Introduction to Greece
Having the sea on
three sides of their country (it is only to the North that the Greek peninsula has a land
frontier), the Greeks established contact at a very early stage with the peoples of Asia,
Africa and Europe, in the course of which they learnt, taught, gave, received and
attempted distant journeys not merely to trade but also to see and learn and, in short,
were the first to engage in what was tourism.
The Greek peninsula, covering an area of 131,944 square kilometers and containing a population of about
9,000,000, consists of mainland Greece (Attica, the Peloponnese, Central Greece, Thessaly,
Epirus, Macedonia, Trace) and the islands. Geographically it belongs to Europe since it
forms the most southerly extremity of the Balkan peninsula but it also has a special link
with Europe through the small entity of the lonian Islands (Zante, Ithaca, Corfu,
Cephallonia, Kithira, Levkas, and Paxi) which form a chain off Greece's western shores in
the lonian Sea.
In contrast, there are the numerous islands of the Aegean Sea, some isolated like Crete to
the South, Ikaria, Chios and Lesbos to the East and Thassos and Samothrace to the North,
while others form groups, such as the Cyclades, the Sporades and the Dodecanese. The
largest are Crete and Euboea.
The Cyclades consist of 39 islands of which 24 are inhabited, the more important ones
being Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Andiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Folegandros, Milos,
Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini (also called Thera), Serifos, Sikinos Sifnos, Syros,
The Sporades, consisting of Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros, lie off the eastern
shores of mainland Greece and retain their genuine island characteristics and unchanged
The Dodecanese group consists of twelve major islands, Astipalea, Kalimnos, Karpathos,
Kassos, Kastelorizo, Cos, Lipsos, Leros, Nissiros, Patmos, Rhodes, Simi and a number of
smaller islands, each with its distinctive features and peculiarities.
Finally, the Saronic Gulf which is the stretch of sea linking the shores of Attica to
those of the Peloponnsese, contains a further group of small islands, (salamis, Aegina,
Poros, Hydra and Spetses) which adds its variety to the general surroundings.
On the one hand, there are high mountains and entire mountain ranges such as the Pindos
range (also known as Greece's backbone) or Mount Olympus (with its summit the Pantheon,
the highest peak in Greece at an altitude of 2,917 meters) and the mountains of Macedonia
and Thrace intersected here and there by a few valleys through which relatively small
rivers flow. On the other hand, the endless lacework of the coastline produces a series of
scenic surprises. It is these heavily indented shores which give Greece such rare beauty,
quite unique in the Mediterranean. The length of the Greek coastline is estimated at
15,000 kilometres. The marked variety of the terrain above water continues under water,
along the seabed which, millions of years ago, formed a projection of the land. Close to
Cape Tainaron, (Tenaro) off the South tip of the Peloponnese, the so-called Oinoussai
(Inousses) Pit is 4,850 metres deep which is the deepest point in the Mediterranean.
Vegetation and climate conform with the variations in the geographical area. The variety
of plants is exceptional some 6,000 indigenous species having so far been recorded, 250 of
which flourish on the island of Crete. It is an impressive figure due to Greece's
geographical position between Europe and Africa.
Plants associated with the joys of life are the country's countless vineyards. Major
vegetation is likewise peculiar and above all made to man's measures. The trees are of
medium height and vary from pine, oak, fir, olive and mulberry trees to fruit and palm
trees. Another result of the country's geographical location is also seen in its climatic
range with mild winters and sub-tropically warm summers cooled by a system of seasonal
breezes popularly called "meltemia". Lastly, an outstanding feature of the Greek
climate is its ample sunshine. It is no exaggeration to state the sun shines in Greece for
3,000 hours per year.