing buildings. There is also a US$25 million project to construct a new cruise line terminal. The country's mild climate and relatively low prices are the main attractions for tourists, who also enjoy the historical sites where many castles of the Knights of Malta remain intact.

Maltacom, the nation's telecommunications company, has established GoMobile to provide cellular phone service. In 1999 there were about 15,600 mobile phones in use in Malta. Several international companies have established Internet and e-commerce businesses in Malta.

Many international firms have established franchises in Malta. North American fast-food chains such as Mc-Donald's, Burger King, T.G.I. Fridays, and Pizza Hut have done well. In 2000 work began on a Hard Rock Café, which will be part of a local hotel. The government also chose a company from the United States to provide cable services for the nation.

The retail sector operates under some important restrictions. Shops are only open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and there is a 3-4 hour break or "siesta" in the afternoon, as is customary in many Southern European countries. In addition, almost all shops are closed on Sunday.

Financial services are a big growth area in the Maltese economy. Since 1995, financial services have grown by 40 percent. Malta's banking system has assets of US$6.2 billion, and the nation has a small stock market, which lists mainly local companies. In 1999 total trades equaled 107.3 million Maltese liri.


Malta's economy is dependent on foreign trade and generally runs a trade deficit. In 1998 the export value of Maltese goods was US$1.8 billion, compared with imports of US$2.7 billion. Around 65 percent of the country's imports come from the EU, while 50 percent of its exports go to the EU. However, trade with the United States has increased over the past 8 years. In 1999 Maltese exports to the United States were worth US$422 million and imports from the United States totaled US$240 million.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Malta
exports Imports
1975 .164 .375
1980 .483 .938
1985 .400 .759
1990 1.133 1.964
1995 1.861 2.890
1998 1.820 2.686
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

Malta's main export markets are France, which in 2000 received 20.7 percent of Malta's goods, the United States (18.1 percent), Germany (12.6 percent), the United Kingdom (7.7 percent), and Italy (4.8 percent). In 2000 the nation's main import partners are Italy (19.3 percent), France (17.8 percent), the United Kingdom (12.4 percent), Germany (10.5 percent), and the United States (8.9 percent).


Over the last several years the value of the Maltese lira has fallen in relation to the U.S. dollar. In 1995 1 U.S. dollar equaled 0.3529 Maltese liri, but by 2000 1 dollar equaled 0.4086 Maltese liri. Malta's entry into the EU may ultimately mean that the nation will replace the lira with the euro, the common currency of the EU.

The Maltese Central Bank issues currency and sets interest rates. It also regulates monetary policy and controls the nation's financial reserves. There are 2 main commercial banks in Malta: HSBC Ltd. and the Bank of Valletta, each with 40 branches in Malta. Together, the 2 banks control 80 percent of the consumer banking market. There are also 2 smaller banks: Lombard Bank and APS Bank. Local merchant banks have a difficult time competing against foreign competition despite liberalized lending policies in recent years.


While wages are low in Malta, the nation's low cost of living allows workers to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. In addition, the government provides housing subsidies for low-income families. Education and health care are free and available for most Maltese, though medical services are limited. With unemployment low (4.5 percent in 2000) and the standard of living relatively high, Malta is ranked 27th in the world in the United Nations Human Development Report 2000. The standard of living doubles every 13 years.

Exchange rates: Malta
Maltese liri (LM) per US$1
Jan 2001 0.4370
2000 0.4376
1999 0.3994
1998 0.3885
1997 0.3857
1996 0.3604
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Malta 2,996 4,659 5,362 7,019 18,620
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Italy 11,969 14,621 15,707 18,141 19,574
Cyprus 3,619 6,334 7,818 10,405 12,857
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


Maltese wages are low by comparison with other European nations. The nation's minimum wage is US$2.96 per hour, or US$118.50 per week. The average wage for skilled workers is US$175 per week. There are legally enforced annual bonuses and generous vacation periods. Bonuses average US$10.58 per week and vacations average 4 weeks per year. Employers underwrite the cost of workers' health care. The standard working week is 40 hours, but some industries are allowed to operate 43 to 45 hours per week. The Maltese labor force numbers 145,590 people.

The Maltese workforce is well-educated and productive. Foreign firms are attracted to Malta because of the low labor costs and the educated workforce. Most Maltese speak English, and worker productivity compares favorably to that of most European nations. The result is that even foreign-owned businesses are usually staffed and managed by Maltese employees. Workers have the right to unionize and to strike, but the islands have one of the lowest strike rates in Europe. There are 35 registered unions in Malta, and about half of the work-force belongs to a union. National laws require unions and companies to meet each year with government officials to draft annual agreements on wages and working conditions.

Employment of children under the age of 16 is prohibited, although many children work part-time in the tourist trade during the summer. Children under the age of 17 may be paid US$108 per week, while 17-year-olds can make US$111 per week. Women are under-represented in the workforce, especially in management positions. In addition, women are often paid less than men in similar occupations. Furthermore, the traditional nature of Maltese society leads many women to stop working after marriage.


4000s B.C. A religious culture develops in Malta even before that of Egypt.

218 B.C. Malta becomes part of the Roman Empire during the Second Punic War.

60 A.D. Saint Paul brings Christianity to Malta after he is shipwrecked on the island.

433. The Byzantine Empire acquires Malta.

870. Malta is conquered by the Arabs.

1090. The Arabs are driven out by Normans under Count Roger of Normandy, who had established a kingdom in Sicily. Malta remains under Sicilian control for 440 years.

1523. Malta is ceded to the Knights of St. John, a religious order of fighting monks that had participated in the Crusades, but were based in Italy after being driven out of the Middle East by the Arabs. The Knights become known as the Knights of Malta and build towns and settlements throughout the islands.

1798. Malta is conquered by France under Napoleon Bonaparte.

1800. With British support, the Maltese overthrow the French.

1814. Malta voluntarily becomes a British colony. Under the British, the islands become an important naval and trade center in the Mediterranean.

1939-45. Malta suffers an intensive air and sea assault by German and Italian forces during World War II.

