The Maltese archipelago is situated at the centre of the Mediterranean sea and consists of three main islands - Malta, Gozo and Comino. Around 350km to the South lies Tripoli, and 95km to the North, the island of Sicily. Occupying such a strategically important location in the Mediterranean sea, right between the African and European continents, meant that throughout the ages, the Maltese islands were subject to various rulers. Amongst others, the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs (whose influence can still be seen, for instance, in the place names of many towns and villages), the Knights of St John, the French, and lastly the British - all ruled the islands throughout their history. Malta became independent from the United Kingdom in 1964, became a republic in 1974, and joined the European Union in 2004.
The national language is Maltese, with English also being an official language. Maltese is derived from an Arabic dialect called Siculo-Arabic. Romantic languages also had their influence, with a large fraction of the vocabulary stemming from Italian and Sicilian. Maltese is the only Semitic language written using a Latin alphabet (with a dash of other letters deriving from Arabic).
The Maltese islands enjoy a subtropical Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot, dry summers. With a population of around 445,000, Malta has the highest population density in the EU. Every year, around 1.5 million tourists visit the islands, which are served well by daily connections to major airports in London (Heathrow and Gatwick) and Rome, and frequent direct flights to Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Zurich, Brussels, Athens, Tunis, Cairo, Tel Aviv and Dubai. The main (and only) airport in Malta is Malta International Airport. Visit the Air Malta and Malta International Airport websites for more information on how to get to Malta by plane.