Known for its plethora of ancient ruins, whitewashed villages, sunny beaches, tasty cuisine and friendly atmosphere, it is no wonder that Greece ranks among Europe’s top travel destinations. Greece is made up of a mountainous mainland and hundreds of islands where each one offers its own share of stunning landscapes, historic sites, nightlife scenes and cultural delights. Many tourists like to begin their trip on the mainland, which is home to the capital city, Athens. One of the world’s oldest cities, Athens is known the world over for classic ruins and temples like the iconic Parthenon complex. Spreading out beyond Athens, some of the most visited Greek Islands include Santorini, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and Mykonos.
Popular for weddings, honeymoons and romantic getaways, Santorini is favored for its volcanic landscapes, spectacular sunsets and cliff-hanging villages. One of the largest islands, Crete, offers an abundance of hotels, shops, restaurants and nightclubs in addition to fabulous ruins like the ancient Knossos Palace. Diverse in culture and heritage, Corfu features lovely beaches and a mix of ancient and modern attractions. Rhodes is an ideal place to stroll medieval villages while Mykonos is the place to party.
Greece is located in south-eastern Europe, on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula (Haemus peninsula); it lies at the meeting point of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. Greece borders to the North on Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia, to the Northwest on Albania, to the Northeast on Turkey; to the West it is washed by the Ionian Sea; to the South by the Mediterranean Sea and to the East by the Aegean Sea. The total area of Greece is 131,957 km2 and consists of three main geographic areas: a peninsular mainland (that extends from the region of Central Greece on the South to the region of Thrace on the North) being the biggest geographic feature of the country the Peloponnese peninsula that is separated from the mainland by the canal of the Corinth Isthmus, and around 6.000 islands and islets, scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Sea, most of them grouped in clusters, that constitute the unique Greek archipelago. Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades are some of the famous and popular islands and island clusters in Greece.
Eighty percent of the country consists of mountains or hills, making Greece one of the most mountainous countries of Europe; furthermore, it has 16.000 kilometers of coastline of which 7500 are found around the thousands islands of the Greek archipelago, a truly unparalleled phenomenon on the European continent.
Greece is much more than we were taught at school than we have seen in the photos with beautiful sunsets and golden sandy beaches. In Greece, you are in a crossroad of colors and cultures; you feel the strength of History and the warmth of the southern extremity of Europe and you discover the evolutionary course of thought, influence and experience. You are in a country with a uniquely affluent historical past, whose people, however, do not rest on their laurels and are not stuck in that past. A country that, though statistically small, is huge in its diversity. You see landscapes that have given thousands of postcard images but remain incredibly vivid and of unrivalled beauty. Greece is a country of beautiful contradictions, a constant journey in time, from the present to the past and back again. Walk through the olive groves, through archaeological sites; move to clusters of islands, go through beaches and mountains and explore the breathtaking scenery. In Greece the succession of images is not just our imagination; it is a sheer reality.
The islands are the main characteristic of Greece’s morphology and an integral part of the country’s culture and tradition. Greek sovereign land includes 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, of which only 227 islands are inhabited. This is a truly unique phenomenon for the European continent. The Greek Archipelago takes up 7,500 km of the country’s total 16,000 km coastline, offering a highly diversified landscape: beaches stretching over many kilometers, sheltered bays and coves, sandy beaches with sand-dunes, pebble beaches, coastal caves with steep rocks and dark colored sand typical of volcanic soil and coastal wetlands. Many of these Greek beaches have been awarded the blue flag under the Blue Flags of Europe Program, providing not only swimming, but also scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, sailing and windsurfing. Some of the oldest European civilizations developed on the Greek islands (Cycladic, Minoan civilizations, etc.), so therefore the islands have unique archeological sites, a distinctive architectural heritage and the fascinating local traditions of a centuries-old and multifaceted civilization. The ideal climate, safe waters and small distances between ports and coasts, have made the Greek islands extremely popular among Greek and foreign visitors. Most of the islands are found in the Aegean Sea and are divided into seven groups (from north to south):
The Northeastern Aegean Islands
Agios Efstratios, Thasos, Ikaria, Lesbos, Limnos, Inouses, Samos, Samothrace, Chios, Psara.
Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros
The prefecture of Evia (which also includes the island of Skiros), is next to the prefecture of Viotia on the east and on the south touches the Aegean Sea, on the north and northwest to the Pagasitiko and Maliako Gulf, while on the west and southwest with the north and south Evian Gulf.
Islands of Argosaronic
Angistri, Aegena, Methana, Poros, Salamina, Spetses, Hydra.
A group of 56 islands, with the most important being Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Sikinos, Sifnos, Syros, Tinos, Folegandros, as well as the “Minor Cyclades” comprising Donousa, Irakleia, Koufonisia and Schinousa.
Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Kastellorizo, Kos, Lipsi, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, Chalki.
Crete is divided in to four prefectures. From west to east: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi.
The Ionian Sea has only one island complex:
The Ionian Islands
Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu, Kefallonia, Lefkada, Paxi, and Kythira which is situated opposite the southern Peloponnese (Laconia). These islands, which are the biggest of the Ionian Sea, constitute the famous Eptanissa (meaning seven islands; epta in Greek means seven).
Antipaxi, Ereikoussa, Kalamos, Kastos, Mathraki, Meganissi, Othoni, Skorpios, Strofades are smaller islands of the Ionian Sea.
The islands of Gavdos (situated south of Crete), Elafonissos (in the Gulf of Laconia) and Trizonis (in the Gulf of Corinth), do not forme a group but are still of unparalleled natural beauty.
Greece is the ideal place for city tourism. Discovering the soul of a Greek city is much more than a quick tour around its monuments and sightseeing. Greek cities are full of possibilities, easily accessible and visitor friendly around the year, offering a great sum of modern facilities and choices. Greek cities combine excellent conference facilities with unique museums, archaeological sites, shopping and nightlife.Think of the perfect city break. And then visit a Greek city, where it will be planned and organized for you!
A walk around the old neighborhoods reveals the coexistence of different eras in cities’ heart. Old mansions, many of them well-preserved, luxurious department stores and small intimate shops, fancy restaurants and traditional taverns are located one next to another. All have their place here! The Greek spirit, a force of creativity and renewal throughout Greece’s long history, has yet again transformed the urban landscape. Greece is a unique destination that combines business and pleasure in the best possible way! It is one of the most charismatic locations in terms of natural beauty, with mild climate conditions, a combination of landscapes from sea to mountains and appropriate for vacation and business activities throughout the year! Luxurious hotels with services that combine entertainment, leisure areas and excellent conference facilities, constitute yet another powerful incentive for someone to enjoy a magnificent city break or even close a business deal in Greece! Even museums can wonderfully combine a tour to an archaeological site with a philosophical conference, thus demonstrating the magnificence of ancient civilization through modern culture! Moreover, there are innovative scientific centers and exhibition areas that can accommodate small or large scale conference events, with state-of-the-art technical specifications including audiovisual systems, teleconference means, auxiliary dining areas, and by utilizing specialized staff such as interpreters and translators.
Greece is now dynamically entering the city tourism sector on the global map.
The 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the widely acknowledged “unforgettable, dream games” left a crucial legacy to city of Athens: transport infrastructure of a new era, green parks and squares, world-class sports facilities, and a gleaming, Calatrava-inspired Olympic Sports Complex. The Olympic cities, Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion, and Volos revamped, refurbished, cleaned up.
A short break in Greece can take you a long way…
Today’s visitors to Greece have the opportunity to trace the “fingerprints” of Greek history from the Paleolithic Era to the Roman Period in the hundreds of archaeological sites, as well as in the archaeological museums and collections that are scattered throughout the country. The first traces of human habitation in Greece appeared during the Paleolithic Age (approx. 120000 – 10000 B.C.). During the Neolithic Age that followed (approx. 7000 – 3000 B.C.), a plethora of Neolithic buildings spread throughout the country. Buildings and cemeteries have been discovered in Thessaly (Sesklo, Dimini), Macedonia, the Peloponnese, etc.
The beginning of the Bronze Age (approx. 3000-1100 B.C.) is marked by the appearance of the first urban centers in the Aegean region (Poliochni on Limnos). Flourishing settlements were found on Crete, Mainland Greece, the Cyclades and the Northeastern Aegean, regions where characteristic cultural patterns developed.