1964. Malta is granted independence by Great Britain. The island joins the British Commonwealth of Nations.

1974. Malta becomes a republic and adopts a new constitution.

1979. The last British military forces depart from Malta.

1987. Tourism in Malta reaches its height, with 60 percent growth over the previous year.

1996. The Labor government halts Malta's application process for EU membership.

1998. After winning early elections, the Nationalist Party restarts the process for EU entry.


Malta is well positioned to continue its economic growth over the next decade. The favorable labor situation should continue to attract foreign companies and investment, while low prices for goods and accommodations will continue to draw tourists to the islands. Because the nation is dependent on tourism and foreign trade, it is vulnerable to slowdowns in the economies of its major trading partners.

Entry into the EU will expand Malta's economic opportunities since it will cut tariffs and taxes on Maltese goods imported by EU member states. It will also make it easier for EU companies to relocate to Malta. The most important issue for Malta is the need to lessen the role of the government in the economy. Therefore, the continuing privatization efforts are crucial for long-term growth.


Malta has no territories or colonies.


Boulton, Susie. Malta and Gozo. New York: NTC, 2000.

Department of Information Malta. <>. Accessed September 2001.

MERHBA: Welcome to the Official Website of the Maltese Government. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Spiteri, Edward J. An Island in Transition: The Economic Transformation of Malta From a British Crown Colony to an Independent Democratic Republic. Valletta, Malta: Progress Press, 1997.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Malta. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Xuereb, Peter G., editor. Malta, the European Union and the Mediterranean: Closer Relations in the Wider Context. Valletta, Malta: University of Malta, 1998.

Tom Lansford




Maltese lira (LM). One Maltese lira equals 100 cents. Each cent is subdivided into 10 mils. There are coins of 2, 3, and 5 mils and of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents. There are notes of 2, 5, 10, and 20 lira.


Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods.


Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured and semi-manufactured goods, food, drink, tobacco.


US$5.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$2 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$2.6 billion (f.o.b., 2000).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Malta
Region: Europe
Population: 391,670
Language(s): Maltese, English
Literacy Rate: 88%
Academic Year: September-July
Compulsory Schooling: 11 years
Foreign Students in National Universities: 62
Libraries: 3
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 35,273
  Secondary: 34,128
  Higher: 8,260
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 107%
  Secondary: 84%
  Higher: 29%
Teachers: Primary: 1,824
  Secondary: 3,180
  Higher: 709
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 19:1
  Secondary: 11:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 107%
  Secondary: 82%
  Higher: 32%

History & Background

The Republic of Malta is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 97 kilometers (60 miles) south of Sicily. It consists of the islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino and two small uninhabited islands, Cominotto and Filfla. Malta occupies 316 square kilometers (122 square miles). The main island of Malta is 246 square kilometers (95 square miles). In 2000 the population was estimated at 391,670, making the country one of the most densely populated nations in the world. The inhabitants speak Maltese and English, both of which are official languages. The population is 98 percent Roman Catholic. The literacy rate is approximately 88 percent. Principal industries include shipping, construction, and tourism.

Malta's strategic location and natural harbors have made it an important military objective for nations seeking to control the Mediterranean. In 1814 Malta became a British crown colony. During WWII the British used Malta as a base of operations to attack convoys carrying supplies to Axis forces in North Africa. The Germans and Italians subjected the island to relentless bombing. In recognition, King George VI awarded the George Cross "to the island fortress of Maltaits people and defenders."

After the war, Malta was granted increasing degrees of independence on local matters but remained a British colony and became a NATO base. In 1964 Malta obtained its independence, becoming a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth as the head of state, represented by a governor general. In 1974, it became a republic, severing allegiance to Britain. Traditionally allied with Western Europe, Malta proclaimed itself nonaligned after the socialist Labor Party won elections in 1971. The Labor prime minister, Dom Mintoff, distanced Malta from Britain and the West, refusing to allow NATO to renew base leases and actively courting the Soviet Union. Malta broke defense ties with Britain and granted Soviet ships use of refueling facilities built by NATO. Mintoff opposed the Roman Catholic Church, a traditionally powerful institution on the islands. His policies to restrict its role, especially in education, were highly controversial.

In 1987 the Nationalist Party assumed power and reversed many of Mintoff's socialist policies, resuming ties with Britain and other NATO countries. With the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, Malta has sought to integrate itself into the European Union.

The educational system in Malta was founded on British models and greatly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Since independence the educational system has undergone substantial and often contradictory changes. The philosophy guiding education has reflected the conflicting views of the rival Nationalist and Labor parties.

In the 1970s the Labor Party imposed a socialist vision of education. The British system of testing and tracking students was denounced as hierarchical and discriminatory. Public schools were reorganized and competency testing largely abandoned to promote equality. Desiring to rid Malta of what he called "elitism," Mintoff sought to eliminate private and church education. In 1984 the government closed eight leading Catholic academies, replacing them with four state-operated institutions. Later that year, Mintoff announced that private schools would no longer be allowed to charge tuition and banned the archbishop from visiting public schools. Graduates of state schools were given preference in admission to higher education, and government grants to church schools were eliminated. Mintoff's attack on Catholic schools, which enrolled 25 percent of high school students, angered parents, church officials, and political opponents.

Labor policies reorganized higher education, stressing vocational rather than academic courses. Departments in liberal arts and sciences were disbanded. The polytechnic was merged into the prestigious University of Malta. Seeking to link higher education with employment, a compulsory student-worker program was introduced in 1978. College students were required to work six months a year and study six months a year. Admissions to higher education were determined by the availability of employment rather than academic achievement. These policies and the government's increasing press censorship led to an exodus of educators and intellectuals.

In 1987 the Nationalist Party was elected to power and reversed many educational policies, reintroducing the British use of competency testing and tracking. Private schools were allowed greater freedom, though the government monitored standards, course content, and credentials. The work study programs were dismantled, so that entrance to higher education was based solely on academic achievement. Subsequent Labor governments have modified but not reversed these reforms, having renounced Mintoff's highly ideological approach to education.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Nationalist reforms were formalized in the Education Act of 1988, which provided free compulsory education, expanded scholarships, and called for the development of technological research and training. The Education Act recognized the role of church and private schools in education, eliminated compulsory work-study programs for university students, and reestablished competency testing. The 1988 Act expanded compulsory education by one year and obligated the state to provide free university education to all qualified students.

