The Maltese Archipelago
The Maltese islands lie in the centre of the Mediterranean, 93km south of Sicily and 300km north of Libya. The archipelago is made up of the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, plus the tiny uninhabited islets of Cominotto in the north and Fifla, about 5km off the southern coast. Together, the islands make up a mere 316sq km. Malta, the largest of them, is only 27km at its longest point from northwest to southeast, and 14,5km at its widest point, from west to east.
Malta’s climate is typical of the Mediterranean, with long hot summers, warm and sporadically wet autumns, and cool but unpredictable winters. Malta has an annual average of eight hours of sunshine a day.
With a population of around 423,000, Malta is one of the most densely populated countries of Europe. However, the vast majority live in the Valletta conurbation. Gozo has a population of 37,000.
The island of Malta consists of a gently undulating limestone plateau. There are no mountains, rivers, or lakes, and the land looks rocky and barren, particularly in summer. This arid appearance is emphasised by the scores of drystone walls that flank fields, terraces, slopes, gardens, and paths.
To ease the water shortage on the island, five reverse-osmosis plants have been set up on the coast to convert sea water to fresh water, and these plants now produce half of the water consumed in Malta.
The Maltese woodlands were hacked down centuries ago, and today the only trees you will see are the carob, pine, citrus, ficus, and tamarisk that have been planted in public parks, along avenues, and around town piazzas. On both Malta and Gozo the slopes are cultivated for vegetables and vines.
For centuries the country’s abundant limestone has been used for construction – from prehistoric megaliths to modern-day houses.
Newly quarried stone soon mellows with exposure to the sun and blends with the colour of the surroundings. The most widely used limestone today is the soft globigerina.
Because of its greater quantity of water-retaining blue clay subsoil, Gozo is a greener island than Malta. The lie of the land is different, with villages built on flat-topped hills leaving the slopes for cultivation.
The coastline of Malta and Gozo is predominantly rocky, with only a very occasional sandy bay. Malta's coastline is heavily indented. The eastern side of the island is broken up by a large bays which make ideal natural harbours. To the south, spectacular around drop 250m to the sea. Gozo's coastal scenery is at its most spectacular around the cliffs of Dwejra.