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LOCATION: Republic of Malta (short form: Malta; in Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta )
POPULATION: 420,000 (2008 estimate)
LANGUAGE: Maltese (or Malti) and English are official languages; Italian is widely spoken
RELIGION: Roman Catholic (98%); small number of residents belong to other religious communities—Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist


Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a parliamentary republic, and a full member of the European Union since 1 May 2004. Its house of representatives is made up of 65 members of parliament. The president of the republic is elected every five years by the house of representatives. The main political parties are the National Party (a Christian democratic party) and the Malta Labor Party (a social democratic party). There are several smaller political parties with no current parliamentary representation. The country's de facto capital is Valletta, situated on the eastern shore of the island of Malta. Malta's currency is the euro; before 2008, and since independence from Great Britain, the currency was the Maltese lira. Since 1993, the country has been organized into 68 local councils, which represent the elementary form of local government.

The origin of the country's name is not certain. Some scholars argue that it derives from the Phoenician word for harbor or refuge, malat; others claim that its roots lie in meli, the Greek word for honey, and the fact that in antiquity the Maltese islands were known for this product (the island of Malta was called Melita or "land of honey"). Today, the name of Malta is used either in reference to the entire country or merely to the largest of its islands.

Malta's history reflects its crucial strategic position in the center of the Mediterranean, between the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Human life in Malta goes back to 5200 bc when the islands were settled by farmers from the nearby island of Sicily, although some archeological evidence points to the possibility that they were inhabited as early as 7200 bc. Between 3600 and 3000 bc, the early Maltese built a series of temples made out of large limestone slabs arranged in circular patterns. The economy of the islands at that time was based mainly on agriculture and stock-breeding, and some trade with other Mediterranean peoples; the population of Malta was peaceful. The temple period and the so-called civilization of the Temple Builders came to an abrupt end in 2000 bc, soon after it had reached its peak. Around that time, the islands were invaded by an unknown people known as The Destroyers, who dominated the islands until approximately 1400 bc, when another Bronze Age people, originating in Sicily, invaded the Maltese archipelago. They occupied it for five centuries, until the arrival of the Phoenicians, a Semitic-speaking people from the eastern Mediterranean. Lacking the population to establish large colonies in the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians used Malta's harbors as staging posts and anchorages on their trading routes.

By about 600 bc Greeks had established large settlements in southern Italy and Sicily and were looking for new territories for their growing population. The Carthaginians, inhabitants of the prosperous city-state that the Phoenicians had founded in 814 bc on the coast of North Africa, fought as supporters of the Phoenicians in their conflicts against the Greeks for control of Sicily and the western Mediterranean and occupied Malta in 480 bc. Under the Carthaginian rule, the population of the islands increased and settlement moved inland on Malta and Gozo. In that same period, the northeastern port of Grand Harbor was developed. During the last Punic War between the Carthaginians and the Romans in 218 bc, the Maltese rebelled against Carthaginian rule and declared their loyalty to Rome. The islands, famous for honey and cloth production, prospered under Roman rule. The Romans called the main island Melita and used the same name for its inland capital (today's Mdina). In the year 117, under the Emperor Hadrian, Malta and Gozo were granted the official status of Municipium and were allowed to have an autonomous local government. In year 60, the Christian apostle Paul was shipwrecked on the northern coast of Malta, initiating Malta's long history of Christianity and eventually becoming the country's patron saint, with the Feast of the Shipwreck of St. Paul celebrated as a public holiday on February 10.

After the Roman Empire split in two in 395, Malta is believed to have been occupied by either the Goths or the Vandals, or perhaps even both of these tribes. In the 6th century, the islands fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople. Byzantine rule of Malta lasted for the next four centuries. In 836, the Aghlabid Arabs of North Africa began to carry out raids into the Maltese islands. In 870 Malta succumbed to repeated Arab invasions, remaining under Arab rule for the next 220 years. The Arabs introduced new ways of irrigation, citrus fruits and cotton, and left an indelible mark on the culture of Malta by bringing with them their language, the Siculo-Arabic language spoken by the Arabs of Sicily, which became the foundation of modern Maltese.

In early 11th century, the Normans, returning from their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, passed through Calabria in southern Italy, many settling there. In 1061 they invaded Sicily, defeating Arab rulers of the island in 1090. That same year, they landed in Malta. While at the beginning the Muslim population was allowed to remain on the islands, in 1122, King Roger I of Sicily had all Arabs deported and established the feudal system in Malta, which marked the birth of Maltese nobility. Malta became part of the Kingdom of Sicily, which also included parts of southern Italy. Catholicism was reinstated as the religion of Malta, and King Tancred of Sicily made the islands of Malta and Gozo into a fief under the rule of the Count of Malta. Because of the great strategic importance of the islands, most early counts were Genoese corsairs. When in 1194 the rule of Malta passed from the Normans to the Swabian dynasty of Hohenstaufens, Malta became part of an immense empire stretching from the north to the south of Europe. The most prominent of Hohenstaufen rulers, Frederic II, was tolerant of Muslims, but did not hesitate to expel any Arabs seen as fomenting rebellion. In Malta, his most important act was to allow the people to elect local residents to help with the administration of the island. This group of Maltese, elected annually, was known as the Consiglio Popolare and represented the people of Malta to their ruler.

After 1266 and the end of the Hohenstaufen rule of Malta, the islands briefly passed on to the French House of d'Anjou, which never became popular among the Maltese. Exorbitant taxes were imposed on the population of the islands, but the people never felt sufficiently protected by the garrison of French soldiers based in Malta. After the island of Gozo was sacked by the Genovese in 1275, there was a large revolt against French rule in Sicily, and the Kingdom of Sicily, including Malta, fell under the rule of the Spanish House of Aragon. The Aragonese ruled Malta from 1283 to 1412. Until 1350, the Aragonese kings of Sicily gave Malta, and the title of Count of Malta, as a feudal grant to highly-born individuals, who then frequently abused their privilege to tax the Maltese. When in 1350 the local population complained to King Louis, asking him to return the islands to his own direct rule, the request was granted, but this was reversed in the 1390s, and the practice of granting out Malta was resumed. Heavy taxes, failing crops, and raids of the islands by Arab corsairs all contributed to the dissatisfaction of the Maltese, who in 1425 rose in revolt against Count Gonsalvo Monroy. In 1428, King Alphonso decreed that the government of the islands should remain in the hands of its inhabitants, and that all government officials are to be elected from among the Maltese. An assembly, divided into nobles, clergy, and commoners, was founded, and it was decided that it should meet annually.

In 1530, in spite of the royal pledge made in 1507 not to cede Malta, Charles V of Spain granted the islands to the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of St. John (known during the Crusades as the Hospitallers) in perpetual fiefdom, in exchange for an annual fee of a single Maltese falcon. With the arrival of the Knights of St. John on the islands, the history of Malta took a different, independent course. The Knights Hospitaller was founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century to provide care for sick pilgrims to the Holy Land in an infirmary near the Church of Holy Sepulcre. It was a religious order divided into military brothers and those dedicated to the care of the sick. The Knights were required to show proof of noble birth. The Order was organized into national chapters called Langues. After the withdrawal of the Christian forces from the Holy Land in the late 13th century, the Knights Hospitaller were forced to look for a new home. They found it on Rhodes, where they became a more militarized Order, but in 1522 the Ottomans forced them to leave the island. After Charles V gave them the Maltese islands and the North African port of Tripoli, the Knights continued their actions against the Barbary corsairs and the Arabs. In 1565, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent sent a force of 40,000 to besiege the 500-700 knights and 8,000 soldiers in Malta and expel them from the Maltese islands. The Knights and the population of Malta endured one of the bloodiest and most difficult sieges in history, which lasted almost four months. The Ottoman defeat marked the turning point in the Turkish naval domination in the Mediterranean. After the siege, the Knights embarked on building a series of fortifications throughout Malta and built the new city of Valletta, named after their Grand Master Jean de la Valette.

