The Maltese archipelago includes the islands of Malta, Gozo, Comino, Comminotto and Filfla.
It has a history of colonial control spanning centuries.
Located south of the Italian island of Sicily between Europe and North Africa, it has been occupied by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and latterly France and Britain.
Independence from Britain was achieved in 1964, after the Maltese people were awarded the George Cross for defending the island during World War II.
At a glance
- Politics: The Labour Party won elections in March 2013
- Economy: Financial services, tourism and manufacturing are key sectors
- International: Malta pursues a policy of neutrality, while keeping close ties with Europe and the US
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
Forty years on Malta was the smallest of the 10 countries to join the EU in May 2004. It joined the eurozone in 2008.
Since becoming an EU member, the tiny island has reported an increasing problem with immigration from north Africa and has requested more help to deal with it.
The UN refugee agency has criticised the island's policy of keeping asylum seekers in detention for 18 months.
Over the centuries, Malta's strategic position fostered its development as an important trading post and it remains a leading centre for container and freight transhipment.
Malta is a popular holiday destination and tourism is the nation's main source of income.