Greece

Greece

General Information

Greece is situated in Southeastern Europe, with an area of 131,957 sq.km. and a population of 10,964,020.
Athens is the capital of Greece with a population of 3,192,606.
Local time is GMT +2 hours.
The Hellenic Republic is a Presidential Parliamentary Democracy.
President of the Hellenic Republic: Mr Karolos Papoulias.
Prime Minister: Mr Constantinos Karamanlis
Parliament: Three hundred elected members with elections held every four years
Greece is a member state of E.U. since 1981.
The currency is euro.
The Greek economy adopts the principles of free enterprise and is boound by the regulations of international organisations such as ECOFIN and WTO, of which it is a member.

GREECE, Hellas, officially known as the “Hellenic Republic” is the southeastern most country in Europe, occupying the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is bordered by Albania, X-Yugoslavia (the Republic of Skopje) and Bulgaria from the north, and the European part of Turkey from the northeast. From the east by the Aegean Sea, from the south by the Mediterranean Sea, and from thhe west the Ionian Sea, including more than 400 islands, which occupy more than one fifth of its total land territory the total area of the country, is 131,957 square kilometers (50,949 square miles).
The mainland portion of Greece comprises the regions of Th

hraki and Macedonia in the north; Epirus, Thessaly, and Central Greece in the central section; and in the south Peloponnisos, a peninsula which is connected to the rest of the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth. The remainder of Greece consists of more than 400 islands, (only 149 are inhabited.) These are Evia, Crete, or Kriti, the Northern Sporades, the Cyclades, the Dodecanisa, Chios, Limnos, Lesvos, Samos, Samothraki, and Thassos, all of which are spread out in the Aegean Sea. In the west, the Ionian Sea, is where the Eptanisa are found, a group of seven inhabited major islands and three small uninhabited ones.
The coastal waters of the country are relatively shallow and penetrate far inland. Despite its indented coastline, Greece haas fine natural harbors, namely its main harbor of Piraeus, the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea, after Marseilles in France. Piraeus is considered an excellent harbor in the East Mediterranean waters

Land and Resources
Greece is famous for its natural beauty. The land is mountainous and rugged, but Greece is relatively poor in natural resources. Although a small country, Greece has a very diverse topography. The most important divisions of the country are the central mountains; the damp, mountainous regions in

n the west; the dry, sunny plains and lower mountain ranges in eastern Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thraki; Central Greece, the southeastern “point” (peninsula) of the mainland that cradled the city-states of the country, the mountainous regions of Peloponnisos; and the islands, most of which are in the Aegean Sea.
The central mountain area, the Pindus Mountains, which extends from a northern to a southern direction, is one of the most rugged, isolated, and sparsely populated parts of the country. Mount Olympus (2,917m/9,570ft), Greece’s highest peak, was considered in ancient times to be home to the 12 gods. Its western slopes, which extend through Epirus down to the Ionian Sea, are lower and more hospitable. The southeastern extremity of Central Greece, Attica, is broken into many isolated valleys and plains by mountain ridges, where the Athenian Plain, with Athens in the center, is located. Thessaly, a plain ringed by mountains, is one of the most fertile parts of the country. Macedonia has the largest plains in Greece. Thraki, east of Macedonia, has a varied topography of mountains, valleys and several coastal plains. Peloponnisos, is mountainous, but to a lesser degree than Central Greece. It is shaped like a giant hand with impassable mo
ountain ridges extending like fingers into the sea. Between the mountains are narrow valleys, which are isolated from one another, but which open onto the water. The western section of Peloponnisos is less mountainous than its eastern parts. The islands of the Aegean Sea are generally high, rugged, stony and dry, and consequently their contribution to economic life of the country is limited. They are important however, because of their great beauty, historical importance, potential for tourism and strategic military value.

Climate
The climate of Greece is similar to that of other Mediterranean regions. In the lowlands the summers are hot and dry, with clear, cloudless skies. The winters are relatively mild, but rainy. The mountainous regions are much cooler, with considerable rain during the summer months. Frost, sleet, ice, or snow is rare in the lowlands, but most mountains are covered with snow in the winter. Precipitation varies from region to region. For example, in Thessaly less than 38mm (1.5in) of rain falls in some years, whereas parts of the western coast receive about 1,270mm (50in). The mean annual temperature in Athens is about 17° C (63° F); the extremes range from a normal low of -0.6° C (31° F) in January to a

normal high of 37.2° C (99° F) in July and at times higher in August.