At the beginning of the 2nd Millennium B.C., organized palatial societies appeared on Minoan Crete, resulting in the development of the first systematic scripts. The Minoans, with Knossos Palace as their epicenter, developed a communications network with races from the Eastern Mediterranean region, adopted certain elements and in turn decisively influenced cultures on the Greek mainland and the islands of the Aegean.
On Mainland Greece, the Mycenean Greeks –taking advantage of the destruction caused on Crete by the volcanic eruption on Santorini (around 1500 B.C.)- became the dominant force in the Aegean during the last centuries of the 2nd Millennium B.C.. The Mycenean acropolises (citadels) in Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Thiva, Glas, Athens and Iolcus, then comprised the centers of the bureaucratically organized kingdoms.
The extensive destruction of the Mycenean centers around 1200 B.C. led to the decline of the Mycenean civilization and caused the population to migrate to the coastal regions of Asia Minor and Cyprus (1st Greek colonization).
After approximately two centuries of economic and cultural inactivity, which also became known as the Dark Years (1150 – 900 B.C.), the Geometric Period then followed (9th – 8th Century B.C.). This was the beginning of the Greek Renaissance Years. This period was marked by the formation of the Greek City-States, the creation of the Greek alphabet and the composition of the Homeric epics (end of the 8th Century B.C.).
The Archaic Years that subsequently followed (7th – 6th Century B.C.) were a period of major social and political changes. The Greek City-States established colonies as far as Spain to the west, the Black Sea to the north and N. Africa to the south (2nd Greek colonization) and laid the foundations for the acme during the Classical Period.
The Classical Years (5th – 4th Century B.C.) were characterized by the cultural and political dominance of Athens, so much so that the second half of the 5th Century B.C. was subsequently called the “Golden Age” of Pericles. With the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 B.C., Athens lost its leading role.
New forces emerged during the 4th Century B.C. The Macedonians, with Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, began to play a leading role in Greece. Alexander’s campaign to the East and the conquest of all the regions as far as the Indus River radically changed the situation in the world, as it was at that time.
After the death of Alexander, the vast empire he had created was then divided among his generals, leading to the creation of the kingdoms that would prevail during the Hellenistic Period (3rd – 1st Century B.C.). In this period the Greek City-States remained more or less autonomous, but lost much of their old power and prestige. The appearance of the Romans on the scene and the final conquest of Greece in 146 B.C. forced the country to join the vast Roman Empire. In the time of the Roman occupation (1st Century B.C. – 3rd Century A.D.) most of the Roman emperors, who admired Greek culture, acted as benefactors to the Greek cities and especially Athens. Christianity, the new religion that would depose Dodekatheon worshipping, then spread all over Greece through the travels of Apostle Paul during the 1st Century A.D. The decision by Constantine the Great to move the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople (324 A.D.), shifted the focus of attention to the eastern part of the empire. This shift marked the beginning of the Byzantine Years, during which Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire.
After 1204, when Constantinople was taken by Western crusaders, parts of Greece was apportioned out to western leaders, while the Venetians occupied strategic positions in the Aegean (islands or coastal cities), in order to control the trade routes. The reoccupation of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1262 marked the last stages of the empire’s existence.
The Ottomans gradually began to seize parts of the empire from the 14th Century A.D., and completed the breakup of the empire with the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Crete was the final area of Greece that was occupied by the Ottomans in 1669.
Around four centuries of Ottoman domination then followed, up to the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Numerous monuments from the Byzantine Years and the Ottoman Occupation Period have been preserved, such as Byzantine and Post-Byzantine churches and monasteries, Ottoman buildings, charming Byzantine and Frankish castles, various other monuments as well as traditional settlements, quite a few of which retain their Ottoman and partly Byzantine structure.
The result of the Greek War of Independence was the creation of an independent Greek Kingdom in 1830, but with limited sovereign land.
During the 19th C. and the beginning of the 20th C., new areas with compact Greek populations were gradually inducted into the Greek State. Greece’s sovereign land would reach its maximum after the end of Word War I in 1920, with the substantial contribution of then Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos. The Greek State took its current form after the end of World War II with the incorporation of the Dodecanese Islands.
In 1974, after the seven-year dictatorship period a referendum was held and the government changed from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Presidential Parliamentary Democracy, and in 1981 Greece became a member of the European Union.