Greece facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Ellinikí Dimokratía (Greek)
Motto: «Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος»
Elefthería í Thánatos
"Freedom or Death"
Anthem: «Ύμνος εις την Ελευθερίαν»
Ýmnos eis tin Eleftherían
"Hymn to Liberty"
and largest city
and national language
|Unitary parliamentary republic
• Speaker of the Parliament
|25 March 1821 (traditional starting date of the Greek War of Independence), 15 January 1822 (official declaration)
|3 February 1830
• Current constitution
|11 June 1975
|131,957 km2 (50,949 sq mi) (95th)
• Water (%)
• 2017 estimate
• 2011 census
|82/km2 (212.4/sq mi) (125th)
|$326.700 billion (57th)
• Per capita
|$224.033 billion (52nd)
• Per capita
medium · 60th
very high · 31st
|Euro (€) (EUR)
|UTC+2 (Eastern European Time)
• Summer (DST)
|UTC+3 (Eastern European Summer Time)
|ISO 3166 code
It borders Albania, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the east. The Aegean Sea is to the east and south of mainland Greece, the Ionian Sea is to the west. Both are part of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and have many islands.
The official language spoken in Greece is Greek, spoken by 99% of the population. Many Greeks also understand English, French and German, which are taught in schools. Greece became a member of the European Union in 1981.
Greece's history is one of the richest in the world. The Greeks were one of the most advanced civilizations. Greece is famous for its many philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, and kings like Alexander the Great and Leonidas. Greece is said to be the birthplace of Democracy, because city-states like Athens, now the capital of Greece, were the first to elect their leaders and not have kings. During the years of Alexander the Great, a huge Greek empire was created that stretched from modern-day Greece to Egypt and Iran, until the borders of India. Because of the significant role that Greek culture played during that time, it is called the Hellenistic period (or Greek-dominated period). During that time, the Greek language became the 'lingua franca' of the Middle East, which means the language that people who do not speak the same language use to communicate, like English is used today as an international language.
Greece was then ruled by the Roman Empire, and many argue that Rome conquered Greece with its army, but Greece conquered Rome with its culture. The Roman Empire after the conquest of Greece became a civilization known as the Greco-Roman (or Greek-Roman) civilization. When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Greeks emerged as the ruling class of the East Roman Empire, and the Greek language became the official language of the country, which included all the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Egypt and other countries in the area. It was then occupied by the Ottoman Empire for a period of 400 years. Some areas of Greece, like the second-largest city in the country, Thessaloniki, were occupied for 500 years and became part of Greece less than 100 years ago.
The Greek War of Independence began on the 25th of March 1821, according to tradition, and Greece was an independent country (a republic) in 1828. In reality, the Greek War of Independence began on 23 February 1821, when Alexander Ypsilantis(Greek Αλέξανδρος Υψηλάντης) declared the start of the revolution in modern-day Romania. In 1832 Greece was made a kingdom by the United Kingdom and Russia, under the German Wittelsbach dynasty. Greece fought in both World War I and World War II in the side of allies. In 1912, Greece took part in the Balkan Wars, where it gained many of the territories that make up the country now, such as Greek Macedonia and the islands of the Aegean Sea. In 1920 Greece expanded again, and reached its maximum size, but the territories that the country had gained in Turkey were given back to Turkey in 1923, but Greece kept Western Thrace.
In 1940, Greece was invaded by Italy, but managed to defeat the Italian invasion and marked the first victory of an Allied country against an Axis power (the side of Hitler). After the defeat of Italy, Hitler decided to attack Greece sooner than he had planned. Germany invaded on 6 April 1940 and captured Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki on 9 April, while Athens was captured on 27 April. Greece suffered major damages in the Second World War and was involved in a civil war between 1946 and 1949, which left the country devastated and the people very poor. The Greek civil war was fought between the communists and the people who supported the king, who also had support from the United Kingdom and the United States.
In 1967 the military took control of the country and restricted democracy. Free elections were then held again 7 years later, and the Greeks voted to send the king away and declared a republic in 1974. Greece became a member of the European Union in 1981. Greece had seen rapid growth in the 1990s, but some of the country's economic statistics were modified to appear more correct than they were, as the government had lied with the help of banks from the United States. In 2004, Greece hosted the Olympic Games for a second time. Since 2009, Greece has been in an economic crisis, which is also becoming a political crisis.
Geography and climate
Greece consists of a mountainous, peninsular mainland jutting out into the sea at the southern end of the Balkans, ending at the Peloponnese peninsula (separated from the mainland by the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth). Due to its highly indented coastline and numerous islands, Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world with 13,676 km (8,498 mi); its land boundary is 1,160 km (721 mi). The country lies approximately between latitudes 34° and 42° N, and longitudes 19° and 30° E.
