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Zoran Pavlović

Series Consulting Editor

Charles F. Gritzner
South Dakota State University
Frontispiece: Flag of Greece

Cover: Greek houses and windmill, Santorini Island, Cyclades, Greece.


Copyright © 2006 by Infobase Publishing

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Pavlovic, Zoran.
Greece / Zoran Pavlovic.
p. cm. — (Modern world nations)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7910-8797-2 (hard cover)
1. Greece—Geography—Juvenile literature. I. Title. II. Series.
DF720.P38 2005
914.95—dc22 2005031779

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Table of Contents

1 Introducing Greece 8
2 Physical Landscapes 14
3 Greece Through Time 28
4 People and Culture 41
5 Government and Politics 56
6 Greece’s Economy 66
7 Regions of Greece 76
8 Greece Looks Ahead 89
Facts at a Glance 94
History at a Glance 96
Bibliography and Further Reading 98
Index 99
top the hill overlooking Athens, Greece’s capital city, lies the
Acropolis. This famous cultural relic is more than simply one
of the country’s best known archaeological monuments. It
also serves as a majestic reminder of an era when Greek civilization
dom i n a ted the known worl d . The influ en ce of the ancient Greek
culture reached from the Straight of Gibraltar to as far east as the
Himalaya Mountains. Zeus and other gods from Greek mythology
were well known throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Both warriors
and merchants, with sword and gold, were spre ading Greek knowl ed ge ,
inventions, and philosophy. For their accomplishments in learning
and the spread of their knowledge, the ancient Greeks were known
by other cultures as the “people of the book.”
Roots of many modern scien tific disciplines, including geography,
are found in ancient Greek civilization. Before what we recognize
tod ay as “geography” existed, Greeks were actively practicing the science.

Introducing Greece 9

Athens, pictured here from atop Lycabettus Hill, east of the city, is the
capital of Greece and regarded by many as the birthplace of Western
Civilization. The Acropolis, the center of ancient Athens’s chief religious
and municipal buildings, can be seen in the center of the photo.

(It was not until 200 B.C. that the Greek scholar Eratosthenes
first used the word geography, meaning “writing about the
earth”.) These early people, tucked away in a distant corner of
Europe, had long studied changes taking place on the earth’s
surface. They analyzed differences and similarities between
pl aces and won dered why certain things were happening in
10 Greece

certain locations. In essence, they were interested in the impor-

tance of location and spatial patterns—the foundations of
modern geographic thought. Fortunately for us, much of their
early thoughts were pre s erved in manuscripts for thousands
of ye a rs . In recent cen tu ries, this information served as the
fou n d a tion from which modern geography and most other
sciences grew.
Today, we re s pect the works of Greek scholars su ch as
Herodotus and Eratosthenes for their observations about the
land and people. The same can be said for Greek observations
on philosophy, physics, mathematics, and many other disciplines.
One must not for get con tri buti ons from Plato and Ari s to t l e ,
Arch i m edes, Pythagoras, and many others. These names are
recognized in classrooms around the world. Most scholars give
generous credit to the Greeks for their role in building the
springboard that launched Western Civilization.
Greece then and now is not the same, h owever. Con tem-
porary Greece is far from the worl d ’s leading civi l i z a ti on . It
holds a place as a small nati on - s t a te in sout h e a s tern Europe,
created through many years of cultural struggle. The gods of
Mount Olympus are long gone. To most modern Gree k s , s occer
stars are much more important than the stars studied by the
ancient cosmographers (who studied the cosmos, or universe).
Winning European ch a m p i onships in soccer and basketb a ll
take preceden ce now ad ays. The Greek world and cultu re are
va s t ly changed from what they on ce were .


Times and the Greek culture (way of life) have changed.
What has not changed is the beauty of the Aegean Peninsula
and surrounding islands; the area of the world that we now call
the country of Greece. Mountains rising abruptly out of the
sea, crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean, and hundreds of
islands are postcard images of Greece. Quite often, however,
pos tcard photogra phs are not accurate depictions. Th eir primary
Introducing Greece 11

purpose is to portray idyllic pictures of foreign places. They

show what the place should be like in our dreams, rather than
what the place is like in reality.
In the case of Greece, postcards do not need Photoshop
enhancement. Towering Mount Olympus, seawater the color of
the most precious sapphires, the greenness of delicious olives,
and the redness of wine are a Greek reality. Add to the natu ral
sp l endor the hu n d reds of arch i tectural and arch aeological
treasures the country offers and Greece is a place that everyone
should visit at least once in their lifetime!
Most Greeks, of course, are extremely proud of their co u n try;
to them, it is much more than a tourist destination. They are
proud that after many centuries of foreign domination, Greece
is now an independent country. In this part of the world, peace
is a relative term. Historically, war has broken out on many
occasions in the region. Boundaries have changed many times,
and there have been w ide-scale human migrations resulting
from political conflict. Greeks have suffered their share of hard-
ships. Because of these historical circumstances, many Greeks
have left their homeland. Today, people of Greek descent live in
places throughout the world and number in the millions.
Sharp cultural con trasts are another factor that make s
Greece su ch a won derful co u n try to stu dy geogra phically.
There is the ongoing transformation from a sleepy traditional
rural and village agricultural way of life into a rapidly growing
urban culture and modern lifestyle. The culture change occur-
ring in countries such as Greece is, perhaps, what leads to the
creation of a modern world nation. Trad i ti on-bound folk
c u l tu re is being rep l aced by a new type of popular cultu ral
lifestyle marked by change. The rapid transformation of society
f rom ru ral into urban of ten marks uneven progress. L a ter in
this boo k , we will ex p l ore some of the major difficulties for
Greece: the large gaps in economic growth among its different
regi on s . These differen ces con tribute significantly to other
aspects of Greek lifestyle.
12 Greece

Greeks share their love of life and of fer open hospitality.

No matter what part of the country a person visits, he or she
can always count on a warm greeting from local people. This is
one of those traditional traits that hopefully will not disappear
with expanding urban popular cultu re. Cel ebra ti on of life—
the need for good food, friendship, and strong family ties—are
traits deeply entrenched in Greek culture.
This book is not inten ded to be a detailed, statistical,
encyclopedic survey of Greece. Rather, it focuses on the main
aspects of Greek culture—those things that make the country
and its people unique. In order to fully understand Greek (or
any other) culture, one must first understand its background.
The following chapter is devoted to the physical geography
of the Aegean Peninsula and surrounding islands. The natural
environment sets the stage on which cultural activities take
place. Nature provides opportunities but can create obstacles. It
is up to people, based on their culture, to adapt to, use, and
modify the lands in which they live.
We will then move on to a bri ef su rvey of the co u n try’s
historical geogra phy. A prom i n ent geogra ph er, Erhard Rostlund,
once noted that “the present is the fruit of the past and contains
the seeds of the futu re .” In essen ce , without looking to the past,
it is difficult if not impo s s i ble to understand the pre s ent or
ga ze into the futu re . Current cultu ral geogra phy is the re sult of
historical devel opm en t . Ch a pter 4 portrays Greek cultu re as it
is tod ay.
E con omics and po l i tic s are two el em ents of cultu re that
w arrant our atten tion. Stu dy of these disciplines is essential
to the well-being of both humans and the countries in
which they re s i de. They also provide a pictu re of d ay - to - d ay
l i fe of a co u n try’s peop l e . Because of their importance, a
ch apter is devo ted both to econ omic and to po l i tical geogra phy.
Finally, before con cluding and proj ecting the futu re geogra-
phy of Greece , you will be taken on a tour of the co u n try’s
d iverse regi on s .
Introducing Greece 13

You are now beginning a process of filling in your “mental

map” of Greece, by learning about the country’s geog raphic
conditions and patterns. Individuals who possess a detailed
mental map of a region can much easier imagine what places
are like. Albert Einstein once noted that “Imagination is more
important than knowledge.” Imagination, after all, does not
adh ere to any boundaries. Are you re ady to begin your imagi n a ry
journey of discovery to the fabled land of Greece?
eography can be defined as the science involved in the study
of “What is where, why there, and why care?” Whatever one
studies—whether it is the physical or human features of the
earth’s su rf ace—it becomes geogra phical the mom ent a spati a l
methodology (loc a ti on) is used to explain certain phen om ena.
Geographers try to understand how places and the various features
that make them unique are similar to or different from one another.
They want to know why differences exist from place to place. The loc a-
tion of a place often provides clues to its unique physical and cultural
development. These are the foundations of geographic study.
Culture is the way that humans ad a pt . That is, by using knowl ed ge ,
tools, and skills, they are able to develop a way of life best suited to a
pa rticular loc a ti on and environ m en t . Kn owing wh ere people live
can often tell us a great deal about their culture. For example, fertile
soils acc u mu l a te in the immediate vicinity of certain vo l c a n oes.

Physical Landscapes 15

If agriculture is important to a cultu re, it will take advantage

of this natural condition, and farming will be a major eco-
nomic activity. With productive farming on the rich soils,
the area also will experience a higher population density
than other, less fertile, areas. Almost all early civilizations
developed in areas that were well su i ted to agriculture, su ch
as river valleys.
Greece is located on the southern tip of the Balkan Penin-
sula. In practical terms, the region is not really a peninsula.
Rather, “Balkan” more correctly refers to the cultural region
located in southeastern Europe southward from the Sava and
Danube rivers. It includes countries of the former Yugoslavia
( Sl ovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and
Montenegro, and Macedonia), Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece.
Some scholars include Romania and European Turkey in this
group, as well.
Greek tri bes moved into sout h e a s tern Europe as early as
2,000 B.C. Th ere, t h ey devel oped a thriving civilizati on in on e
of the most attractive corn ers of the Med i terranean. It was an
area with a very pleasant cl i m a te , va ri ed terrain con s i s ting of
mountains and fertile va lleys , and seas with hu n d reds of
islands scattered around the mainland. From this loc a ti on at
the sout h ern tip of the Balkans and sandwi ch ed bet ween the
Ionian and Aegean seas, the Greeks ex p a n ded to settle mu ch of
the rest of the Med i terranean realm. Greece, itself, rem a i n ed
the Med i terranean cultu ral cen ter for many cen tu ri e s . Bec a u s e
almost three - fo u rths of Greece is mountainous, the co u n try
has alw ays loo ked out w a rd . O f ten, this led to em i gra ti on
(migra tion out of a country). It also hel ped tu rn the Greeks
tow a rd the sea.
Eventually, the center of cultural dominance and political
power shifted from the eastern Mediterranean to northwestern
Europe. Today, culturally, Greece remains somewhat outside
mainstream European centers. The importance of location has
changed, as has the spatial distribution of power.
16 Greece

Greece is located on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, in south-

eastern Europe. In addition to Greece, the nations of Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria,
A l b a n i a , and sometimes Romania and European Turkey are recognized
as part of this peninsula.
Physical Landscapes 17

It was not until the twentieth century that Greece finally

assumed its current geographic area and shape. In addition to
the country’s territory o n the European mainland, there are
numerous islands in the surrounding seas, including most of
the islands in the Aegean Sea. Greece occupies an area of 51,146
square miles (131,468 square kilometers), making it about the
size of Alabama or Louisiana. By European standards, it is a
midsized country, but in global terms, it occupies a small area.
Most of Greece lies roughly between 35 and 42 degrees north
latitude. Athens is located at approximately the same latitude as
San Francisco, St. Louis, or Washington, D.C.

As noted earlier, the topography of Greece is primarily made
up of h i lls and mountains—both on the mainland and islands—
the highest of which are loc a ted in the nort h ern and we s tern
part of the co u n try. Lowlands of any size are found on ly in the
northeast, bordering Tu rkey and Bu l ga ria. Rugged terrain is the
direct re sult of geo l ogical events spanning mill i ons of ye a rs.
A look at a map of Europe reveals the gen eral east-we s t
and northwest-southeast direction of mountain ranges. The
form a ti on of s o ut h e a s tern Europe’s mountains began abo ut
60 m i ll i on ye a rs ago, and the process con ti nues tod ay. Mountain
building begins when the movement of tectonic plates causes
them to collide. During this process, one tectonic plate slides
beneath another, forcing it upward and creating mountains.
This violent process often generates earthquakes and can also
cre a te volcanoes. These processes can be seen cl o s er to hom e,
in California.
Land conditions in Greece are the result of a collision
between Europe and Africa—that is, the process in which the
African tectonic plate is slowly pushing into the European
plate. Although the clash of plates is less violent than in some
other parts of the world, active volcanoes scattered throughout
the Mediterranean serve as a reminder that it is still very much
18 Greece

With the exception of the northeastern portion of Greece, which is predominantly

lowlands, the topography of the country consists primarily of mountains and
hills. Greece is surrounded on three sides by water and includes approximately
2,000 islands in the Aegean, Ionian, and M e d i t e r ranean seas.
Physical Landscapes 19

alive . On the Greek mainland, the on ly volcanic activity is

found on the Pel opon n e sus Pen i n su l a . The Greek islands,
however, are home to some of the world’s best known volca-
noe s . Loc a tion again proves to be important. The vo l c a n oe s
are located in an area known as the Aegean Volcanic Arc of
the eastern Mediterranean. It follows the subduction zone, or
deep sea tren ch, formed where the Af rican and Eu ropean
p l a te s collide. This zone, just off the Greek coast, is also the
deepest point in the Mediterranean Sea, with a depth of almost
15,000 feet (4,572 meters).
One of the volcanic islands, Sa n torini (also historically
k n own as Th era ) , bel on gs to a famous group of vo l c a n oe s . It
is still active and represents a potential danger to people living
nearby. Its fame, though, dates to around 1,650 B.C., when a
violent eruption and resulting tsunami (tidal wave) devastated
early cultures in the eastern Mediterranean. The eruption was
so strong that many hundreds of miles away, in Asia and Africa,
people felt its effects and recorded the event in their historical
annals. Many scholars even believe the story of the mythical
island of Atlantis, to which the ph i l o s oph er Plato famously
referred in his wri tings, was in fact a de s c ri ption of the Santori n i
eru pti on . P l a to noted that a well - devel oped civi l i z a ti onex i s ted
on the island of At l a n tis, but disappeared when the island
va n i s h edbeneath the sea because of violent natural forces. Even
if not true , the legend of At l a n tis is a fascinating story that has
p u z z l ed gen era ti ons of s ch o l a rs and laypeople alike .
About 2,000 islands scattered about the Aegean, Ionian,
and Mediterranean seas be long to Greece. They vary in size
from little more than small rocks protruding from the water to
Greece’s largest island, Crete. Islands generally are rugged and
quite dry, without major streams. Most of their settlem en t s
are oriented toward the sea. The Greek coastline measures
almost 8,500 miles (13,676 kilometers) in length, which for
such a small country is impressive. One might imagine that at
one point, Greece, like Norway, had many alpine-type glaciers
20 Greece

sliding into the sea and sculpting spectacular valleys. That was
not the case, however. During the Ice Age, Greece was too far
south to have major glaciers. Rather, its rugged coast was the
result of tectonics (earth-building forces). The Peloponnesus
Peninsula, which accounts for a large portion of the mainland,
s erves as a good example of h ow these forces shaped the
country. The peninsula is connected to the mainland by a thin
sliver of land that today is severed by the Corinth Canal (which
technically makes Peloponnesus an island).
Greek topography is dom i n a ted by mountains sep a ra ted
by short valleys. In some places, mountains rise spectacularly
straight out of the sea. Elsewhere , natural forces cre a ted
small plains or valleys, especially in areas near the coast.
Coastal plains were utilized from the beginning of the human
occupation of Greece. Through time, a number of large settle-
ments, including the capital and the largest city, Athens, were
established on flat, low-lying, coastal lands. Inland, the Pindus
Mountains are the country’s most significant mountain range.
As a southern extension of the Dinaric Alps, the Pindus spread
from Macedonia through the center of Greece, all the way to its
southern margi n . Famous Mount Olympus, with all its mys ti c a l
spirits, is the country’s highest point, reaching an elevation of
9,570 feet (2,917 meters).

Cl i m a te is a lon g - term avera ge of weather con d i tions,
whereas weather is the current atmospheric condition we talk
about on a daily basis. Except for higher elevations, the climate
in Greece is pr edominantly Mediterranean. This mild and
pleasant climate takes its name from the con d i tions that
surround much of the European Mediterranean Basin. Major
characteristics of this climate type are long, warm summers
and mild winters. This climate, regarded by many people to be
the world’s most pleasant, also occ u rs in southern coastal
California. Most precipitation falls during the winter months,
Physical Landscapes 21

The nation’s principal mountain range is the Pindus (Píndhos in Greek),

which run south from Macedonia and Albania to central Greece. A south-
ern extension of the Dinaric Alps, the Pindus divide the Greek provinces
of Thessaly and Epirus.

December to February, and is generally in the form of light and

continuous rain, rather than snow. Snowfall does occur at
higher elevations in the interior, however. Temperatures during
these mild wi n ters ra rely fall below free z i n g, and avera ges are
in the upper 40s and lower 50s (degrees Fahrenheit, or 10°C).
Summer temperatures are considerably warmer. Daily highs
often average in the 80s (mid-to-upper 20s°C) and occasionally
will reach into the upper 90s (mid-30s°C).
On very ra re occ a s i on s , tempera tu res climb to and above
a scorching 100°F (38°C). During recent ye a rs, Europe has
experienced unusually severe heat waves. In some Mediterranean
22 Greece

countries, including Greece, the weather took a serious toll,

killing many people. One reason for the hardship and suffering is
the European attitude about air-condition i n g.For some unkn own
reason, Europeans have never accepted air- conditioning. This
dislike, of co u rse, is qu i te the opposite of Am ericans, who
have enjoyed the comfort of artificially cooled air for decades.
Perhaps it is because of the European myth that being exposed
to air con d i tion ers prom o tes sickness and gen era tes poor
health. This provides a wonderful example of the way in which
culture, not the physical environment, influences our beh avi or
and dec i s i on s . Tod ay, the atti tu de is ch a n gi n g, parti a lly in
response to growing tourism. Visitors to Greece and othe r
Med i terranean countries now of ten have the lu x u ry of an
air-conditioned room when they rent an apartment, or house,
for their summer vacation.
With increasing elevation, cl i m a te gradually changes,
becoming more continental. Winter temperatures are lower,
precipitation is somewhat high er, and seasonal ch a n ges are
more noti ce a ble than along the coast. Because of its small
size, no place in the co u n try is more than about 50 miles
(80 kilometers) from the sea. This means that the con tinental
conditions men ti on ed earl i er occur only in the nort h ern moun-
tainous regi ons. One ch a racteri s tic of mountainous countries
su ch as Greece is that they have con s i derable variations in
cl i m a te , wh i ch re sults in va ri a ti ons in plant life . Tem pera tu re s ,
of co u rse, drop with increased el evation and moi s tu re of ten
increases. One can experience these changes by driving even
short distances from coastal tourist resorts into the countryside
and higher elevation. In the mountains, it can often become
unpleasantly chilly even during summer evenings.

