GREECE AT A GLANCE

Basic facts you should know about Greece
Sailboat at anchor on rocky bay with emerald water

GREECE AT A GLANCE

USEFUL INFORMATION FOR PREPARING YOUR TRIP TO GREECE

Capital city: Athens

Official language: Greek 

Currency: EUR (€)

Time zone: GTM +2

Calling code: +30

Climate: Mediterranean

Population: 10,815,197 (2011 estimate)

Central Airport: Athens International Airport 

Main cities: Thessaloniki, Patra, Larissa, Herakleion, Volos

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION

Located in southeastern Europe and at the meeting point of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – Greece borders Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) to the north, Albania to the northwest and Turkey to the northeast. The western borders are formed by the Ionian Sea, the southern by the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern borders by the Aegean Sea.

Greece consists of:

  • A peninsular mainland (extending from the southern region of Central Greece to the northern region of Thrace) 
  • The Peloponnesian peninsula that is separated from the mainland by the Corinth Canal 
  • An archipelagos of approximately 6,000 islands and islets, scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Sea, of which 227 are inhabited. Most of them are located in the Aegean Sea and divided into seven clusters: Northern Aegean islands, Sporades, Evia, Argosaronic islands, Cyclades, Dodecanese and Crete. The Heptanese cluster is located in the Ionian Sea.
Greece in numbers

  • 131,957 km2 – the total area of Greece 
  • 13,676 km – length of Greece’s coastline, according to the CIA World Factbook, 7,500km of which surround the thousands of islands in the Greek archipelago 
  • 80% of the country consists of mountains or hills, making Greece one of the most mountainous countries in Europe.

WEATHER

Greece is a country with long periods of sunshine throughout the year and is characterised by a having a typical Mediterranean climate: mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

Climatologically, the year in Greece is divided in two seasons: 

  • The warm season (April–mid-October), characterised by sunshine, high temperatures and seasonal winds, mostly found in the Aegean during August (known as meltemia).
  • The winter season (mid-October-March), when the average temperatures range, depending on the geographic region, between 0-10°C (even below 0°C in northern regions). The weather is limited to mild snowfall and rainfall of short duration, often interrupted by sunny days
 (Source: Hellenic Meteorological Service: www.hnms.gr)

HISTORY

Discover Greece through the marks of its history

The evolution of Greece’s history – from the Paleolithic Era to today – can be traced at hundreds of archaeological sites and museums and through the myriad collections scattered throughout the country. Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and monasteries, Ottoman buildings, charming Frankish castles and traditional settlements – of which quite a few retain their Ottoman, and even sometimes part of their Byzantine, structure…  It’s a narration of history that will tell one of the most interesting and beautiful stories you’ve ever experienced.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

The creation of Greece’s historical map begins as early as the Paleolithic Era (approx. 120,000 – 10,000 BC) when the first traces of human habitation appear. By the Neolithic Age (approx. 7,000 – 3,000 BC), this translated into buildings that spread throughout the land, as witnessed by constructions and cemeteries discovered in Thessaly (Sesklo, Dimini), Macedonia and the Peloponnese, to name just a few locations.

The Bronze Age

The Bronze Age (approx.3000-1100 B.C.) is marked by the appearance of the first urban centres in the Aegean region (Poliochni on the island of Limnos), as well as by the flourishing settlements on Crete, mainland Greece, the islands of the Cyclades and the Northeastern Aegean. It was in these regions that characteristic cultural constructs were formed, among them the Cycladic civilisation, one of the most ancient in Europe.

The Minoan civilisation

Amid the cultural bloom that marked the beginning of the 2nd Millennium BC, organised palatial societies appeared on Minoan Crete, a byproduct of which was also the development of the first writing system. With the Palace of Knossos at the centre of this movement, and through their interaction with countless peoples from the East Mediterranean region, the Minoans adopted different elements that in turn decisively influenced cultures on the Greek mainland and the islands of the Aegean. And subsequently, the Mycenaean civilisation prevailed and flourished after the enormous destruction caused to Crete and the Minoan civilisation by a massive volcanic eruption on Santorini (around 1500 BC)

The Mycenaean civilisation

During the last centuries of the 2nd Millennium BC, the Mycenaean Greeks became the dominant force in the Aegean – a dominance that lasted for approximately 500 years and ended around 1200 BC. It was at this point that the extensive destruction of the Mycenaean centres led to the decline of the Mycenaean civilisation. As a result, this also forced a large part of the population to migrate to the coastal regions of Asia Minor and Cyprus (the 1st Greek colonisation).

