Malta is a Southern European island country comprising an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. The country covers just over 316 km2 (122 sq mi), with a population of just under 450,000 (despite an extensive emigration program since the Second World War), making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km2, is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Malta has two official languages that are Maltese and English.
Malta's location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including thePhoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands. Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Valletta, and seven Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.
The culture of Malta reflects the various cultures that have come into contact with the Maltese Islands throughout the centuries, including neighbouring Mediterranean cultures, and the cultures of the nations that ruled Malta for long periods of time prior to its independence in 1964. Buses are the primary method of public transport.
Established in 1905, they operated in the Maltese Islands up to 2011 and became popular tourist attractions in their own right. To this day they are depicted on many Maltese advertisements to promote tourism as well as on gifts and merchandise for tourists. Malta has a Subtropical–Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa), with very mild winters and warm to hot summers. Rain occurs mainly in winter, with summer being generally dry. According to International Living, Malta is the country with the best climate in the world.
The average yearly temperature is around 23 °C (73 °F) during the day and 16 °C (61 °F) at night. In the coldest month – January – the typically maximum temperature ranges from 12 to 20 °C (54 to 68 °F) during the day and minimum 7 to 12 °C (45 to 54 °F) at night. In the warmest month – August – the typically maximum temperature ranges from 28 to 34 °C (82 to 93 °F) during the day and minimum 20 to 24 °C (68 to 75 °F) at night. Generally – summers/holiday season lasts to 8 months, starting from around mid-April with temperatures 19–23 °C (66–73 °F) during the day and 13–14 °C (55–57 °F) at night, ending in November with temperatures 17–23 °C (63–73 °F) during the day and 11–20 °C (52–68 °F) at night, although also in the remaining 4 months temperatures sometimes reach 20 °C (68 °F). Amongst all capitals in the continent of Europe, Valletta – the capital of Malta has the warmest winters, with average temperatures of around 16 °C (61 °F) during the day and 10 °C (50 °F) at night in the period January–February. In March and December average temperatures is around 17 °C (63 °F) during the day and 11 °C (52 °F) at night. Large fluctuations in temperature are rare. Also, Malta is one of the few places in Europe which are "green" all year round.
Malta is a popular tourist destination, with 1.6 million tourists per year. Three times more tourists visit than there are residents. Tourism infrastructure has increased dramatically over the years and a number of good-quality hotels are present on the island, although overdevelopment and the destruction of traditional housing is of growing concern. An increasing number of Maltese now travel abroad on holiday.
Primary schooling has been compulsory since 1946; secondary education up to the age of sixteen was made compulsory in 1971. The state and the Church provide education free of charge, both running a number of schools in Malta and Gozo, including De La Salle College in Cospicua, St. Aloysius' College in Birkirkara, St. Paul's Missionary College in Rabat, Malta, St. Joseph's School in Blata l-Bajda and Saint Monica Girls' School in Mosta. As of 2006, state schools are organised into networks known as Colleges and incorporate kindergarten schools, primary and secondary schools. A number of private schools are run in Malta, including San Andrea School and San Anton School in the valley of L-Imselliet (l/o Mġarr), St. Martin's College in Swatar and St. Michael's School in San Ġwann. As of 2008, there are two international schools, Verdala International School and QSI Malta. The state pays a portion of the teachers' salary in Church schools.
Education in Malta is based on the British model. Primary school lasts six years. At the age of 11 pupils sit for an examination to enter a secondary school, either a church school (the Common Entrance Examination) or a state school. Pupils sit for SEC O-level examinations at the age of 16, with passes obligatory in certain subjects such as mathematics, English and Maltese. Pupils may opt to continue studying at a sixth form college such as Gan Frangisk Abela Junior College, St. Aloysius' College, Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary, De La Salle College, St Edward's College, or else at another post-secondary institution such as MCAST. The sixth form course lasts for two years, at the end of which students sit for the Matriculation examination. Subject to their performance, students may then apply for an undergraduate degree or diploma.
The University of Malta (U.o.M.) provides Tertiary education at diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate level. The adult literacy rate is 99.5%. Maltese and English are both used to teach students at primary and secondary school level, and both languages are also compulsory subjects. Public schools tend to use both Maltese and English in a balanced manner. Private schools prefer to use English for teaching, as is also the case with most departments of the University of Malta; this has a limiting effect on the capacity and development of the Maltese language. Most university courses are in English. Of the total number of students studying a first foreign language at secondary level, 51% take Italian whilst 38% take French. Other choices include German, Russian, Spanish, Latin, Chinese and Arabic.
