Malta’s magnificent megalithic temples¸ evidence that the island has been inhabited since prehistoric times¸ rank among the oldest freestanding structures in the world. These exceptional prehistoric sites¸ together with the baroque city of Valetta¸ built by the Knights of St John¸ and the old medieval capital¸ Mdina¸ are all designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The first recorded people to have settled the Islands were the Phoenicians. For the next two millennia¸ the Islands were colonised by a succession of peoples.

Throughout history¸ Malta’s fortunes in peace and war were intrinsically linked to its strategic location at the conflux of shipping routes¸ with its deep natural harbours making Malta ideal for trade and defensive purposes. The Phoenicians were followed by the Carthaginians¸ but after the destruction of Carthage¸ Malta was absorbed into the Roman Empire. St Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on the Islands in A.D. 60¸ converting the country to Christianity under the Roman governor Publius.

In the later years of the Roman Empire¸ Malta formed part of the Byzantine bloc. The Arab expansion reached Malta in A.D. 870 and the country remained under Arab domination until 1090¸ when Count Roger of Normandy added Malta to his conquest of Sicily. Malta shared in the fortunes of Sicily until 1530¸ when¸ in an attempt to strengthen the southern frontiers of his domains against Islam¸ Charles V of Spain offered Malta to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem¸ an international order of chivalry founded in the early years of the Crusades.

For the next three centuries¸ the destinies of Malta and the Knights of St John were linked. The Knights of St John were driven out of Malta by Napoleon in 1798¸ and the French ruled for two years. Malta became a British Crown Colony in the early nineteenth century and remained so until September 21¸ 1964¸ when it became an independent sovereign state.

In 1974¸ Malta was declared a republic. Malta is a member of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations. Soon after independence Malta was admitted to the Council of Europe. In 1990¸ Malta applied for European Union membership. Accession negotiations were concluded in December 2002 and the accession treaty signed in April 2003.

Malta became a member state of the European Union on May 1¸ 2004 and adopted the euro as its currency on January1¸ 2008. Malta joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in March 2008 and is a keen participant in the European Union’s Euro-Med process.