Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta and formerly Melita, 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. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km², Malta is the world's tenth smallest country in area and fifth most densely populated sovereign country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official and national language is Maltese, which is descended from Sicilian Arabic that developed during the Emirate of Sicily, while English serves as the second official language.
Malta has been inhabited since approximately 5900 BC. Its location in the centre of the Mediterranean has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, with a succession of powers having contested and ruled the islands, including the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. Most of these foreign influences have left some sort of mark on the country's ancient culture.