Malta's position in the centre of the Mediterranean has always given it immense strategic importance. As far back as 4000BC the islands were established as a centre of worship and mystic practices for prehistoric communities in the region - as is testified by the temples in Ggantija (Gozo), which are considered by experts to be the oldest free-standing monuments in the world. Several impressive stone temples, a unique Hypogeum and remains of skilful handicrafts bear witness to the sophisticated lifestyle and practices of these early Maltese.
Over the centuries several civilisations settled on these shores: the Phoenicians (9th century BC), the Carthaginians, the Romans (3rd century BC to 4th century AD), the Arabs (9th to 13th century AD), the Normans and the Aragonese - all of which left a subtle mark on Maltese civilisation as we know it today.
In 1530, the King of Spain, Emperor Charles V, bestowed the Islands to the international Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The Knights administered the Maltese Isles for 268 years until 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte drove them from these shores and occupied the country in the name of the French Republic.
Following a brief occupation the French were forced to surrender after a land and sea blockade by combined British and Maltese forces, and in 1800, Malta became a part of the British Empire. In 1964, Malta attained its Independence. and ten years later, in 1974, it was declared a Republic within the Commonwealth.
During the latter period Malta was transforming from a Military base to an Industrial base thereby consolidating its identity as the smallest industrial nation in Southern Europe.
Malta applied for full EU membership in July 1990 and was gained in early 2003.