Facts

Population: 10.75 million
Area: 131,957 km²
Capital City: Athens


Greece officially the Hellenic Republic (Greek: Ελληνική Δημοκρατία),
historically also known as Hellas, is a country in southeastern Europe, with a population of approximately 11 million as of 2015. Athens is the nation’s capital and largest city, followed by Thessaloniki. Greece is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Situated on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, it shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, the Cretan Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Basin and the 11th longest coastline in the world at 13,676 km (8,498 mi) in length, featuring a large number of islands, of which 227 are inhabited. Eighty percent of Greece is mountainous, with Mount Olympus being the highest peak at 2,918 metres (9,573 ft). The country consists of nine geographic regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands (including the Dodecanese and Cyclades), Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands. Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama. From the eighth century BC, the Greeks were organised into various independent city-states, known as polis, which spanned the entire Mediterranean region and the Black Sea. Philip of Macedon united most of the Greek mainland in the fourth century BC, with his son Alexander the Great rapidly conquering much of the ancient world, spreading Greek culture and science from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indus River. Greece was annexed by Rome in the second century BC, becoming an integral part of the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire, wherein the Greek language and culture were dominant. The Greek Orthodox Church also shaped modern Greek identity and transmitted Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox World. Falling under Ottoman dominion in the mid-15th century, the modern nation state of Greece emerged in 1830 following a war of independence. Greece’s rich historical legacy is reflected by its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among the most in Europe and the world. Greece is a democratic and developed country with an advanced high-income economy, a high quality of life, and a very high standard of living. A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities (precursor to the European Union) and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001. It is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). Greece’s unique cultural heritage, large tourism industry, prominent shipping sector and geostrategic importance[a] classify it as a middle power. It is the largest economy in the Balkans, where it is an important regional investor.


Currency


Climate

The climate of Greece is primarily Mediterranean, featuring mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. This climate occurs at all coastal locations, including Athens, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, Crete, the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands and parts of the Central Continental Greece region. The Pindus mountain range strongly affects the climate of the country, as areas to the west of the range are considerably wetter on average (due to greater exposure to south-westerly systems bringing in moisture) than the areas lying to the east of the range (due to a rain shadow effect).  The mountainous areas of Northwestern Greece (parts of Epirus, Central Greece, Thessaly, Western Macedonia) as well as in the mountainous central parts of Peloponnese – including parts of the regional units of Achaea, Arcadia and Laconia – feature an Alpine climate with heavy snowfalls. The inland parts of northern Greece, in Central Macedonia and East Macedonia and Thrace feature a temperate climate with cold, damp winters and hot, dry summers with frequent thunderstorms. Snowfalls occur every year in the mountains and northern areas, and brief snowfalls are not unknown even in low-lying southern areas, such as Athens.

Economy

According to World Bank statistics for the year 2013, the economy of Greece is the 43rd largest by nominal gross domestic product at $242 billion and 52nd largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) at $284 billion. Additionally, Greece is the 15th largest economy in the 27-member European Union. In terms of per capita income, Greece is ranked 38th or 40th in the world at $21,910 and $25,705 for nominal GDP and PPP respectively. Greece is a developed country with high standards of living and high Human Development Index. Its economy mainly comprises the service sector (85.0%) and industry (12.0%), while agriculture makes up 3.0% of the national economic output. Important Greek industries include tourism (with 14.9 million international tourists in 2009, it is ranked as the 7th most visited country in the European Union and 16th in the world by the United Nations World Tourism Organization) and merchant shipping (at 16.2% of the world’s total capacity, the Greek merchant marine is the largest in the world), while the country is also a considerable agricultural producer (including fisheries) within the union. With an economy larger than all the Balkan economies combined, Greece is the largest economy in the Balkans, and an important regional investor. Greece is the number-two foreign investor of capital in Albania, the number-three foreign investor in Bulgaria, at the top-three of foreign investors in Romania and Serbia and the most important trading partner and largest foreign investor of the Republic of Macedonia. Greek banks open a new branch somewhere in the Balkans on an almost weekly basis.The Greek telecommunications company OTE has become a strong investor in Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries. The Greek economy is classified as advanced and high-income. Greece was a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). In 1979 the accession of the country in the European Communities and the single market was signed, and the process was completed in 1982. Greece was accepted into the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Unionon 19 June 2000, and in January 2001 adopted the Euro as its currency, replacing the Greek drachma at an exchange rate of 340.75 drachma to the Euro. Greece is also a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and is ranked 24th on the KOF Globalization Index for 2013.