In November 1991 the Republic of Malta and the Holy See signed an agreement on Roman Catholic schools. The state recognized the church's right to establish and direct its own schools, and Catholic schools agreed to observe the National Minimum Curriculum and National Minimum Conditions regulations developed for state schools. Church schools agreed not to charge tuition in return for state financial assistance. Spiritual guidance and noneducational activities are supported by fundraising campaigns, free donations from parents, and other collections. The state guaranteed that teachers in Roman Catholic schools have equal access to scholarships, in-service training, and grants designed for state school faculty.

Educational SystemOverview

In Malta education is compulsory from ages 5 to 16. Instruction is given in both Maltese and English. Approximately 30 percent of students attend church and private schools, which are regulated by the Ministry of Education. All special education programs are provided in state schools. Special needs children are mainstreamed as much as possible. The National Minimum Curriculum has made environmental education compulsory in primary and secondary schools. The curriculum is varied, but language studies are given great importance. By law the teachings of the Catholic Church that are taught in Catholic schools must be included in the state school curriculum.

Education in Malta is highly centralized, with national standards and examinations, though schools are encouraged to develop individual identities. Students in state schools complete six years of primary education and then take noncompetitive qualifying examinations for admission into junior lyceums. The first three years of secondary education are followed in either a junior lyceum or secondary school. Students may also enroll in a trade school for vocational training. At the end of secondary education, students take either the University of Malta's Secondary Education Certificate or General Certificate of Education examinations to qualify for university admission.

Approximately 60 percent of Maltese students continue education after completing compulsory studies. In addition to traditional university studies, Malta offers a range of vocational training opportunities. The Extended Skills Training Scheme and Technician Apprenticeship Scheme are provided by the state. Students enrolling in these vocational programs receive allowances.

In 1998 the Ministry of Education announced the need to reform the tertiary education system to produce "a well educated and trainable work force" in order to help Malta compete in a global economy. Government officials, industrial leaders, and educational consultants argued that for too long vocational programs had been largely dismissed as schools for the less able. Recognizing the need for highly trained technicians, greater emphasis was given to reforming vocational education and educating the public about its role and purpose. In the late 1990s Malta devoted a higher percentage of its GDP on education than any other country applying for admission to the European Union, but had the lowest spending of any applicant country on vocational education and training. Experts called for reform to unite the efforts of training programs operated by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor. These programs had long operated independently and failed to coordinate activities. Efforts were made to include female students in engineering and other vocational training programs.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The majority of children attend a state or private kindergarten before beginning primary school. In 1988 the National Minimum Curriculum for kindergartens and primary schools was established. The new curriculum was transformed into specific objectives, and newly designed courses were introduced in 1990. About eleven examinations are given at the end of primary education.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in Malta follows the British model. At the conclusion of their primary studies, students take a comprehensive examination. High achievers are admitted into lyceums designed to prepare them for university admission. Low achievers are sent to general secondary schools to prepare them for employment or vocational training. After completing three years of secondary education, students may enroll in trade schools.

In the 1990s the curriculum in all three levels of secondary education was improved. Great effort was placed on introducing computers and information technology into the lyceums and secondary schools. Trade schools were reformed to offer a more rigorous academic background and a wider range of technology studies to maximize flexibility in the future workforce.

Higher Education

The largest and oldest institution of higher education on the islands is the University of Malta, founded by Jesuits in 1592. It became a state institution in 1769 and was reestablished in 1988. Though financed by the state, the university receives funds from banks and other private enterprises. The university is the highest degree granting institution in Malta and is open to all qualified students. Students receive a monthly stipend. In 1997 there were 7,000 students, including 400 foreign students, enrolled in full or part-time programs. The courses are designed to supply Malta with highly trained professionals in business, civil administration, science, and industry.

The university houses the International Maritime Law Institute and the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies. The university is also linked to the Foundation for International Studies and its associated organizations, the International Environmental Institute, the Mediterranean Institute, and the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Marine Contamination Hazards.

Recently, the University of Malta has placed emphasis on strengthening its engineering departments and improving its use of information technology. The university has also sought to improve primary and secondary education in Malta and expand links to overseas universities.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The head of the state Education Division is the Director General of Education, appointed from within the teaching profession, who supervises the Directors of Planning and Development, Operations, Further Studies and Adult Education, Student Services and International Relations, Curriculum Management, and Finance and Administration.

The educational administration is highly centralized, though recent efforts have been made to give schools greater freedom of action. The Head Office manages recruitment, deployment, discipline, and staff promotion. Students are assigned to schools according to geographical areas. Textbooks are produced centrally, though individual schools are given funds to purchase ancillary materials. Annual examinations are administered nationally. Half-yearly examinations are school-based.

The total funds allocated for education by the state in 1996 was US$171.9 million (11 percent of the national budget).

A process of decentralization is taking place at all levels of education, encouraging decision-making at the school level. The curriculum is being reviewed in all grades to assure compliance with modern teaching practices. Great emphasis is placed on introducing information technology.

Nonformal Education

In the 1990s adult and evening classes were expanded to meet the needs of students and working professionals. The Further Studies and Adult Education Department began publishing an official catalog of evening courses in 1996. A cable television channel broadcast its first live transmission during an education fair in 1996, initiating a new avenue for distance learning.

Teaching Profession

Teachers are unionized and negotiate with the government on policy, wages, and benefits. The largest teachers' union, the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT), was founded in 1919 and now represents teachers at all levels, including university faculty. The Government-Malta Union of Teachers agreement raised teachers' pay grades to those corresponding to Civil Service professionals. The 1998 Education Act recognized teaching as a profession. The state provides scholarships for in-service and professional training for teachers. In the 1990s the Malta Union of Teachers worked to increase the professional status of preschool teachers.


The Maltese educational system, once highly politicized, now serves to provide students with the academic and technical skills needed to help the country participate in the European economy. Malta's ties to the European Union, expanding tourist industry, and greater dependence on international relations indicates that the government will continue to devote resources to provide students with a quality education.


Altavista. Malta. Available from

Education in MaltaRecent Developments. Government of Malta, September 1997. Available from

Malta. CIA World Factbook 2000. Available from

The Ministry of Education and National Culture. White Paper for Vocational Education and Training After the Age of 16 Years. 1998. Available from

Monaghan, Peter. "The Return of a Socialist Government Makes Many Academics in Malta Nervous; the Party's Policies in the Past led to an Exodus of Intellectuals." The Chronicle of Higher Education. 43 (18) (10 January 1997): 58.

