Bridge to Africa
With its 316 square kilometres, the island republic of
Malta is only roughly one third the size of Germany’
largest island, Rügen. But unlike the German Baltic
island, with its population of 70,000, Malta, the main
island, along with Gozo, a smaller island, and the tiny
Comino, are home to a total of 410,494 people. Malta
has population density per square kilometre two and a
half times that of the Netherlands and 60 time as high
as Sweden’s. Excepting city-states like Monaco, Malta is
Europe’s most densely populated country.
Located 90 kilometres from the coasts of Sicily, Malta
may be seen as something like a European outpost
off the African coast — from there it is only 300 kilometres
to Tunisia. Geographically, Valletta, the capital,
is located further south than Algiers or Tunis. Despite
its small sizes and its lack of natural resources, Malta’s
strategic location made it hugely important for centuries.
Shipping between Sicily and North Africa could
be monitored and controlled from the island. The tiny
archipelago experienced the rise and fall of entire cultures.
Up to the 16th century the island had been ruled
by Phoenicians and Greeks, Romans and Arabs, Sicilians
and Spaniards. Temple complexes have been unearthed
in Malta that pre-date the Egyptian pyramids.
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