Greece features a vast number of islands, between 1,200 and 6,000, depending on the definition, 227 of which are inhabited. Crete is the largest and most populous island; Euboea, separated from the mainland by the 60m-wide Euripus Strait, is the second largest, followed by Rhodes and Lesbos.
The Greek islands are traditionally grouped into the following clusters: The Argo-Saronic Islands in the Saronic gulf near Athens, the Cyclades, a large but dense collection occupying the central part of the Aegean Sea, the North Aegean islands, a loose grouping off the west coast of Turkey, the Dodecanese, another loose collection in the southeast between Crete and Turkey, the Sporades, a small tight group off the coast of northeast Euboea, and the Ionian Islands, located to the west of the mainland in the Ionian Sea.
Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains or hills, making the country one of the most mountainous in Europe. Mount Olympus, the mythical abode of the Greek Gods, culminates at Mytikas peak 2,917 m (9,570 ft), the highest in the country. Western Greece contains a number of lakes and wetlands and is dominated by the Pindus mountain range. The Pindus, a continuation of the Dinaric Alps, reaches a maximum elevation of 2,637 m (8,652 ft) at Mt. Smolikas (the second-highest in Greece) and historically has been a significant barrier to east-west travel.
The Pindus range continues through the central Peloponnese, crosses the islands of Kythera and Antikythera and finds its way into southwestern Aegean, in the island of Crete where it eventually ends. The islands of the Aegean are peaks of underwater mountains that once constituted an extension of the mainland. Pindus is characterized by its high, steep peaks, often dissected by numerous canyons and a variety of other karstic landscapes. The spectacular Vikos Gorge, part of the Vikos-Aoos National Park in the Pindus range, is listed by the Guinness book of World Records as the deepest gorge in the world. Another notable formation are the Meteora rock pillars, atop which have been built medieval Greek Orthodox monasteries.
Northeastern Greece features another high-altitude mountain range, the Rhodope range, spreading across the region of East Macedonia and Thrace; this area is covered with vast, thick, ancient forests, including the famous Dadia forest in the Evros regional unit, in the far northeast of the country.
Extensive plains are primarily located in the regions of Thessaly, Central Macedonia and Thrace. They constitute key economic regions as they are among the few arable places in the country. Rare marine species such as the Pinniped Seals and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle live in the seas surrounding mainland Greece, while its dense forests are home to the endangered brown bear, the lynx, the Roe Deer and the Wild Goat.
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.
Greece is not a federal state like the United States, but a unitary state like the United Kingdom. It is ruled by a parliament, called the Hellenic Parliament (or Greek Parliament in Simple English), which has 300 members. It is a parliamentary republic, which means that, unlike in the United States, the President has very few powers. The person in charge of the government of Greece is the Prime Minister.
Greece was a kingdom for most of its history as an independent nation. It officially became the Third Hellenic Republic (or Third Republic of Greece in Simple English) in 1975, when the monarchy was abolished by a popular vote.
Greece was under a military dictatorship between 1967 and 1975, which collapsed after the invasion of Cyprus, and handed over power to Constantine Karamanlis. Demonstrations by the students of the universities across Greece took place in 1973, but were suppressed by the regime, which sent a tank to crash the gates of the Athens Polytechnic and forcefully stop the protests. Greece was also under a fascist dictatorship from 1936 until 1941, when it was invaded by Nazi Germany. During World War I, Greece was divided into two countries, the State of Thessaloniki in the north and the State of Athens in the south. Both countries claimed to be the legitimate government of Greece, but the State of Thessaloniki received support from the Allies. The country was reunited in 1917, when the King abdicated.
There are many political parties in Greece, but only seven are in the Greek parliament. Until 2015, only two political parties formed governments, the PASOK party (which is social democratic) and New Democracy (which is conservative). The government ousted in the 2015 election was led by PASOK, DIMAR AND ND. Other parties include the Communist party, the left-wing SYRIZA party, the nationalist party and others. SYRIZA, led by Alexis Tsipras, won the 2015 parliamentary election held on January 25 of that year, and entered into a coalition government with the small right-wing party Greek Independents. However, he was defeated in the July 2019 general election by Kyriakos Mitsotakis who leads New Democracy.
Almost two-thirds of the Greek people live in urban areas. Greece's largest and most influential metropolitan centres are those of Athens and Thessaloniki, with metropolitan populations of approximately 4 million and 1 million inhabitants respectively. Other prominent cities with urban populations above 100,000 inhabitants include those of Patras, Heraklion, Larissa, Volos, Rhodes, Ioannina, Chania and Chalcis.