Eco s ys tems—a regi on’s plant and animal life and water
feature s — a re influ en ced by climate more than any other natu ra l
factor. All life - forms have a natu ral habi t a t ; an environ m en t
Physical Landscapes 23

in which they can survive. Therefore, each plant and animal

species is found in certain climatic conditions and absent in
others . In terms of vegetation, the Med i terranean climate is
characterized by a lack of continuous forests; rather, flora is
dominated by shrubs, brush, and grasslands.
In Greece, as elsewhere throughout most of Europe, native
vegetati on was heavily distu rbed by human activities. Cl e a r-
ing land for agriculture, cutting woodlands for timber, and
extensive overgrazing by livestock all took their toll. In fact,
because of these and other ch a n ges introduced by hu m a n
activity, little if any of the original “natural” vegetation exists
anywhere on the continent today. Today, the Greeks are begin-
ning to pre s erve their remaining vegetation; they are more
concerned with income gained from tourism, and few tourists
want to see barren hillsides!
Greece’s flora is well ad a pted to the ex i s ting cl i m a tic con-
ditions, wh i ch inclu des high tempera tures and long periods
of severe drought du ring su m m er mon t h s . Because of these
con d i ti on s , plant life in the Mediterranean cl i m a te is su bj ect
to scorching f i res on a fairly regular basis. In order to su rvive,
plants must become invu l n era ble to damages from direct
ex po su re to reoccurring wildfires. This adaptation process
among some plants is very intere s ting. For ex a m p l e , some
s pecies, su ch as va rious pines, must be expo s ed to fire in order to
reprodu ce. Th ey are known as pyrophitic (fire resistant) plant
species. Other species successfully preserve water du ring summer
months in order to avoid fatal expo su re to drought. These plants,
found in Greece as well , are known as xerophytes.
The co u n trys i de landscape also inclu des a va ri ety of c u l ti-
va ted plants. Greece is known for its citrus fru i t s , wine produ c-
ing vi n eya rds, and olive trees that produ ce olives from wh i ch
olive oil is ex tracted . At high er el eva ti on s , the landscape changes
to uncultiva ted species of pines, beech , cypress, and other tree s
and shrubs. Ma ny plant species found in this co u n try are
en dem i c , meaning they are found on ly in Greece .
24 Greece

For the most part , animal species inhabi ting the co u n trys i de
a re rel a ted to other fauna com m on ly found in Eu rope,
although some Asian species are pre s en t , as well. As is true in
many other parts of the world, econ omic developm ent and
expansion of settlement drastically redu ced the habitat of
many large mammals. Bears, for example, exist but are limited
in distribution to more mountainous and isolated northern
a re a s . Few species pose a hazard to humans, although there
a re poisonous snakes. Vi pers, the deadliest snake in the
Med i terranean region, thrive here and can often be seen
warming up or re s ting on limestone rocks on a su n ny day. In
order to prevent furt h er reduction of endangered animal
s pecies, the govern m ent has cre a ted con s erva ti on programs
and establ i s h ed nati onal parks. Ten nati onal parks curren t ly
occupy more than 100,000 acres (4,050 hectares) of land. The
surrounding seas contain a bounty of marine life, including
many edible species of fish and shellfish.


Humans must be stewards of the natural environment. A
close correlation exists between the quality of the environment
and the quality of human life. Geographers have long recog-
nized that most severely degraded environments also are home
to people experiencing a very poor quality of life. A clean and
protected environment, some scholars believe, is a luxury that
only an affluent society can afford. Careful management of an
environment and its resources requires a considerable amount
of formal edu c a ti on (environ m ental awaren e s s ) , environ m en-
tal ethic (a desire to preserve, rather than exploit), time, and
financial resource s . E con omic development som etimes acts
as a do u bl e - ed ged sword : An expanding econ omy hel p s
peop l e live bet ter initi a lly, yet at the same time fast econ omic
and population growth may damage the environment. Athens,
one of the largest European cities, has been the destination of
many Greeks searching for a bet ter life. Because one in every
Physical Landscapes 25

three citizens of Greece curren t ly lives in the quick ly growing

At h ens area, the city battles choking air po lluti on. Haziness over-
running the city and famous classical arch i tectu ral landscape s
can be seen from miles away. This is a problem common to many
large urban areas worldwide and is difficult to overcome.
Na tu ral hazards are the va rious dangers natu re pre s ents to
humans. At least that is how they are defined. Yet geogra ph ers
recogn i ze that in reality it is cultu re, ra t h er than natu re, that
ex poses people to natu ral hazards. It may be difficult to grasp
t his philosophical con cept at first, but begin by imagining
for a mom ent two different cultu res living in a “treach ero u s”
envi ron m en t . Based on beliefs, c u s toms, traditions, and so
forth, each of them will develop different envi ronmental
percepti on s . One may see floods as a perm a n ent danger and
decide to reloc a te in order to avoid their recurring damage.
Ano t h er may simply accept flooding as som ething over
which they have no influence. Their belief s ys tem explains
such events as an act of god(s); something that will occur
rega rdless of where they live. We choose where to live , of ten
knowingly put ting ours elves in poten tial danger (for example,
living along active fault zones in Californ i a ) . Tod ay, m a ny
h a z a rdous events can be forecast and damage preven ted by
taking appropri a te acti on . O f ten su ch warnings are simply
ign ored, though. Na tu re can be destructive , but it is hum a ns ,
acting as cultu ral agents within their respective bel i ef sys tem s ,
that el ect to place them s elves in harm’s way or rem ove them-
selves from poten tial hazards.
Greece faces the om n i present threat of t wo poten tially
devastating hazards: volcanic eru ptions and eart h qu a ke s .
Currently, six of the country’s volcanoes are active (can erupt at
any time), and these are located on islands in the Aegean Sea.
They pose a potential threat to everyone living within at least a
100-mile (160-kilometer) radius. Volcanic eruptions can eject
huge amounts of scorching lava, ash, and gases. Earthquakes
are earth movements that occur deep below the surface. They
26 Greece

Earthquakes are one of the most prevalent natural disasters that occur
in Greece. Pictured here is the destruction left by the country’s most
devastating earthquake in recent years; one that hit Athens in September
1999 and registered 5.9 on the Richter scale.

can be devastating to land and structures built by humans, and

they often take a heavy toll on life and property. Greece’s most
destructive earthquake struck near the outskirts of Athens in
September 1999. About 150 people died, more than 35,000
homes were damaged or destroyed, and property losses soared
to billions of dollars.
Wildfires present a clear and present danger for every
Mediterranean country, including Greece. They happen during
bone - d ry su m m er months and can deva s t a tenatu ral veget a ti on ,
cultivated fields, and even settlements. Most of the fires are
caused by humans, and many are set deliberately. Lightning
occurs very rarely in the Mediterranean climate. One of the
Physical Landscapes 27

problems that affects the spread of fires is a limited amount of

available water during the months of summer drought. Except
for the Axios (Vardar) and Strimon (Struma) rivers, whose
headw a ters are deep in Macedonia and Bu l garia, few large
streams flow thro u gh Greece’s hilly co u n trys i de. It is not
unusual to see dry riverbeds or smal l streams disappear into
the rocky limestone-based g round and then reappear with
autumn rains.
In summary, the natural environment sets the stage for
human activities. G en era lly spe a k i n g, Greece has rugged terra i n
with little flat land, poor soils, little surface water, and a variety
of potentially devastating hazards. In the following chapters,
you will see how Greek culture overcame these obstacles to
become a leading civilization of antiquity and how it earned a
place among today’s modern world nations.
Through Time
uman beings have occ u p i ed sout h e a s tern Eu rope since
prehistoric times. Various human groups roamed the
area for thousands of ye a rs , s e a rching for good hu n t-
ing grounds and places to gather food and establish settlements.
Initially, these set t l em ents were tem pora ry stati ons for migra tory
gro u p s . When people began raising plants and keeping animals,
h owever, con d i tions changed drasti c a lly. The abi l i ty to produce
and store foodstuffs in one place contri buted to the cre a ti on of
perm a n ent set t l em en t s . This devel opm en t , b a s ed on plant and
animal dom e s ti c a ti on (the Agri c u l tu ral Revo luti on ) , gre a t ly
improved people’s qu a l i ty of life. It also provi ded the foundation
on wh i ch early civilizations were bu i l t . By 6,000 to 4,000 B.C., the
mainland and islands of pre s en t - d ay Greece su pported a sign i f i-
cant pop u l a tion. Hi s torically, this period correl a tes with the rise of
early settlem ents in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and essentially the

Greece Through Time 29

beginnings of what were to become the gre a test of ancient

Western civilizati on s .
At first, set t l em ents were small and isolated and faced
many geogra phic ch a ll en ges. On the mainland, ru gged terrain
presented a serious ob s t acle to mobility. Mountain ridges
made it difficult to establish transportation ro utes. Early
re s i dents of the Aegean coast natu ra lly chose the sea as thei r
primary means of connecting with people in other areas. Th ey
devel oped trade ro utes along seaboa rds and bet ween islands.
From early times, Greeks began tu rning to the sea, ra t h er than
the land, as their pri m a ry source of wealth and mobi l i ty.
G eogra phers and other scien tists intere s ted in the diffusion
( s pre ad) of material cultu re have traced early trade ro utes in
the eastern Med i terranean. Th ey have been able to do so by
a n a lyzing the spatial distributi on of po t tery, j ewel ry, and other
arch aeo l ogical arti f act s . Su ch re s e a rch stron gly su ggests that to
the Greeks and many other early peop l e s , the sea was a link
ra t h er than a barri er. The events just de s c ri bed took cen tu ri e s
to devel op. Fu rt h ermore, people bel on ging to early cultu res
residing around the Aegean Sea were not of Hellenic (Greek)
stock. Although they inhabited the region long before Greek
tribes migrated southward, scholars are still working on trying
to fit them into the right context.

The earliest highly developed culture in what is now Greece
was that of the Minoans, whose civilization flourished on the
island of Crete during much of the second millennium B.C.
Crete was well positioned to be the early crossroad of maritime
trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean. It was the exchange
place for goods from Egypt, the Aegean area, and Asia Minor.
By 1,800 B.C., the Minoan civilization was the strongest naval
power in the Med i terranean Se a . Abundant arch aeological
evidence suggests a high level of a f f lu ence in places like
Knossos, a leading settlement. Lavish palaces, various types of
30 Greece

One of the first major civilizations that developed in Greece was that of
the Minoans. Pictured here are ruins from a palace in Knossos, which is
located on the island of Crete and once was the center of Minoan society.

pottery, jewelry with sophisticated ornaments, and a domesti-

cally created alph a bet all provi de eviden ce of a high ly devel oped
civilization. The Minoans even had the world’s first indoor
plumbing and roads that are still in use today!
History teaches us that no civ ilization, no matter how
developed, survives forever. Even though the Minoan civiliza-
tion was powerful, it was not powerful en o u gh to recover
completely from natural disasters such as earthquakes and the
effects of nearby volcanic eruptions. Devastating earthquakes
s tru ck the island repe a tedly, l e aving en ti re cities in ru i n .
However, the ulti m a te decline of Mi n oan civilization came
not from natural events but from cultural causes. The Minoans
were victims of their own success. Because of their strategic
Greece Through Time 31

location and tremen dous we a l t h , they became a target for

invasions by out s i de force s .
One invading group responsible for the Minoan decline
was the Mycenaeans. This early Greek tribe built fortified
c i ties and establ i s h ed a powerful civi l i z a ti on on the mainland
about the same time the Minoan civilization was at its height.
Eventually, their interests clashed and a conflict for dominance
began. The Mycenaeans had a stronger and better organized
military. By the mid-fifteenth cen tury B.C., they had largely
destroyed the Minoan civilization and its tangible landmarks.
Ci ties lay in ruin, and the Minoan fleet was essentially
de s troyed, but many important Mi n oan cultu re traits, su ch
as their art and alph a bet , were adopted by those on the
mainland. Mycenae (the Mycenaean fortified city) became the
leader of the early Greek cultural realm and also held military
control over much of the region’s other cities and trade routes.
L a ter on , wh en other Greek-speaking peoples moved sout h-
ward, they found well-established urban set t l em ents. These
early c ivilizati on s , with their well - devel oped urban cen ters ,
provi ded the seeds from which Greek culture and civilization
grew. Greeks would soon become the dominant force on the
pen i n sula and thro u ghout the Aegean regi on .
As is true of a ny civilization, the evoluti on of ancient
Greek civilization was a len g t hy proce s s . In reality, it lasted
m ore than 1,000 years, from the glory days of the Mi n oan
civilization to the meteoric rise of the powerful city-states of
Athens and Sparta. Migrations from the north happened in
several stages. The best known movement of people was from
1,100 to 900 B.C., wh en the last wave of Greek tribes settled
in their present-day homeland. It occurred as part of a larger
migra ti on , a chain re acti on that even tually affected even
rem o te areas of the Mi d dle East and Egypt. This event was
even recorded in the Bible as the “invasion of sea people” who
permeated and settled coastal areas of Palestine. New arrivals
meant changes in population and military capability. Despite
32 Greece

technological supremacy and grandiose defensive walls around

its cities, the Mycenaean civilization was even tu a lly over-
powered and gradually replaced.
For the next few cen turies, Greece underwent a peri od of
decline of ten referred to as the regi on’s “ D a rk Age .” Ot h er than
what is su gge s ted by material arti f act s , little is known abo ut
this period of Greek history. The situ a tion is qu i te similar to
the collapse of i n s ti tutions in Western Eu rope beginning in
the fifth and sixth cen tu ries A.D. The recupera ti on peri od,
recognized historically as the “Mi d dle Age s ,” l a s ted severa l
cen tu ries. From what is known, Greece underwent a peri od of
stagnation lasting from 900 to 700 B.C. In some re s pects, though,
this should be vi ewed as a peri od of recovery rather than decline.
For example, du ring this time, the Hell enic ex p a n s i on began.
The results of c u l tu ral interacti on are tangi ble, p a rticularly in
pre s erved bu i l d i n gs and temples from that era built in Dori a n
architectu ral style (named after Dorian tri bes, wh i ch led what
became the Greek migra ti on and occupation). An o t h er even
more important Dorian con tri buti on was that they indirect ly
initiated the beginning of the gradual spre ad of Greek cultu re
out s i de the Aegean regi on. Population growth in the homeland
enco u ra ged furt h er migra ti on into new lands.


Around 700 B.C., Greeks began co l onizing all sectors of the
Med i terranean Sea and beyond. Pop u l a ti on growth, com bined
with unsu s t a i n a ble agri c u l tu ral practi ce s , were driving forces
behind the form a ti on of hu n d reds of set t l em en t s , stretch i n g
from pre s ent-day Spain to what is tod ay the co u n try of
Geor gia. Greek city - s t a tes would send co l onists to establish
set t l em ents overs e a s . O n ce they had ga i n ed a foothold in a
new land, the Greeks initi a ted agri c u l ture and trade with
locals. Th ey also en ga ged in many other aspects of cultural
i n teracti on and exch a n ge. Du ring the next two cen turies, these
colonies gre a t ly expanded the Greek cultu ral regi on and
Greece Through Time 33

Hell enic way of l i fe , reshaping the lives of many native pop u-

l a ti on s . For the first time in Eu ropean history, many different
geogra phic areas en j oyed a form of co s m opolitan life s tyl e
u n der the umbrella of Hell enic cultu re.
Rel i gion was one of the most su ccessful tools used by
the Greeks to peacefully spre ad their cultu ral influen ce .
Geographer Dan Stanislawski noted that in order to establish
better economic connections throughout the Mediterranean,
Greeks would introdu ce a cult of the wine god Di onysu s
whenever they made contacts with local merchants. Gradually,
worship of Dionysus became widespread among not just those
involved in trade, but many others. Eventually, worship of the
god of wine brought Greeks and non-Greeks closer together.
Of all colonies, those in Asia Minor (peninsular Turkey)
were the most developed. Coastal areas of present-day Turkey
were in close proximity to Greece, and the environments were
very similar. One new settlement was built in 667 B.C. on the
European side of the Bosporus Strait by c olonists from the
Greek mainland. They named it Byzantium, but it would even-
tually become known as Constantinople (present-day Istanbul,
Turkey)—the world’s greatest city for 1,000 years.
Toward the end of the sixth century B.C., the political
fortunes of Asia Minor began to change. Increasingly powerful
Persian kings were determined to conquer the known world.
After gaining control of the Middle East, they turned their
attention toward Asia Minor and Greece. For the next several
decades, a Persian threat hung over the Greeks. Huge Persian
military for ces, often numbering se veral hundred thousand
troops, defeated weaker Greek forces and pushed ever deeper
into Greek territory. At this time, however, Greece was not one
continuous empire. Rather, it was a large number of widely
scattered, autonomous city-states (polis). The Greeks managed
to regroup their forces for a final defensive stand against the
Persians. In 490 B.C., at the Battle of Marathon (on the Greek
peninsula), and later in the Battle of Salamina, the Greeks were
34 Greece

This map depicts Greece and the colonies it held circa 500 B.C. During
this era, Greece held sway over parts of present-day Turkey and Italy,
and repeatedly turned back threats from the mighty Persian Empire.

victorious. The tide began to turn, and soon the Persians were
expelled from European soil for good. A century and a half
later, when their forces collided again, the roles were reversed.
The Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, marched toward the
Persian capital and eventually conquered their empire.
Before Greece became a part of the Macedonian Empire of
Philip II and his son Alexander III (also known as Alexander
the Great), a century and a half of the most interesting period
in ancient Greece’s history would pass. It was the period during
which art and science flourished. Cosmographers (early geog-
raphers) such as Herodotus recorded their observations about
the ecumene (inhabited world). Artisans built palaces, temples,
and exqu i s i te statues of gods. P l ay wrights wrote won derf u l
Greece Through Time 35

dramas. Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle produced

classical works that are still considered masterpieces. Much of
what we ch erish tod ay as the legacy of ancient Greece was
created in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Athens, which
eventually overpowered all political competitors, including its
main rival Sparta, became a center of the Hellenic world.


