/div>Island country, south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of the three inhabited islands Malta (the largest), Gozo, and Comino and the two uninhabited islets Comminotto and Filfla. Area: 122 sq mi (316 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 414,000. Capital: Valletta
. Malta's population, nearly all native-born, has a mixture of Italian, Arab, British, and Phoenician heritage. Languages: Maltese, English (both official). Religion: Roman Catholic (official). Currency: euro. About one-third of its total land area is arable, and Malta is self-sufficient in most food production. Tourism is its major industry. It is a unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house; its head of state is the president, and its head of government is the prime minister. Evidence indicates that Malta was inhabited as early as 5000 BCE. Although there is limited evidence of a Phoenician presence, it seems clearer that the Carthaginians had arrived in Malta by the 6th century BCE, and the island came under Roman control in 218 BCE. In 60 CE St. Paul
the Apostle was shipwrecked on the island and converted the inhabitants to Christianity. It was under Byzantine rule until the Arabs seized control in 870. In 1091 the Normans defeated the Arabs, and Malta was ruled by a succession of feudal lords until the early 16th century. In 1530 it came under the control of the Hospitallers; Napoleon
seized control in 1798, and the British took it in 1800. The 1802 Treaty of Amiens returned the islands to the Hospitallers; however, the Maltese protested and acknowledged British sovereignty, which was ratified in the 1814 Treaty of Paris. Malta became self-governing in 1921 but reverted to a colonial regime in 1936. Malta was heavily bombed by Germany and Italy during World War II, and in 1942 it received Britain's George Cross for heroism and devotion, the first time that this medal was not conferred to an individual. In 1964 Malta gained independence within the Commonwealth, and it became a republic in 1974. When its alliance with Britain ended in 1979, Malta proclaimed its neutral status. In 2004 it joined the European Union, and it adopted the euro as its official currency in 2008.