The rule of the Knights Hospitaller (now also known as the Knights of Malta) on the islands remained strong until 1798 and brought prosperity to the islands, in spite of the numerous incidents demonstrating the discontent of the native Maltese with taxes, the Maltese nobles, and local clergy. Nevertheless, with the decline of the Ottoman threat in the Mediterranean, and the loss of many of its European holdings following the rise of Protestantism in Europe, the Order saw its revenues and its prestige decline. Additional sources of the Order's revenue were lost during the French revolution of 1789. Finally, after Napoleon captured Malta in 1798, during his expedition to Egypt, the Knights were forced to leave Malta. When the Maltese rebelled against the French occupation of the islands, Great Britain blockaded the islands, and in 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta was declared to be a part of the British Empire. Positioned mid-way between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, the islands were valued as a British naval base. Malta became prosperous as a refueling and restocking station on the way to India, and in World War I it was used as a large hospital. In the 1930s, Great Britain's role in Malta came under scrutiny among the native Maltese population. During World War II, the islands became the most bombed place on earth, and in 1942 the people of Malta were awarded the George Cross for their heroism.

Malta was granted independence from Great Britain on 21 September 1964. Under the 1964 constitution, Queen Elizabeth II remained the queen of Malta, with a governor-general exercising authority on her behalf. On December 13, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, with a president heading the state. Nevertheless, Maltese association with the British has had a long-term cultural impact: the Maltese are still a bilingual nation, where English continues to be one of the two official languages. Maltese politics continue to reflect the traditional historical and cultural affiliations of its population, generally divided between the supporters of pro-Italian and pro-British policies and cultural orientation.


The Republic of Malta is an archipelago situated in the almost exact center of the Mediterranean, with the total area of only 316 sq km (122 sq mi) and consisting of three inhabited islands—Malta, Gozo (Għawdex) and Comino (Kemmuna)— and several small, uninhabited ones—Filfla, Cominotto (Kemmunett), Fungus Rock (Il-Ġebla tal-Ġeneral), Manoel Island, and the Islands of St. Paul. Malta is situated 93 km (60 mi) south from the Italian island of Sicily, 296 km (185 mi) east of Tunisia, and 320 km (200 mi) north of Tripoli in Libya. Th ere are no permanent lakes or rivers on Malta. The country's population is estimated to be 420,000 (including approximately 30,000 residents of foreign origin), with a density of 1,282 inhabitants per square kilometer (or 3,339 per sq mi). The largest island in the archipelago is Malta, with an area of 246 sq km (95 sq mi). Most of the country's important harbors are on this island. The next largest island, Gozo, has a land area of 67 sq km (26 sq mi). It is predominantly rural and is probably the first of the Maltese islands to have been settled. The third inhabited island, Comino, has an area of only 2.5 sq km (1 sq mi) and less than ten residents. Its name derives from the herb cumin, introduced by the Romans and grown on the island. Small-scale farming and tourism are the main sources of income on Comino. While Malta is a member of the European Union, it has historically been strongly influenced by the cultures of North Africa.

The Maltese climate is Mediterranean, with two, rather than four seasons: hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The rainiest time of the year is December, with the average temperature of 16ºC or 61ºF, and the hottest month is July (33.2ºC or 92ºF). Malta has low rainfall; some of its water is produced by desalination, and some of it comes from wells. Malta's soil is quite fertile, but prone to erosion. Its terrain is mostly low and rocky, boasting many beautiful coastal cliffs. The Maltese islands are composed of sedimentary rock, with the western halves of the two largest islands higher than the eastern. The highest elevation in the country, Ta'Dmejrek, is only 253 m (83 ft) high.


Malta has two official languages: Maltese (or Malti) and English. While the ancient Maltese spoke Phoenician, this language was replaced in the 9th century by another Semitic tongue: Arabic. Modern Maltese is descended from Siculo-Arabic, a variant of Arabic spoken in Sicily and southern Italy. It is also strongly influenced by its centuries-long contact with various Romance languages (Sicilian, Italian, French and Spanish) and, starting from the early 19th century, English. Maltese is written in the Maltese alphabet, which has 29 letters and is based on the Latin alphabet, but uses several peculiar diacritically altered letters.

The Maltese islands have always been characterized by diglossia, a parallel use of one high-prestige language of the government and the elite (one of the Romance languages), and another, low-prestige language of the people, i.e. the spoken vernacular tongue (Maltese). The earliest known literary work in Maltese is Cantilena, a 15th-century poem composed by Pietro Caxaro. Other writings in Maltese date to the 17th century, but many more have been found from the 18th and 19th centuries. For many centuries, Malta's ruling classes, most often of foreign origin, preferred the use of Romance languages (Italian, French, and Spanish) or Latin. The members of the Order of the Knights of St. John, for example, many of whom were French, preferred to use French and Italian in their written records and correspondence. Italian, with its strong literary tradition, was for many centuries the recognized cultural language of Malta. Maltese writers living in the islands, but composing their work in Italian, constituted a literary movement that flourished until the second part of the 20th century; until the early 1900s, in fact, most literary works in Malta were written in Italian. The standardized written form of the Maltese language was established only under the influence of the Romantic movement in the early 19th century and particularly its emphasis on the national and the folkloric, when the celebrated Maltese linguist and writer, Mikiel Anton Vassalli composed a Maltese-Italian dictionary, a Maltese grammar, and a book of proverbs. After centuries of foreign domination and the successive use of Siculo-Arabic, Latin, Sicilian, Spanish, French, and Italian as languages of the administration and the educated classes, in the 1930s Maltese was recognized as an official language, alongside English, in an effort by the British to diminish the strong Italian influence in Malta.

Today, Maltese and English are both official languages of Malta. Virtually all native residents are bilingual and fluent in Maltese and English, and most of them understand or speak Italian. English and Maltese are languages of instruction in all public primary and secondary schools, while in the private schools all teaching is done in English. Most departments at the University of Malta also prefer to teach in English. The National Council for the Maltese language sets the usage standards for the Maltese language. Th ere are approximately 500,000 speakers of the Maltese language in the world, including Maltese emigrants on all continents.


The most popular traditional Maltese folk instrument is a type of bagpipes known as iż-żaqq. Other known old Maltese musical instruments are: iż-żummara (reed pipe amplified with a cow's horn bell), il-fifra (cane whistle flute), it-tanbur (a frame drum made with a goatskin head), and iż-żafżafa (a friction drum made of ceramic and goatskin).

Maltese folksong, a form of oral poetry, is called l-għana. It is sung by village bards, often accompanied by a guitar, and it has traditionally been the most popular form of folk entertainment. It is similar in its melancholy to Sicilian folk ballads and the traditional Arab wailing tunes, expressing the passion or the sadness of love. L-għana has generally developed in these three styles: Spirtu Pront (quick wit), an improvised form of a song duel, traditionally sung by a group of two or more singers; Tal-Fatt (a story of an event), a narrative song based on tragic or humorous real events or fiction; and Fil Gholi (high-pitched), a high-register song also known as il-Bormliża, short in form, with repetitive and highly-allusive lyrics. Maltese country dance, locally known as il-Kuntradanza, and a dance known as il-Parata (sword-dance) are two well-known forms of traditional dance in Malta. Nursery rhymes are another traditional form of Maltese folk art transmitted through generations.

The most characteristic garment in the traditional dress for women used to be the long veil called faldetta, or ghonnella, a part of Maltese costume that has now completely disappeared in Malta. It was made of cotton or silk and was black or blue in color. This veil is thought to have its origin in the Arab veil or in an ancient Spanish form of traditional dress. Maltese folk costumes, now practically disappeared from everyday life, can still be seen at many local festas throughout Malta, when folk-dancing and singing is performed in traditional dress.

In the villages of Malta and Gozo, each family has their own nickname. The nickname or laqam identifies a person, a family, and even a social group or a town by what is perceived to be their most expressive characteristic ("giant," "hedgehog," etc.; occasionally nicknames refer to occupations). Nicknames given by inhabitants of Maltese and Gozoan villages to other towns and villages on the islands often reflect animosities that once existed between them (Tar-Redus or "manure" is, for example, a nickname for the town of Tarxien). Some towns or villages owe their names to legends.

The island of Gozo is considered by many to be the island of Ogygia Homer described in the Odyssey and where the poem's hero, Ulysses, spent seven years. According to this belief, Ramla Bay was the meeting place of Ulysses and the enchanting nymph Calypso, queen of the island.