Success and wealth attracts those who want it for them s elves.
In the case of the Greeks, it was a man whose appetite for con-
quering the rest of the world was greater than any in previous
history. Many consider Alexander the Great of Macedonia to be
the greatest conqueror in the history of the world. Macedonians
led by Alexander’s father, Philip II, conquered and unified
Greece. Alexander (356–323 B.C.) continued on this path, and
by the time of his death he was ruling over the vast lands
between southeastern Europe, Egypt, and India. With every
military expedition, Greek culture followed. Alexander was in
many ways not just a conqueror but a unifying force, as well.
His policies were to incorporate lands into his empire and have
people benefit from Greek culture. Like no one before or after,
Alexander had a habit of establishing cities named after him.
Many of those cities still bear his name, the best known being
the Egyptian city of Alexandria.
Greeks were known as “people of the book.” They respected
and appreciated learning, which is why they were welcomed
almost everywh ere as merchants and scholars. The Greek
lang u a ge was one of the earliest forms of intern a ti onal com mu-
nica ti on. It was an ancient lingua fra n c a, a language spo ken
by peoples of d i f ferent language back grounds who need a
common language for diplomatic and economic purposes. The
Greek pre s en ce was felt in places as distant as the mountains
of Afghanistan and India, where the memory of Greek culture
and even some Greek cultu ral traits lingered for cen tu ries.
British military com m a n ders reaching Afghan villages from
36 Greece

India in the nineteenth century were su rprised to learn that

in some of them, re s i dents traced their lineage to the Greek
residents of ancient Bactria (an old kingdom in Afghanistan).
Not long after the decline of Macedonian rule, Greece
became a part of another empire, which would rule for many
centuries. By the mid-first century B.C., well-organized military
units of the Roman Empire were alre ady contro lling most
of the Greek hom eland. This marked the beginning of an
interesting relationship; one in which political power and orga-
nization came from Rome, but most other aspects of culture
were being accepted from Greeks. In fact, Romans eagerly and
effectively integrated many elements of Greek culture into their
own. This exchange is evident in “Roman” art, literature, and
architectu re, wh i ch were all heavi ly influ enced by Greek culture.
The Greeks, meanwhile, were content to be members of the
cosmopolitan Roman Empire, the boundaries of which encom-
passed the Mediterranean world. For the next four and a half
centuries, Greece was a part of the Roman Empire. Beyond the
feeling of belonging to a vast empire, however, the Greeks did
not really benefit from their role in the alliance. All roads led to
Rome, not to Athens. Greece grad ually became a remote
province that was fast losing its charm and glory.
By the fourth century A.D., the Roman Empire experienced
i n ternal struggles and a general decline in its power. A few
strong rulers su ch as Constantine managed temporarily to
keep a ti ght grip. As an em peror, Con s t a n tine made two major
con tributions. He made Ch ristianity the official religion of
the Roman Empire. Al s o, in 330 A.D., he rel oc a ted the empire’s
capital, moving it to the city of Constantinople, thereby shift-
ing the source of power and wealth into a Greek-speaking
region. With these two decisions, Constantine single-handedly
changed the course of Greece’s people and culture for the next
16 centuries.
The relocation of the capital from Rome to Constantinople
re su l ted in a great increase in the organizati on , power, and
Greece Through Time 37

In the fourth century A. D., Roman emperor Constantine established

Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) as the Eastern Roman Empire’s
capital. Over the next millennium, the city was not only the center of the
Greek-speaking world but also was the richest and most powerful city in
Europe during the Middle Ages. Pictured here is Hagia Sophia, which was
built in the sixth century A.D. and is the city’s most famous structure.

i n f lu en ce of the eastern half of the empire. Wh en the Rom a n

Empire finally bro ke into eastern and western sections 65
ye a rs later, Greece became part of the stron ger Eastern Rom a n
Empire, wh i ch in va rious forms su rvived until the fifteen t h
cen tu ry. For most of that time, it was a strong player on the
geopo l i tical scene of s o ut h e a s tern Eu rope and Asia Mi n or,
while pre s erving Greek cultu re there. The We s tern Rom a n
E m p i re was we a k . In fact , a cen tury after the split, it was
destroyed by advancing German tribes. Because of its ability
to prevent perm a n ent intru s i on and set t l em ent of Sl avic and
G ermanic tri bes into Greece, the Eastern Roman Empire
(k n own incorrect ly as the Byzantine Empire) pre s erved
38 Greece

Greek cultu ral dom i n a n ce and their national iden tity on the
Aegean Pen i n su l a .
The rise of Constantinople also generated a power struggle
bet ween the pope of Rome and the patri a rch (arch bishop) of
Con s t a n ti n ople. This stru ggle con ti nu ed for cen tu ries unti l
Christianity finally bro ke into two sep a rate groups, in 1054:
Roman Catholic and Eastern Ort h odox . All lands under
the influ en ce of the Eastern Roman Empire, wh i ch inclu ded
Greece, became a part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. If
anyone knows anything abo ut the history of s o ut h e a s tern
Eu rope, he or she certainly knows how important rel i gi on is
to people living there. In the po l i tical con tex t , for example,
Ea s tern Ort h odox rel i gi on was of ten used as a tool for Russia
to generate support from Greeks, Serbs, and others against its
en emies. In recent ye a rs , Greeks publ i cly su pported Eastern
Orthodox Serbs during the Yugoslav ethnic wars.


During the turbulent Middle Ages, when much of Europe
was in disarray for sev eral centuries, Greece was the place
where successful preservation of knowledge took place. During
its zenith, Constantinople was the richest and one of the largest
cities in the world. At a time when Rome and Paris were
surrounded with swamps and peasantry, Greek cities managed
to preserve ideas and te ach i n gs of great classical sch o l a rs.
Cen tu ries later, this knowled ge even tually found its way to It a ly
and Western Europe, where it helped inspire the dawn of the
Renaissance period. During much of the Middle Ages, prior to
falling under Turkish control, Greece and the Eastern Roman
Empire were the bellwether of European civilization.
By the eleventh century, another danger appeared. It came
from the directi on from wh i ch Persian armies had march ed
15 centuries earlier. Turks, a group of nomadic tribes originally
from Cen tral As i a , had begun migra ting westward, all the way
to Asia Mi n or. F i rs t , Sel juk Turks and later Osman Turks
Greece Through Time 39

gradu a lly we a ken ed the Eastern Roman Empire until 1453, wh en

even Constantinople fell into Turkish hands and was renamed
Is t a n bul. Tu rks con ti nu ed marching westward, ulti m a tely
occupying all lands in southeastern Europe. All Greek lands,
mainland and islands, became a part of the Turkish cultural
sphere. Although Turks accepted many Greek cultural traits,
the basic difference was religious. The Turks were Muslim and
the Greeks were Christian. Muslims were hardly wel come in a
Chri s tian land, and being Ch ri s tian in the Ot toman Empire
(as the Tu rkish state was known) was not wi t h o ut its difficulties,
either. As Christians, Greeks had to pay higher taxes and their
children had to serve in the Turkish army. There were many
other regulations that generated ill-feelings; after four centuries
of Turkish occupation, these grew to be substantial.
Under Turkish rule, Greek development remained rather
stagnant. As elsewhere in southeastern Europe, the economy
was dwindling ra t h er than developing. During this time,
Western Europe was on the brink of the Industrial Revolution,
an event that would once again move the center of civilization
westward. Fortunately for Greeks in the eighteenth and the
beginning of the nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire
was not the force it once was. Its power was rapidly declining,
wh i ch made room for nations to push for independen ce .
Foll owing the example of other nati ons in their search for
independence, Greeks started an uprising against Turkish
rule in the 1820s. In 1832, after substantial bloodshed, they
broke free of Turkish rule. At that time, not all present-day
Greek lands were included in the new ly independent state.
Although decades later, the Greeks had to fight new wars to
regain portions of their former territory, it was the beginning
of a modern Greek state.

The goal of uniting all Greek territories into one state was
not an easy task. In this instance, geographical location was in
40 Greece

many ways a curse. World powers had alw ays wanted to gain
a foothold in this extremely volatile and strategic corner of
Europe. Great Britain and France did not want Russia to gain
access to the Mediterranean region. Russia, meanwhile, was
co u n ting on its Greek fri ends to help them oust the Turks
from Constantinople. Toward the end of the nineteenth cen tu ry,
Bulgaria and Serbia were both independent and eyeing their
own territorial expansion southward toward Greece. Conflict
once again loomed just over the horizon.
The early twentieth century brought exactly that—conflict.
First Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria went to war against the Turks
and defeated them in 1912. A year later, Greeks and Serbs
joined forces against the Bulgarians, resulting in the acquisition
of additional territories. In 1914, World War I broke out with
Greece and the Ottoman Empire on different sides. Vast
numbers of ethnic Greeks still lived outside the Greek home-
land, a majority of them residing in Asia Minor. For joining
anti-German forces, Greece was promised western Anatolia,
but instead it ended up in an unsuccessful war with Turkish
revo luti on a ry forces (under the command of Kemal At a tu rk )
that lasted from 1918 until 1922. As a re sult of this con f l i ct , the
Greeks lost an opportunity to incorporate their compatriots
f rom Asia into one country. Most ethnic Greeks in Turkey
(as well as Turks from Greece) experienced vo luntary and
“recom m ended” rel oc a tion that was little more than ethnic
cl e a n s i n g. Af ter the war with Turkey, Greece’s current geo-
graphic boundaries were established.
People and
ll geog raphy is essentially cultural geograph y. Geographers,
af ter all, stu dy the spatial distri buti ons and patterns of who
is is doing what, where, and why. They also are interested in
knowing and interpr eting the results of the human imprint on
Earth’s surface, the cultural landscape. Why people do certain things
in certain ways (which are of ten unique to the particular group) is
a pri m a ry interest of cultu ral geogra ph ers . The most important
aspects shaping the lifestyle of each cultural group are its peoples’
sense of bel on ging (et h n i c i ty, rel i gi on , society, and so fort h ) , language,
edu c a ti on , d i et , and dem ogra phic factors (also, po l i tic al sys tems
and economic activity, both of which are important enough to treat
in separate chapters). Once you are familiar with major cultural
characteristics of Greece’s residents, you can decide for yourself what
it is that makes Greeks similar to other people in some ways and

42 Greece

much different in others. It is these aspects of their way of life

that make them a distinct culture.

As emphasized in the previous ch a pter, for a vari ety of
his torical reasons Greece is a rel a tively hom ogenous co u n try
in ethnic terms (most of the people are from the same ethnic
back ground). Considering that the Aegean Peninsula has served
as a bridge linking Europe and Asia since ancient times, one
might expect greater ethnic diversity. The tremendous ethnic
diversity of its northern neighbors in the former Yugoslavia is
well known. There, many groups share living space in close
proximity. In Greece, ethnic diversity occurs on a region-to-
region basis. The Greeks have a very strong sense of nationalism
(of “being Greek”). Because of this feeling, ethnic issues are
often a matter of heated political debate. Ninety-eight percent
of the co u n try’s people are ethnic Greeks (that is, of Greek
c u l tu ral heritage). In order to preserve ethnic hom ogen ei ty in
t h eir co u n try, Greek public opinion of ten is very cri tical of other
people who ex press a de s i re to be som ething other than ethnic
Gree k . Th ey are afraid that if people are all owed to assume a
non-Greek (that is, t h eir own trad i ti onal) iden ti ty, it may cause
problems. They may even seek to become po l i ti c a lly indepen-
dent, as was the case with the many et h n i c i ties in the form er
Yugo s l avia. Con s equ en t ly, trying to su ppress the recogn i ti on of
ethnic Macedonians, in the eyes of some people, for example,
means not having to deal with potential ethnic separatism.
This view, of course, certainly is not uniquely Gr eek. In
fact, it is found elsewhere in Europe. Just across the border in
Bulgaria, a similar “solution” was introduced to prevent the
country’s Turkish minority from officially beco ming ethnic
non-Bulgarians. These forms of extreme nationalism are cruel
and discri m i n a tory. Yet it is important to understand why
they occur and how they affect a co u n try’s citi zens. This is
particularly true for Greece . A strong sense of n a ti on a l i s m
People and Culture 43

For a nation in which 98 percent of its citizens are ethnic Greek, the preservation
of Greek culture is extremely important. For example, members of the Greek
infantry who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Athens’s Syntagma
Square wear traditional Greek clothing.
44 Greece

(self-identity as a nation of peoples) should be expected in a

country that has a history of turbulence, civil wars, dictatorial
governments, and territorial disputes with neighbors.

So who are the people living in Greece today? What is their
back ground? How do the co u n try’s citi zens differ from on e
another in terms of culture and self-identity?

Ethnic Greeks
Today, Greeks are really a mixtu re of many peoples who,
throughout thousands of ye a rs , came to and left their mark on
the Aegean Pen i n su l a . Originally, h owever, Greeks were an
In do - Eu ropean tri be , a stock having ancestry com m on to
many peoples dispers ed through o ut mu ch of Eurasia. Peop l e
iden tified as Indo-Europeans are gen erally believed to have
come from Asia Mi n or (pen i n sular Turkey) during the
Neolithic period (perhaps 7,000 B.C.). From there , they
migra ted in many directi ons, eventu a lly reaching the Russian
steppes in the north and India in the east. S ch o l a rs were able
to track these migra ti ons by fo ll owing the evo luti on and
s pre ad of the In do - Eu ropean language . Even though no on e
speaks ori ginal In do - European, of co u rs e , the linguistic roo t s
were pre s erved. This is how Greeks were iden ti f i ed as peop l e
of In do - Eu ropean stock. Intere s tingly, the Greeks are not
ethnically rel a ted to any of t h eir nei gh bors , most of wh om
migra ted to sout h e a s tern Europe long after the Greeks were
already establ i s h ed there .
In i ti a lly, the languages spoken by Greek tri bes settling the
Aegean Peninsula were used to identify common ancestry; the
same met h od was used to iden tify non - Greek peoples living
in the region. Because they did not migrate as one single
gro u p, but thro u gh the series of m i gra ti ons over ti m e ,
a n c i ent Greeks had to figure out who they re a lly were .
An o t h er cultural indicator that helped iden tify Greeks was
People and Culture 45

their religi on . O n ly Greeks wors h i ped the pantheon of god s

l ed by Zeus, the su preme god in ancient Greek myt h o l ogy.
Contemporary Greeks do not question their direct lineage
f rom their ance s tors . Most Greeks will argue, and righ tf u lly
so, that they are direct de s cendants of a n ce s tors who fought
Persian or Roman invaders 25 cen turies ago. Greeks take great
pride in their heri t a ge and ethnicity, no matter wh ere they
l ive . Ma ny Greeks have lived outside their homeland for
gen era ti on s , yet their sense of ethnic bel on ging remains as
strong as that of Greeks living in Greece . This strong attach m ent
to their trad i ti onal cultu re can be seen in many large North
American cities. One only needs to visit a Greek restaurant that
has been in the hands of a single family for several generations
to witness the strong attachment to the hom eland and its
cultural traditi on s .
Because of various circumstances, ranging from wars to
widespread poverty, Greeks have long experienced one of the
highest emigration rates in Europe. In descending order based
on percentages of national population, Greeks, Irish, Italians,
and Croats have produced the gr eatest number of migrants.
Most of those sharing Greek ancestry today live in traditional
emigrants’ havens of the New World such as the United States,
Canada, and Australia. After the military conflict with Turkey
ended in 1923, large numbers of displaced Greeks found new
homes in the New World. Perhaps the best known of these
refugees was Aristotle Onassis. After leaving Turkey, his family
moved to Argentina, where he eventually became one of the
world’s richest men, with a fortune built primarily on shipping,
oil, and the airline industry.
In the decades following World War II, thousands of ethnic
Greeks left the country to search for better jobs in Western
Europe, primarily Germany. War-ravaged Germany demanded
more labor than its own population was able to support.
For most immigra n t s , t h eir jobs were su ppo s ed to last on ly
tem pora rily. Tod ay, h owever, m a ny times two or even three
46 Greece

gen era ti ons of German-born Greeks reside in this country.

Th is is of ten the case among migrant gro u p s . Even though
nostalgia and a strong de s i re to retu rn home are important,
the opportu n i ty for econ omic su ccess is an even stron ger
m o tiva ti on. In the regi on around Greece , most ethnic Gree k s
l iving out s i de of t h eir hom eland re s i de in two co u n tri e s ,
Albania and the island of Cypru s .