The table below lists the largest cities in Greece, by population contained in their respective contiguous built up urban areas; which are either made up of many municipalities, evident in the cases of Athens and Thessaloniki, or are contained within a larger single municipality, case evident in most of the smaller cities of the country. The results come from the preliminary figures of the population census that took place in Greece in May 2011.
Greece's largest cities
- Athens - population 3,090,508
- Thessaloniki - population 788,952
- Patras - population 213,984
- Heraklion - population 173,993
- Larissa - population 162,591
- Volos - population 144,449
- Rhodes - population 115,490
- Ioannina - population 112,486
- Chania - population 108,310
- Agrinio - population 106,053
Greece is a small country compared to other countries such as the United States, Spain , Italy, and the United Kingdom. The population of Greece is estimated to be over 10 million. Most of the people in Greece are Greeks, and they form 94% of the population of the country. There are also many Albanians in Greece, and they make up 4% of the population. Other nationalities make up for another 2% of the country.
The Greek government recognizes only one minority in the country, the Turkish one in the region of Thrace. The dispute between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia has resulted in the refusal of Greece to acknowledge the existence of a Macedonian minority. The 2001 population census showed only 747 citizens of the Republic of Macedonia in Greece. The Republic of Macedonia says that there are a maximum of 300,000 ethnic Macedonians in Greece, but Greece says that if there is a minority in the country, it would not be more than 30,000 people, in the northern part of the country, near the border with the Republic of Macedonia. This is also supported by international organizations.
The Greek flag was officially adopted in 1828 as a civil and state ensign (a flag for use only on boats and ships) and as a national flag when flown outside of Greece, for example on embassies. A different flag (white cross on a blue field) was used as a land flag within Greece from 1828 until 1969 and from 1975 to 1978. In 1978 the current flag became national flag and the older land flag was abolished.
There are many theories about the origin of the color of the flag. One says that the blue represents the color of the sea and the white represents the waves, and others include white for the waves and blue for the sky and white for purity and breakaway from tyranny and blue for Greece. There are nine stripes on the flag, which according to the legend represent the nine syllables in the phrase “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος’’ which means “freedom or death.’’ The cross stands for Christianity.
Greece is a capitalist country, like the United States and France. Greece has the largest number of trading ships (a 'merchant navy') in the world. Tourism is also a major source of income for Greece. In the 20th century Greece had its own currency but now uses the Euro as most other European Community countries do.
Greece has adopted some welfare state policies, such as public healthcare and free education, like many other European countries. Greece, however, has not collected enough taxes to pay foe them. The pension system is especially expensive. Thousands of Greeks are retired before the age of 55. Political leaders have decreased the retirement age several times. Currently the average age of retirement is 50 for women and 55 for men.
This is putting Greece in a very difficult situation when the country has accumulated a debt of about €350 billion, or debt by 170 per-cent of the country's total GDP. Greece also has a trade deficit, meaning that it buys more things than it sells. The country is cutting costs and asking for loans in order to avoid bankruptcy.
In 2010, Greece was the European Union's largest producer of cotton (183,800 tons) and pistachios (8,000 tons) and ranked second in the production of rice (229,500 tons) and olives (147,500 tons), third in the production of figs (11,000 tons) and almonds (44,000 tons), tomatoes (1,400,000 tons) and watermelons (578,400 tons) and fourth in the production of tobacco (22,000 tons). Agriculture contributes 3.8% of the country's GDP and employs 12.4% of the country's labor force.
Greece is a major beneficiary of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. As a result of the country's entry to the European Community, much of its agricultural infrastructure has been upgraded and agricultural output increased. Between 2000 and 2007 organic farming in Greece increased by 885%, the highest change percentage in the EU.
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 1/3 of the country's trade deficit.
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.
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.
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).
An important percentage of Greece's national income comes from tourism. Tourism funds 16% of the gross domestic products which also includes the Tourism Council and the London-Based World Travel. According to Eurostat statistics, Greece welcomed over 19.5 million tourists in 2009, which is an increase from the 17.7 million tourists it welcomed in 2007.
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.
Greek cuisine is characteristic of the healthy Mediterranean diet, which is epitomized by dishes of Crete. Greek cuisine incorporates fresh ingredients into a variety of local dishes such as moussaka, stifado, Greek salad, fasolada, spanakopita and souvlaki. Some dishes can be traced back to ancient Greece like skordalia (a thick purée of walnuts, almonds, crushed garlic and olive oil), lentil soup, retsina (white or rosé wine sealed with pine resin) and pasteli (candy bar with sesame seeds baked with honey). Throughout Greece people often enjoy eating from small dishes such as meze with various dips such as tzatziki, grilled octopus and small fish, feta cheese, dolmades (rice, currants and pine kernels wrapped in vine leaves), various pulses, olives and cheese. Olive oil is added to almost every dish.
