The Hellenic Republic, the official name of Greece, is a rugged country lying at the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula. Olympus (Ólimbos), at 2,917m [9,570ft], is the highest peak. Nearly a fifth of the land area is made up of around 2,000 islands, mainly in the Aegean Sea, east of the main peninsula, but also in the Ionian Sea to the west. Only 154 are inhabited. The island of Crete is structurally related to the main Alpine fold mountain system to which the mainland Pindos Range belongs.
Low-lying areas in Greece have mild, moist winters and hot, dry summers. The E coast has more than 2,700 hours of sunshine a year and only about half of the rainfall of the W. The mountains have a more severe climate, with snow on the higher slopes in winter.
Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization, a Bronze Age culture which made use of linear script, between about 3000 and 1400 bc. Following the end of the related Mycenean civilization on the mainland (1580-1200 BC), the Dorians settled, inaugurating an Iron Age but non-literate era which lasted until the adoption of a script derived from Phoenician characters in about 800 bc. In about 750 bc the Greeks began to colonize the Mediterranean, creating wealth through trade. Powerful city-states emerged, such as Sparta and Athens, in which Solon established the first democracy (5th century BC). The revolt of the Ionians started the Persian Wars (499-479 BC). See Greece, ancient. The city-state of Athens reached its peak in the 461-431 bc but Corinth and Thebes gained control after Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). In 338 bc Macedon, led by Philip II, became the dominant power. His son, Alexander the Great, conquered a vast empire and began the Hellenistic Age. In 146 bc Greece fell to the Romans. Greece formed part of the Byzantine Empire from ad 330 until its fall in 1453. In 1456, the Ottoman Empire conquered Greece.
The European powers supported the Greek War of Independence (1821-27), and an independent monarchy emerged in 1832. As King of the Hellenes (1863-1913), George I recovered much Greek territory. In 1913, Greece took control of Crete. Greece finally entered World War 1 on the Allied side in 1917. In 1923, 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor resettled in Greece. In 1936, Joannis Metaxas became premier. His dictatorial regime remained neutral at the start of World War 2. By May 1941, Germany occupied Greece. Resistance movements recaptured most territory by 1944, and the Germans withdrew.
From 1946-49, a civil war raged between communist and royalist forces. In 1951, Greece joined NATO. In 1955, Karamanlis became prime minister. The economy slowly improved, but tension surfaced with Turkey about the status of Cyprus. In 1964 a republican, Andreas Papandreou, became prime minister. In 1967, a military dictatorship seized power. The 'Colonels' imposed harsh controls on dissent. In 1973, they abolished the monarchy, and Greece became a presidential republic. In 1974 civil unrest led to the restoration of civilian government, headed by Karamanlis.
Greece joined the EC in 1981. Despite efforts to develop the economy, Greece remains one of the poorest countries in the European Union. The euro became the sole currency in 2002.
Relations with Turkey have long been difficult. In 1999, the two countries helped each other when both were hit by major earthquakes. In 2000 Greece and Turkey signed agreements aimed at improving relations between them, but boundary disputes in the Aegean continued.
Manufacturing is important. Products include processed food, cement, chemicals, metal products, textiles and tobacco. Lignite, bauxite and chromite are mined.
Farmland and grazing land cover about 75% of the land. Major crops include barley, grapes for wine-making, dried fruits, olives, potatoes, sugar beet and wheat. Poultry, sheep, goats, pigs and cattle are raised. The vital tourist industry is based on the warm climate, beautiful scenery, and historical sites dating back to the days of classical Greece.
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