Ethnic Non-Greeks
In Greece’s northwestern provinces, Albanians are the
main ethnic minority. Some of t h em have been living in
mountainous areas for cen turies. Ot h ers arrived more recen t ly
as immigrants searching for better paying jobs than those
ava i l a ble in their hom el a n d . ( Albania is the poorest Eu ropean
country.) Even though Albanians and Greeks are immed i a te
neigh bors , ethnically they are unrel a ted. Their on ly link is
that at some time in the distant past, both groups had In do-
European ancestors. Albanians, however, are one of southeastern
Europe’s oldest inhabi t a n t s . It is believed that they de s cen ded
from the Illyri a n s , who in a series of migra ti on waves set t l ed in
what is now Albania around 1,200 B.C. In tern a lly, Al b a ni a ns
are divided into two main groups. The Ghegs re s i de mainly in
the north, whereas the Tosks are southern Albanians and make
up the majority of Albanians who live in Greece. Greece’s et h n i c
Albanian population, e s pec i a lly those who have been living in
t he co u n try for gen era ti ons, is mostly Ort h odox Christian. It is
estimated that perhaps a half-million Albanians curren t ly live i n
Greece. Precise numbers are difficult to determine because of
h i gh and con s t a n t ly rising ra tes of i ll egal immigration.
Th ere are also ethnic Tu rks in Greece . The ance s tors of
modern - d ay Tu rks came from near the Altai Mountains, a
region bordering Mongolia, Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.
Turks were not just one ethnic group, either, but rather many
groups of related tribes. Over a span of several centuries during
the medieval period, several different tribes migrated westward
People and Culture 47

and even tually establ i s h ed military con trol over local ru l ers .
Th eir nu m bers were small at the beginning, but the Turks
m a n a ged to incorpora te many other peoples into thei r
culture, thereby increasing their nu m erical strength through
a process known as acculturation. People were willing to
become “Tu rk s” because of rel i gi on and other perceived
cultural advantages. They do not share common ancestry
with Indo-European peoples, but in Eu rope they are rel a ted
to Hungarians and Finns. In As i a , they are rel a ted to most
ethnicities in Cen tral As i a .
During the time of the Ottoman Empire, Turks were spread
t h ro u gh o ut the eastern Mediterranean and sout h e a s tern
Europe. Once the empire declined in power, however, many
ethnic Turks migrated back to Turkey. Between the time o f
Greek independence in 1829 and the beginning of World War I
in 1914, a large Turkish minority lived in northeastern Greece.
Pre s ent nu m bers are dra s ti c a lly lower, h owever, bec a u s e
of both voluntary and pre s su red pop u l a ti on migrati on since
1923. Al t h o u gh official numbers are vague, it is bel i eved that
some 100,000 Turks still live in the Th race region of Greece.
Ethnic Greeks and Turks share — or, more re a l i s ti c a lly, do not
s h a re!—the living space on the island of Cyprus. Although
this small island is now a sep a ra te co u n try, it long had been
traditionally Greek in terms of ethnicity and history. Af ter
Turkish military interven ti on in the early 1970s, Cyprus was
d ivi ded into two ethnic and political zon e s , one Greek and
one Turk.
For official government purposes, Greece is the country
of Greeks (cl a i m ed to repre s ent 98 percent of the population).
Ethnic minori ties are gen era lly ign ored , or of f i c i a lly decl a red
to be Greeks. This is the case with the many Macedonians who
l ive in the nort h ern part of the country. Some Macedon i a n s
are of Slavic origin and related to those living in the country’s
neighbor to the north, the Form er Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia. Because Greece does not recognize their minority
48 Greece

sta tu s , however, these citi zens “of f i c i a lly ” do not exist. In

addition, major urban centers are home to increasingly grow-
ing numbers of immigrants (legal and illegal) from African and
Asian countries. As a member of the European Union, Greece
is the first stopover on the road toward Western Europe. The
country is an attractiv e first destination for many of those
looking for a better life.

Most people travel to Greece for three reasons. The first
group searches for a pleasant and scenic place to spend the ir
summer vacations. The second group comes because of their
interest in ancient Greek culture and its many artifacts. Finally,
Greece is also a destination for those interested in religious
landscapes and history, particularly those relating to Greek
Eastern Ort h odox Christianity. The majori ty of Greeks con s i der
themselves Eastern Orthodox Ch ristians. Their chu rch is
independent of any larger ruling body, although it is loosely
tied to other Orthodox faiths and the ecumenical patriarch of
Constantinople. The patri a rch is the nominal leader of all
Ort h odox Ch ristians. This is the primary differen ce bet ween
Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, who recognize the
pope of Rome as their spiritual leader.
The country’s cultural landscape displays a rich religious
heritage. Even the smallest village in the remote countryside
has a place of worship with dom e - l i ke roof tops and Gree k
crosses. Famous mon a s teries perch ed on top of s teep hills a n d
rocks in the provi n ce of Th e s s a ly are well known . Mon k s
h ave occupied them for 1,000 years. Today, these humble yet
spectacular mon a s teries are a main to u rist attracti on in that
part of Greece . A mill en n ium ago, however, their main role
was to provide solitu de - s e a rching monks with a ref u ge from
the world. Monasteries of Meteora are tremendous architec-
tural achievements. In early days, the only way to gain access
was to wait for ladders to be brought down. Another option
People and Culture 49

Religion is an important part of Greek culture; more than 95 percent of the

nation’s citizens are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pictured h e r e
are worshippers making their way into a traditional Orthodox church,
which typically includes a dome-like rooftop and Greek crosses.
50 Greece

was to attempt to scale the steep cliffs, re sulting in almost

certain death for all but the most experienced climbers.
In northern Greece , a n o t h er famous Eastern Orthodox
l an d s c a pe exists. The complex of almost two dozen monasteries
located on the Mount Athos Peninsula is a rem a rk a ble scen e .
These mon a s teries do not belong exclu s ively to the Greek
Ort h odox Chu rch . Some belong to other Eastern Orthodox
faiths su ch as Russian, Serbi a n , or Rom a n i a n . Mount Athos,
loc a ted not far from Thessaloniki, is a major pilgrimage site .
Here, one can of ten see dign i t a ries from other Ort h odox coun-
tries. In 2005, Vladimir Putin became the first Russian president
to visit this loc a ti on and pay his re s pects to Mount Athos.
A small number of Greeks belong to the Greek Catholic
Church. All religious ceremonies and traditions in this church
are of Eastern Orthodox origin. Because of historical conflicts,
h owever, this faith is officially affiliated with the Rom a n
Catholic Church and looks to the pope of Rome for leadership.
Most Turks living in Greece are Muslims and follow the
Islamic teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. In their case,
practicing a different religion is a way of preserving their own
ethnic identity. Some Albanians living in Greece are Orthodox
Christians, whereas others are Muslims. The latter group was
relatively small throughout history, but in recent decades it has
begun to grow rapidly because of increased immigration from
Muslim Albania. Ma ny Albanians, especially those who
arrived from tribal areas of cen tral and nort h ern parts of their
homeland, are only nominally religious. Many of them follow
ancient tribal codes of honor.
As is true el s ewh ere in Europe, Greece has become incre a s-
ingly secular during recent dec ades. Most con temporary
Greeks rarely visit a church outside important religious
h o l i d ays. Younger gen era tions appear to be less rel i gious than
t h eir parents or gra n d p a ren t s . Urbanization, popular cultu re,
and growing indivi dualism are some of the re a s ons for the
adva n ce of agnosticism and athei s m . More and more peop l e
People and Culture 51

seem to con s i der religi on more as a form of cultural heri t a ge

and cel ebra te it that way.
The Greek cultural heritage is significantly symbolized
by the many temples built by ancient Greeks. Today these
remnants are mainly of i n terest to arch aeo l ogists and touri s t s.
Yet these temples remind us of pre - Christian times, when
Greeks practiced different religious beliefs. Their religion was
polyt h ei s tic, meaning they believed in many gods inste ad of
a single unifying god . Di f ferent gods had different roles that
people would respect and celebrate. Apollo was a sun god, Ares
the god of war, Aphrodite the goddess of love, and so forth.

Demographic (demography is the statistical study of the
human pop u l a tion) trends in Greece are the reflection of
gen eral trends shared by most European countri e s . Al t h o u gh
many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America experience
pop u l a tion growth, a majority of Eu ropean postindustrial
societies face the prospect of population decline. In terms of
dem ogra phic ch a n ge s , co u n tries pass thro u gh several stage s .
At the begi n n i n g, both birth- and death ra tes are high, which
keeps populations from expanding rapidly. This is a character-
istic of rural agricultural (preindustrial) societies. Then, when
society enters the indu s trial phase, death ra tes become mu ch
l ower, but birthrates remain high. This is the stage most of the
developing world is experi encing tod ay. Finally, societies in
the postindustrial stage (developed countries) experience low
death ra tes and very low bi rthra te s . Wh en the final stage is
re ached, population growth is slow and can even decline if
m ore people die than are born .
Rapid urbanization, increased formal education of women,
and change from an industrial to postindustrial (ser vice- and
information-based economy) are some of the factors influenc-
ing Greece’s current demographic trends. Younger people tend
to marry late, or not marry at all, and have fewer children than
52 Greece

previous gen erations. L i fe s tyle changes from agri c u l tural

(where children were considered the form of family capital) to
postindustrial (cash economy) are directly affecting Gr eece’s
dem ographic pictu re. As elsewh ere in the We s tern world,
pursuing edu c a ti on, c a reers, and econ omic opportunities, rather
than having larger families, are becoming a priority for females.
Young Greeks understand that in toda y’s world, having
more children also means a greater economic burden. Another
important factor is migration from the countryside. Birthrates
in rural areas are traditionally much higher than those of urban
cen ters . In urban cen ters su ch as At h ens and Th e s s a l on i k i ,
population growth resulting from births has become stagnant.
Ci ties grow because of m i gra ti on into them . Almost half
of Greece’s population, for example, l ives in the At h ens
metropolitan are a , but nearly all of the growth has resulted
f rom in-migration.
The Greek pop u l a ti on, like that in most of Eu rope, is
becoming older. Today, the con ti n en t’s life expectancy at bi rth
is 80 ye a rs. If these trends con ti nue du ring the next couple of
decades, Greece will join those European co u n tries that are
battling population decline. Cu rrent fertility rates (the
nu m ber of ch i l d ren to wh i ch the avera ge woman will give
birth) are below 2.1, which is the minimum to prevent natu ral
pop u l a ti on decl i n e . It is obvi o u s , t h en , that in order to manage
pop u l a ti on issu e s , Greece must find a soluti on that will all ow
it to avoid serious econ omic and po l i tical probl em s . Having
too few young people cre a tes a lack of laborers to su pport
econ omic growth. One possibi l i ty is to en co u ra ge immigra-
ti on to the co u n try and to all ow large nu m bers of n on ethnic
Greeks to find homes and work there. This will not be an easy
task, however, because of the Gree k s’ strong de s i re to retain
their co u n try’s ethnic puri ty.
Life expectancy at the time of birth continues to increase,
wh i ch is why nearly 20 percent of the current pop u l a ti on
is ov er 65 years of age. Cu rrently, the average age of life
People and Culture 53

Like many European countries, Greece has an aging population, but perhaps
more troubling is the nation’s low birthrate, which stood at 9.7 per every
1,000 persons in 2005. If the birthrate continues to trend downward,
Greece won’t have enough laborers to support economic growth in a
country that has had a difficult time developing its rural economy.

ex pectancy is 79 ye a rs; although with further improvem en t s

in medicine and in gen eral qu a l i ty of l i fe , we can ex pect that
number only to keep climbing upward. As elsewhere, females
live a few years longer than males.

It has been said that people’s diet represents one of their
most important cultural indicators. What people eat and the
way they eat can provide a tremendous amount of information
about local lifestyles. People eat what they are. Many customs
and manners are reflected in diet, especially in rural areas
where changes occur slowly. Diet is a great example of cultural
54 Greece

dif f u s i on; that is, a spre ad of food preferences from one

c u l tu re group to another. In parts of Europe, Christians will
eat different types of food than Muslims, who avoid pork. In
some areas, beer drinkers are in the majority, whereas in others
wine is the drink of ch oi ce. A similar situati on exists in the
difference between coffee and tea consumption.
Those living in con ti n ental areas aw ay from the sea
consume mu ch more red meat and hearty meals. The
Med i terranean diet, on the other hand, consists primarily of
grains, fresh veget a bl e s , fish and other seafood , and gen ero u s
amounts of olive oil. This diet is very healthy; few Greeks
or oth er Med i terranean people have diet - rel a ted ill n e s s e s
or suffer from obesity.
Greece is well known for its fabulous cuisine, and the
West is familiar with many Greek dishes. Most Am eri c a n s , for
example, would recogn i ze pita bread, cucumber sauce , ri ce
roll ed in gra pe leaves, kalamata olives, va rious eggplant-based
dishes including moussaka, and many other Greek delicacies.
In additi on to fish and other seafood, lamb is con s i dered a
staple meat. S h eeph erding is a millennia-long trad i tion on
both the mainland and Aegean islands, so it is not difficult to
u n derstand why lamb is Greece’s favorite red meat.
One fine illustration of cultural association is baklava. This
famous de s s ert is popular throughout sout h e a s tern Eu rope
and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as in the United States.
Although basically a pastry of flaky structure covered with a
honey-based syrup, baklava is prepared in many different ways
based on regional differences and dietary preferences. It is a
wonderful example of how food shapes regional identities!
Because of t h eir Med i terranean diet , Greeks gen era lly
avoid heavy meals that can cause high bl ood pre s su re and
h eart disease, a leading cause of death in the West. Olive oil and
wine are known for having substances that, while consumed in
modera ti on , provi de substantial health ben efits. Greeks love
t h eir olive oil and wine, both of which are consu m ed du ring
People and Culture 55

nearly every meal. Th ey also bel i eve that good food pro l on gs
l i fe . Scien tists who have stu d i ed the lon g - l iving pop u l a ti on of
the island of Crete agree. Cretans boast one of Eu rope’s lon ge s t
l i fe spans, wh i ch nutri ti onal scien tists attri bute to a good diet .
Th ey believe that there and on other Aegean islands, hu m a n
l on gevi ty and low ra tes of heart attacks are direct ly rel a ted to
what people eat and drink.
A typical Greek dinner includes delicious appetizers, salads,
and a few main co u rses accom p a n i ed by a glass of wine and
s om ething sweet to finish the meal. In the Mediterranean
region, people tend to enjoy late dinners and not hurry while
dining. So many of us in the West consume food just to satisfy
hunger, rapidly chewing large bites of deep-fried fast food of
questionable nutritional quality, but G reeks “dine.” Dinner,
most Greeks bel i eve , is a cultu ral and social ex peri en ce ; i t
is a festival for on e’s mouth, ra t h er than the fulfillment of
biological needs.
and Politics
em oc rac y, a term of Greek ori gin de s c ri bing the spec i f i c
po l i tical sys tem of rule by citi zen s , was som ething con tem-
porary Greece acquired rel a tively late . It is rather paradoxical
that the cradle of dem oc racy was of ten the site of u n democ ra tic
regimes. The modern po l i tical history of Greece is ra t h er com p l ex.
Af ter a len g t hy time of political turmoil, foll owed by periods of
relative calm, the co u n try is today a rep u blic with a progre s s ive
democracy. Lon gstanding geopolitical issu e s , parti c u l a rly with
Greece’s nei gh bors , seem to have subsided . In the past, Greece lived
u n der the om n i pre s ent threat of ex ternal, or even intern a l , military
con f l i ct. Tod ay, these con cerns are fading aw ay, and Greece can
con cen tra te its po l i tical atten ti on more on econ omic issues and
o t h er ways of improving the life of its citi zens. This is not to say that
h a rdships of previous times are for go t ten. In this part of the worl d ,
m em ories fade slowly wh en it comes to po l i tics.

Government and Politics 57


Greece came out of World War II shaken , but gen era lly in
much better shape than many other countries that experienced
trem en dous deva s t a ti on and loss of l i fe . Unfortu n a tely, the
co u n try was experiencing mounting internal problems
bet ween opposing po l i tical facti on s . Short ly after Greece had
been libera ted from German occ u p a ti on and the mon a rchy
h ad been topp l ed , c ivil war eru pted. As was the case in nei gh-
boring Yugoslavia, it was a confrontation between Communists
and Nationalists. E ach side believed it could lead the co u n try
i n to a better futu re ; although in terms of po l i tical ori en t a ti on ,
t h ey were va s t ly differen t . In Yu go s l avia, the internal political
con f l i ct and World War II occurred simu l t a n eo u s ly. In Greece ,
the civil con f l i ct eru pted in 1946, a f ter the Na ti onalists won
the majori ty of vo tes in the electi on s .
Both Greek facti ons received out s i de su pport . Th e
Com munists were supported by Yu go s l avia and the Soviet
Union, wh ereas the Nati onalist govern m ent received help
f rom the West. Com munist forces lost the civil war mainly
because they received less internal su pport from the Gree k s
themselves. In ad d i ti on , the atten tion of Yu go s l avia and the
Soviet Union was diverted from Greece by their own seri o u s
po l i tic al con f ron t a ti on . In the aftermath of the 1946–1950
c ivil war, Greece was left as the on ly non - Communist country
in sout h e a s tern Eu rope (if Turkey is con s i dered to be As i a n ) .
Its nei gh bors — Al b a n i a , Yu go s l avia, and Bu l garia—all spen t
the next half cen tury under va rious Com munist regimes. No t
su rpri s i n gly, Nati onalist supporters of the Greek mon a rchy
e st a bl i s h ed strong ties to the We s t , wh i ch con ti nu ed to
provi de help. Soon after, in 1952, Greece joi n ed the new
North At l a n tic Treaty Orga n i z a tion (NATO), form ed on ly
t h ree years earl i er.
The co u n try nevert h eless rem a i n ed som ewhat divi ded,
e s pec i a lly among those who had been direct ly invo lved in the
c ivil war. Su ch polarization affected Gree k s’ d a i ly lives du ring
58 Greece

the 1950s and 1960s, c re a ting a difficult po l i tic al situ a tion.

