Malta was a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government, before 1974. The head of state was the British monarch, represented in Malta by a governor general. Under the amended constitution of 1974, Malta became a democratic republic with a president serving as head of state.
The capital and leading port of the country is Valletta, on the island of Malta. Located on Malta’s northeast coast, Valletta stands on a rocky peninsula lined by two natural harbor, the Grand Harbour to the south and Il-Port ta’ Marsamxett to the north. A well-preserved walled city dating to the 16th century, Valletta is famous for its palaces and cathedrals, public squares, and imposing defensive fortifications.
Malta was settled by an ancient farming people who migrated from what is now Sicily about 4000 BC. The arrival of Copper Age cultural influences around 3200 BC resulted in the development of a remarkably complex temple-building civilization. At first Malta’s megalithic monuments were constructed from slabs of rough-hewn stone, but eventually structures such as the great temples at Tarxien were crafted from carefully dressed and fitted blocks of masonry. The temples are among the earliest known major stone monuments built by humans. The temple culture went into an unexplained decline after 2400 BC.
The largest city in the Maltese islands, Birkirkara, is located in central Malta. But the majority of the people live in the towns and suburbs near Valletta and its twin harbors. Many villages and towns date to medieval times.
Both Maltese and English are official languages, and Italian is widely spoken. Maltese is generally used in courts and other official settings and education is conducted primarily in English. The University of Malta, founded by Jesuits in Msida in 1592, provides university-level education.
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