Malta is a densely populated developed European country in the European Union. The Southern European island nation comprises an archipelago of seven islands situated centrally in the Mediterranean Sea, 93 km off the coast of Sicily (Italy). The distance from the nearest point on the North African mainland, in Tunisia, is 288 km with the island of Gibraltar 1,826 km to the west and Alexandria 1,510 km to the east.
Its size is just over 300 km² with an estimated population of over 400,000. Its de facto capital is Valletta, the biggest city is Birkirkara. The islands enjoy a Mediterranean climate. The country's official languages are Maltese and English, which replaced Italian in 1934. Malta has a long legacy of Roman Catholicism, which continues to be the official and dominant religion in Malta.
Throughout its history, Malta's location in the Mediterranean Sea has given it a strategic importance. Consequently, a sequence of powers including the Phoenicians, Romans, Fatimids, Sicilians, Knights of St John, French and British have all conquered Malta. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and became a Republic in 1974 but remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is a member of the European Union, which it joined in 2004, and also of the United Nations. Malta implemented the Schengen Agreement on December 21, 2007.
Malta is known for its world heritage sites, most prominently the Megalithic Temples which are the oldest free-standing structures on Earth. According to the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island. Malta is also considered a hypothetical location for the mythical lost island of Atlantis.
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