Independence from Britain was achieved in 1964, after the Maltese people were awarded the George Cross for defending the island during World War II.
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.
President: George Abela
Prime minister: Lawrence Gonzi
Lawrence Gonzi took office in March 2004, just before Malta entered the EU.
His ruling Nationalist Party won re-election by a slim margin in March 2008.
A lawyer by profession, he became a government minister in 1998.
Many of Malta's newspapers and broadcasters have strong political affiliations. Dailies and weeklies appear in Maltese and English.
Maltese radio began in the mid-1930s, partly to counter Fascist propaganda broadcasts from Italy. Malta Television launched in 1962, five years after the islanders started receiving TV signals from Italy. Italian channels remain popular.
The first private broadcasting licences were granted to the two major political parties and the Catholic Church. More stations followed and there is now a proliferation of privately-run radio stations and several TV channels.
Since Malta is a member of the Council of Europe, media laws are based on European law.
Cable TV was introduced in 1992 and satellite TV is widely-watched. More than 240,000 Maltese were online by mid-2010 (Internetworldstats).