Greece

Useful informations
LocationSouth Europe
NeighborhoodTurkey, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, Mediterranean Sea
Area131,957 km2
Density82 persons/km2
CapitalAthens
CurrencyEuro (EUR €)

Greece is a democratic and developed country with an advanced high-income economy, a high quality of life and a very high standard of living. A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities (precursor to the European Union) and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001. It is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), WTO, OSCE, and the OIF. Greece’s unique cultural heritage, subsequently large tourism industry, and prominent shipping sector classify it as a middle power. It is the largest economy in the Balkans, where it is an important regional investor.

Ancient Greece – The earliest traces of human presence in the Balkans, dating back about 270.000 years ago, were found in the cave of Petralona, ​​in the current Greek province of Macedonia. Neolithic settlements in Greece, dating from the 7th millennia BC are among the oldest in Europe, the country being localized on the route where the agrarian revolution has spread from the Near East to Europe.

By 500 BC, the Persian Empire controlled territories that were stretching from their area of ​​origin (Iran) to nowadays Greece and Turkey, and has become thus a threat to the Greek city-states. Attempts of the city-states of Asia Minor to overthrow the Persian domination failed, as a result, Persia invaded the states of continental Greece in 492 BC, but was forced to retreat however, after a defeat in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. A second invasion in 480 BC followed despite the heroic resistance of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the Greeks from a large number of cities, led by the Spartans, opposed the Persian forces which victoriously plundered Athens. After several victories in 480 and 479 BC, in Salamis, Plataea and Mycale, the Persians were forced to retreat again. The military conflicts, named the “Medes Wars”, were worn mostly by Athens and Sparta. The fact that Greece wasn’t a unified country made the conflicts between different city-states occur very often.

The most devastating inter-Greek war of classical antiquity was the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which marked the decline of the Athenian Empire regarding its status of the main power in ancient Greece. Both Athens and Sparta were subsequently overtaken by Thebes and then Macedonia, the latter uniting the Greek world in the League of Corinth, under the leadership of Philip II, who was elected leader of the first unified Greek state in history.

Before his sudden death in 323 BC, Alexander was planning an invasion of Arabia. His death caused the collapse of his vast empire, which was divided into several kingdoms, the best known being the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Egypt.

The Hellenistic and Roman period – After a period of confusion that followed Alexander’s death, the Antigonid dynasty, initiated by one of Alexander’s generals, took the control of Macedonia until 276 BC, as well as the hegemony over most of the Greek city-states. Since about the year 200 BC, the Roman Republic became increasingly involved in the matters of the Greek society and was involved in a series of wars with Macedonia.

In 146 BC, Macedonia was annexed as a province of Rome, the rest of Greece was turned into a Roman protectorate.

Despite their military superiority, the Romans admired the achievements of the Greek culture and were heavily influenced by them, hence Horace’s famous statement: “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit” (Greece, although conquered, took the conqueror as prisoner”). Greek science, technology and math are generally considered to have reached their peak during the Hellenistic period.

The Medieval Ages and the fall of Constantinople – After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Eastern Roman Empire was named The Byzantine Empire by convention (though at that time it was simply called “The Roman Empire”) and continued to exist until 1453. The capital was at Constantinople (nowadays Istanbul), the language and literature were Greek and the predominantly religion was Orthodox Christian.

The recovery of the lost Byzantine provinces started during the late 8th century and much of the Greek peninsula returned gradually to the imperial control along the 9th century. This process was facilitated by a large influx of Greeks from Asia Minor and Sicily to the Greek peninsula, while at the same time, many Slavs fell prisoners or were repositioned in Asia Minor, and those who remained on the Greek territories were assimilated. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the return of the country’s stability has resulted in a strong economic growth, a much stronger one than the Anatolian territories of the empire. It is important to note that the Byzantine Empire was a theocratic state.

The Ottoman domination period – While much of mainland Greece and the Aegean islands were under Ottoman control until the end of the 15th century, Cyprus and Crete remained under Venetian control and haven’t fallen into the hands of the Ottomans. Only two times this happened, in 1571, respectively in 1670. The only Greek speaking world escaping from a long Ottoman rule were the Ionian Islands, which remained Venetian until their conquest by the French First Republic in 1797. They have passed into the hands of the United Kingdom in 1809 until their reunification with Greece in 1864.

The Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople were considered by the Ottoman government as the dominant authorities over the entire Orthodox population of the Ottoman Empire, whether or not it was Greek. Although the Ottoman state did not obliged those who weren’t Muslims to convert to Islam, Christians were faced with different types of discrimination which gave them the status of second-class citizens of the Ottoman Empire. Discrimination against Christians, especially when they were combined with the ill-treatment of the local Ottoman authorities led to a series of some facade conversions to Islam. In the 19th century, many “crypto-Christians” have returned to their old religion.

The Greek Independence War – In 1814, the secret society called Filiki Eteria (“Society of Friends”) was founded in order to free Greece from the Ottoman rule. Etaireía plotted with revolutionaries of all nations in the Balkans, triggering simultaneous revolutions in the Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities and Constantinople. The first of these revolutions broke out on 4 February 1821 in Wallachia and was led by a local man named Tudor Vladimirescu, who was supported by a revolution triggered a month later by Alexandros Ypsilanti, but the action was disavowed by the Russian Tsar on whose support they relied and thus, the revolution was quickly quelled by the Ottomans. The events, however, triggered a chain of reactions and on 17 March 1821, the Maniots from Peloponnes declared war on the Ottomans.

The 19th century for the Greeks – In 1827, Ioannis Kapodistrias from Corfu, was elected as the first governor of the new republic. Following his assassination in 1831, the Great Powers installed a monarchy under Otto’s reign, from the House of Wittelsbach, originally from Bavaria. In 1843, an uprising made the king to accept a constitution and a representative assembly.

After World War I, Greece sought to annex new territories from Asia Minor, especially a region which at that time had a large Greek population, but the country was defeated however in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, which resulted in a massive population exchange between the two countries according to the Treaty of Lausanne. According to various sources, several hundred thousand Pontic Greeks died during this period in what is sometimes called “The genocide of the Pontic Greeks”. The era that followed was marked by instability, overshadowed by the difficult task of introducing half a million Greek refugees from Turkey into the Greek society. Istanbul’s Greek population fell from 300.000 in 1900 to about 3.000 in 2001.

After the disastrous events in Asia Minor, the monarchy was abolished after a referendum held in 1924 and the Second Greek Republic was declared. Prime Minister Georgios Kondylis took power in 1935 and abolished the republic, re-establishing the monarchy through a referendum held in 1935. The following year, there was a state coup that established Ioannis Metaxas as the leader of a dictatorial regime named “The 4 August regime”. Although a totalitarian state, Greece remained in good relations with the United Kingdom and was not among the Axis allied forces.

After liberation, Greece experienced a civil war between communists and anti-communists, which led to economic devastation and to severe social tensions prevailing between the right and the left communist. The tensions lasted for more than thirty years. The next two decades were characterized by the marginalization of the left in the political and social spheres but also by the rapid economic growth generated in part by the Marshall Plan. The dismissal of George Papandreou’s centrist government by King Constantine II in July 1965 led to a new period of political turmoil that culminated in the coup of 21 April 1967, and the establishment of the Colonel’s Regime. The brutal suppression of the Uprising at the Polytechnic of Athens on 17 November 1973 sent shockwaves throughout the dictatorial regime, and through a state riposte, Brigadier General, Dimitrios Ioannidis was installed as a dictator. On 20 July 1974, after the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, the regime collapsed.

On 11 June 1975 a democratic and republican constitution was promulgated after a referendum where the residents have chosen not to restore the monarchy. Meanwhile, Andreas Papandreou founded the Pan-Hellenistic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in response to the “New Democracy” conservative party of Karamanlis. The two political parties alternated in power since then. Greece joined NATO once again in 1980.

Greece became the 10th member of the European Economic Community on 1 January 1981, event which brought a period of sustained growth. Large-scale investments in industrial and infrastructure, as well as EU funds and increasing revenues from tourism, commercial navigation and a rapidly growing service sector have raised the standard of living to unprecedented levels. Relations with neighbouring Turkey, traditionally strained, have improved after both countries were struck by successive earthquakes in 1999, which led to the Greek lifting of the veto against Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. The country adopted the euro in 2001 and hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

More recently, Greece has suffered greatly from the recession of the late 2000’s and played a central role in the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. The Greek sovereign debt crisis, the economic crisis and the protests that have followed had strongly disrupted the domestic policy and had repeatedly threatened the European and global financial markets since the beginning of the crisis in 2010.

Landforms

Greece is formed out of a mountainous and peninsular mainland, stretching into the sea at the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, ending with the Peloponnesus peninsula, separated from the mainland by the Corinth Canal. Due to its particularly complex coast and to the numerous islands, Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world with 13.676 km. Its land border has only 1.160 km.