Luzzus are the traditional brightly painted fishing boats, the design of which is said to go back to the times when the Phoenicians ruled the Maltese islands. The Eye of Osiris, an ancient symbol of protection against evil, is painted on every prow.


There are hundreds of churches in Malta, the majority of them Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism is the state religion in Malta, and it is estimated that 98% of the population is Roman Catholic. Most residents belonging to the Protestant churches are not native Maltese, but British and Northern European expatriates, retirees, and tourists. There are small Anglican, Church of Scotland, Greek Orthodox, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist communities in Malta.

Pre-Christian religious heritage in Malta includes some of the oldest surviving free-standing buildings in the world, built on Gozo of coralline limestone during the Ġgantija and Tarxien eras (3600-3200 and 3150-2500 bc respectively): Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra temples.

The patron saints of Malta are St. Paul, St. Agatha, and St. George. The most revered religious figure in Malta by far, St. Paul is thought to have been shipwrecked on the northern coast of Malta in ad 60 and to have converted the local population, and the Roman Governor Publius, to Christianity. According to a legend, St. Agatha hid from her Roman persecutors in a cave in Rabat.

In 870 Malta was occupied by the Sicilian Arabs. Th ey exerted strong influence on every aspect of life on the islands, and Islam was a dominant religion in Malta for the next 220 years. Christians and Jews were not forced to convert, but they had to pay additional taxes and could not serve in the government or military. Muslims remained a strong presence in Maltese society until the 14th century, long after the conquest of the island by the Norman rulers of Sicily in 1090.

An important religious figure in Malta is St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller (Knights of Saint John), who received the Maltese Islands and the North African port of Tripoli as a gift from Charles V in 1530.

The most important churches in Malta are St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, boasting a painting by Caravaggio of "The Beheading of John the Baptist " (1608), and a museum; St. Paul's Shipwreck Church in Valletta, containing a fragment of the pillar on which the saint was beheaded and a relic of his wrist bone; Church of St. Lawrence in Vittoriosa, where the Knights celebrated the end of the Great Siege of 1565; Our Lady of the Assumption in Mosta, and Xewkija Church in Gozo.

The Jewish population in Malta goes back to 1500 bc. It reached its greatest numbers in the Middle Ages, under Norman rule. Avraham Abulafia, a renowned Jewish mystic, lived on Comino from 1285 until his death in 1290. In 1492, shortly after the beginning of the Aragonese rule in Malta in 1479, all Jews were forced to leave the country, most of them eventually settling in the Levant. A number of Jews remained in Malta and converted to Christianity. Under the rule of the Knights of Malta, the position of the Jewish population was not significantly improved. Today's small Jewish community dates back to the French and British rule of Malta, and to the arrival of a number of Jewish refugees in the years preceding World War II, when Malta was one of the few countries not to require visas of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.


Malta is the country with the greatest number of holidays in the European Union. National holidays are: Freedom Day (March 31, the anniversary of the withdrawal of British troops from Malta in 1979), Sette Giugno or Maltese National Day (June 7, commemorating the anti-British riots of 1919, the forming of the national assembly and the demand for self-government), Victory Day (September 8, in remembrance of both the end of the Great Siege of 1565 and the 1943 withdrawal of the Italian troops), Independence Day (September 21, marking Malta's 1964 independence from the Great Britain), and Republic Day (December 13, the anniversary of the substantial revision of Malta's Constitution in 1974, and its transformation from a Commonwealth Realm into a republic within the Commonwealth).

Public holidays are: New Year's Day (January 1), Saint Paul's Shipwreck (February 10), Feast of Saint Joseph (March 19), Good Friday, Worker's Day (May 1), Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (June 29), Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (August 15), Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas Day (December 25).

Malta is a Catholic country, and many Maltese holidays and festivals are based on the holy days of the Christian calendar. One of the highlights of the Christmas season is carol singing in the Co-Cathedral of St. John, and in other, mostly Baroque, churches in Malta. Cribs (presepju), some very ornate in design, are placed everywhere, both in Maltese homes and churches, and a very popular pastime of the Christmas season is going around and visiting as many of them as possible. Another popular pastime of the season is visiting the Manoel theatre in Valletta, where the annual satirical pantomime can be seen.

Carnival is a tradition that came to Malta with the Knights of St. John in the 16th century. It takes place in a week preceding Ash Wednesday. It is celebrated across the Maltese islands with parades of outrageous, multi-colored floats, dressing up in fancy costumes, and late-night dancing and drinking in the clubs and bars of Paċeville. While the biggest celebrations take place in Valletta, each town in the country has developed its own way of celebrating the Carnival. Nadur, on Gozo, for example, is known among the Maltese for its unusually macabre version of celebrating this tradition.

On Holy Friday, parades of scenes from the Passion of Christ can be seen on the streets. On Easter Sunday, a procession with the statue of the risen Christ takes place around and inside of churches. The Maltese celebrate Easter with a large family lunch, visits to relatives and friends, and the exchange of gifts: chocolate eggs and rabbits are common, as well as figolla, traditional almond-filled pastry covered with icing. The Maltese are fond of fireworks, and sometimes include them in the celebration of Easter.

The feast of San Grigor (or St. Gregory) takes place on the Wednesday following Easter Sunday. A religious procession, first held in the 17th century as a thanksgiving for the end of the bubonic plague, starts at the chapel of St. Clement on the outskirts of Zejtun. After the procession, the Maltese celebrate with picnics and family outings in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk on the south-east coast of Malta.

Another opportunity to celebrate with fireworks is the annual Maltese Fireworks Festival, taking place in the first four days of May, with spectacular fireworks organized for three consecutive nights in Valletta's Grand Harbor, along with many concerts, shows, colorful street entertainment, and a variety of food events.

L-Imnarja (a festival of light, from the Italian Luminara) is a summer folk festival, once considered (along with the feast of St. Gregory) as a central feast for the Maltese. It coincides with the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29 and goes back to the time before the arrival of the Knights of St. John on the islands. The main area of celebration is Buskett Gardens, Malta's largest area of natural woodland, where families can picnic all day and night, drink wine and eat fenkata (rabbit feast), which is a traditional rabbit dish, and engage in the traditional singing called l-għana. The following day the celebrations continue with bareback horse and donkey races organized near Mdina.

September 8 is a day dedicated to remembering three events: the birth of the Holy Virgin (Maria Bambina), the end of the Great Siege of 1565, and the capitulation of the Italian navy to the British forces in the Second World War. A rowing regatta competition is held in Valletta's Grand Harbor to commemorate the end of the Great Siege.

Festival Mediterranean takes place in the autumn on the island of Gozo and is a mix of local food and wine tastings, concerts, art exhibitions, plays, conferences, and lectures, with walks led by scholars around archeological sites.

Village parish festas are a Maltese tradition that is thought to go back to the 16th century. The festas offer the village inhabitants an opportunity for a community celebration and a spiritual renewal. The celebrations are usually preceded by three days of prayer, vespers and masses with special hymns dedicated to the patron saint of the village.


Most of the rites of passage typical of Malta are linked to Catholic traditions and customs. Baptism and the first Holy Communion (around the age of seven or eight) are two important occasions followed by festive gatherings of extended family, with everyone bringing gifts for the child, including tokens of a religious nature or even monetary gifts. Following the christening of the child, hot chocolate and oval-shaped almond macaroons called biskuttini tal-maghmudija are served at the home of the child's parents. In the past, it was considered prudent to have the baby baptized as soon as possible, within only 24 hours after the birth. Such speedy christening, it was believed, freed the soul from purgatory. Traditionally, children were named after their grandparents, on the father's side if it was a boy, and on the mother's side if it was a girl. Today, little attention is paid to tradition in naming children.

The ceremony known as quccija (choosing) is a Maltese tradition linked to a child's first birthday. A basket is filled with various small objects representing different professions and trades; the first object that the child's hand touches is believed to be the sign of its future occupation.