"School's Out: Mintoff Takes on an Old Enemy." Time 124 (24 September 1984): 43.

University of Malta. University of MaltaHistory. Available from

Mark Connelly

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Malta (môl´tə), officially Republic of Malta, republic (2005 est. pop. 399,000), 122 sq mi (316 sq km), in the Mediterranean Sea S of Sicily. It comprises the islands of Malta (95 sq mi/246 sq km), Gozo (Ghawdex, 26 sq mi/67 sq km), and Comino (Kemmuna, 1 sq mi/2.6 sq km), as well as four uninhabited islets. The group is sometimes called the Maltese Islands. Valletta is the capital.

People, Economy, and Government

Malta has a very high population density. The population is ethnically diverse, a mixture of Arab, Sicilian, Norman, Spanish, Italian, and British strains. English and Maltese, a Semitic dialect, are the official languages, although Italian is also widely spoken. Roman Catholicism is the religion of nearly all the people.

Malta has no rivers or lakes, no natural resources, and very few trees. It is, however, of great strategic value and was an important British military base until 1979. Following the withdrawal of British forces, the country faced severe unemployment; it has since made progress in diversifying its economic base. Manufacturing and tourism are now the main industries. There is food, beverage, and tobacco processing and the manufacture of electronics, pharmaceuticals, footwear, and clothing. Shipbulding and ship repair, performed in state-owned dry docks, and freight transshipment are also important. Although the soil is poor, there is some agriculture, producing potatoes, cauliflower, grapes, wheat, barley, and cut flowers. Hogs and chickens are raised. International banking and financial services are growing, and the island is developing as an offshore tax haven. Shortage of water has stimulated the building of desalination plants, which now provide more than half the country's freshwater needs. The main imports are machinery, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, and petroleum; exports include machinery, transportation equipment, and manufactured goods. Most trade is with Italy, France, Great Britain, the United States, and Germany.

Malta is governed under the constitution of 1964 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by the legislature for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister is the head of government. Members of the unicameral legislature, the 65-seat House of Representatives, are popularly elected to five-year terms. Malta is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.


Malta was settled in Neolithic times; the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum is the site of what is believed to be the largest group of prehistoric European rock-cut chamber tombs. The island, anciently called Melita, later belonged successively to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. St. Paul was shipwrecked there (AD 60). Arab rule began in AD 870; the Normans of Sicily occupied it c.1090. In 1530 the Hapsburg Charles V granted Malta to the Knights Hospitalers. Notwithstanding a determined siege by the Turks in 1565, the knights held it until 1798, when it was surrendered to Napoleon.

The British ousted the French in 1800 and made it a crown colony in 1814. For most of the 19th cent., Malta was ruled by a military governor. The opening of the Suez Canal (1869) increased its strategic value, Malta becoming one of the principal coaling stations for steamers bound for India and East Asia. During World War II, Malta was subjected to extremely heavy bombing by Italian and German planes, and in 1942 King George VI awarded its citizens the George Cross for bravery.

Almost from the start of the period of British rule the Maltese agitated for increased political freedom. Considerable self-government was granted in 1921, but this was revoked in 1936. A constitution granted in 1947 was revoked after civil disturbances in 1959. Malta achieved full independence in 1964 and became a republic in 1974. The Labor party, led by Dom Mintoff, was in power from 1971 to 1987. The government of the Nationalist prime minister Edward Fenech Adami was elected in 1987 and was returned to office in 1992 and 1998. Alfred Sant of the Labor party was prime minister from 1996 to 1998. In the 1990s, Malta tried to balance its foreign policy between neighboring Libya and the economically more important Western nations. It applied for full membership in the European Union (EU) in 1990 and embarked on an extensive economic and restructuring program, and Malta joined the EU in 2004.

Fenech Adami and the Nationalist party, strong supporters of EU membership, were returned to power in the Apr., 2003, parliamentary elections. Fenech Adami stepped down in Mar., 2003, and Lawrence Gonzi succeeded him as prime minister. Malta adopted the euro in Jan., 2008. The Nationalist party won a narrow victory in the 2008 parliamentary elections; Gonzi's government fell in Dec., 2012, after it lost its majority. Labor won a majority in the Mar., 2013, elections, and Joseph Muscat became prime minister. In recent years the country has received increasing numbers of Europe-bound illegal African immigrants, most of them rescued at sea by Malta's navy.


See B. Blouet, The Story of Malta (rev. ed. 1972); D. H. Trump, Malta, an Archaeological Guide (1972); R. Seth, Malta (1988).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Malta
Region (Map name): Europe
Population: 391,670
Language(s): Maltese, English
Literacy rate: 88%

The Republic of Malta is an independent island state in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, with a generally literate population. A member of the Commonwealth since 1814, Malta received independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. Since then, the island has become a center for finances and freight shipment. Major resources include its large supply of limestone, its location in the sea, and its productive labor force. However, Malta imports 80 percent of its food stores, has limited water resources, and has no domestic island energy sources. The country's economy depends on foreign trade, tourism, and manufacturing (electronics and textiles, particularly). Tourism is growing; one element that encourages the growth is a population that speaks Maltese, English, and Italian. As of 2002, Malta is a candidate for membership in the European Union; in preparation many of its industries were being privatized.

The Maltese constitution and the general culture provide for freedom of the press; since 1992 the government has actively encouraged programs leading to diversification in the media.

Independent press organizations include The Press Club and Institute of Broadcasters, whose Code of Ethics requires "balance, accuracy and fairness," confidentiality of sources, fact verification, respect for individuals, and human rights shielding.

International agencies and organizations regard Malta as having a free press. For example, Press Freedom Survey 2000 by Freedom House designated Maltese press as free. The International Press Institute (IPI), based in Vienna, stated in 2000 that no violence against journalists had occurred in Malta. In 2002 World Audit awarded Malta 14/100 points. (Lower numbers are preferred: for example, the US is 11/100 and UK is 16/100.)

Media, in English, Italian, and Maltese, include newspapers, radio, and television. The two main political parties own newspapers and television and radio stations that disseminate their opposing views. Independent media are also available to the public.