Sweet desserts such as galaktoboureko, and drinks such as ouzo, metaxa and a variety of wines including retsina. Greek cuisine differs widely from different parts of the mainland and from island to island. It uses some flavorings more often than other Mediterranean cuisines: oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill and bay laurel leaves. Other common herbs and spices include basil, thyme and fennel seed. Many Greek recipes, especially in the northern parts of the country, use "sweet" spices in combination with meat, for example cinnamon and cloves in stews.
Greek literature can be divided into three main categories: Ancient, Byzantine and modern Greek literature.
At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer: the Iliad and the Odyssey. Though dates of composition vary, these works were fixed around 800 BC or after. In the classical period many of the genres of western literature became more prominent. Lyrical poetry, odes, pastorals, elegies, epigrams; dramatic presentations of comedy and tragedy; historiography, rhetorical treatises, philosophical dialectics, and philosophical treatises all arose in this period.The two major lyrical poets were Sappho and Pindar. The Classical era also saw the dawn of drama.
Of the hundreds of tragedies written and performed during the classical age, only a limited number of plays by three authors have survived: those of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The surviving plays by Aristophanes are also a treasure trove of comic presentation, while Herodotus and Thucydides are two of the most influential historians in this period. The greatest prose achievement of the 4th century was in philosophy with the works of the three great philosophers.
Byzantine literature refers to literature of the Byzantine Empire written in Atticizing, Medieval and early Modern Greek, and it is the expression of the intellectual life of the Byzantine Greeks during the Christian Middle Ages.
Modern Greek literature refers to literature written in common Modern Greek, emerging from late Byzantine times in the 11th century. The Cretan Renaissance poem Erotokritos is undoubtedly the masterpiece of this period of Greek literature. It is a verse romance written around 1600 by Vitsentzos Kornaros (1553–1613). Later, during the period of Greek enlightenment (Diafotismos), writers such as Adamantios Korais and Rigas Feraios prepared with their works the Greek Revolution (1821–1830).
Leading literary figures of modern Greece include Dionysios Solomos, Andreas Kalvos, Angelos Sikelianos, Emmanuel Rhoides, Kostis Palamas, Penelope Delta, Yannis Ritsos, Alexandros Papadiamantis, Nikos Kazantzakis, Andreas Embeirikos, Kostas Karyotakis, Gregorios Xenopoulos, Constantine P. Cavafy, and Demetrius Vikelas. Two Greek authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature: George Seferis in 1963 and Odysseas Elytis in 1979.
Images for kids
The entrance of the Treasury of Atreus (13th Century BC) in Mycenae
Herodotus (c. 484 BC—c. 425 BC), often considered the "father of history"
Greek territories and colonies during the Archaic period (750–550 BC)
Dome of Hagia Sophia, Thessaloniki (8th century), one of the 15 UNESCO's Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of the city
The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, originally built in the late 7th century as a Byzantine citadel and beginning from 1309 used by the Knights Hospitaller as an administrative centre
The sortie (exodus) of Messolonghi, depicting the Third Siege of Missolonghi, painted by Theodoros Vryzakis.
The Battle of Navarino in 1827 secured Greek independence.
The Entry of King Otto in Athens, painted by Peter von Hess in 1839.
People in Athens celebrate the liberation from the Axis powers, October 1944. Postwar Greece would soon experience a civil war and political polarization.
Navagio (shipwreck) bay, Zakynthos island
The Greek mainland and several small islands seen from Nydri, Lefkada
Greece's debt percentage since 1977, compared to the average of the Eurozone
Santorini, a popular tourist destination, is ranked as the world's top island in many travel magazines and sites.
The Rio–Antirrio bridge connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese.
Close-up of the Charioteer of Delphi, a celebrated statue from the 5th century BC.
Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù, the first theatre and opera house of modern Greece
Parnassos Literary Society, painted by Georgios Roilos (Kostis Palamas is at the center)
A statue of Plato in Athens.
Cretan dancers of traditional folk music
Rebetes in Karaiskaki, Piraeus (1933). Left Markos Vamvakaris with bouzouki.
Mikis Theodorakis was one of the most popular and significant Greek composers
Angelos Charisteas scoring Greece's winning goal in the UEFA Euro 2004 Final
Procession in honor of the Assumption of Virgin Mary (15 August)
In Spanish: Grecia para niños
Greece Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.