Malta is a small archipelago in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea and consists of three inhabited islands, Malta, Gozo and Comi. Small it may be but it has the most remarkable and diverse history of any country in the world spanning a period of almost 5,000 years. The well-preserved Megalithic Temples of the Neolithic Age and the Hypogeum - the oldest of which dates back to before 3000BC - are designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. For 3,000 years powerful nations and empires sought to control the Mediterranean and saw Malta with its central location and fine natural harbours as strategically important. This resulted in the continuous occupation of the islands from the arrival of the Phoenicians around 1000BC to the departure of the British in 1964. In the year 58AD a great event occurred when St Paul, en-route to Rome for trial, and accompanied by St Luke was shipwrecked on Malta. The devout Christian faith of the Maltese can be traced back to this time. The golden period during this long occupation started with the arrival of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in 1530. The Order was famous throughout Christendom as the defender of the faith against the Islamic Seljuk Turks, who later formed the Ottoman Empire, who the Knights fought during the Crusades and thereafter. Emperor Charles V recognising the important role of the Knights ongoing confrontation ceded Malta to the Order in 1530 following their expulsion from Rhodes in 1522. In 1565 the massive Ottoman armada of Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Malta which incredibly did t fall. La Valette the Grand Master of the Knights during the siege, decided to build the fortified city of Valetta w also designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Knights remained in Malta until they were igminiously expelled by Napoleon in 1798. Their legacy is amazing - in particular the great bastions of Valletta, the beautiful Cathedral of St John, its world famous painting by Caravaggio, the vast hospital and the elegant Auberges. All jewels of Medieval Europe. The French lasted only two years. After their crushing defeat by Nelson at the Battle of The Nile (1798) the Maltese with the active help of the British removed them in 1800. The most important event in recent history was the Second World War siege in which Malta was subject to a devastating blitz by the combined German and Italian Air Forces. Malta did t fall and for its bravery was awarded the George Cross which it still displays on its national flag. If Malta had fallen and the British Navy and Air Force had been denied the use of its military base then Rommel would have received essential supplies to enable the German Army to reach and block the Suez Canal which could have changed the outcome of the war. Finally the Maltese threw off the yoke of foreign occupation after 3,000 years and became an independent nation on 21 September 1964 and a republic within the Commonwealth in 1974. In 2004 Malta joined the European Union and in 2008 adopted the Euro as its currency.