Natural Resources
Greece is poorly endowed with natural resources of high economic value. Only 23% of the land is arable, while the rest consists mostly of barren mountains. Forests, probably abundant in ancient times, have to a great extent been depleted. Subsequent soil erosion has made reforestation difficult. Greece has little black coal, and its lignite is of poor quality. On the other hand, the country does have significant petroleum and natural gas deposits, located under the Aegean Sea, near the island of Thassos. The deposits of bauxite and iron ore are rich in metal content, but the reserves of other commercially important minerals, such as chromium, nickel, copper, uranium, and magnesium, are relatively small. Although the waters surrounding the country are inhabited by a large variety of fish, only a few species are plentiful.

Environmental Problems
Rapid industrialization in Greece during the 1970s has resulted in heavy pollution. Especially air pollution, a serious environmental problem in Athens, where the government called 19 air pollution emergencies between 1982 and 1989. In addition to causing respiratory problems, the smog erodes marble and other stone and has pocked and discolored many of the country’s priceless monuments and statues. Pollution monitoring stations have been installed throughout metropolitan Athens and in numerous other Greek cities. Recent efforts have reduced air pollution from heating and industry. Although motor vehicles must comply with emission standards, automobile exhaust, particularly from diesel-powered vehicles, is still a major pollution agent. Water pollution is also a problem, especially in the gulfs of Saronikos and Thermaikos, where untreated industrial wastes, sewage, and municipal wastewater are discharged.

Plants and Animals
Greece has a great diversity of vegetation. From sea level to an elevation of about 460m (1,500ft), olives, oranges, dates, pomegranates, figs, cotton, and tobacco are grown. From about 120 to 460m (400 to 1,500ft) deciduous and evergreen forests are found, where oak, black pine, chestnut, beech, and sumac grow. Tulips, hyacinths, and laurel are also characteristic of the area. Firs and such wild flowers as anemone and cyclamen are found above 1,220m (4,000ft), and mosses and lichens predominate above 1,525m (5,000ft).
Wildlife includes boar, European black bear, lynx, jackal, chamois, deer, fox, badger, and weasel. Among the birds are the hawk, pelican, egret, pheasant, partridge, nightingale, turtledove, and stork.

Soils
The soils in Greece is mostly very rocky and very dry, but the country is interspersed with small valleys where the soils are of the rich Mediterranean terra rosa, or red earth, variety.

Population
The population of Greece is about 98% ethnic Greek. The Greek Government as Muslim classifies about 1% of the population. Most of the Muslims are of Turkish descent. About 100,000 Muslims live in Thrace. The remainder of the population includes people of Slavic, Albanian, and Armenian descent, as well as Vlachs, a people who speak a Romanian dialect.

Principal Cities
The largest and most important city is Athens, the capital, with a population of 748,110. Piraeus, seaport of Athens, is the largest port of Greece (second largest in the Mediterranean Sea after Marseilles in France) with a population of 169,622. Thessaloniki, (sometimes referred to as the co-capital) with a population of 377,951, is a seaport and an important textile center. Patra, located on the northwestern part of Peloponnisos, is a major seaport with 155,180 inhabitants. Other sizable cities are Heraclion, Crete (117,167) and Larisa (113,426).

Religion
About 98% of the Greek people are followers of the Christian Orthodox Church of Greece. Although similar to the Eastern Orthodox religion of several eastern European nations, the Greek Orthodox religion is different in many ways as well. The remaining 2% of the population includes Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.