The broadcast media is supervised by the governmental body, the Broadcasting Authority. Various numbers of radio stations (13-19) are reported. Approximately 255,000 households have radios. In 2002, Malta had six broadcast television stations: three government stations, one station belonging to the governing party, one station belonging to the opposition party, and one commercial station. In addition, one commercial cable network was in operation. The approximately 280,000 households with television sets receive approximately 20 stations, including not only do Maltese stations but also many stations from Italy.

In 2001, various newspapers were available: four daily newspapers, according to the Europa Yearbook (approximate combined circulation 54,000 copies per issue), six weekly newspapers, and five Sunday editions. Total newspaper circulation is approximately 145/1,000 persons.

Newspapers include The Malta Independent (English); In-Nazzjon (Maltese), reported circulation 20,000; L'Orizzont (Maltese), reported circulation 23,000; The People (English); The Times (English), reported circulation 23,000. Weekly newspapers and Sunday editions include Business Times ; Il-Gens (Maltese), reported circulation 13,000; Il-Gwida (Maltese and English), reported circulation 12,000; Kulhadd (Maltese); Lehen Is-Sewwa (Roman Catholic press), reported circulation 10,000; The Maltese Business Weekly (English); The Malta Independent on Sunday (English); Il-Mument (Maltese), reported circulation 25,000; The People on Sunday (English); The Sunday Times (English), reported a circulation of 35,000; and It-Tórca (Maltese), reported a circulation of 30,000.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2001, 2002. Available from

Freedom House. Political Rights and Civil Liberties, 2001. Available from

. Press Freedom Survey 2000, 2000. Available from

IPI: Violations of Press Freedom Commonplace in Europe. In Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe. Vienna: Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2000.

Malta Press Club and Institute of Broadcasters International Journalists' Network. Code of Ethics, 2002. Available from

U.S. Department of State. Human Rights Reports: Malta, 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices , 25February 2000. Available from

World Audit. Democratic Profile, 2002. Available from

World Almanac and Book of Facts. Republic of Malta, 2002.

Emily Dial-Driver

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Official name: The Republic of Malta

Area: 316 square kilometers (122 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Ta'Dmejrek (253 meters/830 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 45 kilometers (28 miles) from southeast to northwest; 13 kilometers (8 miles) from northeast to southwest

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 253 kilometers (157 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Malta is an island nation in the central Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily. The total land area of its five islands is 316 square kilometers (122 square miles), or nearly twice the size of Washington, D.C.


Malta has no territories or dependencies.


The average winter temperature is 9°C (48°F), with January being the coldest month. The average summer temperature is 31°C (88°F), with temperatures peaking at midsummer (July to August). Most rainfall occurs between November and January, and average rainfall is approximately 56 centimeters (22 inches) per year.


Malta consists of five islands. Three of the islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) are inhabited, and two (Cominotto and Filfla) are uninhabited. The island of Malta is the largest in the country, accounting for 246 square kilometers (95 square miles) of the total area. Gozo (67 square kilometers/26 square miles) and Comino (about 3 square kilometers/1 square mile) are much smaller.


Malta is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.

Coastal Features

The rocky terrain of the islands has openings that form deep harbors, coves, and bays. There are about twenty beaches on the island of Malta, ranging from rocky to sandy. Gozo also has some popular beaches, including one at Ramla Bay on the northern shore, which is known for its reddish sand. Santa Maria Bay, on Comino Island, is famous for its clear waters and coastal lagoon, known as the Blue Lagoon.


Malta has no sizable inland lakes.


Malta has no rivers. The country's reserves of fresh water are extremely limited, and it relies heavily on desalination for its water supply.


There are no deserts on Malta.


The terrain of Malta's islands consists of low hills (mostly limestone formations) running from east to northwest at heights of up to 239 meters (786 feet). There is little vegetation and no forests. The island of Gozo is greener and hillier than the main island Malta, and its coast has high, uneven cliffs.


Malta has no mountains or volcanoes.


There are caves on the islands of Gozo and Malta. Alabaster stalagmites and stalactites are found in a grotto in the town of Xaghra on Gozo. The Ghar Dalan Cave on Malta contains fossilized remains of extinct species that are 250,000 years old.


Malta is the site of the world's most ancient temple complexes, built about six thousand years ago. The islands' limestone megaliths are many centuries older than both Britain's Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.


The historic fortress city of Valletta, the capital, was constructed in the sixteenth century on the rocky Sceberras Peninsula on Malta's east coast. Many of Malta's buildings date back centuries.



Berg, Warren G. Historical Dictionary of Malta. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Ellis, William S. "Malta: The Passion of Freedom." National Geographic, June 1989, 700-717.

Web Sites

LonelyPlanet: Destination Malta. (accessed April 24, 2003).

"MaltaWelcome to the Heart of the Mediterranean." (accessed April 24, 2003).

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316sq km (122sq mi)



capital (population):

Valletta (195,500)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Maltese 96%, British 2%


Maltese and English (both official)


Christianity (Roman Catholicism 99%)


Maltese lira = 100 cents

Archipelago republic in the Mediterranean Sea, c.100km (60mi) s of Sicily; the capital is Valletta (on Malta). Malta consists of: two main islands, Malta (area: 246sq km/95sq mi) and Gozo (67sq km/26sq mi); the small island of Comino, located between the two large islands; and two tiny islets. The islands are low-lying. Malta island is composed mostly of limestone. Gozo is largely covered by clay, and as a result its landscapes are less arid. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. In spring, the sirocco may raise temperatures and damage crops. Malta has no forests, and 38% of the land is arable.

History and Politics

Malta has evidence of Stone Age settlement dating back c.4000 years. In c.850 bc, the Phoenicians colonized Malta. The Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans followed. In ad 395, Malta became part of the e Roman (Byzantine) Empire. In 870, the Arab invasion brought Islam, but Roger I, Norman King of Sicily, restored Christian rule in 1091. A succession of feudal lords ruled Malta until the early 16th century. In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor gave Malta to the Knights Hospitallers. In 1565, the Knights, who had fought in the Crusades, held Malta against a Turkish siege. In 1798, the French captured Malta but, with help from Britain, they were driven out in 1800. In 1814, Malta became a British colony and a strategic military base. In World War II, Italian and German aircraft bombed the islands. In 1942, in recognition of the bravery of the Maltese resistance, King George VI of Britain awarded the George Cross to Malta. In 1953, Malta became a NATO base. In 1964, Malta gained independence, and in 1974 it became a republic. Britain's military agreement with Malta expired in 1979, and all British forces withdrew. In 1990, Malta applied to join the European Community, but the newly-elected Malta Labour Party halted the application in 1997. The Nationalist Party, led by the pro-European Edward Adami, regained power in 1998.


