Malta has had a long and chequered history and has in fact often been described as one big open-air museum.
It was inhabited and/or conquered by practically every European force out there over the millennia, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Sicilians, Knights of St John, French and the British.
Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC by Neolithic people who most likely arrived from nearby Sicily. Afterwards came the arrival of the Phoenicians and then the Greeks. The islands was known as Maleth (safe haven) by the Phoenicians and Melita (sweet honey) by the Greeks.
The islands later were under the control of Carthage and then of Rome, under whose control they prospered. The New Testament records that in 60AD, the Apostle St Paul was shipwrecked on an island named Melite, which many scholars associate with Malta. The story goes that his arrival brought Christianity to Malta.
In 440 the island was captured by the Vandals. It was recovered in 533 and remained a part of the east Roman province of Sicily for the next 340 years.
Malta was next occupied by the Fatimids, who exerted 220 years of influence. Between 1194 and 1530 the Kingdom of Sicily ruled the Maltese islands. In 1530, Charles V of Spain handed Malta over to the Knights of St John who built towns, palaces, churches, gardens, and fortifications and embellished the island with numerous works of art.
The island was taken over by Napoleon Bonaparte and the French in 1798. However, it was only two years after when the British took over and Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire.
Malta gained independence from the UK in 1964 and became a republic in 1974; however, it retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1964 and a member of the European Union since 2004.
Malta is renowned as a tourist resort, with a large number of important historical sites and location, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Megalithic Temples (some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world), Valletta (the capital city) and the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum (a rock-cut underground complex that was used as a sanctuary and for burial purposes).