The Geometric Period (9th - 8th Century BC)

Approximately two centuries of economic and cultural downturn (often referred to as the country’s Dark Age) was followed by the time known as the Greek Renaissance years. It was a period marked by the formation of the Greek city-states, the creation of the Greek alphabet and the composition of the Homeric epics (end of the 8th Century BC).

ANCIENT GREECE

The Archaic Period (7th-6th Century BC)

The years that followed were a period of major social and political change. The Greek city-states established colonies as far as Spain to the west, the Black Sea to the north and North Africa to the south (the 2nd Greek colonisation) and laid the foundations for the upcoming prosperity of the Classical Period.

The Classical Period (5th-4th Century BC)

The Classical Period was marked by the cultural and political dominance of Athens, which was so prevalent that the second half of the 5th Century BC is known as the Golden Age of Pericles. But the greatness of the period was not only for Athens but also for the history of mankind. The achievements in all sectors of science and art during that period are the cornerstone of modern western civilisation.
 
However, at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC, Athens had lost its place as the prominent city of Greece. The military actions of Philip II during the 4th Century BC catapulted the Macedonians into the leading role in Greece. During this time, and with his guidance, the scene was set for the grand expansion of Macedonian hegemony to the East. The military genius of Philip’s son, Alexander the Great, who campaigned in the East and conquered territories that extended up to the Indus River, resulted in the creation of a majestic empire. An empire that radically changed, not only the world as it was at the time, but the course of human history as well.

After the death of Alexander, the vast empire he created was divided among his generals, leading to the creation of the kingdoms that would prevail during the Hellenistic Period (3rd -1st Century BC).


Roman occupation

During the years of the Hellenistic Period, the Greek city-states remained more or less autonomous but lost much of their old power and prestige. The appearance on the scene of the Romans and the final conquest of Greece in 146 BC forced the country to join the vast Roman Empire, most of whose emperors acted as benefactors to the Greek cities (especially Athens) due to their admiration of Greek culture. During the 1st Century AD, Christianity, the new religion that would depose Dodekatheon worshipping, began to spread all over Greece through the travels of Apostle Paul.

Byzantine Greece and Ottoman occupation 

When, in 324 AD, Constantine the Great opted to move the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople, the focus shifted to the eastern part of the empire. This ultimately marked the beginning of the Byzantine Period, during which Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire.
After 1204, when Western crusaders occupied Constantinople, parts of Greece were apportioned to western leaders, while the Venetians occupied strategic positions in the Aegean (islands or coastal cities) in order to control the trade routes. The reoccupation of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1262 marked the last stages of the empire’s existence.

Along with the abovementioned hostilities, the Ottomans gradually began to seize parts of the empire from the 14th Century AD, finalising the dissolution of the empire with the capture of Constantinople in 1453. In regard to Greece, Crete was the final area to be occupied by the Ottomans in 1669. The Ottoman occupation would continue until 1821, the first year of the Greek War of Independence.

Modern and contemporary history

The result of the Greek War of Independence was the creation of an independent Greek state in 1830, but with limited sovereign territory. During the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, areas with Greek population were gradually inducted into the Greek State. Greece’s sovereign territory would reach its peak after the end of Word War I, in 1920, with the substantial contribution of the then prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos. The Greek state took its current territorial form after the end of World War II, with the addition of the Dodecanese Islands.
In 1974, after a seven-year military dictatorship, a referendum was held and the government changed from a constitutional monarchy to a presidential parliamentary democracy, and in 1981 Greece became a member of the European Union.


LANGUAGE

Greek is the official language of Greece and one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. 
Greece has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, so foreign languages such as English, German, French and Spanish are warmly received, especially on the islands and in areas of high tourism. 
The language widely used in the tourism sector is English, in which Greek people are often fluent or comfortable.