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Your Guide to Malta - the Country of Origin of the Kelb tal-Fenek
 
To most people Malta is a country of sunshine, sand and sea - but there is much more to Malta than just the reputation as an attractive holiday resort. Visitors coming over to the Maltese Islands for the first time are invariably struck by the sense of hospitality and friendliness of the Maltese people.
 
Geography
 
The Maltese islands are a small archipelago of some six islands and islets, but mainly consist of Malta, Gozo and Comino, and are situated almost exactly in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and North Africa. The total area of the islands is 315 square kilometres and these lie 95 kilometres south of Sicily and 290 kilometres from the nearest point on the North African coast.
 
The largest island of the group is Malta, from which the archipelago takes its name. Malta is 27 kilometres long and its widest point measures 14 kilometres. The Island is characterised by a series of low hills with terraced fields on the slopes. Malta's coastline has many natural harbours, bays, creeks, sandy beaches and rocky coves. The other inhabited island is Gozo, quite different from Malta in many ways and quaintly attractive for its less industrialised way of life. It is easily accessible by ferry boat, from Malta, and a visit to this unique island is a must for all tourists.
 
The capital city, Valletta, is situated on the main harbour and is the country's governmental, commercial and shopping centre. Valletta was built during the 16th century by Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette of the Order of St. John - hence its name.
 
History
 
Malta's strategic position and its natural harbours have often made it an object of contest among competing powers. The Maltese islands, which were converted to Christianity by the visit of St. Paul almost two thousand years ago, have been occupied through the ages by many different races including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, French, and British, and retain an unmistakably European culture. Malta is well known for its links with the Knights of St. John who were based in the country for 268 years and who left a lasting mark on its history and architecture. Malta was a British colony from 1800 until 1964 when it became an independent sovereign state. In 1974 Malta became a Republic with a parliamentary democratic system of government.
 
In more detail...
 
The first settlers arrived in Malta at about 5000 B.C. Around 4000 B.C., the first megalithic temples were built in Malta and Gozo. These megalithic sites are said to be the oldest know to man. Although there is nearly no knowledge about the people that lived in Malta in that period, it seems that there were connections to other megalithic temple sites that can be found in other parts of Europe. Around the year 859 B.C., the first Phoenician settlers arrived in Malta, and approx. 600 B.C. the islands fell under the rule of Carthage.

With that 2nd Punic War in the year 218 B.C., the Maltese Islands became part of the Roman Empire. In the year 60 A.D. the legendary landing of the St. Paul took place in Malta; this marks the beginning of Christianity in Malta. During the division of the Roman Empire in 395 the islands remained with the West Roman Empire. After the collapse of Western Rome in 476, Goths and Vandals ruled over the islands, before they fell under Arabian rule in 870. Many names of places in Malta like Rabat, Mdina or Safi still show today the Arab influence.

In the year 1090 the Normans landed on Malta and brought the Arab rule over the islands to an end. In the following centuries, the islands were formally ruled by the German Stauffer dynasty, the French Counts of Anjou and by Spanish Aragon, but in fact enjoyed an extensive internal autonomy under the guidance of the local aristocracy.

In the year 1530, Charles V. offered Malta to the Order of St. John, which had been expelled from Rhodes by the Turks some years before. The rule of the Knights of St. John over Malta lasted until 1798. The symbol of the order, the eight pointed cross (also know as the 'Maltese Cross') in seen on the top of this pages. In this period falls the Great Siege by the Turks (1565) as well as the building of the capital Valletta, which is named after the order's Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette.

The landing of Napoleon in the year 1798 ended the rule of the Knights. Due to plundering the Maltese church treasures by the French troops, a revolt took place in 1800, and the Maltese called the British fleet under Admiral Nelson for help. Their successful intervention marks the beginning of British colonial rule, which persisted until 1964.