Language
The official language of Greece is Modern Greek, which is also spoken by the majority of the people. The vernacular Modern Greek and language of popular literature is Demotiki or Kathomiloumeni, as opposed to Katharevousa, a more formal Modern Greek or Purist Greek. Demotiki became the official language of the country by an act of parliament in 1976. It is used by the government, the newspapers, the media, and educational institutions. Great differences exist between the language of the educated classes and that used by the majority of the people. English and French are widely spoken

Greece is much more than what we are taught at school or the predictable summer image of glorious sunsets and sandy beaches.
In Greece, you are standing at a crossroads of cultures, colours and civilizations, you feel the strength of history and the warmth of being in the southernmost part of Europe, you discover an evolutionary process of thought, influence and experience.
A country that despite being rich in history has a population that moves towards the future.
A country that although statistically small, is huge in its diversity.
A landscape that has given us thousands of post card images but remains incredibly vibrant and impossible to capture.
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 ancient sites. Move to clusters of sparsely inhabited islands. Roam from the beaches to rocky mountains and explore breathtaking scenery.
In Greece the fusion of images becomes more than imagery and turns into reality.

Greece is a country with a vast wealth of cultural tradition and folklore. Visitors, therefore, have many opportunities to enrich their travels by attending the various cultural or sports events held in every region of the country, to participate in the festivities that often are connected with enchanting customs and get acquainted with unknown but extremely interesting aspects of Greek folklore heritage.

Greece has an abundance of resources that tourists with ecological and cultural interests will find attractive. The wealth of cultural as well as ecological resources, both biotic and abiotic, constitute a special comparative advantage of the country for those interested in the conservation of cultural diversity, bio-diversity and eco-systems. These resources are marked by their wide variety, rareness and distinctiveness and are found in areas many of which have already been placed under special protection.

Arts and Culture

Civilization is the sum total of the material and cultural achievements of a group of people. Culture and arts are two concepts that are closely interwoven, as art is the characteristic expression of the culture of a given period. Arts such as architecture, sculpture, pottery, weaving, music, jewelry making, and painting have a long-standing tradition in Greece, where civilizations were already established in pre-historic times.
Little is known to date about the Palaeolithic period in Greece, but quite a lot about the subsequent Neolithic period (7th – 4th millennia B.C. approximately) and its civilization, which is found mainly in areas such as Thessaly and Macedonia.
Civilizations with impressive achievements developed during the Bronze Age (3000 – 1150 B.C. approximately) in the Northeastern Aegean, the Cyclades (its trade-mark being the big-sized marble figurines), Crete and the Greek mainland. The civilizations, which flourished during the 2nd millennium in the latter two areas, known as the Minoan and Mycenaean respectively, are considered the first two major civilizations of Greece. The architectural remnants (e.g. palaces), as well as the samples of pottery, stone carving (vessels, seal stones), metallurgy (vessels, weapons), jewelry making and painting (murals) are impressive and representative of these civilizations.
During historic times, the civilizations of the Geometric (9th – 8th centuries B.C.) and the Archaic periods (7th – 6th centuries B.C.) are considered forerunners of the culture of the classical period (5th – 4th centuries B.C.). The classical works of art, with their ideal proportions and beauty, expressed the philosophical ideals of their times and were the model of the European Renaissance of the 15th century A.D. During the subsequent Hellenistic (3rd – 1st centuries B.C.) and Roman times (1st century B.C. – 3rd century A.D.) Greek civilization developed within the framework of big kingdoms and an empire, respectively.
Again within the framework of an empire, Greek civilization developed during the Byzantine period – early, middle and late – (4th -15th centuries A.D.), while in more recent times civilization is marked by the Ottoman domination and the first steps of the new Hellenic state after the War of Independence of 1821.
A visit to archaeological sites, museums and monuments all over the country offers a vivid picture of the civilizations in Greece, their achievements in arts and technology from the pre-historic era to modern times.

Accommodation

Greece is one of the most popular tourist destinations worldwide. Annually it welcomes more than 14 million tourists, a figure that places it in the 15th position on the World Tourism Organisation list of countries with inbound tourism (according to WTO data). Over the past decades Greece has witnessed the development of modern and multiform large or small-scale tourist infrastructures catering to the demands and accommodation requirements of every visitor.
Today Greece’s accommodation potential numbers 670,000 beds, distributed over 352,000 rooms in approximately 8,900 hotel units. On most of the Greek islands and mainland Greece, visitors can also find accommodation in private houses (rooms to let), which are operating under the special seal of the Greek National Tourism Organisation. Moreover, there are more than 340 campings all over the country, offering 30,000 camping spaces and 2,500 small houses.

