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Greece, formally called the Hellenic Republic (Greek: Ελληνική Δημοκρατία), is a country in the southeast of Europe on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula. It has land boundaries with Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to the north; and with Turkey to the east. The waters of the Aegean Sea border on Greece to the east, and those of the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas to the west and south. Regarded by many as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of Democracy, Greece has a long and rich history during which its culture has proven especially influential in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Ελληνική Δημοκρατία
Ellinikí Dhimokratía
Flag of Greece Coat of Arms
(National Flag)
National motto: Ἐλευθερία ἤ Θάνατος
(Greek: Liberty or Death)
Official language Greek
Capital Athens
Largest city Athens
President Károlos Papúlias
Prime Minister Kóstas Karamanlís
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 94th
131,940 km²
 - Total (2004)
 - Density
Ranked 70th
 - Declared
 - Recognized
From the Ottoman Empire
25 March 1821
Currency Euro (€)1
Time zone
 - in summer
National anthem Hýmnos prós tén Eleutherián
Internet TLD .gr
Calling Code +30
1 Prior to 2001: Greek Drachma.


The formal name of Greece in Greek is Ελλάς = Ellás . This name is also written ‘Hellas’ in English, following polytonic/ancient conventions. Less formally—and more commonly—it is called Ελλάδα = Elládha /ɛˈlaða/. The mythical ancestor of the Greeks is the eponymous Hellen.

The name of Greece in the European languages (English: Greece, French: Grèce, Italian: Grecia, German: Griechenland, Russian: Греция, Croatian: Grčka, ...) comes from a different root, Γραικός = Graikos (via Latin Graecus) which according to Aristotle was an ancient name for the Greeks. On the other hand, the name of Greece in Middle Eastern languages (Turkish Yunanistan, Arabic يونان, Hebrew יוון, Ancient Persian Yaunâ) comes from the Greek root Ιωνία = Ionia.

Some Greeks prefer the name "Hellas" for the country and "Hellenes" for the person even in English. See Hellenes for discussion.


Main article: History of Greece

The shores of the Aegean Sea saw the emergence of the first civilizations in Europe, namely the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations. After these, a Dark Age followed until around 800 BC, when a new era of Greek civilization emerged. This Greece of city-states established colonies along the Mediterranean and partially resisted Persian invasions. Greek culture would later become the basis of the Hellenistic civilisation that followed the empire of Macedonian King Alexander the Great.

Militarily Greece itself declined to the point that the Romans conquered the land (168 BC onwards), though Greek culture would in turn conquer Roman life. Greece became a province of the Roman Empire, but Greek culture would continue to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and when the Empire finally split in two the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, centred on Constantinople, would remain Greek in nature, as well as encompassing Greece itself. From the 4th century to the 15th century the Eastern Roman Empire survived eleven centuries of attacks from the west and east until Constantinople fell on May 29 1453 to the Ottoman Empire. Greece proper had gradually been conquered by the Ottomans during the 15th century.

 in Attica, looking out to the Aegean islands
Cape Sounion in Attica, looking out to the Aegean islands

The Ottomans ruled Greece until the early 19th century. In 1821, the Greeks rebelled and declared their independence, but did not succeed in winning it until 1829. The elites of powerful European nations saw the war of Greek independence, with its accounts of Turkish atrocities, in a romantic light (see, for example, the 1824 painting Massacre of Chios by Eugene Delacroix). Scores of non-Greeks volunteered to fight for the cause--including, for example Lord Byron--and indeed at times the Ottomans seemed on the point of almost entirely suppressing the Greek revolution but for the threatened direct military intervention of France, England or Russia. The Russian minister for foreign affairs, Ioannis Kapodistrias, himself a Greek, returned home as President of the new Republic following Greek independence. That republic disappeared when a few years later Western powers helped turn Greece into a monarchy, the first king coming from Bavaria and the second from Denmark. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, in a series of wars with the Ottomans, Greece sought to enlarge its boundaries to include the Greek-speaking population of the Ottoman Empire, slowly growing in territory and population until it reached its present configuration in 1947. In World War I, Greece sided with the entente powers against Turkey and the other Central Powers. In the war's aftermath, the Great Powers awarded parts of Asia Minor to Greece, including the city of Smyrna (known as Izmir today) which had a large Greek population. At that time, however, the Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, overthrew the Ottoman government, organised a military assault on the Greek troops, and defeated them. Immediately afterwards, hundreds of thousands of Turks then living in mainland Greek territory left for Turkey as an [[1]] with hundreds of thousands of Greeks living in Turkey.

