Greece has the longest coastline in Europe and is the southernmost country in Europe. The mainland has rugged mountains, forests, and lakes, but the country is well known for the thousands of islands dotting the blue Aegean Sea to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Ionian Sea to the west.
The country is divided into three geographical regions: the mainland, the islands, and Peloponnese, the peninsula south of the mainland.
The Pindus mountain range on the mainland contains one of the world's deepest gorges, Vikos Gorge, which plunges 3,600 feet (1,100 meters). Mount Olympus is Greece's highest mountain at 9,570 feet (2,917 meters) above sea level. Ancient Greeks believed it was the home of the gods. Mount Olympus became the first national park in Greece.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Family life is a very important part of life in Greece. Children often live with their parents even after they get married. Greeks live long lives and it is thought that their varied diet of olives, olive oil, lamb, fish, squid, chickpeas, and lots of fruits and vegetables keep them healthy.
Nearly two-thirds of the people live in large cities. Athens is the largest city, with over 3.7 million people crowding the metropolis. Nefos, the Greek term for smog, is a big problem in Athens. The Parthenon, the temple to goddess Athena atop the Acropolis, is deteriorating due to pollution and acid rain.
Olive trees have been cultivated in Greece for over 6,000 years. Every village has its own olive groves.
Most of the country was forested at one time. Over the centuries, the forests were cut down for firewood, lumber, and to make room for farms. Today, forests can be found mainly in the Pindus and Rhodope ranges.
Greece has ten national parks and there is an effort to protect natural and historic landmarks. Marine parks help protect the habitats of two of Europe's most endangered sea creatures, the loggerhead turtle and monk seal. The long coastline and clear water make Greece an ideal location to spot sea stars, sea anemones, sponges, and seahorses hiding in the seaweed.
The Greek landscape is covered by maquis, a tangle of thorny shrubs that don't need a lot of water. These plants include fragrant herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, and bay and myrtle trees. Bird watching is popular in Greece where geese, ducks, and swallows stop over during their migration from Africa to Europe.
Greece abolished their monarchy in 1975 and became a parliamentary republic. Under the new constitution, there is a president and a prime minister. The prime minister has the most power, and is the leader of the party that has the most seats in the parliament. The president selects cabinet ministers who run government departments.
The parliament, called the Vouli, has only one house with 300 members who are elected every four years. Greece became part of the European Union in 1981.
The first great civilization in Greece was the Minoan culture on the island of Crete around 2000 B.C. Wall paintings found at the ruins of the palace Knossos show people doing backflips over a charging bull. The Minoans were conquered by the Myceneans from the mainland in 1450 B.C.
During ancient times the country was divided into city-states, which were ruled by noblemen. The largest were Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth. Each state controlled the territory around a single city. They were often at war with each other.
Athens became the most powerful, and in 508 B.C., the people instituted a new system of rule by the people called democracy. But during that time, only men could vote!
The first Olympic Games were held in the southern city of Olympia in 700 B.C. to honor Zeus, the king of the gods. Only men could compete in the events such as sprinting, long jump, discus, javelin, wrestling, and chariot racing. The games were banned by the Romans in A.D. 393, but began again in Athens in 1896.
Greece was ruled by foreigners for over 2,000 years beginning with the Romans conquering the Greeks in the 2nd century. Then, after almost 400 years under Turkish rule, Greece won independence in 1832.