In WW II, Malta was exposed to heavy air raids of the axis forces, however, it was never conquered and remained as the only base of the Allies in the central Mediterranean. As acknowledgment for his bravery during the German and Italian air raids, the Maltese people was awarded the George's Cross on 15 April 1942 by
His Majesty King George VI. The George's Cross is still to be seen today in the upper corner of the state flag and in the coat of arms of Malta.

On 21 September 1964, Malta became an independent state as a constitutional monarchy in the Commonwealth; on 13 December 1974 the Republic of Malta was declared. In the year 1979, the last British troops and naval vessels left Malta.

In the course of the enlargement of the European Union to Eastern and Southern Europe, Malta has joined the
EU on 1st of May 2004.
 
Getting to Malta
 
It takes a mere two to three hours to get to Malta by air from most European cities. There are frequent and direct flights to Malta from most major European cities including London, Rome, Paris, Frankfurt, Hanover, Brussels, Geneva, Athens, Amsterdam, Madrid, Zurich and Vienna among others. There are also regular flights from other destinations in Europe as well as from North Africa and the middle East.
 
Malta has recently approved the PETS (Pet Travel Scheme) legislation. With the introduction of this new scheme, it is now possible for travellers with their dogs to travel to and from Malta without the need for Quarantine.
 
Having been rabies free since 1911, Malta has taken very strict precautions with this new legislation so as to prevent the introduction of rabies. Now dog owners wishing to visit Malta with their dogs have to fulfil the strict requirements of the Maltese Pet Travel Scheme. Details of the regulations can be found on the website of the "Malta Kennel Club": http://www.maltakennelclub.org
 
Malta is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (G.M.T.)
 
Climate
 
Malta enjoys a moderate climate of warm dry summers and mild winters. The proximity of all parts of the island to the sea ensures that cooling breezes are often in evidence. Average annual rainfall is 590mm and temperatures range from 12C in the winter months to around 30C in August, the hottest month of the year.
 
Currency & Language
 
Malta's currency is decimal. The unit of the currency is the Maltese Lira, which is represented by the symbol "Lm". The Lira is divided into 100 cents. One Maltese Lira is roughly 2.4 Euro. There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency visitors may bring into Malta and any unspent foreign currency can be freely repatriated. The Maltese Lira is scheduled by the Maltese Government to be replaced by the Euro on 1st January 2008.
 
Maltese (Malti), which belongs to the Semitic language group but is written with Latin letters, is the National language, but for official purposes, both Maltese and English are given equal status and used in Government. Most Maltese are fluent in English and due to the close proximity of Italy (Sicily), most also speak very good Italian. Correspondence is normally in English.
 
Economy
 
Today, the Maltese economy is mainly based on service (tourism) and on the production of export goods. Agriculture and Fisheries only play a subordinate roll.
 
Nature
 
The land of the Maltese Islands consists mainly of sedimentary limestone. It is this limestone, mined in several huge quarries, which is the most important building material in the islands. It gives the Maltese flat-roofed houses their typical yellow colour.

There are no marked mountains and no rivers in Malta. The islands slightly ascend from the Northeast to the Southwest, forming a steep slope on the southern coasts. In many places one can find dry valleys (wiedin), which turn into temporary watercourses after rainfalls.

The land of the Maltese Islands is covered with a thin, fruitful humus layer, which is intensively agriculturally and used particularly in Gozo as well as in the southwest of Malta. Due lack of rainfall and the intensive summer heat, greenery is at a primum in Malta. The lack of trees in most parts of the islands signifies that erosion is a permanent threat. This is the reason for the typical rubble stone walls, which can be found all over the agriculturally used regions of the islands.

The fauna of the Maltese islands is relatively poor: The largest free-living mammals are wild rabbits
, weasels and hedgehogs. Lizards, geckos and chamaeleons are frequently seen. There are no dangerous or poisonous animals in the islands. Malta is an intermediate landing place for many migratory birds, which are a favourite hunting prey for many Maltese hunters.

Peter Gatt