Malta is a group of seven islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Only the three largest islands - Malta, Gozo and Comino - are inhabited. The terrain is low and rocky with coastal cliffs.
Malta, in the heart of the Mediterranean, is a melting pot of civilisations with a history stretching back thousands of years. The country has been inhabited since around 5200 BC and a significant prehistoric civilisation existed on the islands prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians who named the main island Malat , meaning safe haven. Later the islands were for centuries the seat of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John and then part of the British Empire. Malta became independent in 1964.
The Maltese government is headed by the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the unicameral House of Representatives, known in Maltese as Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti .
The national language is Maltese, which is part of the Semitic language family that includes Arabic. English is also recognised as an official language, and many Maltese also speak Italian.
Tourism is important in Malta but the island also has an expanding services sector.
Traditional Maltese food includes soup (minestrone, fish), pasta and pastry dishes. Stuffed dishes are also a feature of Maltese cuisine. Stuffat Tal-Fenek (rabbit stew) is a national dish.