Greece(Hellas), officially the Hellenic Republic is a country in south-eastern Europe, situated on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula. It is bordered by Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria to the north, and by Turkey to the east. The Aegean Sea lies to the east and south of mainland Greece, while the Ionian Sea lies to the west. Both parts of the eastern Mediterranean basin feature a vast number of islands.
Greece is heir to the heritages of classical Greece, the Byzantine Empire and nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule. Regarded as the cradle of western civilization and being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, western literature, political science, major scientific principles and drama, Greece has a particularly long and eventful history and a cultural heritage which has been fundamentally formative for the culture of Europe and what is now called the West.
Greece consists of a mountainous and craggy mainland jutting out into the sea at the southern end of the Balkans. The Peloponnesus peninsula (separated from the mainland by the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth); and numerous islands (around 2,000), including Crete, Euboea, Lesbos, Chios, the Dodecanese and the Cycladic groups of the Aegean Sea as well as the Ionian Sea islands. Greece has the tenth longest coastline in the world with 16,000 km; its land boundary is 1,160 km (721 miles).
Four-fifths of Greece consist of mountains or hills, making the country one of the most mountainous in Europe. Western Greece contains a number of lakes and wetlands and it is dominated by the Pindus mountain range. The mythical Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in the country, located in the southwestern Pieria prefecture, near Thessaloniki. Mytikas in the Olympus range has a height of 2,920 metres (9,570 ft) at its highest peak. Once considered the throne of the Gods, it is today extremely popular among hikers and climbers who deem its height as a challenge.
The Greek coast has a total length of approximately 16,000 km. Half this length is found around the thousands of Greek islands., while the rest extends along the mainland. What characterises the famous Greek coasts is their unique diversity (beaches stretching over many kilometres, small bays and coves, sandy beaches with dunes, pebbly shores, coastal caves surrounded by steep rocks and with the characteristic dark sand of volcanic soils, coastal wetlands), and their clean and transparent waters that have made them renowned and extremely popular all over the world. In 2006, 404 beaches and 5 marinas in Greece were awarded the “Blue Flag”, a figure that places the country in a top-ranking position among other European countries.
The islands are Greece’s chief morphological trait and an integral part of the country’s civilisation and tradition. The Greek territory comprises 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Sea, a truly unique phenomenon on the European continent; of these islands only 227 are inhabited.
The Greek Archipelago takes up 7,500 km of the country’s total 16,000 km coastline, offering a highly diversified landscape: beaches stretching along many kilometers, sheltered bays and coves, golden stretches of sand with dunes, pebbly beaches, coastal caves with steep rocks and black sand typical of volcanic soil, coastal wetlands. Many Greek beaches have been awarded the “Blue Flag” under the programme Blue Flags of Europe. Apart from swimming, they lend themselves to scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, sailing and windsurfing. As they are the cradle of some of the most ancient and prosperous European civilisations (the Cycladic, Minoan civilisations, etc.), the islands boast unique archaeological sites, an outstanding architectural heritage and centuries-old, fascinating local traditions of a multifaceted cultural past. All the above, combined with the ideal climate, the safety of Greek waters and the short distances between ports and coasts, have rendered the Greek islands extremely popular among Greek and foreign visitors.
Most islands lie in the Aegean Sea and are divided in seven groups(from north to south):
- The Northeastern Aegean Islands: Agios Efstratios, Thasos, Ikaria, Lesvos, Limnos, Inousses, Samos, Samothrace, Chios, Psara.
- The Sporades: Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros, Evia
- The Argo-Saronic Islands: Angistri, Aegina, Poros, Salamina, Spetses and Hydra.
- The Cyclades: A group of 56 islands, its most important ones being Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Sikinos, Sifnos, Syros, Tinos, Folegandros, as well as the “Minor Cyclades” comprising Donousa, Irakleia, Koufonisia and Schinoussa.
- The Dodecanisa: Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Kastelorizo, Kos, Lipsi, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, Halki.
- The Ionian Sea is hope to one sole group of islands. The Ionian Islands: Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Paxi, Antipaxi, Ereikoussa, Mathraki, Meganissi, Othoni, Strofades.
The unique tastes of Greece guarantee that you are in for many culinary surprises during your stay in the country. Contrary to common belief, you will discover that Greek cuisine is not only moussaka, souvlaki and choriatiki salata, but has a wide variety of dishes that can meet the culinary demands of both meat-eaters and vegetarians in an extremely satisfying way!
There are 19 marinas with 6,661 docking places in Greece, offering high quality services. Quite a few of these marinas have been awarded by the European Blue Flag programme. New modern marinas, hotel ports and moorings for the safe docking of boats already operate or are in the process of starting their operation, in order to meet the needs of tourists coming to Greece by sea in the most satisfactory way and under the safest conditions.
The climate of Greece is temperate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures on the Greek islands rarely reach extreme values although snowfalls do occur occasionally during the winter months. Temperatures in the winter are between 10-15°C and in the summer as high as 35°C.
Today, Greece is a developed country, a member of the European Union since 1981, and ever since the nation has experienced a remarkable and sustained economic growth .The country adopted the Euro in 2001 and successfully organised the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The people of Greece enjoy a high standard of living. Greece ranks 24th in the 2006 HDI, 22nd on The Economist's 2005 world-wide quality-of-life index, and it has an average per capita income of around 93% of the EU average.
Greece's total population in 2005 was 11,082,752, of whom 5,486,632 were males and 5,596,119 females. Almost two-thirds of Greeks live in urban areas. Greece's largest cities in 2001 were: Athens (3,361,806), Thessaloniki (800,764), Patra (185,626), Iraklio (144,642), Volos (124,591), and Larissa (124,394).
The constitution of Greece recognizes the Greek Orthodox faith as the "estalished" religion of the country, while guaranteeing freedom of religious belief for all.