Malta is an upper-middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$14,300), although it lacks natural resources. Machinery and transport equipment account for more than 50% of exports. Manufactures include chemicals, electronic equipment and textiles. The largest sector is services, especially tourism. The rocky soil makes farming difficult, and Malta produces only 20% of its food. Malta has a small fishing industry.

Political map

Physical map


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MALTA. A Mediterranean island nation and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: Maltese/Malti, English (both official, English the medium of education), and Italian. Maltese, a variety of ARABIC with elements of several other Mediterranean languages, is the only Semitic language written in the Roman alphabet and used for official purposes in Europe. Malta was a Sicilian dependency from the late 11c and was controlled by the Knights of St John from 1530. It was a French colony from 1798 and a British colony from 1802, becoming self-governing in 1921, then an independent monarchy (with the Queen as head of state) in 1964, and a republic in 1974, the last British troops being withdrawn in 1979. Malta became a member of the EUROPEAN UNION in 2004. The use of English is widespread, especially in the cities.

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Culture Name



Identification. The Maltese archipelago consists of Malta, Gozo, Comino, Cominotto, and Fifla, plus a few minute limestone outcroppings. Over 92 percent of the inhabitants live on Malta, by far the largest island, and the rest live on Gozo except for a few farmers on Comino. Although all residents call themselves Maltese, people on Gozo also are called Gozitans. The earliest written reference to Malta is in the biblical account of Saint Paul's shipwreck.

Location and Geography. Malta is located in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is 58 miles (93.3 kilometers) to the north, and Tunisia is 194 miles (312.5 kilometers) to the west. The territory of the three inhabited islands is 94.9 square miles (320 square kilometers).

Gozo has more greenery, and farming there is done on a larger scale. The environment has thin soil and scarce groundwater. Terracing is used to contain erosion in agricultural areas, and herding is confined mostly to Gozo. There is little wildlife besides insects and migratory birds.

Public buses reach large towns on Malta and Gozo, and regular ferry service connects the islands. Beaches, coves, grottoes, and fishing villages lie close to roadways, but in some places, the islands fall abruptly into the sea over rocks and cliffs or look out to it across elaborate medieval fortifications. A rainy season occurs in October through February, but the climate is mild year-round.

The Grand Harbor of Malta is dominated by Valletta, the national capital, whose construction was begun by the Knights of Saint John in 1566, a year after the defeat of the Great Siege by Ottoman Turkey. The capital of Gozo is Victoria.

Demography. The population as of July 1999 was 369,451, of whom 341,906 lived on Malta and 27,545 lived on Gozo except for a handful on Comino. Live births in that year were 4,826 for a birth rate of 13.1 per thousand. The fact that the estimated national population as of July 1999 was 381,603 indicates that it is continuing to grow. In part, this is because the emigration rate has been declining. Singapore is the only country more densely populated than Malta.

Linguistic Affiliation. Maltese is the only European language in the Afro-Asiatic family, which includes Arabic, Hebrew, Berber, and Hausa. Although its closest relationships are with the forms of Arabic spoken in Libya and Tunisia, its vocabulary has been strongly influenced by Sicilian. Written with a twenty-nine-letter alphabet, Maltese is universally understood by citizens and has only minimal dialectical variations. Educated Maltese often speak English, and many understand Italian.

Symbolism. Saint Paul is a powerful national symbol, as he is credited with converting the Maltese to Christianity. It is symbolic that the Maltese, under theocratic governance, fought in Crusades long after most other Europeans had abandoned them. Other symbols are Roman Catholicism, the Maltese cross, a strong European identity, and a siege mentality. Not only did Malta persevere during the Crusades, it was victorious against the Turks in 1565 and survived intense bombardment during World War II. Dolphins are also a national symbol.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Megalithic temples that predate the Egyptian pyramids, Bronze Age archaeological sites, Phoenician inscriptions, and Roman catacombs all contribute to a sense of nationhood. Maltese place particular emphasis on the nation that emerged after Christian conversion. The long-ruling Knights of Malta recruited their members from noble families throughout Europe while denying the Maltese entry into their ranks. As this order was able to maintain itself in Malta largely by keeping the nation on a continuous war footing, it was anachronistic at a time when Europeans in countries such as England and France were being introduced to the Industrial Revolution. Still, two centuries after Napoleon forced the Knights to leave Malta, chivalry, as well as pride in European and Catholic identity associated with a knightly and crusading heritage, impacts Maltese nationalism in fundamental ways.

National Identity. Maltese people celebrate the contributions to their culture of Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Normans, Sicilians, Swabians, Arogonese, Castilian, the Knights, and the British. Maltese claim little knowledge of or are ambivalent about the northern Africans who contributed the foundation of their language, however. The nation became independent in 1964, and became a republic in the British Commonwealth in 1974. Although identification with Europe remains strong, it has been tempered by a strong emphasis on nationalism and neutrality coupled with the idea of forming a cultural bridge between Europe and northern Africa.

Ethnic Relations. Malta is relatively homogeneous by modern standards. A Jewish community numbers about one hundred twenty, and settlers from India number about sixty. Perhaps six hundred Maltese are married to Arabs, mostly Libyans and Palestinians. There are a few Chinese as well as illegal immigrants from Bulgaria, Albania, and Russia.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Most buildings are constructed of limestone from domestic quarries, and many houses are identified by names rather than street addresses. Water is scarce, and residences have flat roofs to capture rainwater. Most houses lack lawns and are attached to each other in rows that nestle close to sidewalks or streets, which are often narrow. Some bedrooms may be entered only by passing through other bedrooms; their doors often are left open, with curtains providing some privacy. In both urban and rural areas, people tend to live in nucleated settlements surrounding a parish church.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. A heavy meal includes pasta, meat and vegetables, and dessert or fruit. Occasionally, a small bowl of soup called minestra begins the meal. Lampuki pie is a seasonal pastry-covered fish casserole containing spinach, cauliflower, chestnuts, and sultanas. Stuffed octopus, squid, and cuttlefish are served with a tomato sauce, while a roulade of beef known as bragoli is served with gravy. Stuffed poultry and baked pasta dishes are common. Among favorite finger foods are hot pastizzi, in which ricotta cheese, peas, meat, and anchovies are encased in a crust. The cuisine is seasonal.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Rabbit stewed in wine is a specialty, often with some of its sauce served over pasta as a first course. Tender lamb is eaten at Easter.