Confirmation, which usually takes place in early adolescence, is the Catholic rite of initiation bestowing on a young person a full membership in the Church and represents another occasion for organizing festivities with the extended family. Maltese weddings are usually celebrated in churches, followed by large (300 guests are not an oddity at a Maltese wedding), lavish parties for extended family and friends. January, April, and August are traditionally considered to be the best months to get married. It is an old custom that the weddings are usually celebrated in the bride's parish. Instead of riding to church in a car, the more romantically-minded couple often chooses an Il Karrozzin (horse-drawn carriage), introduced in mid-19th century by the British. Wedding souvenirs wrapped in small boxes called qoffini (or souvenir baskets) are distributed to all guests. Most Maltese families have a particular place where the wedding souvenirs are displayed.

Some of the secular rites of passage for young Maltese include completing secondary education or receiving a university degree. Both occasions are marked with parties for family and friends, with presents or money given to the graduate. Sometimes such occasions are celebrated with a trip abroad.


Malta is a country marked by contrasts, and the Maltese, easy to befriend, are often described as having a Mediterranean personality of extremes. They quickly and readily express their strong opinions in most political and personal matters and have little understanding for those who refrain from taking sides in an issue, or choose the middle ground. This passion in taking sides is reflected in the country's political life.

Strangers are quickly welcome as friends and are expected to voice their opinions as passionately as the Maltese. Family and friends are welcome for unannounced round-the-clock visits. Malta's hospitality to visitors is legendary and marked by great warmth, and the culture of friendship based on loyalty and sharing strong opinions has a long history in Malta.


Most people in Malta live in the urban agglomeration of Valletta, the Grand Harbor, and Sliema, on the northeastern coast of the island of Malta. Marked differences exist in values, dress, and speech between city and village dwellers. With rare exceptions, most highly-educated Maltese professionals do not live in villages. This is one of the reasons why there are few social differences in Malta's villages, and why the church is still felt to be the center of the community life. The village priest is still seen as the religious leader, family counselor, and legal advisor. Exposure to international tourism and modern media has, nevertheless, already penetrated the fabric of the close-knit village life, and eroded the sense of unity and closeness that the villagers historically enjoyed.

Malta's urban population enjoys an excellent level of education and a lifestyle similar to that of urban dwellers throughout southern Europe. Many members of Malta's upper-middle classes and aristocracy have been educated abroad (often in Great Britain and Italy) and have a sophisticated, cosmopolitan outlook.

Malta has an excellent public health system, ranked by the World Health Organization as the fifth among the world's health systems, and every resident is entitled to free use of public health institutions. While real-estate prices have risen significantly in the recent decade, housing is still relatively affordable. Family ties are strong in Malta, and many young Maltese continue living with their parents for some time following the graduation from the university. At the same time, many new graduates rely on the strong extended family network when looking for suitable employment.

The Maltese are seen as enjoying a slower and more pleasant pace of life than that of their counterparts in other European countries, especially those of Northern Europe. The average life expectancy in Malta is 79.3 years, with 81.6 years for women and 77 years for men. Infant mortality rate is low at 3.79 deaths/1,000 live births.

There are approximately 130,000 Internet users in Malta, and 90% of all Maltese own a mobile phone.

Voluntary military service in Malta starts at the age of 17, and lasts 6 months. There is no conscription in Malta.


Maltese culture is strongly family-oriented, and the degree of devotion the Maltese show to their immediate and extended family is remarkable. The traditional Maltese family is close-knit, extending into a network of relatives and in-laws, where family members rely on each other for material, social, and emotional support across the generations. The relatively traditional concept of Catholic family still prevails in Maltese society, although the long multicultural history of the islands has made the Maltese tolerant and open toward other kinds of communal values. In Maltese society the solidarity is strongest within the extended family, seen as the most important of all social networks in Malta. Rather than relying on friends and neighbors, the Maltese traditionally turn to close and distant relatives for support. This is why poverty in Malta is generally seen as being a consequence of the alienation of the individual from kin and family network.

The Maltese pay great attention to child-rearing and openly show their love for their children. Although the Mediterranean preference for the first-born male remains, Maltese families are as devoted to the education and rearing of female children as to that of the males. Young people in Malta usually live with their parents until graduation from university, and sometimes afterwards; often several generations of a family share a house. Such arrangements are less common then they used to be, but are not considered unusual. Ties between parents and children continue to be strong throughout their lifetime, and grandparents are often directly involved in raising grandchildren. While Maltese families are thought to be led by the strong father figure, this belief only serves to obscure the crucial role of the mother of the family, seen as its true center and de facto decision-maker. While large families used to be the rule in this Catholic country, most Maltese couples today have one or two children and are as inclined to use modern contraception as their counterparts in other areas of European Union.


Most Maltese dress similarly to their neighbors to the north, Italians, with some influences coming from the British style of dress, noticeable especially in formal clothing for men. Dress codes range from casual to traditionally elegant, and smart and fashionable. Casual beach-style clothing has recently gained in popularity.

Topless bathing is not allowed on public beaches, but it is often tolerated on private ones. Visitors to churches must dress respectfully (shorts or strappy tops are not allowed). Shoes with sharp, pointed heels are also not allowed in many churches, because they might damage the floors.


Malta's cooking is typically Mediterranean, based on locally-grown fresh vegetables, herb cheese, fish, and game. It shares many traits with the cuisines of its neighbors in southern Italy and North Africa.

Slow-cooking, favored in Malta in the past because of the lack of fire-wood ovens, remains the preferred food-preparation technique. Throughout the centuries, food in Malta was placed in an earthenware pot over a small stone hearth, or kenur, and allowed to simmer for a long time. Maltese meals still traditionally begin with a soup, but a soup may also form a meal in itself. Some of the most popular Maltese soups are minestra (thick vegetable soup) and ġbejnil-armla (widow's soup), a lighter version of minestra with a piece of fresh ġbejniet cheese melted in the soup and raw eggs added at the end. Aljotta (fish and garlic soup), spiced with mint or marjoram and tomatoes and containing rice or fine pasta, is another favorite of the Maltese.

Maltese and Sicilian cuisines have a lot in common. Ravjul (Maltese ravioli) is often prepared at Maltese homes from scratch. It was originally eaten on Fridays, when eating meat was forbidden by the Church.

Lampuka (dolphin fish) is the preferred fish of the Maltese, eaten with typical Mediterranean spices, such as rosemary, garlic, marjoram, olives, tomatoes, lemon, and capers, or in a lampuki pie (Torta Tal-lampuki). Salt cod stew, stuffat tal-Bakkaljaw, combining cod with potatoes and other diced vegetables is a winter favorite. Fenek (rabbit) is the most popular meat in Malta, often eaten marinated and browned with herbs and garlic and then simmered in red wine or tomato sauce; sometimes roast rabbit is served with a bitter chocolate sauce.

Malta is famous for its many kinds of excellent bread, ranging from a crusty sourdough eaten with fresh tomatoes or tomato paste and ġbejniet, to a less crusty bread called ftira, ring-shaped and resembling the Italian ciabatta. Ġbejniet are small, round cheeses made from sheep's or goat's milk and produced in three varieties: fresh, sun-dried (traditionally eaten with Maltese biscuits, or galletti, and served with red wine), or peppered. Hobz biz-zejt, a thick slice of bread dipped in olive oil and rubbed with ripe tomatoes or tomato paste, then covered with tuna, capers and onions, is a favorite snack in Malta. Other traditional snacks favored by the Maltese are pastizzi, diamond-shaped flaky pastries filled with ricotta cheese or mushy pea mixture and sometimes meat and anchovies. Th ey can be bought at pastizzerias (small neighborhood shops selling baked goods), or virtually everywhere, in countless variations. Quassatat are somewhat lighter pastries, round in shape. Maltese pastries are often eaten with tea or weak coffee.

Favorite sweet dishes are kannoli (crispy, tube-shaped fried pastry filled with ricotta cheese), imqaret (pastries filled with date-mixture and deep-fried), figolla (an Easter-time biscuit, made with almonds, prepared in many different shapes), ħelwa tat-tork (Turk's Sweet, or locally made halva, made with sesame seeds, sugar, and almonds). Qubbajt is a nougat dating back to the time of the Arab domination, and it is traditionally bought at food stalls at festas.