 

Ecology

Phytogeographically, Greece belongs to the Boreal Kingdom and is shared between the East Mediterranean province of the Mediterranean Region and the Illyrian province of the Circumboreal Region. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature and the European Environment Agency, the territory of Greece can be subdivided into six ecoregions: the Illyrian deciduous forests, Pindus Mountains mixed forests, Balkan mixed forests, Rhodope montane mixed forests, Aegean and Western Turkey sclerophyllous and mixed forests and Crete Mediterranean forests.

 

Foreign relations

Greece’s foreign policy is conducted through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its head, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The current minister is Nikos Kotzias. According to the official website, the main aims of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs are to represent Greece before other states and international organizations; safeguarding the interests of the Greek state and of its citizens abroad; the promotion of Greek culture; the fostering of closer relations with the Greek diaspora; and the promotion of international cooperation. Additionally, due to its political and geographical proximity to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Greece is a country of significant geostrategic importance and is considered to be a middle power and has developed a regional policy to help promote peace and stability in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. The Ministry identifies three issues as of particular importance to the Greek state: Turkish challenges to Greek sovereignty rights in the Aegean Sea and corresponding airspace; the legitimacy of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on the island of Cyprus; and the Macedonia naming dispute with the small Balkan country which shares a name with Greece’s largest and second-most-populous region, also called MacedoniaGreece is a member of numerous international organizations, including the Council of Europe, the European Union, the Union for the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organisation internationale de la francophonie and the United Nations, of which it is a founding member.

Healthcare system

Greece has universal health care. In a 2000 World Health Organization report, its health care system ranked 14th in overall performance of 191 countries surveyed. In a 2013 Save the Children report, Greece was ranked the 19th best country (out of 176 countries surveyed) for the state of mothers and newborn babies. In 2010, there were 138 hospitals with 31,000 beds in the country, but on 1 July 2011, the Ministry for Health and Social Solidarity announced its plans to decrease the number to 77 hospitals with 36,035 beds, as a necessary reform to reduce expenses and further enhance healthcare standards. Greece’s healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP were 9.6% in 2007 according to a 2011 OECD report, just above the OECD average of 9.5%. The country has the largest number of doctors-to-population ratio of any OECD country. Life expectancy in Greece is 80.3 years, above the OECD average of 79.5,and among the highest in the world. The island of Icaria has the highest percentage of 90-year-olds in the world; approximately 33% of the islanders make it to 90 (and beyond). Blue Zones author Dan Buettner wrote an article in The New York Times about the longevity of Icarians under the title “The Island Where People Forget to Die”. The 2011 OECD report showed that Greece had the largest percentage of adult daily smokers of any of the 34 OECD members. The country’s obesity rate is 18.1%, which is above the OECD average of 15.1%, but considerably lower than the American rate of 27.7%. In 2008, Greece had the highest rate of perceived good health in the OECD, at 98.5%. Infant mortality, with a rate of 3.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, was below the 2007 OECD average of 4.9.

Law and justice

The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature and comprises three Supreme Courts: the Court of Cassation(Άρειος Πάγος), the Council of State (Συμβούλιο της Επικρατείας) and the Court of Auditors (Ελεγκτικό Συνέδριο). The Judiciary system is also composed of civil courts, which judge civil and penal cases and administrative courts, which judge disputes between the citizens and the Greek administrative authorities. The Hellenic Police (Greek: Ελληνική Αστυνομία) is the national police force of Greece. It is a very large agency with its responsibilities ranging from road traffic control to counter-terrorism. It was established in 1984 under Law 1481/1-10-1984 (Government Gazette 152 A) as the result of the fusion of the Gendarmerie (Χωροφυλακή, Chorofylaki) and the Cities Police(Αστυνομία Πόλεων, Astynomia Poleon) forces.