Maltese cuisine reflects Maltese history, it shows strong Sicilian and English influences as well as Spanish, French, Maghrebin, Provençal, and other Mediterranean cuisines. Having to import most of its foodstuffs, being positioned along important trade routes, and having to cater for the resident foreign powers who ruled the islands, opened Maltese cuisine to outside influences. The traditional Maltese stewed rabbit (fenek) is often identified as the national dish.
There are a number of junctures in which development in Maltese cuisine related to issues of identity. The most significant example is the traditional Maltese fenek stewed (stewed rabbit), often identified as the national dish, quite possibly started off as a form of symbolic resistance to the hunting restrictions imposed by the Knights of St John. The dish was to become popular after the lifting of restrictions in the late 18th century (and by which time the indigenous breed had multiplied and prices dropped) and the domestication of rabbits, a technique which could have been imported from France thanks to the French Knights.
The popularity of pork and its presence in various dishes could be attributed to Malta being on the edge of the Christian world. Consuming a food which is taboo in the Muslim culinary culture could have been a way of self-identification by distinguishing oneself from the other. In addition to pork dishes (such as grilled pork cuts or stuffed flank) and the exclusive predominance of pork in indigenous Maltese sausages, adding some pork to dishes such as kawlata (a vegetable soup) and ross il-forn (baked rice) have been common practice in the Maltese vernacular cuisine for centuries.
The strongest seasonal variations are seen in desserts and sweets. Prinjolata, kwareżimal, karamelli tal-ħarrub, ftira tar-Randan,figolla and qagħaq tal-għasel are all examples of sweets associated with a particular season.
Because Catholic fasting during Lent involved mostly meats and dairy products, fish such as Lampuki were a popular dish during this period as were stewed snails (Maltese: bebbux), stuffed artichokes (Maltese: qaqoċċ mimli) and fritters (Maltese: sfineġ) of ġbejna, vegetables or fish (particularly whitebait and salted cod). During the Holy Week bakers also bake a large bagel typically studded with some almonds on top called qagħqa tal-appostli (lit. apostles' bagel). Usually coinciding with the spring, there are also seasonal variations to certain dishes at the time of Lent as in, for example, adding fresh broad beans to dishes such as kusksu (a vegetable and pasta dish).
During the month of November għadam tal-mejtin (lit. bones of the dead, in Italian: ossa dei morti) are prepared. These are similar to figolla but made in the shape of a bone.
The Maltese language is the constitutional national language of Malta, having become official, however, only in 1934. Previously, Italian was the official and cultural language of Malta, in its Sicilian variant from the 12th century, and in its Tuscan variant from the 16th century. Alongside Maltese, English (imposed by the British after 1800) is also an official language of the country and hence the laws of the land are enacted both in Maltese and English. However, the Constitution states that if there is any conflict between the Maltese and the English texts of any law, the Maltese text shall prevail. The Constitution also provides for the introduction of another official language; this was originally intended as a loophole for the possible reintroduction of Italian as the traditional partner of Maltese at an opportune time.
Maltese is a Semitic language descended from the now defunct Sicilian-Arabic (Siculo-Arabic) dialect (from southern Italy). The Maltese alphabet consists of 30 letters based on the Latin alphabet, including the diacritically altered letters ż, ċ and ġ, as well as the letters għ, ħ, and ie.
Maltese has a Semitic base with substantial borrowing from Sicilian, Italian, a little French, and more recently and increasingly, English. The hybrid character of Maltese was established by a long period of Maltese-Sicilian urban bilingualism gradually transforming rural speech and which ended in the early 19th century with Maltese emerging as the vernacular of the entire native population. The language includes different dialects that can vary greatly from one town to another or from one island to another.
The Eurobarometer states that 100% of the population speak Maltese. Also, 88% of the population speak English, 66% speak Italian, and 17% speak French. This widespread knowledge of second languages makes Malta one of the most multilingual countries in the European Union. A study collecting public opinion on what language was "preferred" discovered that 86% of the population express a preference for Maltese, 12% for English, and 2% for Italian. Still, Italian television channels from Italy-based broadcasters, such as Mediaset and RAI, reach Malta and remain popular.