Maltese wines are unjustly not as renowned as Italian or French wines, but they are inexpensive and of excellent quality. Some of indigenous wine varieties are Gellewza and Ghirghen-tina. Gozo wines tend to be stronger than the wines from the island of Malta. Excellent beers and ales, a British tradition, are also produced in Malta. Maltese coffee is typically drunk weak and milky, and the influence of Great Britain in the islands has made tea drinking very popular. Anisette, a flavored liqueur, is a specialty of Gozo and an ingredient in many sweets. Bajtra liqueur is a sweet liqueur made of prickly pears, honey, and herbs. Most Maltese prefer bottled water to drinking tap water (mostly produced by desalination).

The Maltese eat their main meal of the day at lunchtime (around 1 p.m.). The lunch often has five to six courses and lasts several hours. Dinner is usually eaten around 7 p.m.


About 92.8% of the population of Malta is considered literate (92% men and 93.6% women). Malta's public school system has been strongly influenced by the British system, and formal education is mandatory for all Maltese children between the ages of 5 and 16. Day care is free of charge for all children over three years of age. Mandatory education is divided into a six-year primary cycle (from the ages of 5 to 10) and secondary education (11 to 16). Children with special learning needs are integrated into mainstream classrooms. All primary schools are free of charge and co-educational, with textbooks and transportation to school free of charge. At the end of primary school, all children take the nationally standardized Junior Lyceum Examination. Students then enroll into Junior Lyceums, which offer a more challenging, academically-oriented curriculum; Area Secondary Schools, for students who failed the examination; or the so-called "opportunity schools" for low-achieving students. Students attend secondary schools between the ages of 11 and 16; most of the schools are single-sex and years (grades) are called "forms."

Upper secondary education can be received at the pre-university Junior College, which is part of the University of Malta, or in other secondary-education institutions, administered by the Church or a private organization. There students spend two years preparing for their future university studies. All students receive a monthly scholarship, with both State and Church educational institutions funded; private institutions charge tuition fees. An alternative to Junior College is Vocational Upper Secondary Education, where students enroll full-time, or part-time, in combination with an apprenticeship, acquiring professional and vocational education in the fields of electronics, business, art and design, agribusiness, etc., and preparing to enter the workforce early.

The University of Malta, which traces its origins to the Jesuit Collegium Melitense, was founded in 1592. It is organized into 11 schools (faculties) and several interdisciplinary institutes and centers, and offers undergraduate and graduate education to approximately 10,000 students, with 2,500 graduates annually. Students usually enroll into the university at the age of 17 or 18. Local students study tuition-free, and if they are below the age of thirty they also receive stipends. Foreign students pay tuition. Classes are normally held between October and May. At the end of three or four years, students receive a Bachelor's degree, with some courses of study (medicine, dentistry, engineering, law) lasting up to five or six years. Most instruction is based on credit system. Graduate degrees require between one to four years of part-time or full-time study (master's degrees); doctoral degrees are awarded based on research.


Malta's cultural heritage reflects its fascinating, multicultural history. Valletta, the country's capital, is home to numerous museums. Among them is the National Museum of Archeology, housed in the former Auberge de Provence, which once belonged to the Order of Knights Hospitaller. The National Museum of Fine Arts is home to a number of works by Mattia Preti (1613–1699), a Baroque painter from Calabria, who worked in Italy and Malta, and was a Knight in the Order of St. John. It also houses sculptures by the Maltese sculptor Antonio Sciortino (1879–1947) who studied and worked in Rome. Museum of St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta has on display many portraits of Grand Masters of the Order of St. John, as well as various treasures once belonging to the Knights. Lascaris War Room (located in the World War II military operation rooms in the bastions of the capital) and National War Museum are dedicated to preserving the memory of World War II in Malta. St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Valletta hosts film performances, theatre and music events, and workshops.

Manoel Theatre in downtown Valletta is a jewel of 18th century architecture and one of the oldest surviving enclosed theatres in Europe. It was built in 1731 by António Manoel de Vilhena, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, who commissioned and personally funded the building of the theatre, in order to satisfy the growing demand among the Maltese for opera and dramatic productions, and to provide the people of Malta with "honest entertainment." The first performance, in January of 1732, was a classic Italian tragedy, Scipione Maffei's Merope.

The Museum of Archeology in Rabat/Victoria on the island of Gozo is located in an old aristocratic mansion, and is home to ancient Gozitan artifacts. Cathedral Museum in Malta's ancient capital, Mdina, boasts a collection ranging from Roman tombstones to 16th century art and the works of Albrecht Dürer. The Folklore Museum in Rabat/Victoria is located in three houses. Its displays recreate the life in traditional rural houses of Malta and Gozo.

A unique example of Baroque architecture, Valletta was built by the Knights of St. John, following the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The first major buildings in Valletta are works of the noted Italian architect from Lucca Francesco Buonamici (1490–1562). Francesco Laparelli da Cortona (1521–1571) was a prominent engineer in the employ of Pope Pius IV, who sent him to built Valletta as a fortress to defend Christendom. Laparelli was assisted in his work by the Maltese Gerolamo Cassar (1520–1592), who built the Grand Masters' Palace in Valletta and St. John's Co-Cathedral. Matteo Perez d'Aleccio (1547–1616) was an Italian painter from Lecce and pupil of Michelangelo who introduced Mannerism to Malta. He painted 13 frescoes in the Great Masters' Palace showing the Great Siege of Malta, and the "Baptism of Christ," originally a titular painting of the Co-Cathedral of St. John.

Cathedrals in Mdina and Gozo were designed by Lorenzo Gafa (1638–1703), a noted Maltese baroque architect.

Perhaps the most well-known 18th century Maltese artist is Antoine de Favray (1706–1791), a French-born painter who came to live in Malta in 1744 and spent the rest of his life there, devoting himself to portraiture and genre painting. He enjoyed the patronage of two grand masters, which resulted in a number of historical portraits. His portraits and island scenes show native Maltese in their traditional costume, and they earned him fame in France. Portraits made for his wealthy Maltese clientele were of a more conventional nature. His first picture painted in Malta is a "Portrait of Maltese Lady" (1745), now housed in the Louvre Museum.

Maltese literature, written mostly in Italian until the 20th century, has after 1900 been defined by two major literary movements: The Academy of Maltese Writers (founded in 1920 and still active) and The Movement for the Revival of Literature (founded in 1967, short-lived but radical in its esthetic orientation and very influential). Poetry and narrative have dominated the Maltese literature, while theatre in Maltese, in the modern sense of the word, represents a recent development. Its predecessor is a form of popular Maltese theatre called tijatrin. Anton Manwel Caruana's (1838–1907) historical novel Inez Farrug is widely considered to be the first novel in Maltese. Oliver Friggieri (1947– ), who writes in Maltese, English, and Italian, is renowned as Malta's best contemporary poet. Francis Ebeyer and Oreste Calleja are the most respected modern playwrights. Children's fiction is represented by Trevor Zahra. One of the most popular women poets are Maria Grech Ganado, and Simone Inguanez, while Clare Azzopardi is known for her innovative prose, where the protagonists are strong women who refuse to be dominated by anyone. The most popular author of the new generation is Immanuel Mifsud (1967–), author of short stories, poetry, and stories for children.


Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Malta is estimated to be approximately $23,000. The largest sector of Maltese economy is that of services (75% of GDP, with tourism as the most important source of revenue). Industry (22.5%) produces semi-conductors, pharmaceuticals, communications technology, rubber, and plastic products; shipbuilding and repair are also important sources of revenue in Malta. Agriculture accounts for 2.5% of Malta's GDP with products such as typical Mediterranean fruits and vegetables and potatoes. Malta's entry into the European Union also increased the emphasis on the outward orientation of its economy. Most of Maltese exports go to the European Union, Singapore, and the United States. Recently, Malta has been also showing great interest in developing medical tourism. An important source of revenue for the country's public and private sector is the international film industry, with many English-language, big-budget productions filmed in Malta every year.