 

Languages

The distribution of major contemporary Greek dialects. The first textual evidence of the Greek language dates back to 15th century BC and the Linear B script which is associated with the Mycenaean Civilization. Greek was a widely spoken lingua franca in the Mediterranean world and beyond during Classical Antiquity, and would eventually become the official parlance of the Byzantine Empire. During the 19th and 20th centuries there was a major dispute known as the Greek language question, on whether the official language of Greece should be the archaic Katharevousa, created in the 19th century and used as the state and scholarly language, or the Dimotiki, the form of the Greek language which evolved naturally from Byzantine Greek and was the language of the people. The dispute was finally resolved in 1976, when Dimotiki was made the only official variation of the Greek language, and Katharevousa fell to disuse. Greece is today relatively homogeneous in linguistic terms, with a large majority of the native population using Greek as their first or only language. Among the Greek-speaking population, speakers of the distinctive Pontic dialect came to Greece from Asia Minor after the Greek genocide and constitute a sizable group. The Cappadocian dialect came to Greece due to the genocide as well, but is endangered and is barely spoken now. Indigenous Greek dialects include the archaic Greek spoken by the Sarakatsani, traditionally transhument mountain shepherds of Greek Macedonia and other parts of Northern Greece. The Tsakonian language, a distinct Greek language deriving from Doric Greek instead of Koine Greek, is still spoken in some villages in the southeastern Peloponnese. Regions with a traditional presence of languages other than Greek. Today, Greek is the dominant language throughout the country. The Muslim minority in Thrace, which amounts to approximately 0.95% of the total population, consists of speakers of TurkishBulgarian (Pomaks) and Romani. Romani is also spoken by Christian Roma in other parts of the country. Further minority languages have traditionally been spoken by regional population groups in various parts of the country. Their use has decreased radically in the course of the 20th century through assimilation with the Greek-speaking majority. Today they are only maintained by the older generations and are on the verge of extinction. This goes for the Arvanites, an Albanian-speaking group mostly located in the rural areas around the capital Athens, and for the Aromanians and Moglenites, also known as Vlachs, whose language is closely related to Romanian and who used to live scattered across several areas of mountainous central Greece. Members of these groups ethnically identify as Greeks and are today all at least bilingual in Greek. Near the northern Greek borders there are also some Slavic–speaking groups, locally known as Slavomacedonian-speaking, most of whose members identify ethnically as Greeks. It is estimated that after the population exchanges of 1923, Macedonia had 200,000 to 400,000 Slavic speakers. The Jewish community in Greece traditionally spoke Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), today maintained only by a few thousand speakers. Other notable minority languages include ArmenianGeorgian, and the Greco-Turkic dialect spoken by the Urums, a community of Caucasus Greeks from the Tsalka region of central Georgia and ethnic Greeks from southeastern Ukraine who arrived in mainly Northern Greece as economic migrants in the 1990s.

 