The probl em with civil wars is that their ef fects are felt for a
l ong time. Ra rely does their outcome provide su ccessful
lon g - term solutions that satisfy all parties invo lved. In
Greece’s sequ en ce of govern m ents foll owing World War II,
political antagonisms prevailed, despite gradual improvements
in the co u n try’s econ omic base. Gree k s , just as their Italian
n ei gh bors , of ten tend to reform govern m ents and exec utive
bod i e s . Som etimes ch a n ges happen thro u gh el ecti ons and
other times through military co u p s .
Greece remained a kingdom until 1967, wh en a group of
military of f i cers or ga n i zed to resist el ectoral ch a n ges. Th ey
rem oved young King Con s t a n tine II from power, who proved
to be the last king to rule over the Greek peop l e . The military
took con trol of the govern m ent and ru l ed as a dict a tors h i p
that lasted until 1974. This dict a tors h i p, as any other, was
u n a ble to lead the co u n try in a po s i tive directi on for econ om i c
growth. Ra t h er, military leaders su pported what they know the
be s t : prep a ra tion for arm ed con f ron t a ti on in order to keep the
country and people “u n i ted.” In this case, it did not work .
Even tu a lly, military rule came to an en d , l e aving behind a sour
n o te in Greek history and also a lon g - l a s ting po l i tical probl em
rel a ting to the futu re of n ei ghboring Cypru s .


Af ter gen era l s , co l on els, and other of f i cers finally dec i ded
t hat it was time to retre a t , Greeks were eager to re s tore
dem ocrac y. Few people wanted a retu rn to mon a rchy, so soon
a f terward, a republic was proclaimed. One might question how
a co u n try su ch as Greece could become invo lved in a military
dictators h i p. The answer lies in placing dom e s tic events in a
gl obal con tex t .
During the 1960s, the Cold War was making many people,
including the Greeks, a bit anxious and paranoid. The military
bel i eved the co u n try was being led in a directi on that was
Government and Politics 59

“s of t” on communism. Some saw po l i tical intervention as the

only way to en sure the co u n try did not drift furt h er to the left.
History has proven time and time again that military leaders
who become unel ected civil heads of state rarely if ever place the
well - being of the co u n try’s people as their top pri ori ty, however.
Officers rule with force, make poor po l i tical dec i s i on s , and of ten
are rem oved by force. A leader of Greece’s military junta and
later (in 1973) the co u n try’s president, G eor gios Pap adopoulos
serves as an ideal example of su ch a leader. He tri ed to tra n s form
the country into a rep u blic and become a presiden t , yet he
eventu a lly was overthrown and impri s on ed for life .
As a new democratic republic in the 1970s, Greece rapidly
began building a political structure that remains in place today.
Distribution of power was divided among legislative, executive,
and judicial bra n ches of govern m en t . Lef t - wing parties that
previously opposed each other emerged as serious contenders
in a free electoral process. One of those was the Panhellenic
Socialist Movement (PASOK), which dominated Greek politics
during the 1980s and was led by Andreas Papandreou. Greece
achieved one of its primary economic goals in 1981 when
it joi n ed the Eu ropean Un i on (then call ed the Eu rope a n
E conomic Community). That same year, the socialist gov-
ernment, led by PASOK, was elected to power for the firs t
time. These changes were milestones in Greece’s politics and
economy. For the last two decades, PASOK has remained the
country’s most influential and powerful political party. It won
the most elections and formed most go vernments in this
period, even after Papandreou’s death in 1996.

Distribution of Power
The Parliament
As for distribution of power in the government, Greece is
structured similarly to most democracies, including the United
S t a te s . Legislative , executive , and judicial bra n ches basically
s ha re equal powers . The Hellenic Parliament repre s ents the
60 Greece

The Hellenic Parliament represents the legislative branch of the Greek

government and meets in the parliament building in Athens. Constructed
in the 18 30s, the building today also houses the offices of the president
of parliament, the office of the prime minister, and the secretariat of the
cabinet, among others.

legislative branch; it creates new laws and expands existing

laws. Members of parliament serve as representatives of their
electoral districts and are affiliated with political parties, which
nom i n a te them as el ectoral candidates. The el ectoral procedu re,
however, is different than in the United States, because Greeks
use a type of proportional system. The U.S. system is designed
on the winner-takes-all principle. That is, in order to win all
seat s , a candidate needs on ly one more vote than his com peti tor.
Whoever comes second receives no mandate whatsoever.
The proportional system not only allows the winning party’s
candidates to enter parliament, but also those parties whose
Government and Politics 61

m em bers received a small er nu m ber of votes. This sys tem all ows
many more voi ces to be heard, because parties with a small er
number of m em bers can com pete , as well .
Although the system may seem to be ideal, because it
prom o tes gre a ter participati on of smaller parti e s , this is not
nece s s a ri ly the case. In the U.S. sys tem, anyone can become a
c a n d i d a te for of f i ce rega rdless of the status of his or her po l i t-
ical p a rty. The European model does not all ow su ch flexibi l i ty,
because candidates are nominated by their party leaders and
put on the long list of candidates. Cri teria for being nom i n a ted
may be som ething less than fair and obj ective; the result bei n g
candidates are of ten sel ected on the basis of popularity, rather
than experti s e . Proportional sys tems ra rely genera te el ection
victories of more than 50 percent. In order to form a gov-
ernment, political parties most of ten form com prom i s i n g
coalitions, whether at the national or local level. In the 2004
el ections, the Nea Dimokratia (New Dem ocracy) party won ,
with 45 percent of the vo tes, just ahead of PASOK, wh i ch had
40 percen t .
As a member of the European Union, Greece also provides
del ega tes to its legislative body, the Eu ropean Parliament.
Based on its population, each member country is permitted to
provide a certain number of delegates to this legislative body.
Compared to German, British, or Italian delegations, Greece
has a relatively small, though nonetheless still influential, voice
in shaping European political policies.

Executive Branch
Although Greeks elect their president, the prime minister
holds the real executive power. Greeks still remember times
when power was held by a single individual. Therefore, they
prefer a sy stem of leadership in which the president holds
ma i n ly cerem onial powers. These inclu de appoi n tm ent of
ministers already confirmed by the legislature and call for new
elections if the parliament needs to be dissolved in case of
62 Greece

political deadlock. Everyday operations are in the hands of the

country’s prime minister, who nominates ministers and over-
sees the work of various ministries.
In order to function properly and have a successful impact
on the devel opm ent of the co u n try, Greece’s govern m ent creates
mi n i s tries with the purpose of coord i n a ting their dom a i n s .
The council of m i n i s ters presided over by the prime minister
is call ed a cabi n et. For example, the Mi n i s try of Tourism is in
ch a r ge of prom o ting to u rism and reg u l a ting po l i tic al and
economic dec i s i ons in that rega rd . All ministries report back
to the prime minister, who then reports to parl i a m en t . If
parliament is unsatisfied with the government’s performance, it
can cast a vote of confidence on the prime minister’s perfor-
mance. If the vote is negative, the president may then call for
new elections. For such a procedure to be approved, parliament
must be overwhelmingly against the prime minister. This is
difficult to accomplish, considering that prime ministers are
usually the leaders of the party with the highest numbers of
del ega te s . A vo te against the prime minister is, for many
members, a vote against their own party.

Judicial Branch
The distri buti on of power is incom p l ete without a stron g
and ef f i c i ent judicial bra n ch . If co u rts are su ccessful in
overs eeing the inequ a l i ties and abstractions of law, t h en a
legal system functi ons well. The judicial bra n ch is a body that
can exercise control over the other branches of government
in order to limit their ability to overstep their political
authority. In daily political life, it is com m on for any gro u p
to attempt to “s h a pe” the understanding of the con s titution
for its own ben efit. The Su preme Co u rt serves as the main
reg u l a tor of correct interpretation of Greek laws. On lower
levels, the judicial bra n ch is organized thro u gh the stru cture
of regular and appeals co u rts, wh i ch provi de ex pertise on
va rious issues not nece s s a rily rel a ted to the con s tituti on.
Government and Politics 63

As has been noted previously, Greece’s geographical and
historical circumstances have contributed to complications in
foreign policy, some of which still linger today. Hopefully, all
issues with Turkey will finally be resolved in peaceful ways.
Although the two countries have not engaged in an open con-
flict for a long time, the potential for conflict is always present.
Both sides recognize the peril of conflict, but in this corner of
the world, foreign policy is sometimes conducted with the full
flame of nationalistic feelings, rather than with compromising
tones. Turkey feels uneasy that Greece’s islands are only a few
miles from the Turkish mainland, and Greece feels uneasy that
Turkey’s territory is located on ly a few miles from Greece’s islands.
Then there is the extremely complex political issue of
Cyprus; without a doubt the biggest political obstacle between
Greece and Turkey and one that is a concern of the European
Union. Since the mid-1970s, when this previously independent
eastern Mediterranean island was split p olitically on Greek
( s o uth) and Turkish (north) sides, unity was de s i ra ble but
never achieved. For all prac tical purposes, Greek and Turkish
Cyprus function independently and ethnic animosities have
played a large role in the island’s recent history.
Trad i ti on a lly, Cyprus has mainly been pop u l a ted by an
ethnic Greek majority, and Greek Nationalists have clung to the
belief that the island is an integ ral part of Greece. Neither
Cyprus’s ethnic Turkish minority nor Turkey agrees. After three
dec ade s , the island is sti ll divi ded into two po l i tical en ti ti e s
sep a rated by a forti f i ed bu f fer zone under Un i ted Na ti on s’
control. The Greeks have often asked for reunification, an idea
the Tu rks have repe a tedly rej ected . However, in recent ye a rs ,
the Turks, under pressure from the European Union (it wants
Cyprus unified ) , n ow su pport unification. Greeks recen t ly
rejected this option, however—they do not want to share the
land with the poverty-stricken Turkish north. The future of
Cyprus continues to be uncertain.
64 Greece

Cyprus is divided into Turkish and Greek sections: The Greek-controlled

and internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus occupies the southern
two-thirds of the island, while the Turkish Republic of Cyprus makes up
the northern one-third of the island (a map of which is displayed on the
building on the right). Pictured here is the boundary between the two
states at Lidras Street in Nicosia.

The future relationship between Greece and the Former

Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is another ongoing problem.
Greece has opposed its northern neighbor’s claim to use the
term Macedonia, because it has a northern p rovince of the
same name. More importantly, however, the name change
could create separatism and future land claims by the Republic
of Macedonia against Greek territory.
There are also burning issues between Greece and Albania.
The rapidly rising numbers of illegal Albanian immigrants and
the low status of the ethnic Greek minority in Albania are
among the reasons for a strained relationship between the two
countri e s . Gree k s , bel i eving that they have learn ed a lesson from
Government and Politics 65

the events in Serbia, a re wary abo ut the po ten tial po s s i bi l i ty

for futu re Albanian po l i tical demands against their terri tory.
The relationship between Greece and the United Sates is
productive and without major difficulties. Differen ces and
disagreements do, of course, exist. Because of opposing public
opinion, Greece did not suppor t the United States–led war
a gainst Iraq. On the other hand, Greece is a member of NATO
and high ly coopera tive with the United States and other Western
powers , e s pecially in the preven ti on of terrorist activities.
con omy is an important el em ent of cultu re . In order to survive
and progre s s , e ach co u n try must con s i der econ omy its
highest priority. We all want to live better than did previous
generations. Improving the quality of life of its people and trans-
forming soc i ety from folk (trad i tional, l a r gely ru ral) to pop u l a r
(contemporary and largely urban) culture is, has been, and continues
to be a major task for the Greek govern m en t . The pathw ay to
econ omic devel opment, however, is of ten full of ob s t acles that are
difficult to overcom e . How did Greece accomplish its curren t
level of devel opment? Wh i ch of the nation’s goals were achieved
and wh i ch were not? Questi ons su ch as these are answered in the
foll owing overview of Greece’s econ omic geogra phy.

De s p i te numerous political issues (see Chapter 5), Greece

Greece’s Economy 67

ben ef i ted substantially from the Cold War con f ron t a ti on

between the East and West. Western Europe did not want a
regime change that would shift the balance of power in the
eastern Mediterranean. It was firm in its stand against the
Sovi et Union gaining an exit to the Med i terranean. Su pport-
ing Greece ec onomically meant better political ties as well.
Pra gmatists in the Eu ropean Union (at that time known as
the Eu ropean Econ omic Com mu n i ty, or EEC) decided that
Christian Greece would be a more acceptable member than
Muslim Turkey. Even today, many of Western Europe’s officials
value potential membership on the basis of the “Europeaness”
of potential candidates for membership.
After a po l i ti c a lly tu rbulent peri od du ring the first part of the
1970s, Greece finally ach i eved internal pe ace du ring the second
half of the dec ade . Soon after, in 1981, it became a full mem ber of
the EEC. For the first time in its history, the EEC accepted a coun-
try that did not directly border any of its existing members. At
the time, Greece was sep a ra ted from its nearest mem ber, It a ly,
by the Ionian Se a , and for all practical purposes it was on the
European periphery. In terms of geopolitical strategy, however, it
was in the ri ght location. Before joining this organization, Greece’s
economy was stagnating. A series of attempts at econ omic reform
had been largely unproductive. It took decades to transform a tra-
diti on a lly agri c u l tu ral soc i ety into a modern indu s trial soc i ety.
In the aftermath of World War II, Greece and other countries
in the region faced an awesome challenge. To avoid falling into
even greater lack of development and resulting poverty, Greeks
had to modernize. Initially, the economic growth rate was
significantly high er than that thro u gh o ut most of Eu rope
(boosted primari ly by out s i de investors), but this was som ewhat
misleading. During the 1950s and 1960s, it was more a reflec-
tion of the fact that the starting point itself was much lower
than that of Western Europe. In order to provide an economic
stimulus, the government relied on borrowing from interna-
tional sources. This, combined with political unrest in the late
68 Greece

1960s and early 1970s, caused Greece to move dangerously far

from the right econ omic path. Fortu n a tely, this downw a rd
spiral was reversed in 1981, when Greece became integrated
with most developed European economies.
What Greece needed was an open door (and open bound-
a ries) to a large market , but adequate direct land con n ecti ons
with the remainder of Europe were sti ll unavailable. Having an
opportu n i ty to participate in this econ omic (and now increas-
ingly po l i tical) integra ti on was qu i te a boost for the co u n try,
yet mem bership was also som ewhat of a do u bl e - ed ged sword.
On one hand, Greece’s economic produ ctivi ty increased, and
the servi ce sector ex p a n ded con s i dera bly. Su b s t a n tial financial
su pport was received from the Eu ropean Union for econ om i c
i m provem en t s . On the other hand, because Greece had
borrowed heavi ly to fuel its econ omic growth, its internal and
ex ternal debt incre a s ed su b s t a n ti a lly over several decades.

Following World War II, agriculture gradually declined in
economic importance. Today, although it is still important, it
accounts for less than 10 percent of the gross domestic product
(GDP). Primarily because of its rugged terrain, Greece is not
ideally suited to large-scale agricultural production, unless it is
a typical Med i terranean type of farm i n g. Most of Greece’s
agricultural land is owned by small landholders who inherited
their ancestral properties. The main products are fruits, olive
oil, wine, and vegetables, which can be cultivated on small plots
of land. In addition, because of the generally small scale of its
farming opera ti on s , Greece is not in a po s i ti on to com pete
successfully with Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean agricul-
tural competitors.
Agriculture has suffered for another reason. Young people
are increasingly unwi lling to work in traditional ru ral (including
a gri c u l tu ral) roles. Ra t h er, t h ey move to cities that offer more
amenities and excitement, as well as jobs in serv ice-related
Greece’s Economy 69

Olives are a staple among Greece’s agricultural products and over the last
decade are the only crop whose production has increased. In recent years,
Greece has supplied between 5 and 8 percent of the world’s olives;
two-thirds of which is sent to European Union countries.

industries. As a result, the amount of land under cultivation has

constantly decreased since the mid-1900s. Among agricultural
products, only olives have increased in production during the
past decade. On the positive side, ongoing developments in the
food - processing indu s try may help revi t a l i ze at least some type s
of agriculture.
Today, most countries strive to develop a strong postindus-
trial or ser vice sector, an indicator of technological progress
and econ omic stren g t h . Po s t - In dustrialism invo lves a major
econ omic transiti on : trad i ti onal econ omic activi ti e s such as
farming, fishing, forestry, and mining aren’t as important as
t h ey on ce were ; n ei t h er are the secon d a ry indu s tri e s , su ch
70 Greece

as manufacturing. Rather, most people are engaged in provid-

ing services. The service sector mostly requires people who are
well educated, highly skilled, and able to work in a number of
highly spec i a l i zed fields su ch as te aching, m a n a gement,
medicine, law, and many other “white collar” trades. Today,
about two-thirds of the Greek workforce is employed in the
servi ce sector, almost twi ce the number sti ll working in primary
or secondary industries.
Greece is cu rren t ly moving tow a rd ach i eving its goal
of becoming a well - devel oped , po s ti n du s trial co u n try.
Ob s t acles rem a i n , of co u rs e . One major probl em is the unequal
devel opm ent of ru ral and urban areas. Mu ch of the cou n try-
side remains poorly developed and impoverished. But even
here , t h ere is hope. Ru ral Greece holds great po tential for
furt h er devel opm ent of the country’s to u rist indu s try. Be a uti-
ful scen ery, ru s tic landscape s , ru ral fo l k w ays and a s l ow
pace of life draw many vi s i tors aw ay from the hustle and
bustle of the co u n try’s urban cen ters . Mi ll i ons of tourists are
already attracted to the country’s coastal and island scen ery
and its rich cultu ral heri t a ge. In recent decades, to u rism has
become one of the leading sources of income from foreign
ca p i t a l , which totals about $10 bi llion annually, or about
on e - fo u rth of the servi ce sector econ omy. Greece is also trying
to capitalize on sport to u ri s m , in which it has had a long and
su ccessful ex peri en ce . For dec ade s , m a j or sporting events,
i n cluding the 2004 Su m m er Olympics, have been con du cted
in Greece , u su a lly in Athens.
As has been noted , both the pri m a ry and secon d a ry sectors
of the Greek econ omy are we a ken i n g. The country has very
few natu ral re s o u rce s , and mining and en ergy produ cti on
from domestic resources are unable to meet even Greece’s own
need s . However, one area of the secondary econ omy is ex peri-
encing growth. The co u n try’s need to expand and otherwise
improve on its infra s tru ctu re has gen era ted con s i dera bl e
investm ent in the constru cti on indu s try. Urban cen ters are in
Greece’s Economy 71

de s pera te need for the creati on of bet ter tra n s port a ti on net-
work s . Rural areas also requ i re better transportation ro utes
if they are to capitalize on their to u rism po ten tial.