Greek gastronomy

The unique tastes of Greece guarantee that you are in for many culinary surprises during your stay in the country. Contrary to common belief, you will discover that Greek cuisine is not only moussaka, souvlaki and choriatiki salata, but has a wide variety of dishes that can meet the culinary demands of both meat-eaters and vegetarians in an extremely satisfying way.
Things could not be different, anyway, in the country that gave birth to symposiums and the Epicurean philosophers. It was, in fact, Archestratos who, in 330 B.C., wrote the first cookbook in History, and reminded us that cuisine is a sign of civilization.
Greece has a culinary tradition of approximately 4,000 years. Nevertheless, like most national cuisines, Greek cuisine has both influenced others and embraced ideas from its eastern and western neighbours.

Archaeological sites – Monuments

Greece is full of archaeological sites and monuments of distinctive prestige and charm, on which all known periods of its long-standing history have left their mark. Visitors have the opportunity to make a unique “journey” through the rare “mosaic” of historic and cultural memory which has left an indelible mark on every region of the country and effortlessly highlights the manifold manifestations of Greek culture to date.
According to the UNESCO catalogue, the following archaeological sites and cultural areas in Greece have been characterised as Monuments of Cultural Heritage:

1. Monastery complex of Aghio Oros (Mount Athos)
2. The Acropolis of Athens
3. Vassae: The Temple of Epicurean Apollo
4. Vergina – Aegae
5. Delphi (archaeological site)
6. Delos (archaeological site)
7. Epidaurus (archaeological site)
8. Early Christian and Byzantine Thessalonica
9. Monastery complex of Meteora
10. Mystras (Medieval City)
11. The Monasteries of Daphni (Attica), Ossios Lucas (Central Greece) and Nea Moni (New Monastery) of Chios
12. The archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns
13. Olympia (archaeological site)
14. Patmos: Monastery of Aghios Ioannis Theologos and the Cave of the Apocalypse
15. Medieval city of Rhodes
16. Samos: Pythagoreio and Heraion

Athens

Athens is the symbol of freedom, art, and democracy in the conscience of the civilized world. The capital of Greece took its name from the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge.
In Athens memory never fades. Wherever you stand, wherever you turn, the city’s long and rich history will be alive in front of you. This is where that marvel of architecture, the Parthenon, was created. This is where art became inseparable from life, and this is where Pericles gave the funerary speech, that monument of the spoken word. In the centre of town are two hills, the Acropolis with the monuments from the Age of Pericles, and Lycabettus with the picturesque chapel of Ai Giorgis.
Ancient ruins provide a vivid testimony to the glory of Athens, hailed by many people as the cradle of western civilization.

The most important monuments on the Acropolis are:

The Parthenon. It is the most important and characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilization and still remains its international symbol. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of Athens.

The Erechtheion was built in ca. 420 B.C. in the Ionic order. It has a prostasis on the east side, a monumental propylon on the north, and the famous porch of the Caryatids on the south. The main temple was divided into two sections, dedicated to the worship of the two principal gods of Attica, Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus.

The Propylaea. The monumental gateway of the Acropolis was designed by the architect Mnesikles and constructed in 437-432 B.C. It comprises a central building and two lateral wings.

The Temple of Athena Nike. The relief frieze on the upper section of the walls depicts the conference of gods on the east side, and scenes from battles on the other three. A marble parapet decorated with the relief representation of Nikae (Victories), protected the edge of the Bastion on which the temple was erected.

Olympia

One of the most important sanctuaries of antiquity, dedicated to the father of the gods Olympian Zeus. Olympia is the birthplace of the Olympic Games and also where they were held.
The area, of great natural beauty, has been inhabited uninterruptedly since the 3rd millenium B.C. and in the late Mycenaean period it became a religious centre.