Despite the country's numerically small and ill-equipped armed forces, Greece made a decisive contribution to the Allied efforts in World War II. At the start of the war Greece sided with the Allies and refused to give in to Italian demands. Italy invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, but Greek troops repelled the invaders after a bitter struggle. This marked the first Allied victory in the war. Hitler then reluctantly stepped in, primarily to secure his strategic southern flank: troops from Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy successfully invaded Greece, overcoming Greek, British, Australian and New Zealand units.

However, when the Germans attempted to seize Crete in a massive attack by paratroops — with the aim of reducing the threat of a counter-offensive by Allied forces in Egypt — Allied forces, along with Cretan civilians, offered fierce resistance. Although Crete eventually fell, this delayed German plans significantly, with the result that the German invasion of the Soviet Union started fatally close to winter.

During years of Nazi occupation, thousands of Greeks died in direct combat, in concentration camps or of starvation. The occupiers murdered the greater part of the Jewish community despite efforts by the Greek Orthodox Church and many Christian Greeks to shelter Jews. The economy languished. After liberation, Greece experienced an equally bitter civil war—between communists and royalists—that lasted until 1949.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Greece continued to develop slowly, initially with the help of the U.S.A Marshall programme and later with the growth of tourism. In 1967, the military seized power in a coup d'état, overthrew the social-democrat government of George Papandreou, senior and established what became known as the Régime of the Colonels, supported by the U.S.A. In 1973, the régime abolished the Greek monarchy. In 1974, dictator Papadopoulos denied help to the USA and as a result the (US/Kissinger) "appointed" a new dictator named Ioannides . Many hold Ioannides responsible for the coup against President Makarios of Cyprus -- the coup seen as the pretext for the first wave of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974; see: the 1974 crisis between Greece and Turkey. The Cyprus events and the outcry following a bloody suppression of Athens Polytechnic uprising in Athens led to the implosion of the military régime. A charismatic exiled politician, Konstantinos Karamanlis, returned from Paris as interim prime minister and later gained re-election for two further terms at the head of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party. In 1975, following a referendum to confirm the deposition of King Constantine II, a democratic republican constitution came into force. Another previously exiled politician, Andreas Papandreou also returned and founded the socialist PASOK party, which won the elections in 1981 and dominated the country's political course for almost two decades.

Since the restoration of democracy, the stability and economic prosperity of Greece have grown. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the Euro as its currency in 2001. New infrastructure, funds from the EU and growing revenues from tourism, shipping, services, light industry and the telecommunications industry have brought Greeks an unprecedented standard of living. Tensions continue to exist between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea but relations have considerably thawed following successive earthquakes - first in Turkey and then in Greece - and an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance by ordinary Greeks and Turks. Prime Minister Karamanlis recently attended the wedding of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's daughter as a guest of honour. The Greek Government supports Turkish entry into the EU although clearly it seeks key commitments on Cyprus. Polls show a small majority of Greek citizens support this position - giving greater support than several other EU member countries [2].

The 2004 Summer Olympics took place in the country of their foundation to general satisfaction.


Main article: Politics of Greece

The 1975 constitution includes extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in an indirectly-elected president, who is advised by the Council of the Republic. The prime minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process, while the president performs some governmental functions in addition to ceremonial duties. The parliament elects the president for a five-year term and can re-elect once.

Greeks elect members of the country's unicameral parliament (the Vouli ton Ellinon) by secret ballot for a maximum of four years, but elections can occur at more frequent intervals. Greece uses a complex reinforced proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter parties and ensures that the party which leads in the national vote will win a majority of seats. A party must receive 3% of the total national vote to gain representation.

For a list of Greek political parties, see List of political parties in Greece.

Local government

Main articles: Peripheries of Greece

Map of Greece
Map of Greece

Greece consists of 13 administrative regions known as peripheries, which subdivide further into the 51 prefectures (nomoi, singular - nomos):

Beyond these one autonomous region exists: Mount Athos (Ayion Oros - Holy Mountain), a monastic state under Greek sovereignty.

The 51 nomoi subdivide into 147 eparchies (singular eparchia), which contain 1,033 municipalities: 900 urban municipalities (demoi) and 133 rural communities (koinotetes). Before 1999, Greece's local government structure featured 5,775 local authorities: 457 demoi and 5,318 koinotetes, subdivided into 12,817 localities (oikosmoi).


Main article: Geography of Greece

The country consists of a large mainland at the southern end of the Balkans; the Peloponnesus peninsula, -- separated from the mainland by the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth; and numerous islands, including Crete, Rhodes, Euboea and the Dodecanese and Cycladic groups of the Aegean Sea. Greece has more than 14,880 kilometres of coastline and a land boundary of 1,160 kilometres.

