The Maltese archipelago, located south of Sicily, includes the islands of Malta, Gozo, Comino, Comminotto and Filfla.
Over the centuries it has been occupied by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and latterly France and Britain.
It gained its independence from Britain in 1964, after the Maltese people were awarded the George Cross for defending the island during the Second World War.
The population is 419,000.
Malta joined the EU on 1 May, 2004.
Its strategic position means it is a leading centre for container and freight shipments.
Malta is also a popular holiday destination and tourism is nation’s main source of income.
Traditional dishes remain important and favourites include ġbejniet (local sheep’s cheese), zalzett (coriander flavoured sausage) and pastizzi (savoury ricotta filled pastries).