Delphi

During the Mycenaean period, the female deity of Earth was worshipped in the small settlement of Delphi.
The systematic excavations of the French Archaeological School, which began in 1893, uncovered the ruins of Delphi. The village of Kastri, which had occupied the area of the sanctuary since medieval times, was moved to its present position. After the removal of huge quantities of earth that had been accumulated with the landslides, the remains of two sanctuaries, dedicated to Apollo and Athena Pronaea, were finally uncovered. The excavations revealed more than five thousands inscriptions of all kinds, statues, several miniature objects, architectural decorative pieces and all exquisite works of art, representing the major cities of Greek antiquity. Outside the area of the Sanctuary, the Stadium, the Gymnasium, the settlement of Delphi and its cemeteries have also been excavated.

Meteora

Meteora is from the biggest and most important group of monasteries in Greece after those in Mount Athos. We can locate the first traces of their history from 11th century when the first hermits settled there. Unesco as a unique phenomenon of cultural heritage has characterized the rock monasteries and they form one of the most important stations of cultural map of Greece.

A great part of the monasteries (Katholika, cells, other buildings) have been restored and the rest of them are being restored, while in plenty of them the conservation of the wall paintings has been fulfilled.

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Ancient Epidaurus

The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus was the most celebrated healing centre of the ancient world.
The theatre of the Asklepieion of Epidaurus is the ideal specimen of the achievements and experience of the ancient Greeks on theatre construction. It was already praised in antiquity by Pausanias for its symmetry and beauty.
It has the typical Hellenistic structure with the three basic parts: the cavea, the orchestra and the stage-building (skene). The longest radius of the cavea is 58 m. while the diameter of the orchestra is about 20 m. The lower of the two diazomata (sections) is divided with 13 stairways into 12 cunei (with 34 rows of benches) and the upper with 23 stairways into 22 cunei (with 21 rows of benches).

Delos

Delos was the most important Panhellenic sanctuary, and, according to mythology, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.

Mycenae

Mycenae, the legendary home of the Atreides, is situated upon a small hill-top on the lower slopes of Euboea Mountain, between two of its peaks, on the road leading from the Argolic Gulf to the north (Corinth, Athens, etc.).

The Lions Gate is the main entrance into the city. The lions, with their fore paws on an alter of some sort was suppose to represent the Mycenaean’s power. Anyone coming to the Acropolis would have to enter through these gates. Also notice the walls on the right hand side had the people walking by them. I’m amazed at how these things could have been moved.

Greek nature – Ecotourism

Notwithstanding its limited surface area, Greece is endowed with a particularly rich and diversified natural environment as a result of a rare geomorphology, with many striking natural contrasts and areas of great ecological value. The country’s abundant natural gifts –thousands of indented coasts, imposing rocky massifs, caves, gorges, lakes, rivers, biotopes of spectacular beauty and unique natural habitats– coupled with the mild climate, place it among the ideal destinations for ecotourism and alternative forms of tourism.
When travelling in Greece, nature-loving tourists are offered the opportunity to:
– wander in aesthetic forests or explore national parks not merely in the mountainous regions of the mainland, but also on certain islands or in the proximity of rivers and lakes .
– enjoy the wonderful natural monuments, gorges, caves and waterfalls.
– watch and admire rare bird species nesting or seeking refuge in coastal ecosystems and wetlands (rocky coasts, sandy beaches, sand dunes, river deltas, lakes, marshes, coastal plains, etc).
– study the highly diverse floral life of the Greek countryside.
– visit the unique marine parks supported near the islands of Alonissos and Zakynthos, which provide shelter to two protected species, the Mediterranean monk seal and the Mediterranean green loggerhead turtle respectively.
– engage in extreme sports (canoe-kayak, rafting, monoraft, hydro speed, canyoning, mountain biking, etc), activities which have seen a spectacular rise in popularity in recent years.
– stay in agrotourist units which are being developed all over the country and afford visitors the opportunity to become familiar with vernacular architecture, cultural and gastronomic tradition, local products, farming activities and the daily life of local inhabitants.

Visitors of ecologically sensitive areas must observe all rules for the protection of the environment against pollution, the non-disturbance of natural habitats and the preservation of the various ecosystems’ equilibrium. Information on visiting protected areas and participating in special programs can be obtained from local information centers, local authorities, and specialized agencies.