Basic Economy. The central Mediterranean location, moderate climate, beaches, and ports generate income and employment. Malta's decimal currency has the lira (LM) as its basic unit and one lira is equivalent to 100 cents. Over two-thirds of the population is employed in services, slightly less than one-third in industry, and about 3 percent in agriculture. Parts assembly is also important, and a single electronics firm produces two-fifths of industrial exports.

Tourism accounts for one-fourth to one-third of the gross national products (GDP) but employs a larger proportion of the population. Such employment peaks in the summer. The country annually attracts tourists equal to almost three times its population and television sets receive programming from abroad, making foreign cultural influences constant.

In the centralized capitalist economy, the state is the largest employer, with monopolistic control of utilities, fuel, the airline, the shipping line, shipyards and many factories and hotels. Agriculture accounts for about 3 percent of employment but about 4 percent of GDP. Despite a perennial trade deficit, the estimated 1998 GDP per capita of $13,000 was higher than that of Turkey, Portugal, and Greece.

Land Tenure and Property. As most houses are adjoined to others, many laws on land tenure and property relate to the competing rights of neighbors. A homeowner may legally compel a neighbor to maintain at joint expense a common wall between two courtyards or gardens, and neighbors are restricted from placing a stove or manure against common walls.

Trade. Important imports are machinery, fuel, and other products vital to the tourist industry, such as transportation equipment, live animals, food, tobacco, and chemicals. Exports also include chemicals and food. The European Community accounts for slightly more than three-quarters of foreign trade and most foreign investment.

Social Stratification

Nothing suggesting caste distinctions has existed in Maltese society since the expulsion of the ruling aristocratic knights and the freeing from enslavement of a small non-Maltese segment within the population. Despite traces of marginal variation based on heritage, Maltese society recognizes no entrenched ethnic divisions. Relative stratification is evident along the lines of higher education, economic status, comportment, and styles of dress, especially as found in rural areas.

Political Life

Government. The democratic government is highly centralized. The two major parties are the Nationalist Party, which stresses free enterprise and Christian democratic values, and the Malta Labour Party, which stresses income leveling, a mixed economy, and nonalignment. Until the Local Councils' Act in 1993 provided for limited local government, local authority was largely religious and centered in the parishes. There are sixty-seven local councils, which share power with the national government in social welfare, housing, town planning, sanitation, leisure, and traffic planning.

Social Problems and Control. The crime rate in Malta is low. Typical offenses are growing cannabis, circulating counterfeit money, theft, homicide, and entering the country illegally. The National Prison in Paola has seventy to eighty prisoners. The Juvenile Court is in the Centre for Social Welfare, which also houses the Commission against Drug and Alcohol Abuse and the Action Team on Violence against Women.

Military Activity. The tiny Armed Forces of Malta has land, sea, and air responsibilities for national security, surveillance, and assistance to civil authorities in emergencies. It is organized in a headquarters and three regiments. An amendment to the constitution in 1987 made Malta a "neutral State," and foreign forces may not serve on its territory.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

A social security system is supported by employee contributions, and benefits are available for injury or disability, surviving spouses, the support of dependent children, and pensions. The system also provides means-tested support for people in financial difficulty through the Social and Family Affairs Department, which also offers crisis intervention and counseling services in areas ranging from probation and rehabilitation to adoption and fostering. It also offers support to citizens who are physically and mentally challenged or abused and to the elderly.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Clubs exist for bands, plant lovers, and religious confraternities. There are also health- and disability-related organizations, single-parents groups, and professional, international, folklore, historical, social, and athletic organizations and teams.

Gender Roles and Statuses

That the literacy rate is equal for males and females in Maltese society (88 percent) suggests that both genders use education in carrying out their assigned roles in society. In the public domain of gainful employment, however, there exists less equivalence between the roles of married women and men than between those of single women and men. The public sector is where most Maltese are employed and, according to a long-standing tradition, women with government jobs were expected to resign upon getting married. That men as husbands and fathers should be the principal providers of material support for families has long been consistent with traditional Catholic values and has tended to be a status symbol among the middle and upper classes. However, the Constitution gives both genders equal rights in employment and, as there now exists within the Ministry of Social Development an Equal Status for Women department, more married women are employed than previously. The Soroptimist International of Malta has been making these and other changes for women.

The professions have long been open to both men and women in Malta although higher ecclesiastical positions are reserved for men. Women work as professors, physicians, nurses, reporters, editors, and legislators. In fact, approximately 15 percent of all persons elected to local councils nationwide are female.

Males and females are free to circulate in public without sanction. While it is still a common sight to see men gathered in piazzas or public squares near local churches socializing with each other on Sundays, until recently domestic chores restricted the time available to married women for leisure away from home. There continues to be considerable division of labor based on gender in households. For example, while some men may help to dry dishes and some boys take out rugs for spring cleaning, cooking as well as many other domestic chores generally is expected to be performed by females. Fathers are much less involved in the rearing of infants, especially female infants, than mothers, although the former may sometimes now be seen pushing a pram or carrying a child onto a bus.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Family connections are reckoned through both parents, but Maltese have closer emotional ties and more frequent contact through the maternal side. Matrilocal residence is considerably more common than patrilocal residence, although neolocal residence is preferred. A wife is legally obliged to obey her husband, reside where he wishes, and accept his surname. Children inherit the father's surname and often nickname. It is uncommon for single people to quit the parental residence at any age.

Marriage. Marriage is viewed as an opportunity for two groups of people to establish ties, and many status considerations come into play, with each side interested in obtaining prestige. The fact that women traditionally have been married with a dowry means that a family's status can rise and fall with the amount of the dowry. Cousin marriages are not socially preferred. Divorce is still not legal in Malta.

Domestic Unit. There is no tribal or lineage organization in families, although the offspring of the same maternal grandmother are typically friendly while she is still living. However, people often recognize that they are related to other people going back at least five generations when marriage decisions are made. Singlehood is not uncommon, and there are large communities of priests and nuns.

