A Lawyer's History of Malta

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The Maltese Islands

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The Maltese archipelago consists of three main islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, located at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, 93 km (58 miles) south of Sicily. Gibraltar lies 1,824 km (1,141 miles) to the west and Alexandria, Egypt 1,504 km (944 miles) to the east. The highest point on the islands is 253m (829ft). The Maltese islands are located at 35°53' 50" latitude and 14°31' 7" longitude from Greenwich.

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The dimensions of the Maltese islands are:

Dimensions of the Maltese islands

The average temperatures in the Maltese islands range between 5°C in winter and 38°C in summer.

The capital city of Malta is Valletta, founded by the Knights of St John in 1566. The capital city of Gozo is Victoria (also known as Rabat).

Geological Composition

There are no mountains or rivers in the Maltese islands. Their geological structure renders the islands lacking in mineral resources. The rock composition of the islands is made up of five layers:

  • Upper coralline lime stone
  • Green sand
  • Blue clay or marl (good for pottery)
  • Globigerina lime stone (used for building and soft enough to carve)
  • Lower coralline lime stone (very hard rock)

How Malta and Gozo Became Islands

There are three views on how the Maltese archipelago became separated. According to the French scholar Miège (Histoire de Malte, published in Brussels in 1841)-

  • some believed that the islands were joined together until the happening of a huge earthquake: this theory was based on the fact that on the northern side of Malta facing Gozo one could observe tracks in the rocks made by cart wheels that run right under the sea and continued up the opposite rocky shore of Gozo. The tracks are 4-6 inches wide and 12-15 inches deep. This theory is considered to be without foundation and should be discarded.
  • others contended that the islands were joined to Sicily and an earthquake resulting from an eruption of the Mt Etna volcano caused the separation of the islands: no proof is provided by the proponents of this theory, who believed that it is compelling enough not to require any proof.
  • those in the third group were of the view that the islands are nothing but the remains of a much larger land that used to spread from North Africa in the south-west of the islands and are likely to have separated as a result of an earthquake: this theory is based on all circumstances and evidence available such as the ground levels and other indications provided by hills and valleys.

None of the proponents of these theories were able to estimate the time when the event of separation into islands took place.

In his work Storja ta' Malta (History of Malta), Prof. Andrew Vella refers to research made by JJ Agius which supports a wiser theory. Agius refers to geological studies published by famous scholars, such as, Termier (1911), Russo (1947), Holmes (1931) and Klemme (1958). According to these publications, the Maltese islands could be considered part of the circular chain of mountains and hills which goes round the western basin of the Mediterranean. This circle starts on the south east of Spain (Sierra Nevada), round to the Balearic islands, on to Southern France, right down the spine of Italy, Sicily and onto the North African region of Maghreb. Although the chain seems to break down between Sicily and North Africa, small links surface above the sea in between, such as the island of Pantelleria and the Maltese islands.

According to scientific studies relating to the seabed made by Castany (Paris, 1927 and 1956), it would appear that the foundations of the Maltese islands consists of a bridge that joins Tunisia to Sicily. This bridge is nothing but a section from the chain of hills, most of which are found under water.

According to Prof. Vella, the theory suggesting that the bridge between Malta and Sicily was at some stage above sea level must be explained together with other past geographical and geological events. These events explain the relative level between the land and the sea, caused by vertical movements of the land and the seabed during the so-called Upper Pleistocene times (the ice ages) and by the huge lack of sea water during the Pleistocene era, when a large part of Europe was covered in ice.

Part of Europe

The Maltese people consider themselves culturally European. That the Maltese islands are geologically European can be seen from the fact that the seabed between Sicily and Malta is only about 330 feet deep, while that between Malta and North Africa reaches 1,200 feet. Thus, the Maltese islands are part of the European continental shelf and any argument in favour of the existence of any bridge between Malta and Africa cannot be sustained.

Population

The population of Malta and Gozo is about 420,000 with a density of 1,329 per square kilometre or 3,442 per square mile. Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. About 90% live in the urban areas.

The life expectancy in Malta is 79 years for females and 75 years for males.The median age was 38.0 years (in 2006), population growth rate 0.7% (in 2009) and adult literacy stood at 92% (2000/2007). In 2009, 58.86% of the population were internet users. 

Languages

The official languages of Malta are Maltese and English. Many Maltese people also speak Italian and other European languages.

Government

On 21 September 1964 Malta became an independent State within the British Commonwealth and a full member of the United Nations.

On 13 December 1974 Malta become a republic and has a President as its Head of State, elected by the House of Representatives.

Malta first applied to join the European Union (EU) in 1987 under a Nationalist Government. The application was withdrawn in 1996 by the Labour Government. In 1998 the application was re-instated by the Nationalist Government upon return to power.

On 16 April 2003 Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami signed the European Union accession treaty in Athens, giving effect to the Maltese people's wish to see their country join the European Union. The signing ceremony was held at the foot of the Acropolis, symbol of the world's first democracy. Dr Fenech Adami took his turn at the podium to make a short speech in Maltese. He emphasised Malta's European heritage and its people's European sense of identity and the EU's important role in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It was the first time that Maltese was used as one of the EU's official languages. The prime minister and Foreign Minister Joe Borg then signed the treaty on Malta's behalf, with President Guido de Marco witnessing the historical milestone.

On 1 May 2004 Malta officially became a full member of the EU.

Maltese citizens 18 years of age and over are entitled to vote at general elections.

The Maltese Parliament, the House of Representatives, enacts legislation in the Maltese and English languages, although in case of conflict between the two versions, the Maltese version takes precedence.

Economy

Malta exports machinery and transportation equipment, clothing, footwear and printed matter, and imports food, petroleum, machinery and semi-manufactured goods. Malta's major industry is the hospitality and tourism, attracting over 1 million tourists each year, most of the tourists coming from Germany, Scandinavia, the UK and European countries.

In Malta there is a strong manufacturing base for high value-added products like electronics and pharmaceuticals, and the manufacturing sector has more than 250 foreign-owned, export-oriented enterprises. Tourism generates 35% of GDP. Film production in Malta is another growing industry (approx. 1,400,000 euros between 1997 and 2002), despite stiff competition from other film locations in Eastern Europe and North Africa, with the Malta Film Commission providing support services to foreign film companies for the production of feature cinema (Gladiator, Troy, Munich and Count of Monte Cristo, amongst others, were shot in Malta over the last few years), commercials and television series.

Between 2001 and 2004 the mean GDP real growth was 0.4% due to Malta losing pace in tourism and other industries. Unemployment was down to 4.4%, its lowest level in 3 years. Many formerly state-owned companies are being privatized - and the market liberalized. For some years, fiscal policy has been directed toward bringing down the budget deficit after public debt grew from a negative figure in 1988 to 56% in 1999 and 69.1% in 2009. By 2007, the deficit-to-GDP ratio was comfortably below 3% as required for eurozone membership, but due to pre-election spending has gone up to 4.4% in 2008 and 3.8% in 2009.

The Gross Domestic Product is US$ 7.801 billion (2010 estimate) or US$ 18,586 per capita (2010 estimate)

Since 1 January 2008 Malta joined the Eurozone and its monetary unit is the Euro (€). The Eurozone is an economic and monetary union (EMU) of 17 European Union (EU) member states that have adopted the Euro (€) as their common currency and sole legal tender. In 2011 the eurozone consisted of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

Malta's major trade partners are Italy, Germany and the UK.

Malta has its own airlines, Air Malta, which provides services to countries all over Europe and beyond.

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