Membership in the Eu ropean Union helped incre a s e
Greek ex ports to We s tern Europe, which is the main con su m er
of Greece’s produ ct s . Du ring the 1990s, civil con f l i cts in the
terri tory of the former Yugoslavia severely disrupted the
su rf ace tra n s portati on of goods from Greece to We s tern
Europe . Fortu n a tely, the co u n try’s shipping fleet ranks amon g
the worl d ’s large s t , and tra n s port a ti on by sea was not inter-
ru pted. Outside of Europe, Greece’s major econ omic partn er is
the Un i ted States, which accounts for ro u gh ly 15 percent of
both its ex ports and import s .
Every co u n try strives for a positive trade balance by
ex porting more than it imports. Wh en the balance of trade is
po s i tive , the excess capital can be used to su pport govern m ent
proj ects su ch as increasing public services, ( re ) building the
n a ti on’s infra s tru ctu re , or simply saving it for the futu re . One
of the probl ems devel oped co u n tries of ten face , h owever, is
that they som etimes spend more than they can afford. Th ey
import more than they export and have to find ways to provide
en o u gh cash to pay for that differen ce . This is call ed nega tive
trade balance .
Because countries can survive on credit, they often borrow
m on ey from out s i de source s . Su ch a policy cre a tes govern-
ment and public debt that contributes to additional problems.
Unfortunately, Greece suffers from a negative trade balance.
The difference in 2004 was significant, with $15.5 billion of
exports compared to a whopping $54.28 billion of imports.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $198 billion in 2004
and experiencing steady growth. In the same year, however, the
overall debt rose to over 10 percent high er than the actual GDP.
The existing financial deficit is having a direct negative effect
72 Greece

on Greece. As a member of the European Union, the euro is

Greece’s official currency and the country also must abide by
EU rules. The body stri ct ly con trols (and punishes) governments
that overspend and show a lack of fiscal discipline, and Greece
is no exception.
Greece has been affected by the econ omic slowdown that
most of Europe has ex peri en ced in recent ye a rs . Over the
years, the co u n try had redu ced its unemployment ra te , but
by 2005, it once again climbed to a level of a bo ut 10 percent of
the work force . By EU standard s , this is one of the Un i on’s
highest ra tes of unem p l oym en t , but com p a red to all of Europe
( i n cluding form er Sovi et bl oc East European countri e s ) , the
number is avera ge . O f p a rticular con cern is the gen der ga p
in unem p l oyment: For women, the figure stands at about
16 percent, wh ereas it is on ly 5 percent for men. This dispari ty
cl e a rly points to the need for econ omic reforms that will
i n c rease female representati on in Greece’s labor force.
Essentially, the wide gap in gender employment illustrates
the difficulties created by Greece’s traditional male-dominated
sociocultural system. Women remained at home and wer e
involved only in traditional domestic a ctivities. On the other
hand, men worked outside the home to provide resources to
support their family. Only during the twentieth century did
this system begin to change, yet such changes can be painfully
slow in happening. Today, wom en are still paid less than
men and have a harder time finding bet ter paid po s i ti ons (a
situ a ti on com m on to many Eu ropean countri e s ) . Why is gen der
so important wh en analyzing a country’s economic indicators
and labor for ce? The answer is simple: More than half of
Greece’s population and potential labor force are wom en.
Theodore Schultz, a Nobel Pri ze – winning Am erican economist,
reminded us how investing in human capital is the single most
important investment any country can make. If Greece is t o
prosper, it must rid itself of male social dominance and fully
integrate its women into the workforce.
Greece’s Economy 73

Although Greece’s unemployment rate stood at 10 percent in 2004, the

rate for women was much higher (16 percent). Another ongoing problem
is that Greek women are paid substantially less and are often not integrated
into a workforce still largely dominated by males. Pictured here are
female Greek workers in Athens protesting the rate of unequal pay.

Another serious obstacle to economic development is the

lack of full privatization of industry. Many large companies
remain state owned, and they operate under str ict control.
When governments control businesses and industries, progress
and expansion are often blocked by bureaucratic barriers. In
the United States, nearly all business is owned by the private
sector. By contrast, European co u n tries, including Greece ,
tend to have a tighter control over some industries. The reason
Europeans practi ce su ch a policy is because of the region’s
dedication to a welfare state. Governments, rather than private
en terpri s e s , provi de many public servi ce s .
Abo ut two - t h i rds of the co u n try’s 4.3-mill i on - pers on work-
force hold jobs in the service sector. It is hardly surprising that
74 Greece

more than a mill i on of t h emare employed in professions rel a ted

to to u rism, hotel management, trade, and leisu re activities.
With the ex p a n s i on of to u rism in the fore s ee a ble futu re , these
numbers will certainly rise.


Per-capita energy consumption is the main indicator of a
country’s economic strength. The United States, for example,
has only 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes a
quarter of the world’s overall energy, far more than any other
cou n try. The U.S. econ omy is also the worl d ’s large s t , by a
considerable margin.
Greece’s en ergy con su m pti on has grown hand-in-hand
with its econ omic devel opm en t . The co u n try, h owever, faces
s ome serious en er gy - rel a ted ob s t acl e s . The recent skyrocketing
fossil-fuel pri ces are gen erating serious con s equ en ces world-
wide. Greece has few en er gy re s o u rces and must import over
90 percent of its petro l eum from international suppliers .
Curren t ly, most of it is obt a i n ed from the Mi d dle East, but the
f uture prospect of receiving oil and gas from the form er Sovi et
Un i on appe a rs bri ght. Russia, a natu ral ga s - producing giant,
has been working on a European natural gas distributi on
net work in order to become a leading su pp l i er through o ut the
con tinent. Trad i ti on a lly fri en dly with Russia, Greece seeks to
ease its dependence on Arab oi l , d iversify its sources, and
become less vulnera ble to unexpected disru ptions in su pp ly.
Russian natural gas is alre ady flowing to Turkey through
a pipeline loc a ted deep in the Bl ack Se a . Oil from the Ca s p i a n
Sea is being tra n s ported through another pipeline to Tu rkey’s
port, Ceyhan. In both cases, Greece seeks an ex ten s i on of these
ro utes to its soi l , whet h er by pipeline or tanker. Ad d i ti on a l
p ipelines also are being built to con n ect Greece with its
northern neighbors , Bu l ga ria and Macedonia. One of the
proj ects in the works is a pipeline con n ection with It a ly, ac ro s s
the Ionian Se a .
Greece’s Economy 75

Most electricity is produced by plants powered by coal or

natural gas. Greece has little if any hydroelectric potential and
the govern m ent is not intere s ted in ven turing into nu clear
en ergy. Ma ny Eu ropean co u n tries, i n cluding Greece , are
searching for ways to implement large-scale alternative means
of gen era ting el ectri c i ty. In Greece , however, proj ects to
develop solar and wind power are still in their infancy.
In the areas of transportation and technology, Greece lags
far behind most of Western Europe and much of the rest of the
world: Railroads and most highways are in need of upgrades
and expansion, large urban centers suffer from massive traffic
con ge s ti on , and in many com mu n i ties, p u blic tra n s port a tion
is inadequate. Here , on ce aga i n , the pri m a ry ob s t acle is the
slow transformation of governmental bureaucracy and state-
con trolled business operations. In telecom mu n i c a tions, the
co u n try’s net works are in serious need of upgrading and
expansion. If this trend continues, the information network
could become well developed. In s te ad of trying to upgrade
outdated networks, the emphasis is now on laying new fiber-
optic cables and building a mobile telephone infrastructure.
However, this is not an easy or inexpensive task in a country
with so many islands and isolated places.
of Greece
s a country of rel a tively small size and inhabi ted by peop l e
wh o, for the most part, share the same ethnic and religious
backgro u n d , Greece is certainly less diverse than many
o t h erEuropean countries. Regi onal differen ces here perhaps are not
as sharp, yet they are noticeably significant. To many re aders , it may
seem odd that a co u n try the size of an avera ge U.S. s t a te can actu a lly
have any notewort hy regi onal differen ce s . In Europe, however, the
array of cultural characteristics can ch a n ge gre a t ly from one side
of a mountain to another. The explanation lies in a long history
and the accumulati on of c u l tu ral traits over a span of thousands of
ye a rs. In Ch a pter 4, for example, it was noted that diet and cuisine
can ref l ect regi onal differen ces and ch a n ge s . Perhaps the greatest
regi onal differen ces stem from the va rying ra te of soc i oecon om i c
ch a n ge occ u rring in the co u n try. Ch a n ge comes slowly in ru ral areas
that are dom i n a ted by people sti ll practicing folk cultu re . Urb a n

Regions of Greece 77

areas, on the other hand, ex peri en ce a more modern way of

l i fe . These cultu ral differen ces are soc i a l , economic, po l i tical,
and dem ogra phic.


Eastern Macedonia and Thrace is located in the extreme
northeastern part of the country. It represents one of the latest
additions to Greece’s territory. Located closer to Istanbul,
Tu rkey, than to Athens, this provi n ce has trad i ti on a lly been
culturally linked more so to the former than the latter. At least
that was the case until Greece and Turkey swapped some
territory and exchanged ethnic populations in the years imme-
diately following World War I. At one point in ancient history,
Thrace was a kingdom that spread across much of southeastern
Europe (including pre s en t - d ay Bu l garia and the Eu ropean
part of Turkey). Ma ny ancient Greek sources mentioned
Thracians and their kingdom . They, h owever, even tually
became acculturated (assimilated) into Greek culture.
Today, Th race occupies the pictu re s que eastern peri ph ery
of the provi n ce . ( It is important to add that Ea s tern
Macedonia is the province’s we s tern part and ad jacent to
Central Macedonia.) It lies between Bulgaria and the shore s
of the Aegean Sea and is the co u n try’s “f l a t te s t” provi n ce ,
a lt h o u gh even here some mountain landscapes rise above
the plains. In the past, agri c u l ture and fishing were the main
economic activities. Today, however, it is a region of emigration
(out-migra ti on ) , as many people migrate to cities in search of
bet ter jobs and high er wage s .
Thrace is also one of the most ethnically diverse regions
of Greece . Even here, Greeks are predom i n a n t , but Tu rks and
Pomaks (a Sl avic pop u l a ti on who are Muslims but speak a
Bu l ga rian language) are also pre s ent in large nu m bers . In
terms of c u l tu ral geogra phy, this is important, because the
cultural landscape of ru ral Th race reminds one of the lon g
h i story of the local people. Vi s i tors can notice differences in
78 Greece

cu s tom s , manners , relationships, and so forth, just by taking

a walk in ethnically mixed villages. Even though Thrace
h ad previously experi en ced its fair share of c u l tu rally based
atroc i ties, tod ay ethnic harm ony predominates.


O n ly in this ch a pter on regi ons does the reader becom e
aw a re of the import a n ce of the name Macedonia in this part of
the worl d . Macedonia(s) exists on several different political
bo u n d a ries. Greeks, FYR (Former Yugo s l avian Republic)
Macedon i a n s , and Bu l ga rians all bel i eve that their Macedon i a
is the ri ght on e . The reality is that they are all the ri ght on e s
and could not exist without each other. Greece divi ded its
Macedonia into three provinces; Cen tral Macedonia is the
l a r gest and best devel oped . Previ o u s ly the core of Al ex a n der
the Gre a t’s kingdom and an important cen ter of the Eastern
Roman Empire, today this region is Greece’s northern counter-
pa rt to At h ens. Its physical landscape is a com bi n a tion of
h i lls and the river va ll eys of t wo of the largest streams flowing
to the Aegean Se a , the Axios and Stri m on .
Geogra phic loc a tion played a vital role in the cultu ral
evoluti on of Cen tral Macedon i a . Both Greeks and Sl avs left
an impressive cultural imprint on the region. Nowhere is this
imprint more obvious than in Thessaloniki, the cosmopolitan
capital of northern Greece and, with a half-million residents,
the country’s second-largest city. Located on the shores of the
Aegean, not far from the mouth of the Axios River, the city’s
location played a large role in helping it develop as a political
and econ omic cen ter in ancient times. Because of this role,
however, the city was always a target for invaders. Romans,
Slavs, Turks, and others plundered the city and left their own
cultural imprint. Their presence can still be seen in the city’s
architecture and in displays in its many museums.
Today, Thessaloniki is an important seaport and trans-
portation center of goods for northern Greece and neighboring
Regions of Greece 79

An important industrial and commercial center, Thessaloniki is the second-

largest city in Greece. The city’s harbor opened in 1901 and it serves as a
distribution point for Greek agricultural products and raw materials.

areas of the former Yugoslavia and even central European

countries. Economic prospects and other opportunities drove
many rural Central Macedonians to Thessaloniki, where the
ma j ority of them reside. The co u n trys i de is less devel oped,
with only a few larger urban areas, all of them remote from
Th e s s a l oniki. A good part of Central Macedonia is under
agricultural cultivation, especially in lowlands created by the
two rivers. There, one can see fields covered with fruit trees or
tobacco plants, much of which is exported.
The West Macedonia provi n ce , a predom i n a n t ly hilly and
ru ral co u n trys i de of n orthwe s tern Greece , is the we s tern
ex ten s i on of Cen tral Macedon i a . It is one of the less devel oped
80 Greece

are a s , with small er municipalities, most notably Kozani, and

a stagnating econ omic base. Some of the major ob s t acles in
its development were its distance from leading Greek urban
cen ters and proximity to even less productive regions of
Albania and FYR of Macedonia. It has on ly abo ut 300,000
re s i dents, one of the lowest pop u l a ti ons of a ny Greek regi on .

Fart h er south from West Macedonia is wh ere the “re a l ”
Greece begins. Th e s s a ly has been a well-known and impor-
tant regi on since ancient times. It lies close en o u gh to At h en s
to have benefited from its cultural and political re ach. It s
mountains were the home of gods: Mount Olympus, the
highest mountain in Greece , was a vital place in ancient Greek
myt h o l ogy, because it was the place where the su preme god,
Zeu s , and his fell ow gods resided. Mountains, however, a ren’t
the on ly geogra phic fe a tu re of Th e s s a ly. Actually, this area of
Greece is known for its plains, which attracted settlers from
the dawn of mainland Greek civilizations. Mountains can
best be thought of as defining the province’s borders ,
whereas plains form the cen tral core .
These plains are well su i ted for agri c u l ture, wh i ch is an
i m portant con tributor to the local econ omy. Because of its
geogra phic loc a ti on in cen tral Greece, the flatlands of Thessaly
receive above - average prec i p i t a ti on in the su m m er, an essen-
tial f actor for cultivating fruit and grain. The region is better
devel oped than its northwe s tern nei ghbors , West Macedon i a
a nd Ep i rus. An o t h er ben efit of its geogra phic loc a tion is that
it s erves as a transportation crossroad bet ween Greece’s
s o ut h ern and nort h ern regi on s . Main highways and ra i l roads
from At h ens to Th e s s a l oniki pass thro u gh Thessaly. This is
e s pec i a lly ben eficial for Lari s s a , the regi on’s capital, econ om i c
hu b, and largest city and its 140,000 re s i dents, or abo ut half
of the provi n ce’s pop u l a ti on . The we s tern boundary fo llows
the Pindus Mo u n t a i n s , wh i ch form a natu ral bo u n d a ry
Regions of Greece 81

bet ween Th e s s a ly and Ep i ru s . Th ere , in the peaceful co u n try-

si de , is one of Greece’s main to u rist destinations, Meteora,
with its famous monasteri e s .

In terms of acce s s i bi l i ty, the provi n ce of Epirus lies fart h er
from At h ens than any other regi on of Greece . It is sep a ra ted
from the capital by the Pindus Mountains and historically
has been rel a tively isolated from Athens. Cultu ra lly, of co u rs e ,
it was alw ays Greek. In fact, it was home to Greece’s secon d -
most important oracl e , a f ter Del ph i . The region’s pictu re s qu e
landscape holds many remains, te s tifying to its historical
import a n ce . Much of the province is mountainous and it is
also the co u n try’s most fore s ted are a . The com bi n a ti on of
ru gged terrain, ample moi s tu re , and forests has produced
be a utiful natu ral landscapes that many Greeks and forei gn ers
come to ad m i re . Because of its high er el eva ti on s , Epirus has
also become a wi n ter to u rist desti n a ti on , wh ere visitors can
en j oy downhill skiing.
In terms of cultural landscapes, the province is predom i-
n a n t ly ru ral, with a few small urban cen ters . Recent econ omic
em phasis has been on the devel opm ent of to u rist fac i l i ties,
although it will take time to catch up with the rest of Greece .
The life s tyle in Epirus is very provincial, e a s ygoi n g, and laid-
b ack—in a very ref reshing and po s i tive way.
A serious ob s t acle to econ omic growth in Ep i rus is that
n ei gh boring Albania remains econ om i c a lly underdevel oped.
This not on ly limits econ omic coopera ti on but also incre a s e s
the nu m ber of immigrants crossing the border in search of
jobs. A substantial Albanian ethnic minori ty has lived in
Ep i rus for cen tu ries, adding to the cultu ral divers i ty of
nort hwe s tern Greece. With the sharp increase in Albanian
immigra n t s , however, the regi on’s econ omy is being stretch ed.
Ma ny re s i dents are also becoming con cern ed abo ut what they
perceive to be unwel come social ch a n ge s . The leading city is
82 Greece

Ioannina, a regi onal econ omic and edu c a ti onal cen ter with a
l ong and ri ch cultu ral heri t a ge .


