Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km south of Italy, 284 km east of Tunisia, and 333 km north of Libya. At over 316 km², and with a population of just under 450,000, Malta is one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. Malta's capital city is Valletta, which at 0.8 km², is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area; its largest town is Birkirkara, while its chief economic centre is Sliema. Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English, with the former also recognized as the national language. Maltese is the only Semitic language to be officially recognized in the European Union. Italian is also spoken and understood by most of the population.
Malta has been inhabited since at least around 5900 BC. Its location in the center of the Mediterranean has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, with a succession of powers — including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St.