Mountain holidays

Greece is above all a mountainous country, as it is occupied by more than 300 rocky masses varying in elevation. The Pindus Mountains are the principal mountain range and form the backbone of mainland Greece, extending through central Greece into the Peloponnese and Crete. The majority of islands throughout the Aegean are in fact the mountain peaks of the now-submerged landmass of Aegeis, which was once the link between mainland Greece and Asia Minor.
Mt Olympus (Macedonia), known from Greek mythology as the abode of the gods, is the highest mountain in the country, rising at 2,917 m (Μytikas peak). About forty mountain complexes throughout the country reach elevations over 2,000 m.
The Greek mountains are renowned for their diversity, landscapes of singular beauty and unique forests, many of which rank among the oldest natural wooded lands in Europe. Due to the astoundingly rich flora and fauna they support, many of these environments have been designated as National Parks and are protected as such, while as a result of infrastructure developed over the last decades, they constitute today ideal destinations for winter and alpine tourism.

Special forms of tourism

In recent years special forms of tourism, offering travellers the opportunity to enrich their activities by attending specialised programmes such as therapeutic–spa tourism, religious tourism, ecological tourism, agro tourism etc, have been developing more and more systematically in Greece. Thus, the country has become a popular tourist destination not only for holidays of the “classical type” but also for people interested in alternative holidays who, apart from relaxing and sightseeing, wish to enjoy the unique experience offered by the country’s nature and its “products”, its religious culture and the specialised infrastructure of the Greek tourist industry.

Sea tourism

The wealth and diversity of the Greek seas, the endless kilometres of the Greek coasts and the thousands of Greek islands, the protected sea areas covering thousands of square kilometres, the mild climate, the high percentage of sunshine and its interesting and varying landscape make Greece the ideal destination for the development of sea tourism activities. This advantage is strengthened both by thousands of years of marine tradition and by conditions favourable for sea travelling: the Greek seas are considered safe, distances between coasts are small, while conditions related to wind strength, ambient and sea temperatures are equally favourable.
In Greece sea tourism started in the ‘60s and since then has been developing at a fast pace, especially in recent years. Cruise ships under Greek flag organising short or longer cruises to Greek ports and ports of other countries of the Eastern Mediterranean amount to more than 160,000 GRT units and have a total capacity of over 10,000 passengers. Greek ports, however, are also visited by cruise ships under foreign flags, which annually bring more than 500,000 passengers into the country by sea.

The Greek coasts

The Greek coast has a total length of approximately 16,000 km. Half of these are on the thousands of Greek islands, while the rest extends along the mainland. What characterises the famous Greek coasts is their unique diversity (beaches stretching over many kilometres, small bays and coves, sandy beaches with dunes, pebbly shores, coastal caves surrounded by steep rocks and with the characteristic dark sand of volcanic soils, coastal wetlands), their clean and transparent waters which have made them renowned all over the world and, for this reason, extremely popular.
In 2005, Greece had 383 beaches and 5 marinas that were awarded the “Blue Flag”, a fact that puts the country in a top-ranking position among the European countries.
Most of the thousands of Greek coasts are freely accessible and you have the opportunity to discover and enjoy them without the presence of a large number of swimmers. There are, however, also many organised beaches in the country with the necessary infrastructure providing high-quality services (umbrellas, reclining chairs, changing booths, cafes, bar-restaurants etc), where, apart from swimming, you can enjoy water sports (water ski, windsurfing, diving etc) as well as other means of having fun in the water, such as the parachute for one or two persons, “tyres” and the “banana”, pedalo, jet ski etc. All organised beaches also have lifeguard towers ensuring safe swimming in the area.

