Geography and Climate

The Maltese Archipelago comprises the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, all of which are inhabited, together with some very small barren and uninhabited islets and rocks. The largest island, Malta has an area of about 246 km2 (95 sq mi), while its sister island, Gozo is only 67 km2 (26 sq mi). Comino has an area of 3 sq km (1.1 sq mi). The total area is 316 sq km (122 sq mi). The maximum length and width of Malta are 27.36 km and 14.48 km respectively. The corresponding extensions for Gozo are 14.48 km and 7.24 km. The group is situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, with Malta being 93 km away from Sicily and 288 km from North Africa. Gibraltar is 1826 km to the west and Alexandria is 1519 km to the east. At their extreme points the Maltese Islands fall within the following points: Northern latitude 36ø35’00”, Southern latitude 35ø48’00”, Eastern longitude 14ø35’00”, Western longitude 14ø10’30”. The capital and leading port of the country is Valletta (population, 1990, greater city, 101,749). The population of Malta at the 1985 census was 345,418; the estimate for 1992 was 359,980, yielding an average density of 1139 persons per sq km (2950 per sq mi).

The terrain of the islands of Malta is comparatively low, the highest point being about 239 m (about 785 ft) above sea level. The Maltese Islands are composed of a block of Oligo-Miocene limestones and marls with very subsidiary Quaternary deposits. The Oligo-Miocene succession is a simple “layer-cake” arrangement of Lower and Upper Coralline Limestones with intervening layers of soft Globigerina Limestone, Greensand and Blue Clay. The Tertiary sequence represents a succession of sediments deposited within a variety of shallow water marine enviornments. The Archipelago probably emerged from below sea-level at the end of the early Pliocene period. Palaegeographical evidence suggests that throughout the Quaternary period, the Maltese Archipelago was connected at various stages to Sicily, east Mediterranean lands, Sardinia, Libya and Tunisia.

The climate prevalent in Malta is typically central Mediterranean, being temperate with no extremes either of heat or cold. January and February are usually the coldest months, while July and August are the hottest. The mean temperature is 19ø C (66ø F). The average yearly rainfall is around 560 mm being most marked in late autumn and early winter. The Islands are extensively cultivated, and the uncultivated environment can be described as garigue with areas of steppe where the soil layer has been almost completely eroded. The ecology of the Islands has deteriorated as a result of man’s influence. Malta has no mountains, rivers or forests and a series of low hills with terraced fields on the slopes characterise the islands. About 16.5% of the land-mass is built-up and the agricultural land area amounts to about 13017 hectares. Natural resources in Malta are scanty and no traces of mineral or metal deposits have ever been found. The same can be said for oil and coal.