Moving sout hward from Epirus, one noti ces the land-
scape ch a n ge to stri ct ly Mediterranean limeston e - dom i n a ted
mountainous terrain of t wo provi n ce s — Central and We s tern
Greece . Here, mountains rise abru pt ly from the sea, re su l ti n g
in sharp ch a n ges in cl i m a te and ecosys tems within very short
distances. Central Greece is a tra n s i tional zone that reach e s
f rom the Ionian Sea to the Aegean coast, thereby dividing
the co u n try into two parts. To the north lies slower paced
nort h ern Greece , and to the south is the Greek cultu ral hearth
of Athens and su rrounding are a s .
Cen tral Greece even functi ons as a transiti onal place in
s ome re s pect s . For example, l i ke the North Am erican Great
Plains, people usu a lly pass through en route to som ewh ere
else. One re a s on to stop is the regi on’s arch aeo l ogical trea-
su re s . The provi n ce is best known for having one of the most
significant arch aeo l ogical sites in Greece , the ruins of the
famous Oracle of Del ph i . In ancient Greece , people would go
to the Oracle of Del phi to hear advi ce abo ut their futu re . The
s i te was highly respected and pro tected by gods and hu m a n
ru l ers, t hus being a place of peace . Ma ny em perors wo u l d
come to ask the Oracle abo ut their de s ti ny. Som etimes
a n s wers were po s i tive and som etimes they were not, because
it depen ded on interpret a tion.
The most famous story abo ut a misinterpreted message
h a ppen ed wh en Lydian em peror Croe sus asked for advi ce
a bo ut the war against the Persians. Lydia at that time was a
powerful em p i re in presen t - d ay Turkey. The message he
received said that in the event of an attack on Pers i a , one gre a t
em p i re could end up being de s troyed . E n co u ra ged with the
advi ce , Croe sus attacked the Pers i a n s , and ulti m a tely a gre a t
empire was, i n deed , de s troyed—his own. After the introdu cti on
Regions of Greece 83

Located in the province of Central Greece on Mount Parnassus, the

ruins of Delphi were designated a World Heritage Site by the United
Nations E d u cational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNES CO )
in 19 87. According to legend, Delphi was the home to the Oracle of
Apollo, which ancient Greeks consulted to learn of their future.

of Christianity to Greece, the Oracle was terminated, because

the tradition was considered an element of pagan culture. If, by
some miracle, the Oracle of Delphi had remained in business
until the present day, without any doubt its largest customers
would be Am erican stock-market speculators lining up to
hear good news. At the same time, they would greatly increase
Greece’s income from tourism!
Gen erally speaking, this part of Greece is one of rural
landscapes, with small and wi dely scattered small urban areas
that serve as local econ omic cen ters . Here , as in other
provinces, it was difficult to escape Athen s’s econ omic and
pol i tical dominance and independently develop a strong
84 Greece

econ omy. Unless they are loc a ted on main traffic ro ute s ,
regi onal cen ters grow slowly. The leading city is Lamia, the
regi on’s econ omic cen ter, with a pop u l a ti on of a bo ut 75,000.
We s tern Greece differs little from Central Greece , both in
terms of physical geogra phy and cultu ral landscape. If one is
intere s ted in ex p l oring the remnants of folk cultu re , this is the
place to go. The co u n trys i de is a tapestry that reveals mu ch
a bo ut the historical past and cultural pre s ent of the local
pop u l a ti on . Ti ny roads leading to pictu re s que vill a ges wind
lazily around the hills that sep a ra te quaint settlements that
in some cases are thousands of years old. These charming
l a n d s c a pes so ri ch in history are particularly abundant on the
Pel opon n e sus side of We s tern Greece .

At one point in history, when the Greek city-state of Sparta
was a tremendous military power, the island of Peloponnesus
was the place to be. That was 2,500 years ago. Since then, most
of Peloponnesus has fallen into provincial obscurity. Rapid
industrialization and urbanization in the post-World War II
peri od bypassed most of the provi n ce , and many people left
the region. Although it is not far from Athens, Peloponnesus
appears to have benefited from this progress less than it should
have, at least in theory. It often seems as though the four-mile-
long Corinth Canal, which separates Peloponnesus (therefore
making it an island) from the rest of Greece, is more than just
a physical barrier. Clearly, being close to Athens, but not close
enough, can mean stagnation rather than growth in Greece.
Only one city, Patra, has 100,000 residents.
Nevert h eless, Pel opon n e sus has plenty to of fer, espec i a lly
to u ri s m , but com peti ti on with other provi n ces is keen .
Despite having many ancient city-states, fortre s s e s , and
a rch aeological site s , to u rist fac i l i ties are poorly developed on
the island. With careful planning and investm en t , this regi on
m i ght become a significant to u rist de s ti n a ti on , h en ce , a
Regions of Greece 85

gre a ter con tri butor to Greece’s econ omy. The coastal zone is a
marine paradise, and rural to u rism in rem o te vill a ge s , wh ere
people can wander through orchards, olive trees, and vi n e-
ya rd s , can be equally prof i t a bl e .
One ob s t acle to devel opm ent is the trad i ti on of con s er-
va tism. Ma ny people on Pel opon n e sus cling to the past and
a re reluctant to ch a n ge their way of l i fe . This situation is
com m on in areas wh ere the transiti on from folk to pop u l a r
culture has been slow. Ru ral people often fear changes to
the ex i s ting cultu ral sys tem , because ch a n ge thre a tens the
“trad i ti on a l ” l i fe s tyle. In Greece , this con s erva tism hinders
economic development. This is not exclusively a Greek cultural
trai t , h owever. It is common to most trad i ti on a lly ru ral place s.
To pictu re this con s erva tism in the Un i ted States, we can
think of the ch a racteri s tics of “small town Am eri c a .”

During antiquity, it was said that “all roads lead to Rome,”
even those in Greece. In present-day Greece, the same can be
said about Athens. To Greeks, Athens is a city of overwhelming
importance, both historically and today. Its sprawling
metropolitan area is home to half of a ll Greeks. The city is
also Greece’s econ omic, political, and social hu b, as well as its
center of popular culture. Athens and the port city of Piraeus
make up most of Attica Province.
Athens has a very long and celebrated history. Established
almost 3,000 ye a rs ago, the city has enjoyed an influ en tial
political and econ omic prominen ce thro u ghout most of its
ex i s ten ce. That ex i s ten ce was en d a n gered many times by va r-
ious invaders, yet Athens survived. During the Peloponnesus
Wars against Sparta in the fourth century B.C., it was almost
destroyed, but Sparta eventually lost and disappeared from the
main stage of history. This is one reason why Peloponnesus
declined in importance, whereas Attica rose to become Greece’s
leading region.
86 Greece

In recent times, e s pec i a lly after World War II, At h en s

boomed in terms of populati on and economic growth.
S hi pping links with the outside world are thro u gh the port
of Piraeus, the artery through which goods are su pp l i ed to
At h ens or ex ported from the city to worl dwi de de s tinati on s .
Wh en most people think of Athens, though, the city’s gl orious
past is what is most apt to come to mind.
This en ti re book could easily be devo ted to At h en s’s
cultural heritage and other aspects of its rich historical past.
Wh ereas history is ex trem ely important, in order to under-
stand con temporary Greece, it is more important to think
geogra ph i c a lly, that is, spatially. At h ens is a node (core) of a
f u n cti onal regi on . Its role in Greece is even more important
than what Los An geles means to So ut h ern Ca l i fornia or Dall a s
means to Tex a s . Econ omy, edu c a ti on , politics, and all other
a s pects of culture affecting At h ens tod ay wi ll influ en ce the rest
of Greece tom orrow.
Having su ch a prom i n ent capital city can be co u n ter-
produ ctive to the rest of the nati on , s i m p ly because the city
receives the majori ty of atten ti on . Political ben efits, econ om i c
ben efits, edu c a ti onal opportu n i ti e s , and social amen i ties focus
on Athens. In a country with limited resource s , little is left to
share with out lying provinces. At h ens cert a i n ly ranks amon g
the worl d ’s great capital cities. This was con f i rm ed du ring the
2004 Su m m er Olympic Games hosted by the Greek capital in
m a gn i f i cent fashion . In prepara ti on for the even t , du ring the
preceding dec ade the city underwent dra s tic improvem ent and
modern i z a ti on thro u gh large con s tru cti on proj ects. Th e s e , of
course, furt h er diverted re s o u rces from the countrys i de .


In some respects, the Greek islands define the co u n try, at
least in the mind of m a ny non - Greeks. Hu n d reds of islands,
e ach of t h em som ewhat uniqu e , surround the mainland. To
an intern a ti onal travel er, island hopping is perhaps the most
Regions of Greece 87

i n teresting way to ex peri en ce Greek cultu re. Even tod ay, on

ma ny islands one can step back in time by leaving tourist
vi ll a ges and visiting small com mu n i ties that have ex peri en ced
l i ttle ch a n ge for cen turies except, perh a p s , for paved roads
and el ectri c i ty. Cu s toms and manners are sti ll part of the
s l owly ch a n ging cultu ral sys tem designed in ancient times. A
d ay or two later, a ferry takes you to another island and
an o t h er vill a ge , which almost certainly will have its own
ch a racteri s tics and ch a rm.
Greece’s islands have been popular de s tinati ons for many
gen era ti ons of We s tern artists and wri ters in search of inspira-
ti on . Th ey were drawn to the islands by their idyllic landscape s
and the genuine simplicity of the Med i terranean lifestyle.
These spect acular yet quaint landscapes are peaceful and
breathtaking, but they also ref l ect cen tu ries of econ om i c
h a rdship and cultu ral isolati on en du red by previous gen era-
ti ons to whom the isolated islands were hom e . In his famous
n ovel Zo rba the Gre e k, Ni kos Kazantakis, one of the greatest
Greek wri ters , de s c ri bes the cumu l a tive ex pression of l i fe on
the island of Crete and its good and bad aspects.
Po l i ti c a lly, the Greek islands do not bel ong to a single admin-
istra tive provi n ce. Ra t h er, s ome of t h em bel ong to mainland
provi n ces, but most others, su ch as Crete, the North and So ut h
Aegean Islands, and the Ionian Islands, are self-administered.
The first major island group re ach ed on the ferry tri p
f rom Piraeus (At h en s’s port) are the Cyclades. In this gro u p
is the famous volcanic island of Sa n torini (Thera ) , whose
caldera (crater) sti ll reminds us of the vi o l ent and catastroph i c
eru pti on that took place there more than 3,000 ye a rs ago. The
Cycl ades, occ u pying the main water route bet ween Greece
and Asia Mi n or, were among the first Aegean islands to be
in h a bited. Con ti nuing sout hw a rd from Cycl ades is Crete , the
ea s tern Mediterranean’s largest island, standing alone in the
sea and reminding everyone of the bo u n d a ries of the Greek
c u l tu ral sph ere .
88 Greece

Continuing eastward from the Cyclades, one encounters

the Dodecanese island group. Geographically, the islands are in
immediate proximity to Turkey and Asia, but culturally they
are Greek. At one point in history, the largest island in the
group, Rhodes, was the headquarters of the Knights of St. John,
who fled Palestine in the aftermath of the Crusades and settled
there. Later, the Turks kept control of this easternmost island in
Greece. During their long occupation, they tried unsuccessfully
to destroy Greek culture and replace it with their own.
Traveling nort h , almost all islands from Rh odes into the
North Aegean and up to Thrace’s coast are under Greek po s-
session. Some are loc a ted just a few miles from the Turkish
coast, and the majority of them were incorpora ted into
Greece du ring the 1940s. The proximity of Tu rkey’s coast
a ll ows for first-ra te ex p l ora ti on into different life s tyles. Bre a k-
fast in a Greek cof fee shop in Eu rope can be fo ll owed by
a Tu rk i s h din n er in Asia after a short ferry ri de . What a
m a gn i f i cen t cultural experien ce! The northern Aegean Sea
has fewer islands, but they are equ a lly intri g u i n g, e s pec i a lly
Sporades and the large island of Evvia. The form er has a lon g
h eri t a ge and to u rism trad i tion, wh ereas the latter is known
for its u n ref i n ed be a uty, l eft rel a tively undistu rbed by the
modern age of tourism.
Finally, of ten for go t ten is the Ionian group of severa l
islands loc a ted of f Greece’s we s tern coast. Especially well
known is Corf u , a first stop on the ferry voyage from Greece
to It a ly and vi ce vers a . In this re s pect , it is as import a n t
tod ay as it was du ring ancient times wh en the Ionian Islands
s erved as bases for the Greek co l onial ex p a n s i on thro u gh the
Med i terra n e a n . One of these islands, It h ac a , was home to the
legendary Odysseus. According to the Hom eric legend,
O dys s eus parti c i p a ted in the war against Troy, a f ter wh i ch he
spent ten ye a rs on a seaborne odys s ey en ro ute to his hom e .
Looks Ahead
reece is a fascinating co u n try. It of fers a unique bl end of
trad i ti on and modern i ty, con s erva tivism and liberalism,
Eu rope and As i a . In this final ch a pter, we will make an
attempt to see what the future holds for Greece and its people.
Politically, the hardships of past times, when the country was
governed by dictators or the military, appear to have come to an end.
Intern a lly, Greece is prep a red to face the ch a ll en ges of the twen ty - f i rs t
century. Externally, however, a number of political issues involving
neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, remain unresolved. With
Turkey’s desire for membership in the Eu ropean Union, these
challenges will need to be met soon. In reality, many of these issues,
such as a politically divided Cyprus, exist because of the longstand-
ing mistrust between Greeks and Turks.
Traditions change slowly in this part of the world. To achieve the
status of a highly developed country, Greece will have to transform

90 Greece

its cultural system. Too many people expect the government to

support them in a cradle-to-grave welfare system. Although the
welfare state is an important part of European political tradi-
tion , it imposes a trem en dous econ omic burden on the co u n try
and its people. In order to provide welfare, the government
must collect more taxes. Eventually, the tax burden can limit
economic growth and cause a perilous rise in unemployment.
Future socioeconomic changes must focus on adjusting
unequal employment rates. The current gender imbalance is
counterproductive: Female unemployment rates are twice that
of Greek males. Working at the same jobs, women also earn
much lower salaries than their male counterparts. This imbal-
ance results from a slowly changing cultural system in which a
male-dominated society is not willing to accept the fac t that
times are changing: Women are as capable as men in many
areas. They deserve equal compensation for equal work, and
they should be en ti t l ed to ch oose their own life professions.
In rural areas, women are still expected to engage only in tradi-
tional female professions, or to dedicate themselves exclusively
to being wives and mothers.
Rural areas are not transforming rapidly enough. In the
future, wealth and power must be spread throughout urban
and rural areas. The country can no longer allow the major
urban centers, Athens and Thessaloniki, to develop at their
expense. The countryside, although beautiful and inviting,
requires serious attention. Greece cannot affor d to allow its
rural peoples and environments to languish as living museums
of times past. Futu re proj ects design ed to revitalize rural Greece
should emphasize its two most important potentials: agricul-
ture and tourism. Both activities can be highly c ompetitive;
Greece simply has to further develop its potential and find ways
to promote them in today’s world. Unfortunately, many rural
people, because of their folk culture, strongly resist change. It
may be difficult, for example, to introduce and implement the
latest technologies of organic agriculture. Even though it would
Greece Looks Ahead 91

be far more profitable than traditional agriculture, changes in

farming practices would require doing things differently in the
context of a deeply entrenched lifestyle.
Elements of a traditional lifestyle are rapidly vanishing in
Athens, where popular culture dominates. Cultural diffusion
from the West has affected Greece’s capital city, and it dominates
the country’s economy. Its citizens enjoy new technologies and
economic practices, and the service sector has been g reatly
expanded. Because of this rapid expansion, however, Athens
will face difficulties com m on to many other metropolitan
cen ters . Polluti on and traffic probl em s , in particular, a re a
price that must be paid. In order to prevent pollution, which
ranks among Europe’s wors t , At h ens will need to implem en t
s tringent envi ronmental regulations. More high - s peed highways
will provide better and faster intra- and intercity connections.
In order to revi t a l i ze the countrys i de and bring At h ens som e
population relief, the government will have to improve living
conditions in and accessibility to rural areas.
Demographic issues are be coming increasingly alarming
throughout aging Europe. Greece, no doubt, will follow the rest
of Europe with a declining birthrate, resulting in an aging and
ultimately shrinking population. If , indeed , this occ u rs, the on ly
option is for the country to open its doors to immigration. This
poses a serious political and potential social problem, however,
in a country that is 98 percent ethnically homogeneous. Few
immigrants share Greek ethnicity; rather, they come from
Africa, Asia, or neighboring Albania.
Immigrants are willing to take jobs that are less desirable
and pay less. Th ey also tend to re s i de in nei gh borh ood s
surrounded with others of their race and ethnicity. How an
increase in immigration and the creation of such neighbor-
hoods will affect Greece politically, econ om i c a lly, and soc i a lly
is anyon e’s guess. The on ly certainty is that under ex i s ting
demographic conditions, changes will undoubtedly occur in
the foreseeable future.
92 Greece

Children wave Greek flags in anticipation of the arrival of the Olympic

torch, shortly before the opening of the Athens Olympics in August
2004. Like many European countries, Greece’s low birthrate and aging
population have led to minimal population growth, which ultimately may
force Greece to open its doors to immigrants to fill available jobs.