Greek Islands

The islands are Greece’s chief morphological trait and an integral part of the country’s civilisation and tradition. The Greek territory comprises 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Sea, a truly unique phenomenon on the European continent; of these islands only 227 are inhabited.
The Greek Archipelago takes up 7,500 km of the country’s total 16,000-km coastline, offering a highly diversified landscape: beaches stretching along many kilometres, sheltered bays and coves, golden stretches of sand with dunes, pebbly beaches, coastal caves with steep rocks and black sand typical of volcanic soil, coastal wetlands. Many Greek beaches have been awarded the blue flag under the programme Blue Flags of Europe. Apart from swimming, they lend themselves to scuba diving, snorkelling, water skiing, sailing and windsurfing. As they are the cradle of some of the most ancient and prosperous European civilisations (the Cycladic, Minoan civilisations, etc.), the islands boast unique archaeological sites, an outstanding architectural heritage and centuries-old, fascinating local traditions of a multifaceted cultural past. Moreover, 58.5% of the country’s lodging establishments and 62.6% of hotel beds are found on the islands (data for 2003). All the above, combined with the ideal climate, the safety of Greek waters and the short distances between ports and coasts, have rendered the Greek islands extremely popular among Greek and foreign visitors.
Most islands lie in the Aegean Sea and are divided in seven groups (from north to south):
· The Northeastern Aegean Islands: Agios Efstratios, Thasos, Ikaria, Lesvos, Limnos, Inousses, Samos, Samothrace, Chios, Psara.
· The Sporades: Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros
· Evia
· The Argo-Saronic Islands: Angistri, Aegina, Poros, Salamina, Spetses, Hydra and the coastal area of Methana.
· The Cyclades: A group of 56 islands, its most important ones 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 Schinoussa.
· The Dodecanese: Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Thasos, Kastelorizo, Kos, Lipsi, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, Halki.
· Crete
The Ionian Sea is home to one sole island group:
· The Ionian Islands: Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu, Cephallonia, Lefkada, Paxi, Antipaxi, Ereikoussa, Mathraki, Meganissi, Othoni, Strofades.
·
· These islands, together with Kythira, which is however cut-off from the rest, opposite the southern Peloponnese (Lakonia), as well as neighbouring Antikythira, they constitute the Eptanissa.
The islands of Gavdos (situated south of Crete), Elafonissos (in the Gulf of Laconia) and Trizonis (in the Gulf of Corinth), although not forming part of any group, are of unparalleled natural beauty.

Crete

Crete constitutes the biggest island in Greece and the birthplace of the famous Minoan civilization with a history of thousand years. It separates the Aegean from the Libyan sea and forms an imaginative bridge between Europe and Africa. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with an area of 8,335 square kilometres.
The island is a place combining tall mountains and impressive gorges with verdurous valleys and endless sandy beaches.
The climate of Crete is probably the mildest in Europe. The strong northwesterly wind moderates even the hottest months of July and August. Rainfall is rare during the summer months. Autumn is Crete’s mildest season, when temperatures are often higher than in spring.
Three mountain ranges form a sort of spine stretching across the island. In western Crete the Lefka Ori or White Mountains occupies a large area. Some of the most characteristic natural beauties of the Cretan scenery consist of the famous Cretan gorges, which begin at the mountainous areas of the island and end to the sea. The green gorges abound with rare species of flora and fauna, which are protected by strict rules, as they are unique throughout Greece. Among them, everyone can admire rare species of cypress-trees, plane trees, pine-trees and wildflowers. The most famous and significant gorge of Crete is the infamous gorge of Samaria, which impresses with its size and unique natural beauty, while on its slope feeds the famous wild goat of Crete, which is found nowhere else in Greece. Crete is well known for the Cretan goat, otherwise called which is found mainly in the Gorge of Samaria. The archaeological excavations, which have brought to light many wall paintings of the, testify to the view that this animal was worshiped on the island during antiquity. Its rarity is one of the reasons that led to the Gorge of Samaria becoming a national park.
Traveling to Crete is exciting with all the options available to the visitor. It is accessible by airplane as well as by ferry. If you are traveling from abroad it’s best to fly directly to Heraklion Airport or it is possible to reach it by landing on Athens the capital of Greece and continuing by ship. Romantic Crete, with its sea, rocks, beaches, perfect mood, sleepless nights, land of endless feasts under star-studded skies, dizzy dances.
There are some famous towns where the tourists gather. El Greco, Kornaros, Kazantzakis and Prevelakis The main cities-ports on Crete – Hania, Rethymno, Iraklio, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia – all grew up on the north side. Ierapetra is the only port on the south side, on the shores of the Libyan Sea, facing Africa. Crete, whose door is always wide open to both East and West. Everyone would love to visit this island because of many reasons: the beautiful nature, mild weather, good mood and of course good rest.