Inheritance. Only a husband and wife can make a joint will. Although spouses, children, and parents have certain rights to inherit, there are extreme cases in which they are deemed unworthy or may be disinherited. Members of religious orders may inherit only small life pensions and cannot dispose of property through wills.

Kin Groups. In ordinary conversation, Maltese do not often refer to family units larger than those descended from a particular grandparent or grandmother unless they are tracing their genealogy. After a mother dies, relations between her children are often not close. It is not uncommon for elderly parents or grandparents with living children to reside in homes for the elderly or infirm.


Child Rearing and Education. Children sometimes are called by diminutives of their names. Christening takes place in church, usually about a week or two after birth. The parents select as godparents a married couple who are often relatives. A firstborn child may share the parents' bed for two or three years, but if there is an older sister, that child may sleep with her after a year or so. Child rearing is considered more a matter for women than for men. Parents generally prefer that their children attend single-gender schools.

After first communion at about age 6 or 7, a child is taken to church regularly. Confirmation takes place at about age 10, and at that time a child gets a third godparent, always of the same gender as the child. If a child is admitted to a good secondary school, it is considered a tribute to the family. Sex is a taboo subject, and puberty is not discussed in detail. Open courtship is not encouraged before age 18.

Higher Education. The University of Malta goes back to the 1592 founding of the Collegium Melitense, a college founded by the Jesuits mainly to educate students not intending to enter the Jesuit order. It has seven thousand students, including four hundred foreigners. Its ten faculties range from architecture and civil engineering to arts and theology. Associated with the university are fourteen institutes. Higher education is also available through the Archbishop's Seminary and the Foundation for Theological Studies.


Maltese culture defines correct behavior and comportment in a variety of ways depending on status, familiarity, age, and social connections. They range from reserved and courtly to warm and expressive. Whereas introductions and recommendations can open doors, presumptions of instant familiarity invite rebuff. Even business relationships are sometimes resented as manipulative if they do not unfold in a context of social intercourse. Invitations into homes for tea or dinner are considered special and non-routine occasions.

The wearing of scanty dress away from the beaches is not welcomed, nor is immodest dress inside of churches. Face-saving behavior is important in Maltese society, not only because of decorum and for the sake of maintaining the respect of individuals, but also to protect the honor of families. In contrast to nearby northern Africa, public hand holding among men and the veiling of women do not occur.


Religious Beliefs. Over 98 percent of the population are Roman Catholics, who tend to be highly observant. The year is filled with important religious events, and all localities are identified with patron saints who are celebrated, somewhat competitively, with fireworks and festa pageantry, including processions. Numerous pilgrimages take place, including the annual Franciscan pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mellieha in May. In Valletta, there are a Greek Catholic church, a Greek Orthodox church, an Anglican cathedral, and a Jewish synagogue.

Death and the Afterlife. It is common to pray for the souls of the departed to assist those in Purgatory, and family members openly discuss the kinds of graves they are considering buying. A sharp distinction is made between a common grave and a family grave, which is considered more honorable. The average family grave has compartments for four or five coffins as well as a space below for bones when it is periodically "cleaned" by cemetery workers. It is considered improper to open a grave in less than a year even if another death occurs in the family.

Medicine and Health Care

The largest hospital is Saint Luke's Hospital with 900 beds; the Gozo General Hospital has 159 beds. There are also midwifery services and government dispensaries.

Secular Celebrations

Most celebrations have at least an indirect relationship to religion. Among those that may be considered secular are the pre-lenten Carnival, Independence Day (21 September), Republic Day (13 December), and the Spring Show of Flowers, Vegetables, and Fruits at San Anton Gardens that were established in the 17th century. Additionally, there are circuses, sports events, and activities associated with the theater as well as orchestral, rock, folkloric, and choral concerts.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. A long artistic tradition includes the making of furniture, jewelry in gold and silver, glass, sculpture, lace, tableware, dolls, ceramics, brassware, copperware, and miniature cribs and figurines as well as painting. Government involvement with the Valletta Crafts Centre and the Ta Ciali Crafts Village on Malta and the Ta Dbiegi Crafts Village in Gozo as well as its maintenance of the gilded and brocaded Manoel Theatre is important.

Literature. Oral literature exists in the form of proverbs, folktales, and folk songs. The earliest known written literary work in Maltese is a poem entitled Cantilena , which was composed in the fifteenth century; a tradition of written literature emerged in the seventeenth century.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

At the University of Malta, areas of scientific research are numerous and include concentrations as varied as dental surgery, microelectronics, gender relations, religious movements, and linguistics.


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Stefan Cornelius Goodwin

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Malta. The island of Malta, of great strategic significance, lies 60 miles south of Sicily: it is 17 miles in length and 9 across. Malta was acquired by Britain at the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1814, having belonged to the Knights of St John from 1530. From 1940, when Italy entered the Second World War, it was subjected to constant bombing until 1943 and received the George Cross as a tribute. It became independent in 1964 and was declared a republic in 1974. The grand harbour in Valletta is capacious but the main resource today is tourism. Malta became a member of the European Union in 2004.

J. A. Cannon

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Maltaaorta, daughter, exhorter, exporter, extorter, Horta, importer, mortar, porter, quarter, slaughter, snorter, sorter, sporter, supporter, three-quarter, torte, transporter, underwater, water •altar, alter, assaulter, defaulter, falter, Gibraltar, halter, Malta, palter, psalter, salter, vaulter, Walter •flaunter, haunter, saunter, taunter, vaunter •exhauster, Forster •fraudster • granddaughter •stepdaughter • manslaughter •ripsnorter • pole-vaulter • backwater •headquarter • freshwater •breakwater • rainwater • seawater •dishwater • tidewater • Whitewater •saltwater • rosewater • shearwater •firewater •doubter, grouter, outer, pouter, scouter, shouter, spouter, touter •counter, encounter, mounter •jouster, ouster •revcounter •bloater, boater, Botha, Dakota, doter, emoter, floater, gloater, iota, Kota, Minnesota, motor, promoter, quota, rota, rotor, scoter, voter •bolter, coulter (US colter), Volta •boaster, coaster, poster, roaster, toaster •roadster • oldster •bolster, holster, pollster, soulster, upholster •billposter

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