Malta has a highly educated, multilingual workforce of 149,000, and the unemployment rate was at 5.8% in 2008, lower than the average EU unemployment rate of 6.8%. Services employ 47% of Malta's labor force, the public sector employs 29%, manufacturing 16%, and construction and quarrying 8%. In recent years, the government has been introducing a policy of gradual economic liberalization. Malta is one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world (1,160 inhabitants per sq km, or 3000 per sq mi), and finding work is not always easy. Since the country's entry into the European Union, any citizen of the Union is entitled to live and work in Malta. Australian citizens under 30 years of age are also entitled to work on Malta for a year (significantly, this country is also home to a very large Maltese immigrant community). Citizens of other countries generally find it difficult to obtain a work permit. Job vacancies are advertised, but most are filled by word of mouth, and go to Maltese citizens.

Malta's working day is traditionally divided in two by a long siesta, when many shops and small businesses remain closed.


Malta's Mediterranean climate makes many outdoor sports attractive year-round, and the country boasts a wide variety of land and water sports facilities. Horseback riding is a favorite Maltese recreational activity, and horse-racing, with races being held every Sunday between October and May, is Malta's preferred spectator sport. Other sports popular among the Maltese are lawn bowling (or bocci, played in almost every village), tenpin bowling, and clay pigeon shooting competitions, held every Sunday morning. The Maltese are also passionate about water polo and soccer, and soccer teams are numerous on the Maltese islands, with the regular season running between October and May, and most fans supporting either Italy or England in international competitions. Each February, the country hosts the Malta Marathon, a 42 km (26 mi) race from Rabat to Sliema, attracting runners from the entire world. In April the Malta Archery Federation holds the International Archery Tournament at the Marsa Sports Club.

Visitors will find some of the best opportunities for recreation available in the Marsa Sports Club, a large sporting complex with first-rate sports facilities and membership available on a daily or weekly basis. Water sports, such as scuba diving (with a full range of diving courses available on Malta and Gozo), water-skiing, windsurfing, and paragliding are popular among the locals and the tourists alike, and the clear waters of Malta are ideal for snorkeling. No fishing license is required in Malta. Sailing races are popular events between late spring and mid-fall. The most attractive are the Comino Regatta in June, the Malta-Syracuse (Italy) race in July, and the Rimini (Italy)-Malta-Rimini yacht race in August. September 8 is a day dedicated to remembering the end of the Great Siege of 1565, and a rowing regatta competition is held in Valletta's Grand Harbor.

Sports facilities are plentiful throughout Malta and available at most hotels. A number of hotels also have their own facilities for tennis and squash. Excellent boat and yacht rental facilities are also available on Malta.

The Maltese islands lie on the central bird migration route, and shooting and trapping birds for trophies and display is still one of Malta's favorite and most notorious pastimes. This has attracted much negative attention from the local Ornithological Society, the conservation group BirdLife Malta, bird-lovers, and animal protection agencies in Malta and internationally. Malta has more than 16,000 hunters, and despite the legislation to curtail hunting, they often ignore the rules governing hunting seasons and protected areas, killing around 30,000 birds in Malta each year, including those belonging to the endangered species.


During the day, the capital of Malta, Valletta, offers a wide array of attractions, ranging from the numerous museums to shopping and people watching. A city bursting with locals and tourists during the day, Valetta shuts down early by European standards, and has few late-night bars and clubs. Entertainment can be found in its Mediterranean Conference Centre, which regularly hosts music and theatre events, and in Ma-noel Theatre, one the oldest surviving enclosed theatres in the world.

Northwest of Valletta is a coastal district of Paċeville, considered to be Malta's nightlife capital. Paċeville has a great number of pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants, especially popular with young Maltese and tourists on Saturday nights. The nearby St. Julian's and Spinola Bay are more appealing to middle-aged and older residents and tourists.

On Sundays, a favorite outing for many Maltese families is a visit to the old fishing village of Marsaxlokk, on the southwestern coast of Malta. They visit the famous fish market, take a stroll, and then sit down for a long lunch in one of Marsaxlokk's seafront restaurants.

Maltese festas are the most widespread and traditional form of entertainment in Malta; in their present form, they date back to the 19th century, when they emerged as a fusion of several local traditions. Every village and town in Malta and Gozo celebrates the day dedicated to its patron saint with processions, colorful street decorations and lights, parades, food and wine, music, and fireworks. Folk dances are performed in traditional dress and traditional and modern-day foods are sold at market stalls. The festa season lasts from May and September, and approximately 90 festas are celebrated in this small country every year. Festas are popular among the young and the old alike, and the forms of entertainment available have been successfully adapted to modern times.

There are five major TV channels in Malta, and their funding is provided mostly by the state and political parties. Italian radio and TV stations enjoy wide popularity in Malta among all age groups. Newspapers are published in both English and Maltese. The most widely read English-language newspapers are The Times and The Independent. In-Nazzjon and L-Orizzont are main Maltese-language papers.


The Maltese art of lacemaking has been renowned since at least the 16th century, descending probably from the Genoese lace-making tradition (which, in turn, came to Italy from the East, through Venice). It reached its peak in the 18th century. The craft of lacemaking became almost extinguished in the first years of the British rule, due to the economic crisis on the islands, but was revived in 1833 by the great demand for lace in England. At the same time, lacemaking spread throughout the island of Gozo. Malta's lace (bizzilla) is noted not only for its exceptional beauty, but also for its remarkable durability. It is made by women on the islands of Malta and Gozo, where lace-makers often practice their craft seated in front of their houses, attracting the attention of residents and visitors alike. One of the most recognizable characteristics of Malta and Gozo lace is its creamy or honey-colored thread, made of Spanish silk and used to make exquisite tea towels or table-cloths. Black silk was also widely used until the 20th century, when its popularity diminished. British missionaries spread the art of Maltese lacemaking by copying its patterns and introducing them in China and India. Modern-age boom in tourism and the related souvenir trade has been an important factor in the survival of this ancient art. Lacemaking is nowadays taught in public trade schools for girls in Malta, and its history and techniques are subject of regular exhibitions and academic studies of Maltese national heritage.


Malta is a very low-crime rate society (this is especially true of the island of Gozo), and many social problems typical of large, highly-urbanized countries are not present in Malta. At the same time, high population density and the small size of the country represent a challenge to the Maltese economy and job creation.

Malta has the highest traffic accident rate in Europe, and drivers often ignore speed limits and the rights of pedestrians. Drivers employed in public transportation are sometimes equally disrespectful of those sharing the roads with them. Parking space is very difficult to find in Valletta.

Malta is a melting point of cultures. This fact, together with a high density population and Malta's geographical position between Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, has made Malta a tolerant society, where the downside has been be a laissez-faire response to alcohol abuse. The medical profession and the government still do not feel sufficient urgency to call for effective laws and regulations, specialized treatment services, or educational programs related to alcohol abuse.

Illegal immigration from Africa, with approximately 2,000 persons arriving to Malta each year, mostly on fishing boats, is one of the biggest concerns of the Maltese. In spite of the rich, multi-cultural history of the Maltese islands, the arrival of growing numbers of illegal immigrants has resulted in open expressions of racism in the country, giving rise to concern among church officials, who continue to appeal for solidarity, and humanitarian organizations. Illegal immigration has also been perceived as placing a degree of strain on Malta's health and social services, and on its labor market. Around 45% of immigrants to Malta have been granted refugee or protected humanitarian status.

Malta is also home to a large hunting population, which openly disrespects legislation governing hunting seasons and protected natural areas. Maltese hunters regularly shoot and trap a great number of birds enjoying international protection as endangered species.

A serious problem in the Maltese islands is the lack of water resources. Water in Malta is scarce and much of the country's water is obtained by the process of desalination, bringing up the problem of fossil fuel use and pollution.

Drug trade and the related delinquency are not a significant problem in Malta; the country is considered to be only a minor point of hashish trade between North Africa and Western Europe. There are fewer than 500 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.