About 80% of Greece consists of mountains or hills. Dry and rocky conditions prevail in much of the country is ; only 28% of the land classes as arable. Western Greece contains lakes and wetlands. Pindus, the central mountain range, has an average elevation of 2,650 m. Mount Olympus forms the highest point in Greece at 2,911 m above sea level.

Greece's climate features mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures rarely reach extremes, although snowfalls do occur in the mountains and occasionally even in Athens in the winter.

Seals, sea turtles and other rare marine life live in Greek seas, while Greece's forests provide a home to Western Europe's last brown bears and lynx.


Main article: Economy of Greece

Greece has a mixed capitalist economy with the public sector accounting for about half of GDP. Tourism has great importance, providing a large portion of GDP and foreign exchange earnings. Greece also counts as a world leader in shipping (first in terms of ownership of boats and third by flag registration) [3]. Greece figures prominently as a major beneficiary of EU aid, equal to about 2.4% of GNP. The export of manufactured goods, including telecommunications hardware and software, foodstuffs and fuels accounts for the rest of Greek income.

The economy has improved steadily over the last few years, as the government tightened policy in the run-up to Greece's entry into the zone of the EU's single currency, the euro, on January 1, 2001. Average per capita GDP in 2003 comprised $20,000[4]. Greece has an expanding services sector and telecommunications industry and has become one of the largest investors in her region. Moreover, Greece now operates as a net importer of labour and foreign workers (mainly from the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Pakistan) now account for 10% of the total population.

Major challenges remaining include the reduction of unemployment and further restructuring of the economy, including privatising several state enterprises, undertaking social security reforms, overhauling the tax system, and minimising bureaucratic inefficiencies. Forecasts predicted economic growth of 4 - 4.5 % in 2004. Reducing the government deficit also remains a major challenge, as it is currently running at nearly twice the Eurozone target (of 3% of GDP). The new conservative government revealed to Eurostat that the previous figures supplied, on which was the basis of Greek entry into the Eurozone, were incorrect.

The Bank of Greece functions as the national central bank of Greece; distinguish this from the "National Bank of Greece", a commercial bank.


Main article: Demographics of Greece

According to the 2001 census, Greece had a population of 10,964,020. Of those, 58.8% lived in urban areas, whereas only 28.4% lived in rural areas. The population of the two largest cities in Greece, Athens and Thessaloniki, reached almost 4 million. Although the population of Greece continues to grow, Greece faces a serious demographic problem: for the first time in 2002 the number of deaths surpassed the number of births.

A large number of immigrants live in Greece today, estimated at over one million. About 65% have come from Albania, and large-scale Albanian migration to Greece since the fall of Communism in Albania has become a source of conflict in Greece because the Greek-Albanian borders opened without any preparations from the Greek government in terms of immigrant facilities. The Albanians also occasionally suffer from discrimination and exploitation in Greece. Nonetheless most Greeks nowadays recognize their contribution to the Greek economy. (Several prominent Greek sportsmen immigrated to Greece as ethnic Greeks from Albania or Georgia in the 1990s.) Smaller numbers of immigrants came from Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Pakistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Egypt, Palestine, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China and Georgia. The exact number remains unknown, since the majority live illegally in Greece.

Greece has various, if not numerous, linguistic and cultural minorities. A non-comprehensive list of these would include various Roma groups, Turkish-speakers, Slavs, and Vlachs, (Aromanians and Megleno-Romanians). Numerous religious minorities exist: Muslims form the largest such minority.

One minority possesses special rights (deriving mainly from the Treaty of Lausanne): the Muslim minority of Thrace.


The Greek Constitution claims absolute freedom of religion. It also states that all persons living within the Greek territory shall enjoy full protection of their religious beliefs. The Orthodox Church, as well as the secular state, must approve any activities related to building official temples. The Constitution defines the "prevailing religion" of Greece as the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ.

The majority of Greeks (95 to 98%) have at least nominal membership of the Eastern Orthodox Church, although religious observance has declined in recent years. Greek Muslims make up about 1.3% of the population, and live mainly in Thrace. Greece has some Roman Catholics: mainly in the Cyclades islands of Syros, Paros and Naxos; some Protestants and some Jews, mainly in Thessaloniki. Some groups in Greece have started an attempt to reconstruct Hellênismos, the old Greek pagan religion. See also: Greek Orthodox Church.

One small part of Greece, Mount Athos, is required by the constitution to be governed theocratically as a monastic republic.


Main article: Culture of Greece

Since the dawn of her history and until today Greece has produced a number of contributors to philosophy, astronomy, science and the arts. For a list of famous Greek women and men see List of Greeks.

See also:

Miscellaneous topics

Sport in Greece

See also

External links

Greek Ministries

Other official sites

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