Maritime industry

Greece controls 16.2% of the world’s total merchant fleet, making it the largest in the world. Greece is ranked in the top 5 for all kinds of ships, including first for tankers and bulk carriers. The shipping industry is a key element of Greek economic activity dating back to ancient times. Today, shipping is one of the country’s most important industries. It accounts for 4.5% of GDP, employs about 160,000 people (4% of the workforce), and represents ⅓ of the country’s trade deficit. According to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report in 2011, the Greek merchant navy is the largest in the world at 16.2% of the world’s total capacity, up from 15.96% in 2010. This is a drop from the equivalent number in 2006, which was 18.2%. The total tonnage of the country’s merchant fleet is 202 million dwt, ranked 1st in the world. During the 1960s, the size of the Greek fleet nearly doubled, primarily through the investment undertaken by the shipping magnates, Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. The basis of the modern Greek maritime industry was formed after World War II when Greek shipping businessmen were able to amass surplus ships sold to them by the U.S. government through the Ship Sales Act of the 1940s.In terms of total number of ships, the Greek Merchant Navy stands at 4th worldwide, with 3,150 ships (741 of which are registered in Greece whereas the rest 2,409 in other ports). In terms of ship categories, Greece ranks first in both tankers and dry bulk carriers, fourth in the number of containers, and fifth in other ships. However, today’s fleet roster is smaller than an all-time high of 5,000 ships in the late 1970s. Additionally, the total number of ships flying a Greek flag (includes non-Greek fleets) is 1,517, or 5.3% of the world’s dwt (ranked 5th).

 

Medical sector

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is considered the “father of western medicine”, who laid the foundation for a rational approach to medicine. Hippocrates introduced the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, which is still relevant and in use today, and was the first to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic, and use terms such as, “exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence”. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the onset of the Early Middle Ages, the Greek tradition of medicine went into decline in Western Europe, although it continued uninterrupted in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Today the country is a medical services centre and an evolving destination of medical tourism. Notable modern Greek physicians include Andreas Anagnostakis, Panayotis Potagos, Constantin von Economo, Georg N. Koskinas, Grigoris Lambrakis, Amalia Fleming, Benediktos Adamantiades, Petros Kokkalis, Dimitrios Trichopoulos, while the most known worldwide is Georgios Papanikolaou, inventor also of the “Pap test”.

 

Public holidays and festivals

According to Greek law, every Sunday of the year is a public holiday. Since the late ’70s, Saturday also is a non school and not working day. In addition, there are four mandatory official public holidays: 25 March are regulated by law as being optional but it is customary for employees to be given the day off. There are, however, more public holidays celebrated in Greece than are announced by the Ministry of Labour each year as either obligatory or optional. The list of these non-fixed national holidays rarely changes and has not changed in recent decades, giving a total of eleven national holidays each year. In addition to the national holidays, there are public holidays that are not celebrated nationwide, but only by a specific professional group or a local community. For example, many municipalities have a “Patron Saint” parallel to “Name Days“, or a “Liberation Day”. On such days it is customary for schools to take the day off. Notable festivals, beyond the religious fests, include Patras CarnivalAthens Festival and various local wine festivals. The city of Thessaloniki is also home of a number of festivals and events. The Thessaloniki International Film Festival is one of the most important film festivals in Southern Europe.

 

Politics

Greece is a unitary parliamentary republic. The nominal head of state is the President of the Republic, who is elected by the Parliament for a five-year term. The current Constitution was drawn up and adopted by the Fifth Revisionary Parliament of the Hellenes and entered into force in 1975 after the fall of the military junta of 1967–1974. It has been revised three times since, in 1986, 2001 and 2008. The Constitution, which consists of 120 articles, provides for a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and grants extensive specific guarantees (further reinforced in 2001) of civil liberties and social rights. Women’s suffrage was guaranteed with an amendment to the 1952 Constitution. According to the Constitution, executive power is exercised by the President of the Republic and the Government. From the Constitutional amendment of 1986 the President’s duties were curtailed to a significant extent, and they are now largely ceremonial; most political power thus lies in the hands of the Prime Minister. The position of Prime Minister, Greece’s head of government, belongs to the current leader of the political party that can obtain a vote of confidence by the Parliament. The President of the Republic formally appoints the Prime Minister and, on his recommendation, appoints and dismisses the other members of the Cabinet. Legislative powers are exercised by a 300-member elective unicameral Parliament. Statutes passed by the Parliament are promulgated by the President of the Republic.Parliamentary elections are held every four years, but the President of the Republic is obliged to dissolve the Parliament earlier on the proposal of the Cabinet, in view of dealing with a national issue of exceptional importance. The President is also obliged to dissolve the Parliament earlier, if the opposition manages to pass a motion of no confidence.