Women in Malta voted for the first time in the general elections of 1947. Women are present in many spheres of Malta's labor force, ranging from banking, media, and journalism, to academia, legal and medical professions, and small business ownership. Since 1992, Malta has adopted several laws intended to eliminate all sex-based discrimination. In January 2000, for example, the country promulgated a law on equal treatment, which entered into force in October of that year. However, a 2003 follow-up report stated that further progress was still needed in this area, and recommended that the Maltese government should reinforce the existing, and implement additional, regulations in the area of gender equality. The government of Malta has adopted a policy of having at least one women member in each one of its committees, and in recent years made considerable efforts to help achieve gender equality in the workplace, such as the 2003 adoption of the Equality for Men and Women Act and the creation in 2004 of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women. Nevertheless, large-scale workplace equality between Maltese men and women still remains a goal to be achieved, and equality issues do not yet figure prominently in collective bargaining in Malta's labor market. While the past years have seen many legal and social achievements for Maltese women active in the work force, the employment rate of 37% for women is still low by European standards, and women's presence in the labor market remains concentrated in specific sectors and levels of occupation, while being noticeably absent in others. Moreover, most women often do not enjoy the same working conditions as men, and they tend to participate in continuous training and education at a significantly lower rate.

The National Council of Women of Malta, established in 1964, is a non-governmental and non-partisan organization whose objective it is to promote equal rights for women in every sphere of Maltese society. The Department for Women's Rights was established in 1989.

Divorce does not exist in Maltese legal system. A foreign divorce can be registered in Malta, after which both parties are free to remarry. The only other way to end a marriage in Malta is marriage annulment. Legal separation (consensual or contentious) releases both parties from the obligation to live together, but the obligations to fidelity and support continue. The complications associated with divorce and separation has prompted many modern Maltese to seek alternative living arrangements, such as co-habitation. Pre-nuptial agreements are also growing in popularity.

Female writers, such as Claire Azzopardi, focusing on non-traditional themes of lesbianism and oppressive patriarchy, are contributing to a shift in perception of woman's role in the Maltese society.

Male homosexuality has been legal in Malta since 1973, while laws against female homosexuality were never introduced. The overall attitude of the Maltese towards gay tourists is generous and open, but in spite of several gay bars, clubs, and a gay hotel, there is no strong gay scene in Malta. The Malta Gay Rights Movement is a non-governmental organization fighting for the social and legal equality of gay people in Malta, while the Maltese society remains fairly traditional.

In 1981 all abortions were banned in Malta. This represented a change from a prior law, which allowed for therapeutic abortions when the life of the mother was in danger. In spite of the United Nations' urging the Maltese government to review its legislation on abortion in cases of rape or incest, or in case of therapeutic abortions, the laws governing abortion had not changed as of 2008. Together with Ireland, Malta is the only EU member state that bans abortion in cases of rape or incest.

The age of consent for sexual activity in Malta is 18, and for civil marriage 16.


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Buhagiar, Mario. Christianization of Malta: Catacombs, Cult Centers and Churches in Malta to 1530. Oxford: Archaeo-press, 2007.

Castillo, Dennis. The Maltese Cross: A Strategic History of Malta. Westport, CT; London: Praeger Security International, 2006.

Goodwin, Stefan. Malta, Mediterranean Bridge. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 2002.

Gregory, Desmond. Malta, Britain and the European powers 1793-1815. Madison, NJ; London: Farleigh Dickinson University Press; Associated University Presses, 1996.

Luttrell, Anthony. The Making of Christian Malta: From the Early Middle Ages to 1530. Aldershot (England): Burlington (Vt.): Ashgate/Variorum, 2002.

Mallia-Milanes, Victor, ed. The British Colonial Experience, 1800-1964: The Impact on Maltese Society. Msida, Malta: Mireva Publications, 1988.

Sagona, Claudia. Archaeology of Punic Malta. Leuwen; Sterling, VA: Peters, 2000.

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Vassallo, Carmen. Malta Chamber of Commerce, 1848-1979: An Outline History of Maltese Trade. Valletta: Malta Chamber of Commerce, 1998.

Wettinger, Godfrey. The Jews of Malta in the Middle Ages. Valletta, Malta: Midsea Books, 1985.

—by K. von Wittelsbach

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ETHNONYM: il-Maltin


Identification. Malta and her sister islands, Gozo and Comino, together with the uninhabited islets of Filfla and Cominotto, make up the Maltese Archipelago.

Location. The Maltese islands lie midway between Gibraltar and the Lebanon, at almost the exact geographical center of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is 93 kilometers to the north, and Tunis just over 320 kilometers to the west. Malta, the largest and southernmost island, is 27 kilometers long and 14.4 kilometers wide, and it covers an area of 247 square kilometers. Gozo is only 14.4 kilometers by 8 kilometers, with an area of 67.6 square kilometers. The little islands of Comino and Cominotto, which lie in the 4.8-kilometer-wide channel separating the two larger islands, together have an area of 2.6 square kilometers. Filila, a large rock that was used for gunnery practice, lies 4.8 kilometers off the southwest coast of Malta. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with long hot summers and cold wet winters. Average annual Precipitation is about 58 centimeters. Temperatures vary from a mean maximum of 31.6° C in July to a mean minimum in January of 9.3° C. In general the sea insulates the islands against extreme temperatures, though July temperatures occasionally rise to around 40° C and can drop to just above freezing in January.

Demography. In 1989 approximately 350,000 persons lived on the islands' 317 square kilometers. This makes the Maltese archipelago, with a population density of 1,104 per square kilometer, one of the world's most thickly populated countries. The birthrate declined sharply following World War II and in 1987 stood at 15.4 live births per 1,000 People. As infant mortality also declined (in 1987 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births) and net emigration ceased by the mid-1970s, the population has been expanding since the 1960s (population in 1967 was 314,000).

Linguistic Affiliation. Maltese is a Semitic language. It is morphologically related to North African Arabic but draws much of its vocabulary and idiom from Sicilian and, more Recently, from English. This interesting and difficult language is spoken by all classes, but it did not become an official Language of the law courts until 1934, when it replaced Italian. It has been a written language since the middle of the last Century and uses the Latin alphabet. Much of the instruction at the University of Malta and in secondary schools is given in English, which is widely spoken.

History and Cultural Relations

Malta's strategic location and its large sheltered deep-water harbors have influenced its history in no small measure. Malta has belonged to a succession of major Mediterranean powers. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs occupied the islands. Following conquest by the Normans in 1070, Malta shared the fate of Sicily and passed successively to the Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Castilians. In 1530 the islands were handed by Emperor Charles V to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem. This powerful body of wealthy European nobles, dedicated to helping the poor and sick and to waging war on Islam, in their turn were driven from Malta in 1798 by Napoleon. Britain replaced France in 1800 and controlled the islands until the country gained its independence in 1964.

The legacy of its checkered history as a bastion of Christianity and an island fortress is still very much evident: relative prosperity; a high degree of centralization; the power of the Roman Catholic church; an ability to adapt to new Economic, political, and cultural influences; and a deep-seated cultural orientation toward Europe.


In spite of the intense crowding, there is considerable open land away from the industrial and residential conurbation surrounding Valletta and the harbor area. There are more than fifty villages and towns, which range in size from 1,000 to 15,000 inhabitants.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, villages and towns were located on inland hills and around the fortified Grand Harbour. Houses were tightly clustered around enormous churches. This settlement pattern was dictated by the need to shelter from marauding pirates, especially Muslim corsairs, and from the malaria that flourished in the coastal marshes. Since the pacification of the central Mediterranean early in the nineteenth century, seven coastal parishes have been established.

The houses are constructed from limestone blocks, are flat-roofed, and traditionally have been built around a central courtyard. Most of the important associations, shops, and residences were clustered in and around the square in front of the church or in the streets leading to it. Thus, the pattern of residence was concentric, and it also reflected the distribution of economic and political power. Those with the highest status tended to live nearest the church and those with the lowest status farthest away, in little alleys that backed on to open fields or in rural hamlets. Residence in the village center conferred prestige, for the built-up village traditionally was associated with the culture of the town, with "civilization." The periphery of the village was associated with the countryside and agricultural work, which in Malta had low status, being linked with poverty, physically punishing work, and cultural and social deprivation. A Maltese village was thus inward-looking, focusing on the parish church and the intense social, political, economic, and ceremonial life that took place in and around the central square. This concentric pattern has changed since 1964.

