Malta is the largest of the three major islands that constitute the Maltese archipelago. It is sometimes referred to as Valletta for statistical purposes to distinguish the main island from the entire country. Malta is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea directly south of Italy and north of Libya. The island is 27 kilometres (17 mi) long and 14.5 kilometres (9 mi) wide, with a total area of 246 square kilometres (95 sq mi). The capital is Valletta, largest city is Qormi and the largest locality is Birkirkara. The island is made up of many small towns, which together form one Larger Urban Zone with a population of 409,259. The landscape is characterised by low hills with terraced fields.
Humans have inhabited Malta since about 5200 BC, when stone age hunters or farmers arrived from Sicily. Early Neolithic settlements were discovered in open areas and also in caves, such as Għar Dalam. Around 3500 BC, a culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose. They built some of the oldest existing, free-standing structures in the world in the form of megalithic temples such as those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. After 2500 BC, Malta was depopulated but soon became the home of Bronze Age settlers, who settled in sites such as Borġ in-Nadur. They built first fortifications in Malta.
Malta was later ruled by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs before it was occupied by the County of Sicily in 1091. The island then became part of the Kingdom of Sicily until it was given to the Order of Saint John along with Gozo and Tripoli in 1530. In 1565, the Order and the Maltese withstood a major Ottoman invasion which became known as the Great Siege of Malta. The Order ruled Malta for over 250 years and built many great pieces of architecture, including the capital city Valletta. In 1798 the French under Napoleon occupied Malta and ruled from 1798-1800. Napoleon's stay lasted from 12-18 June when he resided at Palazzo Parisio in Valletta. The French remained until the Maltese rebelled against their rule. In 1800, the British took control over Malta and the island initially became a British protectorate, and a colony a couple of years later. The British ruled for about 150 years and Malta became independent in 1964. Ten years later the State of Malta became the Republic of Malta. Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and adopted the Euro four years later.
Malta is the largest island in an archipelago in the central Mediterranean, some 80 km (50 mi) south of the Italian island of Sicily across the Malta Channel. Malta is located east of its sister islands of Gozo and Comino. It lies on the Malta plateau, a shallow shelf formed from the high points of a land bridge between Sicily and North Africa that became isolated as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age. Malta is therefore situated in the zone between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates.
Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbours. The landscape consists of low hills with terraced fields. The highest point in Malta is Ta' Dmejrek, at 253 m (830 ft), near Dingli. Although there are some small rivers at times of high rainfall, there are no permanent rivers or lakes on Malta. However, some watercourses have fresh water running all year round, such as those at Ras ir-Raħeb near Baħrija and at l-Imtaħleb.
Phytogeographically, Malta belongs to the Liguro-Tyrrhenian province of the Mediterranean Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Malta belongs to the ecoregion of "Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands and Scrub".
Some minor islands off the main island of Malta include:
According to Eurostat, Malta Island is a single Larger Urban Zone nominally referred to as "Valletta". According to Demographia, the whole country is identified as urban area. According to European Spatial Planning Observation Network, Malta is identified as Functional Urban Area (FUA). According to United Nations, about 95% area of Malta is urban area and the number grows every year. Also, according to the results of ESPON and EU Commission studies, "the whole territory of Malta constitutes a single urban region".