Greece has a large number of islands, between 1.200 and 6.000, depending on the definition, of which 227 of them are inhabited. Crete is the largest and the most populous island. Euboea, separated from the mainland by the Euripus Strait, wide of 60 m at its minimum, is the second largest, followed by Rhodes and Lesvos.

80% of Greece consists of mountains and hills, making the country one of the most mountainous in Europe. Mount Olympus, the mythical abode of the Greek gods, culminates in the 2.917 m Mytikas peak, the highest in the country. Western Greece has several lakes and wetlands and is dominated by the Pindos Mountains. A continuation of the Dinaric Alps, this chain reaches a maximum altitude of 2.637 m on Smolikas peak, the second from Greece, and historically, it has been a major barrier against the transport between the east and the west.

Climate

Greece has mainly a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and dry, warm summers. This type of climate is present in all coastal areas, including Athens, the Cyclades, Dodecanese Islands, Crete, the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands and in parts of central mainland Greece. The Pindos Mountains strongly affect the climate in the country, as a consequence, areas west of the mountains are considerably wetter on average, due to their higher exposure to western winds that bring moisture, than those located east of the mountains, due to a pluviometric shadow effect.

Winters are colder in the north: the average temperatures in January on the Rhodopes reaching at 3°C; 4°C over the whole of the northern plains, 7°C in Thessaly, 10°C in central Greece and the surrounding regions of Athens and 13°C in Crete and the Cyclades. This is linked to the influence of the Balkans from the north and of Africa from the south. The relief again plays a central role regarding the temperature differences in the summer. The northeast is still the coolest place, having an average temperature of  24°C in Thrace during the month of July, but the same situation is available for the northwest with average temperatures of 25°C for all Epirus and the Ionian coast. Thessaly and Thessaloniki up to the north, Central Greece, Attica and the Peloponnese have all average July temperatures of 27°C, with a small 28°C difference for Laconia. The north winds cool the temperatures for the Aegean Sea.

Flora

Forests cover one-fifth of the territory of the country. Among the 200 species of trees, the main ones are pine, olive, silver poplar, cypress, chestnut and fir. Its 65.000 km2 of mainland are much lower than the surfaces of other European countries and constantly threatened by development pressure and forest fires, such as those of 2007. Eight thousand hectares are still primary covered by forest, mainly in the Rhodopes.

In the Mediterranean vegetation, the vegetation is composed of xerophit trees, being small and having thick bark and small coated leaves to resist to the dryness of the area. This thing is caused by the tree’s capacity to close its pores through which the water vapors can be released. After the dry season passed, the plants resume their photosynthetic activity.

Fauna

Greece is a Mediterranean country that has best preserved its biodiversity. More than 6.000 plants are listed with 4.050 wild species, of which 800 are protected. There are also 900 animal species, of which two hundred protected. Some animals are endemic or their last representatives are in Greece, such as the Mediterranean Monk Seal or the loggerhead turtle). 28 of the 36 European species of eagles live in the sky of Greece.

Although the fauna of Greece is one of the richest of Europe, plenty of interesting species live here: for example, in the forests there are brown bears and lynx, endangered animals. In Greece, there are also living other animals which became rare in Western Europe such as wolves, deer, wild goats (named “kri-kri”, which in the past were almost entirely exterminated, and they are now protected by law), foxes or boars.

In the mountains, the birds of prey have their nests: the hawks, eagles and owls. If you’re lucky, you can see green woodpeckers and blue gulls. Among insects, scorpions live in Greece, whose bites are not deadly to humans however, centipedes and cicadas, whose noise may be unpleasant for some visitors. There are also vipers on this territory, whose bite, like the scorpion or centipede can be extremely unpleasant.

In the sea, there live many species of fish, seals, sea turtles and other rare animals. We should not omit those species somewhat “dangerous”, such as the sea urchins, jellyfish, stingrays or the coloured Muraena, the latter mostly living in remote areas, far away from large beaches. It is best to avoid contact with these animals.

 

Language

The official language of the country is of course, Greek, spoken by 98,5% of the population. In the 19th century and 20th century, there was a major dispute about who should be the official language of Greece, the archaic Katharevousa, created in the 19th century and used as a literary language, or the Dimotiki, the naturally evolved for from the Byzantine Greek and spoken by the people. The dispute was resolved in 1976, when Dimotiki became the only official version of the Greek language and Katharevousa ceased to be used.