Government programs to build new roads and housing, together with rising prosperity, resulted in a building boom. An influx of foreign residents keen on living near the open country and/or in traditional village houses introduced new housing standards. These have radically affected the utilization of social space.

The village periphery, once socially marginal, and the open country, once stigmatized, have become sought-after residential areas. A ring of villas and housing estates encapsulate traditional village centers, many of which have been gentrified by elite outsiders seeking characteristic, rustic houses.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Malta is an industrialized society. In 1987 less than 2.5 percent of the 122,000 gainfully occupied population was employed fulltime in agriculture. Five times that amount worked as parttime farmers, reflecting the islands' recent agrarian past. Roughly 33 percent of the working population is employed by the government. The (ex-British naval) dockyard is the largest employer, but there are a growing number of smaller export-oriented manufacturing industries located in small industrial estates throughout the conurbation. Thus, though most people are employed outside the communities in which they live, no one has to travel very far. Tourism has become a major element in the Maltese economy. Between the mid-1960s and 1989, annual tourist arrivals increased from 20,000 to over 800,000. Employment in this sector has increased apace.

Traditionally, the Maltese rural and urban working class diet consisted mainly of bread and vegetable stew (minestra), fresh fruit in season, and occasionally meat, often rabbit. With the growth of prosperity since independence, the diet has become more varied and much richer.

Industrial Arts. Except for blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, and carpenters, for whose work the demand is declining rapidly, there are few artisans in Malta. In Gozo, however, there is still a lively tradition of female handicraft: weaving, lace making, and, stimulated by tourism, knitting pullovers.

Trade. Throughout Gozo and especially Malta there are modern stores, (weekly) open-air markets, and a stream of hawkers who sell local and imported household goods, tools, furnishings, and fresh meat, fish, and produce.

Division of Labor. Until the mid-1960s there was a pronounced gender-based division of labor. Women worked at home and helped in farming, while men worked outside the house. That arrangement has changed markedly. Today most unmarried women work outside the house for wages. Increasingly, women are continuing to work after marriage, and, if helpful relatives are nearby, even after their first children are born.

Land Tenure. Agricultural land is normally leased under emphyteutic contracts from government, church, or private landowners. Land rents generally were and still are modest, for they were tightly controlled by the British to avoid social exploitation and rural unrest.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Maltese reckon kin relationship equally through males and females. Each person is thus at the center of a wide network of cognates (qraba ) and affines (l-imhalltin ). While there are no descent groups, a Person feels dosest to his blood relatives, the cognates of his own parents, sometimes collectively referred to as one's razza. Generally maternal relatives are favored. The institution of godparenthood is well established, though it is less demanding than elsewhere in southern Europe and Latin America.

Kinship Terminology. Maltese kinship terminology generally resembles the form that is common throughout southwestern Europe. Maternal and paternal kin are addressed and referred to by similar terms, which are extended as a matter of courtesy to affines.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. There is no rule of village endogamy or exogamy. While postmarital residence ideally is neolocal, the strong tie between mothers and daughters ensures that couples tend to live nearer the wife's parents than those of the husband. However, when the husband's place of work is in his village, as with farmers, shopkeepers, and artisans, the couple will tend to live in the husband's village. Most Maltese now marry in their mid-twenties. Long engagements are Common, as couples work for several years to build and furnish their own house. The age at marriage as well as the scale and cost of wedding receptions have increased markedly during the past thirty years. While legal separation is possible, Divorce is not recognized by the church. Although the church prohibits contraceptive devices, many are legally obtainable. Abortion, though illegal, is fairly widely practiced.

Domestic Unit. The prevalent domestic unit is the Nuclear family, which may include an aging parent or an unmarried sibling. Generally children continue to live with their parents, even as adults, until they marry.

Inheritance. Under Maltese law male and female children inherit equally. Dowry, when given, is an anticipated portion of the inheritance. It remains inalienable. The husband obtains management and usufruct rights, but he cannot sell immovable dowry property without his wife's written consent. If she dies without children, the dowry property passes back to her parental family, unless she wills otherwise.

Socialization. Children are valued and indulged. Although corporal punishment occurs in moments of anger, it is not a common means of discipline. Older persons are Generally respected. Children are respectful and often silent in the presence of their father.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Maltese society is stratified. There are a small number of generally landed and comfortably well-off nobles, some of whose patents go back to the Middle Ages. Of the commoners, the professional classes, including the clergy, traditionally were accorded the highest esteem, and peasants the lowest. The considerable wealth acquired by many traders, business owners, contractors, and some politicians since independence has created a new elite. Generally, a rather egalitarian ideology prevails. With the exception of professionals, who are addressed by their titles, people are quick to use first names. In the villages and urban neighborhoods, nicknames are widely used as a term of reference and even address. In spite of a campaign of nation building and class-based political mobilization following World War II, family ties remain the primary focus of allegiance.

Political Organization. Malta is a republic with a sixty-five-member unicameral parliamentary government elected every five years by means of proportional representation, with single transferable votes from thirteen five-member constituencies. Political control since independence has passed Between the Malta Labour party (1971-1987) and the Nationalist party (1962-1971, 1987-). The voting strength of the two parties is almost equal. Administered for centuries as a fortress, the Malta government is still highly centralized. AU services are run from Valletta. There are no mayors, headmen, or councillors who represent or administer individual towns or villages.

Social Control. The country's small scale, large police force, established court system, and powerful church and its citizens' face-to-face knowledge of each other ensure tight Social control.

Conflict. Maltese society is riven with conflict. The corrosive competition between the Nationalist party and the Malta Labour party affects all dimensions of Maltese social life. The middle-of-the-road NP generally has the support of the professional classes, the self-employed, and the church. The Socialist MLP is generally favored by the industrialized working population. Many towns and villages are further divided by rivalry between those supporting different patron saints and parishes. Both national and parochial competition is often accompanied by excessive abuse and even physical violence. At the interpersonal level, the Maltese are very litigious.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The principal religion of the Maltese is Roman Catholicism. The Maltese are devout: most men and women attend mass at least once a week. The religious practitioners are the diocesan and regular clergy. Among Roman Catholics, Malta has the highest ratio of priests to laypeople in the world.

The Maltese celebrate the liturgical calendar with great enthusiasm and pomp. Intricate and richly adorned outdoor processions form part of many rituals. For centuries, these have provided the principal entertainment of the population. The most devoutly celebrated rituals are those that take place during Holy Week (Our Lady of Sorrows, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter). In addition, each parish annually celebrates its patron saint with sacred rituals, joyous outdoor band marches, wild demonstrations, and lavish displays of fireworks, many of which are made by parishioners. Some parishes celebrate two saints in this fashion, thereby generating fierce rivalry.

Arts. There is a rich tradition of decorative art. There are many part-time sculptors and painters. Traditional extemporaneous competitive singing (ghana ), which had all but disappeared thirty years ago, is making a modest comeback.

Medicine. Western medicine has been universally practiced in Malta for centuries.

Death and Afterlife. The Maltese accept death and, in accord with Roman Catholic teaching regarding afterlife, great fear is associated with it. Funerals are held the day after death. Graves are tended and the dead are celebrated annually on All Souls' Day, 1 November. It is widely believed that the spirits of the dead (wahxi ) return to haunt the living if the religious arrangements for the repose of their souls have not been faithfully carried out.


Blouet, Brian (1989). The Story of Malta. Malta: Progress Press.

Boissevain, Jeremy (1965). Saints and Fireworks: Religion and Politics in Rural Malta. London: Athlone Press.

Boissevain, Jeremy (1980). A Village in Malta. New York and London: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Malta, Government of. Central Office of Statistics (1987). Annual Abstract of Statistics. Valletta.

Vassallo, Mario (1979). From Lordship to Stewardship: Religion and Social Change in Malta. The Hague: Mouton.


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Mal·tese1 / môlˈtēz/ • n. (pl. same) 1. a native or national of Malta or a person of Maltese descent. 2. the national language of Malta, a Semitic language derived from Arabic but much influenced by Italian, Spanish, and Norman French. • adj. of or relating to Malta, its people, or their language. Mal·tese2 (also Maltese terrier) • n. a dog of a very small long-haired breed, typically with white hair.

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