Knossos

Knossos is the site of the most important and better known palace of Minoan civilization. According to tradition, it was the seat of the legendary king Minos. The Palace is also connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Icaros.
The site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 B.C.) until Roman times.
The Linear B tablets (Mycenaean script) of the 14th century B.C. mention the city as ko-no-so.

The most important monuments of the site are:

The Palace of Knossos. It is the largest of the preserved Minoan palatial centres. Four wings are arranged around a central courtyard, containing the royal quarters, workshops, shrines, storerooms, repositories, the throne room and banquet halls. Dated to 2000-1350 B.C.

The Little Palace. It lies to the west of the main palace and has all the features of palatial architecture: scraped wall masonry, reception rooms, a pristyle hall, a double megaron with polythyra and a lustral basin-shrine. Dated to the 17th-15th centuries B.C.

The Royal Villa. It is strongly religious in character and might have been the residence of an aristocrat or a high priest. Dated to the 14th century B.C.

House of the Frescoes. It is located to the NW of the palace and is a small urban mansion with rich decoration on the walls. Dated to the 15th, 14th-12th centuries B.C.

Caravanserai. It lies to the south of the palace and was interpreted as a reception hall and hospice. Some of the rooms are equipped with baths and decorated with wall paintings.

Santorini

The world famous island of Santorini is the southern most island of the Cycladic group in the Aegean Sea

On the island’s west side towering cliffs crowned by tiny and blindingly white houses plunge straight into the depths of the sea. In complete contrast the east side has many vast sandy or pebbly beaches.
From the landing-place, Skala, we can climb up to Fira, the capital, on foot or on donkey-back. There is a funicular railway for those who wish to avoid the hundreds of steps.
Fira is very attractive, with winding narrow streets, arcades and a quarter where the Catholic nobility once dwelt. It is the busy center of the island with an abundance of shops of all sorts. From simple souvenirs to expensive jewelry shops the temptations are many.
There is a most important Museum, with prehistoric finds (mostly pottery), a large collection of vases dating from the 7th and 6th centuries BC (including the pieces known as ‘Thera ware’), a few Archaic and Classical pieces, and some Hellenistic and Roman sculptures and portraits.
There is a superb view out from Fira to the “Kamenes” the two islets of black stone created by the volcano. The islets can be visited by launch.
Ancient Thera is a site of great archaeological interest, which was occupied by Phoenicians, Dorians, Romans and Byzantines. Down the center of the city runs the Sacred Way. The buildings include groups of houses, market places, baths, theatres, sanctuaries, the residence of Ptolemy Euergetes, tombs of the Archaic and Classical periods and Early Christian remains. On the surrounding rocks the names of the god Apollo and of men and boys are inscribed in the ancient alphabet of Thera.
The site at Akrotiri has yielded the remains of a Minoan city destroyed around 1500 BC by an eruption of the volcano on Thera. In effect, this is a prehistoric version of Pompeii buried beneath volcanic ash, with two and three-storey houses, with squares, shops, workshops and so an.
Among the finds from the houses were marvelous murals (on display in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens), vases, and every day utensils.
On the highest peak of Santorini is a monastery of the Prophet Elijah (Profitis Ilias), where there is a picturesque religious feast an 20 July each year.
The old-world village of Oia, 11 km. to the north of Fira, is a place of incomparable beauty. The unique appeal of Oia lies in its little houses hewn out of the soft rock (some of them whitewashed, others painted blue or ochre), its neo-classical mansions with their courtyards, its narrow paved alleys. There is a superb view out to sea.
Among the best bathing beaches some of them with black sand and others with pebbles are Kamari or Armeni, Ammoudi, Baxedes Perissa, Monolithos and Kokini Paralia.
The striking landscape, the peculiarities of the natural environment, the unusual architecture and the outstanding monuments of Santorini attract very large numbers of visitors in the summer – so many, in fact, that the excellent tourist amenities of the island can only just cope with them.

Thirassia
Off Santorini near Oia, is the largest of a chain of islets formed by volcanic activity and the only one inhabited. Its sole village, Horio, is a pretty lace with whitewashed houses, reached by a flight of 250 steps from the landing-place. In the winter, there are caiques from Oia to Therassia, while in the summer months the travel agencies of Santorini run trips from Fira and Athinios.

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