Religion

The most widespread religion in Greece is Orthodox Christianity. The relations between the State and the Church are governed by Article 3 of the Greek Constitution, where the faith is recognized as “predominant”. 97% of the Greek population declared themselves as Orthodox Christians, however not all of them are faithful. The Constitution also guarantees freedom of religion. Orthodoxy has a very long tradition in Greece, which traces back to the Byzantine Empire, when it was the official religion. Even today, the songs and psalms sung in the Greek Orthodox Church are witnesses of the enormous cultural legacy of the Byzantium, which can also be witnessed by the architecture of the churches and monasteries of Greece.

Among religious minorities, Islam and Catholicism are the most important, the first one being recognized as a Muslim minority of Greece, and is made up of about 90.000 faithful, which are mostly located in the region of Thrace, while the second group consists of 50.000 Catholics, mainly on the islands of Syros, Tinos and Corfu, but also in the cities of Thessaloniki and Athens. Both are currently growing because of immigration, both from Islamic states such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, as well as from predominantly Catholic countries like the Philippines. According to estimates of the Catholic Church, the Greek Catholics, including immigrants and foreigners, reach up to about 200.000 persons.

World Heritage

On UNESCO’s list there can be found 16 cultural objectives and 2 mixed objectives in Greece:

   Cultural Objectives:

  • Acropolis, Athens
  • Archaeological Site of Aigai (modern name – Vergina)
  • Archaeological Site of Delphi
  • Archaeological Site of Mystras
  • Archaeological Site of Olympia
  • Archaeological Site of Philippi
  • Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns
  • Delos
  • Medieval City of Rhodes
  • Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios
  • Old Town of Corfu
  • Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika
  • Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos
  • Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus
  • Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
  • The Historic Centre (Chorá) with the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the Island of Pátmos

   Mixed Objectives:

  • Meteora
  • Mount Athos

 

Demographics

The country’s population is estimated at about 10.955.000 inhabitants, out of which 8,4% are foreigners. In August 2013, out of the total population, there were about 49,04% men and 50,96% women. The population’s percentage fell by 1% compared to its recent total maximum.

Greece has long been a country of emigration. 1,2 million Greeks left their country between 1950 and 1977 (for a population of just 7.6 million people in 1951 and just under 9 million in 1975. The primarily countries of emigration were the United States, Australia, West Germany and France, but also the USSR during the military dictatorship. In parallel, Greece has become a country of immigration, receiving 1,2 million persons between 1976 and 2000, with 305.000 people settling in the country just between 1996 and 2000. There were 167.000 foreigners in Greece in 1991 and 797.000 in 2001. In 2013, migration reversed again, with more departures than entries, resulting in a population loss of 52.000 people.

Economy

After World War II, there was an economic takeoff in Greece, often called the “Greek economic miracle”. The GDP growth between 1950 and 1973 amounted, in fact, to an average of 7%, which, in the same years, it was exceeded only by Japan. Since then, Greece has introduced a number of state budget reforms, thanks to the funding coming from the European Union since its entry, which took place in 1981. In 2001, Greece joined the euro-zone, officially adopting the currency in January 2002, together with the other EU states.

Greece is one of the main investors in the Balkan region, with 2 billion euro investment only in Serbia. The National Bank of Greece has also bought, in 2006, 46% of the Turkish Finansbank, and 99,44% of the Vojvođanska Bank of Serbia. Also important are the investments of Piraeus Bank, Eurobank and the mobile company, Cosmote in other countries of the region such as Bulgaria and Romania. The manufacturing sector represents 13% of the GDP, with the food industry representing the largest share. Also notable is the field of high technologies and telecommunications, which is constantly growing. Other important export products are the building materials, textiles, machinery and electrical appliances. To 10% of GDP, the construction and infrastructure construction is another important pillar of the economy, witnessed by the significant progress in this area and the boom of the 2004 Olympics. Agriculture contributes to 7% of the GDP and is the last sectors to be worthy of note, providing export of fruit, wine and olive oil, of which the country is one of the world’s largest producers.

Also notable is the extraction of coal in the form of brown coal, equal to a production of more than 62 million tons in 2007, which brought Greece to be the 16th coal producer in the World. The annual Greek GDP per capita is the 42nd highest in the world and is equal to 24.260 $ according to the International Monetary Fund, comparable to that of other European countries such as Italy, Spain and France. Greece ranks as the 18th country in the world, according to the human development index.