 

Telecommunications

Modern digital information and communication networks reach all areas. There are over 35,000 km (21,748 mi) of fiber optics and an extensive open-wire network. Broadband internet availability is widespread in Greece: there were a total of 2,252,653 broadband connections as of early 2011, translating to 20% broadband penetration. According to 2017 data, around 82% of the general population used the internet regularly. Internet cafés that provide net access, office applications and multiplayer gaming are also a common sight in the country, while mobile internet on 3G and 4G- LTE cellphone networks and Wi-Fi connections can be found almost everywhere. 3G/4G mobile internet usage has been on a sharp increase in recent years. Based on 2016 data 70% of Greek internet users have access via 3G/4G mobile. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranks Greece among the top 30 countries with a highly developed information and communications infrastructure.

 

Tourism

Tourism has been a key element of the economic activity in the country and one of the country’s most important sectors, contributing 18% of the gross domestic product. Greece welcomed over 28 million visitors in 2016, which is an increase from the 26.5 million tourists it welcomed in 2015 and the 19.5 million in 2009, and the 17.7 million tourists in 2007, making Greece one of the most visited countries in Europe in the recent years. The vast majority of visitors in Greece in 2007 came from the European continent, numbering 12.7 million, while the most visitors from a single nationality were those from the United Kingdom, (2.6 million), followed closely by those from Germany (2.3 million). In 2010, the most visited region of Greece was that of Central Macedonia, with 18% of the country’s total tourist flow (amounting to 3.6 million tourists), followed by Attica with 2.6 million and the Peloponnese with 1.8 million. Northern Greece is the country’s most-visited geographical region, with 6.5 million tourists, while Central Greece is second with 6.3 million. In 2010, Lonely Planet ranked Greece’s northern and second-largest city of Thessaloniki as the world’s fifth-best party town worldwide, comparable to other cities such as Dubai and Montreal. In 2011, Santorini was voted as “The World’s Best Island” in Travel + Leisure. Its neighboring island Mykonos, came in fifth in the European category.

 

Transport

The Rio–Antirrio bridge (Charilaos Trikoupis) connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese. Since the 1980s, the road and rail network of Greece has been significantly modernized. Important works include the A2 (Egnatia Odos) motorway, that connects northwestern Greece (Igoumenitsa) with northern Greece (Thessaloniki) and northeastern Greece (Kipoi); the Rio–Antirrio bridge, the longest suspension cable bridge in Europe (2,250 m (7,382 ft) long), connecting the Peloponnese (Rio, 7 km (4 mi) from Patras) with Aetolia-Akarnania (Antirrio) in western Greece. Also completed are the A5 (Ionia Odos) motorway that connects northwestern Greece (Ioannina) with western Greece (Antirrio); the last sections of the A1 motorway, connecting Athens to Thessaloniki and Evzonoi in northern Greece; as well as the A8 motorway (part of the Olympia Odos) in Peloponnese, connecting Athens to Patras. The remaining section of Olympia Odos, connecting Patras with Pyrgos, is under planning. Other important projects that are currently underway, include the construction of the Thessaloniki MetroThe Athens Metropolitan Area in particular is served by some of the most modern and efficient transport infrastructure in Europe, such as the Athens International Airport, the privately run A6 (Attiki Odos) motorway network and the expanded Athens Metro system. Most of the Greek islands and many main cities of Greece are connected by air mainly from the two major Greek airlines, Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Maritime connections have been improved with modern high-speed craft, including hydrofoils and catamaransRailway connections play a somewhat lesser role in Greece than in many other European countries, but they too have also been expanded, with new suburban/commuter rail connections, serviced by Proastiakos around Athens, towards its airport, Kiato and Chalkida; around Thessaloniki, towards the cities of Larissa and Edessa; and around Patras. A modern intercity rail connection between Athens and Thessaloniki has also been established, while an upgrade to double lines in many parts of the 2,500 km (1,600 mi) network is underway. International railway lines connect Greek cities with the rest of Europe, the Balkans and Turkey.

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