A growing population (even if by migration) means a

larger labor force for the growing economy. Assuming social
issues can be resolved, the positive impact of immigration will
be continued economic growth. Despite its many regulations,
integration into the European Union will continue to stimulate
economic growth in Greece. With future EU expansion east-
ward, Greece will be in a splendid position to further benefit
economically. If Turkey is accepted into the Union, it will
add 70 million consumers to the common European market.
This will be ben eficial to many Greek companies and perhaps
will also help improve rel a ti ons bet ween the two co u n tri e s .
E s t a blishing a good econ omic rel a ti onship is a gi ga n tic step
Greece Looks Ahead 93

toward en suring a successful po l i tical rel a ti on s h i p. The primary

economic challenge in the near future is for Greece to balance
its budget. Past governments have borrowed much more than
they earned. A budget deficit burdens a nation’s economy and
can lead toward potential crisis and destabilization.
One of the best ways to fulfill budget obligations is through
income from to u rism. Greece’s tourism has increased ste ad i ly
during recent decades. With properly managed expansion of
the tourist sector, the country can easily become one of the
worl d ’s leading to u rist de s ti n a ti on s . It of fers unmatch ed natu ra l
and cultural landscapes. A marvelous heritage, spectacular
islands and seascapes, and rugged terrain can attract tourists.
So, too, can sharp ly con tra s ting folk and popular cultu re s ,
quaint ru ral vi ll a ges, and a worl d - class capital city. These, p lu s
won derful cuisine on ly add to the co u n try’s to u ri s t - lu ring
potential. On the other hand, Greece is on a long trip between
the past and the future. Today, the country is at a crossroads. It
can continue its journey into a modern and prosperous future,
or turn back to the obscurity of the European periphery. It will
be interesting to see which route Greece follows.
Facts at a Glance

Physical Geography
Country name Long form: Hellenic Republic; Short form: Greece
Capital city Athens
Location Southeastern Europe; the southernmost country on the
Balkan Peninsula. Shares boundaries with four European
countries: Albania, 175 miles (282 kilometers); Bulgaria,
306 miles (494 kilometers); Turkey, 128 miles (206 kilo-
meters); Macedonia, 152 miles (246 kilometers). Total
borders with other countries: 763 miles (1,228 kilometers).
Coastal boundaries: 8,497 miles (13,676 kilometers)
Area Total: 51,146 square miles (131,468 square kilometers)
Climate and ecosystem Mediterranean: hot, dry summers; mild, wet winters
Terrain Mountainous interior with coastal plains; 2,000-plus
Elevation extremes Mount Olympus reaches 9,570 feet (2,917 meters);
the lowest elevation is sea level
Population 10,668,354 (July 2005 est.); males, 5,237,413
(July 2005 est.); females, 5,430,941 (July 2005 est.)
Population Density 80 per square kilometer
Population Growth Rate 0.19%
Net Migration Rate 2.34 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Fertility Rate 1.33 children born/woman (2005 est.)
Life expectancy at birth Total population: 79 years; male, 77 years;
female, 82 years (2005 est.)
Median Age 40.5 years
Ethnic groups Greeks 98%, others 2% (Turks, Albanians, Macedonians)
Religions Greek Orthodox, 98%; Islam, 1.3%; other, 0.7%
Language Greek 99%
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write) Total population,
97.5%; males, 98.6%; females, 96.5% (2003 est.)

Land Use Arable land, 21.1%; permanent crops, 8.78%;
other, 70.12%

Irrigated Land 5,490 sq. miles (14,220 sq. km) (1998 est.)
Natural Hazards Earthquakes, volcanoes
Environmental Issues Air pollution; water pollution
Currency Euro
GDP (purchasing $242.8 billion (2005 est.)
power parity) PPP
GDP per capita (PPP) $22,800 (2005 est.)
Labor Force 4.72 million (2005 est.)
Unemployment 10.8%
Labor force by occupation 68% services, 20% industry, 12% agriculture
Industries Tourism, food and tobacco processing, textiles,
chemicals, metal products, mining, petroleum
Leading trade partners Exports: Germany, 13.1%; Italy, 10.3%; UK, 7.5%;
Bulgaria, 6.3%; U.S., 5.3%; Cyprus, 4.6%; Turkey, 4.5%;
France, 4.2% (2004)
Imports: Germany, 13.3%; Italy, 12.8%; France, 6.4%;
Netherlands, 5.5%; Russia, 5.5%; U.S., 4.4%; UK, 4.2%;
South Korea, 4.1% (2004)
Exports $18.54 billion (2005 est.)
Export Commodities Manufactured goods, food and beverages, petroleum
products, cement, chemicals
Imports $48.2 billion (2005 est.)
Import Commodities Basic manufactures, food and animals, crude oil,
chemicals, machinery, transport equipment
Transportation Highways: 72,700 miles (117,000 kilometers); 66,738 miles
(107,406 kilometers) paved; Railroads: 1, 597 miles
(2,571 kilometers); 474 miles (764 kilometers) electrified;
Waterways: 3.72 miles (6 kilometers) of Corinth Canal;
Airports: 80
Type of government Republican parliamentary democracy
Head of State Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis
Independence 1829, from the Ottoman Empire
Administrative divisions 51 prefectures and 1 autonomous region
Communications TV stations: 36 (1995); Phones (including cellular):
14,141,300 (2003); Internet users: 1,718,400 (2003)

History at a Glance

6,000—4,000 B.C. Evidence found of a significant presence of population in

present-day Greece.
2,000—1,500 B.C. Minoan civilization on Crete is at its zenith.
1,000—900 B.C. Most recent wave of migration of Greek peoples.
776 B.C. First Olympic Games are held.
700—500 B.C. Mediterranean cultural realm is colonized extensively during
this period.
667 B.C. Colonists from Megara establish Byzantium, a colony on
Bosporus that later becomes Constantinople.
Fifth century to Greece wages victorious wars against Persians; Athens rises
fourth century B.C. to power.
Third century B.C. Alexander the Great makes Greece part of his Macedonian
Second century B.C. to Greece is a part of Roman (later Eastern Roman) Empire.
fifteenth century A.D.
330 A.D. Constantine I moves capital of the Roman Empire to
1054 After the Great Schism, Greece is integrated into the Eastern
Orthodox world.
1453—1821 Fall of Constantinople in 1453 marks the beginning of the
Ottoman Empire’s nearly 400-year occupation of Greece.
1829 Greece becomes independent from the Ottoman Empire.
1896 First modern Olympic Games begin in Athens.
1912 First Balkan War is waged against the Ottoman Empire.
1913 Second Balkan War is waged against Bulgaria.
1914 Greece enters World War I.
1918—1922 Greece enters conflict with the Turks.
1923 Treaty of Lausanne serves as basis for territorial exchange,
as well as forced migrations of Greeks from Turkey and
Turks from Greece.
1939—1945 Greece is involved in World War II.
1946—1950 Royalist and Communist factions in Greece wage a civil war;
the Communists lose.

1952 Greece joins North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
1967 Greek military organizes a coup to overthrow the government.
1967—1974 The country is led by military junta.
1980 The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) wins elections
and holds power for most of 1980s and 1990s.
1981 Greece joins the European Economic Community, which is
later renamed the European Union.
2001 Greece enters Eurozone; the euro replaces drachma as official
2004 Summer Olympic Games held in Athens for second time.

B i b l i o g raphy and Further Reading

Campbell, John Kennedy, and Philip Sherrard. Modern Greece. New York:
Praeger, 1968.
Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook: Greece. 2005.
Curtis, G.E., ed. Greece: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Library of
Congress, 1994.
Dubin, Marc S. The Greek Islands. New York: DK Publishing, 1997.
Frankland, E. Gene. Gl obal Studies: Europe. Guilford, CT: Dushkin/McGraw-
Hi ll , 2002.
Harrington, Lyn. Greece and the Greeks. New York: Thomas Nelson and
Sons, 1962.
Jordan-Bychkov, Terry G., and Bella Bychkova-Jordan. The European
Culture Area. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.
National Statistical Service of Greece (NSSG). Greece in Figures. Pireas:
NSSG, 2005.
Pavlović, Zoran. Turkey. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
Stanislawski, Dan. “Dionysus Westward: Early Religion and the Economic
Geography of Wine.” The Geographical Review, 65, no. 4 (1975), 427–44.
Toynbee, Arnold J. Greeks and Their Heritage. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1981.
Tozer, Henry Fanshawe. Geography of Ancient Greece. Chicago: Ares
Publishers, 1974.
U.S. Department of State. Background Notes. 2005.


Ac ropolis Bulgaria, 27, 57, 74

a rchaeological monu m ents, 8 ethnic gro u p s , 42
religious and municipal buildings, indepen dence, 40, 77–78
Aegean Peninsula, 10, 12, 38, Caspian Sea, 74
42, 44 Christianity
Aegean Sea, 15, 17, 82 in Greece , 36, 38–39, 46, 48, 54,
islands in, 18–19, 29, 31–32, 67, 83
54–55, 77–78, 87–88 Civil wars, 57–58
Agricultu re , 23, 32, 52 Cold War, 58, 67
produ cts, 67–69, 79–80, 90–91 Con s t a n tine, 36–37
Albania, 21, 57, 80–81 Con s t a n tine II, 58
and Greece, 64–65 Con s t a n ti n op l e , 33, 37–40
immigrants, 50, 91 Corfu, 88
Alex a n der the Gre a t , 34–35, 78 Crete , 19, 29–30, 55, 87
An c i ent Greece Croe sus, 82
artifacts, 29, 48, 51 Cu l ture
dom i n a ti on of , 8, 15, 29, 31, 38 celebration of life and family,
i n f lu en ce of, 8, 44, 77–78 12, 45
i nventions, 8 changes and con trasts, 10–12,
military, 35, 45 45, 77, 88–89, 93
s ch o l a rs, 10 characteristics, 41, 76–77
scientific disciplines, 8–10, 29 diet, 53–55, 76
set t l em ents, 15, 19, 29, 35 ethnic gro u p s , 42–48, 76
Archimede s , 10 expansion, 32–35
Aristotle, 10, 35 geography, 41, 77, 84
At a tu rk, Kemal, 40 influ en ces, 22, 29–30, 33, 35–36,
At h ens, 31, 77–78, 81 38–39
air polluti on, 25, 91 language, 35, 44
capital city, 8–9, 17, 35–36, and religion, 33, 45–46, 48–51,
60, 73 54, 76
culture and econ omy of , 24, struggles, 10, 25
82–83, 85–86, 90 traditional, 11, 15, 45, 76, 85, 87,
eart h qu a ke , 26 89–91, 93
Olympics, 70 Cycl ades, 87–88
politics, 80, 85, 92 Cyprus, 46–47, 58, 63–64, 89
pop u l a tion, 52
Sy n t a gma Square, 43 D a nu be River, 15
At l a n tis, 19 Dark Age , 32
At tica, 85–86 Dinaric Alps, 20–21
Axios (Va rdar) River, 27, 78 Dionysu s , 33
Dodecanese island gro u p, 88
Balkan Peninsula, 15–16
Ba s ketb a ll, 10 Earthquakes, 25–26, 30


E conomy, 12 introducti on, 8–13

developm ent, 24, 35, 46, 56, nationalism, 42–44, 63
59, 66–68, 74, 79–81, 83–85, t h ro u gh time, 28–40
90, 93 wars, 11, 57–58, 82
energy, technology and trans- Greek islands, 86–88
portati on , 71, 74–75, 84, 90
gaps in growth, 11, 52–53, 58, Ha gia Sophia, 37
70–71, 81–82, 86–87 Hellenic Pa rl i a m en t , 59–62
reform, 67, 76 Herodo tu s , 10, 34
s ectors, 68–71 Hi m a l aya Mo u n t a i n s , 8
trade and labor, 29, 31–33,
71–74, 91–92 In dustrial Revoluti on, 39
u n em p l oyment, 72–73, 90 Ionian Sea, 15, 67, 74, 82
Egypt, 28, 31, 35 islands in, 18–19, 87–88
Ei n s tein, Albert, 13 It h aca, 88
Epirus, 21, 80–82
Erato s t h en e s , 9–10 Ka z a n t a k i s , Ni ko s
Eu ropean Un i on Zorbo the Greek, 87
and Greece, 59, 61, 63, 67–68, Kn o s s o s , 29–30
71–72, 89, 92 Koz a n i , 80
Ev via, 88
Lyc a bettus Hi ll, 9
Fra n ce , 40 Lyd i a , 82
Futu re , 89–93
geography, 12 Macedon i a , 27
central, 20–21, 77–80
G ermany, 45–46, 57 eastern, 77–78
G overn m ent and politics, 12, 75, 77 empire, 34, 36
conflicts, 11, 33, 42, 44, 52, and Greece, 42, 47, 64, 74
56–58, 63, 66–68, 89, 91 west, 78–80
conservation programs, 24, 85 Mara t h on , Battle of, 33
con s ti tution, 62 Mediterranean Se a , 10, 17
dem oc rac y, 56, 58–59 islands in, 18–19, 88
distri buti on of power, 59–62 settlements alon g, 15, 20, 29,
foreign affairs, 63–65, 70, 89 32–33, 36, 40
m odern ch a n ge s , 58–62, 87, 93 Me s opotamia, 28
postwar history, 57–58 Meteora, 81
power, 15, 36, 38, 73, 90 Minoan civilization
Great Britain, 40 decline, 30–31
Greece developments, 30–31
central and we s tern, 82–84 n av y, 29
facts at a gl a n ce , 94–95 Mount Athos Peninsula, 50
h i s tory at a gl a n ce , 96–97 Mount Olympus, 11, 20, 80
independen ce , 11, 39–40, 42, 47 gods of , 10


Mount Parnassus, 83 Regions

Mycen aean civilization, 31–32 At tica, 85–86
Mythology Central and Western Greece,
gods, 8, 10, 45, 51, 80, 83 82–84
Central and West Macedon i a ,
North At l a n tic Treaty Organization 77–80
( NATO), 57, 65 d ivers e , 12, 76–77
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace,
Onassis, Ari s to t l e , 45 77–78
Ot toman Empire , 38–40, 47, 82 islands, 86–88
Renaissance period, 38
Pa n h ellenic Socialist Movement Rh odes, 88
(PASOK), 59, 61 Roman Empire , 36–37, 39, 45, 78, 85
Pa p adopoulos, Geor gios, 59 Rostlund, Erh a rd , 12
Pa p a n d reou, An d re a s , 59
Pa tra, 84 Salamina, Battle of , 33
Pelopon n e sus Peninsula, 19–20, Santorini (Th era), 19, 87
84–85 Sava River, 15
Peop l e , 41–55 Schultz, Th eodore , 72
clothing, 43 Serbi a , 40, 65
ethnic Greeks, 44–46, 63–64, Soccer, 10
76, 78, 91 Sparta, 31, 35, 84–85
ethnic non - Greeks, 46–48, Sporade s , 88
52, 86 Stanislaws k i , Dan, 33
hospitality, 12 Straight of G i braltar, 8
lifestyle, 11–12, 52, 57, 85, S tri m on (Struma) River, 2 7 , 7 8
87–88, 91
pop u l a tion, 28, 32, 51–53, 86 Thessaloniki, 52, 78–80, 90
Persian Empire , 33–34, 38, 45, Thessaly, 21, 48, 80–81
82 Thrace, 77–78, 88
Philip II, 34–35 Tourism, 11, 22
Physical landscapes, 14–16, 48 incom e , 23, 70–71, 74, 81,
be a uty of , 11, 70, 81, 83, 87, 83–85, 87, 90, 93
90 mon a s teries, 48, 51
cl i m a te , 15, 20–22 Turkey, 57, 74, 77, 88
ecosys tems, 22–24 ancient, 38–40, 47, 82
land, 17–20, 77, 82 con f l i cts with Greece, 45,
pre s ervation and hazards, 63–64, 89
24–27 Turks, 46–47, 88
P i n dus Mo u n t a i n s , 20–21, 80–81 Muslims, 50, 54, 67
Piraeus, 86
P l a to, 10, 19, 35 Un i ted Nations, 63, 83
Puti n , Vladimir, 50
Pythagoras, 10 Vo l c a n oe s , 17, 19, 25, 30, 87


Wi l d f i re s , 26–27 Yugoslavia, 42, 57, 71, 79

World War I, 40, 47, 77
World War II Zorbo the Greek (Kazantakis),
ef fect on Greece, 45, 57–58, 87
67–68, 84, 86

Picture Credits

9: New Millennium Images 53: KRT/NMI
16: © Lucidity Information Design 60: New Millennium Images
18: © Lucidity Information Design 64: Gamma Presse/NMI
21: New Millennium Images 69: KRT/NMI
26: BlackStar Photos/NMI 73: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/
30: New Millennium Images Getty Images/NMI
34: New Millennium Images 79: New Millennium Images
37: EPA/NMI 83: Zuma Press/NMI

Cover: New Millennium Images

About the Contributors

ZO RAN “ZOK” PAV LO V IĆ is a cultural geographer currently working at

Oklahoma State Un iversity in Stillw a ter. Greece is Zok’s seventh book
a ut h ored or coa ut h ored for the Ch elsea House geogra phy series MODERN
WORLD NATIONS. He also aut h ored Eu rope for the MODERN WORLD CULTURES
series. Within the field of geography, his interests are culture theory,
evoluti on of geogra phic thought, and geogra phy of vi ti c u l tu re. Wh en not
writing, Zok en j oys go u rm et cooking and lon g - d i s t a n ce motorc ycle travel.
He was born and ra i s ed in sout h e a s tern Eu rope .

CHARLES F. “FRITZ” GRITZNER is Distinguished Professor of G eogra phy at

So uth Dakota State Un ivers i ty in Brookings. He is now in his fifth dec ade
of co ll ege te aching, scholarly re s e a rch, and wri ti n g. In ad d i ti on to te ach i n g,
he enjoys traveling, writing, working with te ach ers, and sharing his love
of geogra phy with stu dents and re aders alike. As Con su l ting Editor and
f requ ent aut h or for the Ch elsea Ho u s e M O D E R N WO R L D NAT I O N S a n d
MO D E R N WO R L D C U LT U R E S s eri e s , he has a won derful opportu n i ty to
com bine each of these “h obbi e s .”
Profe s s i onally, Gritzner has served as both pre s i dent and executive
d i rector of the Na ti onal Council for Geogra phic Edu c a ti on . He has
received nu m erous aw a rds in recogn i ti on of his ac ademic and te ach i n g
ach i evem en t s , i n cluding the Na ti onal Council for Geogra phic Edu c a ti on’s
Geor ge J. Mi ll er Aw a rd for Di s ti n g u i s h ed Servi ce to geogra phy and
geogra phic educati on .