In 2010, Greece was the largest manufacturer of cotton in the European Union (183.800 tons) and pistachio (8.000 tons), the second in rice production (229.500 tons) and olives (147.500 tons), the third in fig production (11.000 tons), almonds (44.000 tons), tomatoes (1.400.000 tons), and watermelons (578.400 tons) and the fourth tobacco producer (22.000 tons). Agriculture employs 12,4% of the workforce.

In 2010, the most visited region of Greece has been that of Central Macedonia, with 18% of the total tourist flow (3,6 million tourists), followed by 2,6 million from Attica and the Peloponnese with 1,8 million. Northern Greece is the most visited geographic region of the country, with 6,5 million visitors, while Central Greece is the second most visited with 6,3 million tourists.

Transportation

Since 1980, the road and rail network in Greece has been significantly modernized. Important work have been done on the A2 motorway, which connects the northwestern part of the country to the northeastern one, as well as on the Rion Antirion Bridge, the longest suspended bridge with cable in Europe (2.250 m long), which connects the Peloponnese city of Rio (7 km from Patras) with Antirrio of Central Greece. Other relevant projects, in 2014, were the nearing completion of the conversion of the 8A National Road, connecting Athens to Patras and further towards Pyrgos, in the western Peloponnese, to a modernized highway in its entire length, the updating of the unfinished motorway sections on the A1, which connects Athens to Thessaloniki and the construction of the Thessaloniki Metro.

The metropolitan area of ​​Athens, in particular, is served by some of the most modern and efficient infrastructure transport in Europe, such as the Athens International Airport, the privately run motorway Attiki Odos and the Athens Metro. Most of the Greek Islands and many main cities of the country are mainly connected by air thanks to the two main Greek airlines, Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Shipping links are secured by hydrofoils and catamarans.

Rail transport in Greece plays a role of lesser importance than that in many other European countries, but is has been expanded, with new suburban connections around Athens, around its airport, in Kiato and Chalkida, around Thessaloniki, towards the cities of Larissa and Edessa and around the area of Patras.

The Athens Metro has 3 lines: a blue one, a green one and a red one. During the Metro construction, tens of thousands of artifacts were discovered. The ticket is available for 1 hour and you don’t have to worry about the Greek script. All transportation stops and areas are written in Latin script as well. Another interesting fact is that lots of stops house mini-museums of ancient artifacts.

Hellenic Seaways, Dodekanisos Seaways and Blue Star Ferries are the main catamaran operators between the islands. Because of the many islands the country has, ferry transportation can be considered the most important mean of transport in the country. Some islands even depend on receiving daily ship packages of food from other important islands or mainland Greece. Usually, every island has a ferry service. The largest port of the country is Piraeus, while other important ones are Rafina and Lavrio. It is important to note that the ferry service between the islands depends on demand.

 

People

Discover some of the most popular persons who live / lived in Greece.

Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis

Was a Greek writer, celebrated for his novels which include “Zorba the Greek” (published 1946 as Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas), “Christ Recrucified” (1948), “Captain Michalis” (1950, translated “Freedom or Death”), and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1955). He also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs and philosophical essays such as “The Saviors of God: […]

Homerguide

Homer

He was believed by the ancient Greeks to have been the first and greatest of the epic poets. Author of the first known literature of Europe, he is central to the Western canon. The 9th century AD seems to be roughly the period in which the greatest Greek epic poet, the father of European literature, […]

Hippocrates

Hippocrates

Also known as Hippocrates II, was a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Greece), and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the “Father of Western Medicine” in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic […]

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Culinary

Discover some of the traditional receips from Greece.

Ouzo

Ouzo

Is an anise-flavoured aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus. Ouzo has its roots in tsipouro, which is said to have been the work of a group of 14th-century monks on Mount Athos. One version of it was flavoured with anise. This version eventually came to be called ouzo.

Taramosalata

Taramosalata

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon of fish roe 1 onion (or more if you want) 100g bread crumbs 100ml mineral water Juice from 1 lemon 600ml oil Steps: In a food processor, put the onion and the bread crumbs, add mineral water and blend well until it becomes like a cream. Add the fish roe, lemon juice […]

Tirokroketes

Tirokroketes

Ingredients: 125g grated cheese 2 whole eggs 100g flour 70g mozzarella cut into 14 cubes Salt and pepper Cumin Breadcrumbs Oil (for frying) Steps: The process is extremely simple. Beat the eggs with a fork, add the spices and the grated cheese. Stir well and add the flour. You will obtain a pretty sticky paste. […]

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