Malta - officially the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta), is a small and densely populated European microstate, comprising an archipelago of seven islands, making it an island nation. Situated in Southern Europe, 93 km (58 mi) off the coast of Sicily (Italy), it is located in the Mediterranean Sea, giving the country a warm, Mediterranean climate, while a further 288 km (179 mi) to the island's west is Tunisia and about 300 km (186 mi) south is Libya. Valletta is in practice the nation's capital city.
Throughout much of its history, Malta has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part its position in the Mediterranean Sea. It was held by several ancient cultures including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Sicilians, and others. The island is commonly associated with the Knights Hospitaller who ruled it. This, along with the historic Biblical shipwreck of St. Paul on the island, ingrained the strong Roman Catholic legacy which is still the official and most practiced religion in Malta today.
The country's official languages are Maltese and English, although there are strong historical ties to the Italian language on the islands. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and is currently a member of the European Union which it joined in 2004, in addition to being part of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations.
Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea (in its eastern basin), some 93 km south of the Italian island of Sicily across the Malta Channel; east of Tunisia and north of Libya in Africa. Only the three largest islands Malta Island (Malta), Gozo (Ghawdex), and Comino (Kemmuna) are inhabited. The smaller islands, such as Filfla, Cominotto and the Islands of St. Paul are uninhabited. Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbours. The archipelago itself lies on the edge of the African tectonic plate, as it borders with the Eurasian plate. The islands of the archipelago were formed from the high points of a land bridge between Sicily and North Africa which became isolated as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age. The modern-day landscape is characterised by low hills with terraced fields. The highest point is at Ta' Dmejrek on Malta Island at 253 metres (830 ft) near Dingli. Although there are some small rivers at times of high rainfall, there are no permanent rivers or lakes on Malta. However, some watercourses are found around the island that have fresh water running all year round. Such places are Bahrija, l-Intahleb and San Martin. Running water in Gozo is found at Lunzjata Valley.
The climate is Mediterranean, with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. There is no real thermal dormant season for plants, although plant growth can be checked briefly by abnormal cold in winter (patches of ground frost may occur in inland locales), and summer heat and aridity may cause vegetation to wilt. Effectively there are only two seasons, which makes the islands attractive for tourists, especially during the drier months. However, strong winds can make Malta feel cold during the springtime.
Water supply poses a problem on Malta, as the summer is both rainless and the time of greatest water use, and the winter rainfall often falls as heavy showers running off to the sea rather than soaking into the ground. Malta depends on underground reserves of fresh water, drawn through a system of water tunnels called the Ta' Kandja galleries, which average about 97 m. below surface and extend like the spokes of a wheel. In the galleries in Malta's porous limestone, fresh water lies in a lens upon brine. More than half the potable water of Malta is produced by desalination, which creates further issues of fossil fuel use and pollution.
The lowest temperature ever recorded at Valletta was on February 19, 1895, with 1.2 degrees C (34.2 degrees F), and the highest temperature was 43.8 degrees C (110.8 degrees F) recorded in August 1999 at Luqa International Airport. An unofficial lowest temperature of -1.7 degrees C (28.9 degrees F) was recorded on February 1, 1962 in the Ta' Qali airfield with snow on the ground.
Snow is virtually unheard of, with very few and brief snow flurries recorded in February 1895, January 1905 and January 31st, 1962. No accumulation has been reported on the coast at least since 1800, but on the last day of January 1962 snow briefly covered some parts of the interior of the main island. The following night the only frost in the history of Malta was recorded in the Ta' Qali airfield.
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