Official Name: Hellenic Republic

Geography - People - History - Government - Economy - Travel Notes


Area: 131,957 sq. km. (51,146 sq. mi.) including islands.

Cities: Capital-(greater) Athens (4 million). Other cities: Thessalonica (705,000), Patras (154,600), Heraklion (111,000).

Terrain: Largely mountainous interior, with coastal plains; many islands.

Climate: Temperate Mediterranean.


Nationality: Noun and adjective-Greek(s). Population: 10.4 million (1991 est.). Ethnic groups: Greek 98%, other 2%. Religions: Greek Orthodox 97%, Muslim 2%, Other 1%. Language: Greek.

Education: Years compulsory-9. Literacy: men 97%, women 92%.

Health (1994): Infant mortality rate: 9.8/1000. Life expectancy: men 72 years, women 75 years.

Work force (1988): Agriculture: 29%. Industry: 27%. Services: 43%.

In ancient times Greece was a mosaic of ethnically similar small city-states. During the migrations and invasions of the Byzantine and Ottoman periods (4th-19th centuries A.D.), Greece's ethnic composition lost its homogeneity. Since independence (1827) and the exchange of populations with Turkey in 1923, however, Greece has re-forged a national identity whose roots date back to the 13th century BC. Greece's pride in these Hellenic roots is reflected in its official name, Hellas or the Hellenic Republic; the name «Greece» derives from the Latin name. Greek society retains its traditional Mediterranean values of family, education, and personal honor (philotimon), despite the changes wrought by urbanization and industrialization.

From earliest times, Greeks have migrated across the country and across the Mediterranean, eventually creating Greek-speaking communities all over the globe. Emigration has been on such a scale that, by one count, there are more than 3 million people of Greek heritage into United States alone. Over the past two decades, however, migration within Greece from rural to urban centers ahs been more extensive than emigration abroad. The 1961 census showed an urban population of 43% compared to a rural and semi urban population of 57%. By 1971, the urban population had grown to 53% and by 1981 to 58%. About one-third of Greece's total population lives in the greater Athens area.

Education is highly esteemed in Greece, not only because it transmits culture and knowledge but also because it contributes to social and cultural mobility.

Orthodox Christianity is the established religion. The Greek Orthodox Church is self-governing under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch, resident in Constantinople, Turkey. During the centuries of Ottoman domination, the church preserved the Greek language, values, and national identity and became an important rallying point in the struggle for independence. The church is under the protection and partial control of the state, which pays the clergy's salaries.

The Muslim minority, concentrated in western Thrace, was given legal status by provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and is Greece's only officially recognized minority.

The Greek language dates back at least 3,500 years, and Modern Greek preserves many features of its classical predecessor. In the 19th century, after Greece's war of independence, an effort to rid the language of Turkish and Arabic borrowings and to make it close again to the language of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, led to a version known as 'Katharevousa'. However, this never became the everyday language of most Greeks, and in 1976, it was abolished as the language of high school instruction and of the government. Today, spoken Greek is generally termed Demotic; a more recent reform movement has given rise to New Demotic, the version that is now considered standard Greek for everyday usage and for contemporary literature.


The eastern Mediterranean is one of the «cradles of civilization.» Greece was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic period, and by BC 3000 had become home, in the Cycladic Islands, to a culture whose are remains evocative. Early in the second millennium BC, the island of Crete nurtured the sophisticated maritime empire of the Minoans, evidence of whose trade stretches from Egypt to Sicily. The Minoans were challenged and eventually supplanted by mainland Mycenaean, whose civilization collapsed around BC 1100, shortly after the Trojan War.

During the next few hundred years of political instability, the Greek polis or city-state came into existence. The polis included the city and its surrounding territory, its way of life, and the unique values of its citizens. When the cities sent their excess population to found colonies around the eastern and western Mediterranean and in the Black Sea, the colonies remained linked tot he mother city by common values and traditions. Despite their differences and frequent conflicts, the separate city-states shared the epics of Homer and other poetry; the Olympic and other games; and the same mythology, religion, and language which unified the Greek world. They were conscious of their common identity and called non-Greeks «barbarians.»

Rome conquered Greece in BC 146 and eventually ruled over the entire Hellenistic world. As Rome's power declined, one of its emperors, Constantine, split the empire by establishing his Greek-speaking capital, later called Constantinople, at the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium in AD 330.

Although Rome was overrun by migrating tribes and the western part of the empire fragmented in the fifth century AD, the eastern part flourished as the Byzantine Empire. Greek in language and culture, the empire was Roman in law and administration. The people called themselves Romans and tended to set aside the ancient Greek culture because it was pagan. Christianity was the official religion, and the empire was seen as ecumenical, embracing all Christians.

The Greek war of independence began in 1821, and the country obtained independence in 1827. Under the tutelage of England, France, and Russian, a monarchy was established with a Bavarian prince, Otto, named king in 1833. He was deposed 30 years later, and the European powers chose a prince of the Danish House of Glucksberg as his successor. He became George I, King of the Hellenes.

Greece entered World War I in 1917 on the side of the Allies and at the war's conclusion, took part in the Allied occupation of Turkey, where many Greeks still lives. In 1922, the Greek army marched from its base in Smyrna, now Izmir, toward Ankara but was forced to withdraw. At the end of the war with the exchange of populations, more than 1.8 million Greek refugees from Turkey poured into Greece, posing enormous problems for the Greek economy and society.

A continuing feature of Greek politics, particularly between the two World Wars, was the struggle for power between monarchists and republicans. Greece was proclaimed a republic in 1924, but George II returned to the throne in 1935, and a plebiscite in 1946 reconfirmed the monarchy. It was finally abolished by referendum on December 8, 1974, when, by a two-thirds vote, the Greeks supported the establishment of a republic.


Type: Presidential parliamentary republic.

Independence: 1827. Constitution: June 1975, amended March 1986.

Flag: Four white and five blue alternation horizontal stripes, with a white cross on the upper staff corner.


The Greek economy is characterized by a strong services sector and a relatively lareg, inefficient agricultural sector which represent of the labor force. Principal agricultural products are olive oil, fruits and vegetables, cereal, tobacco, and wines. Agricultural output increased by 1.5% in 1989 but is expected to decline in 1990 due to adverse weather conditions. The manufacturing, mining, electricity, and construction sector represents 20% of the labor force and accounts for 45% of Greece's exprots-primarily, textiles, cement, basic metals, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Manufacturing output rose by 2% in 1989, and is expected to show a small increase in 1990. Construction registered a 10% increase in 1990. About half of the labor force is self-employed.


Petroleum is Greece's largest single import. Based on import statistics for the last 5 years (1984-89), Greece imports an average of about 10 million tons of crude oil per year.


Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange earnings. More than 8.4 million tourists visited Greece in 1989, injecting more than $ 2 billion into the Greek economy. US tourists (315,000 in 1989) covered about 4% of total tourist arrivals. Although US tourism increased in the last 3 years, it is still far behind the 1979 levels (600,000 arrivals from the US).


Greece's location, maritime tradition, proximity to the Middle East and continuing unrest in that area has attracted regional marketing offices to Athens. The Greek government provides incentives to foreign enterprises conducting business exclusively outside of Greece.

Economy Summary

Natural resources: bauxite, lignite, magnetite, oil. Agriculture: Products: grains, fruits (especially olives, olive oil, and raisins), vegetables, wine, tobacco, cotton, livestock, dairy products. Industry (mining, electricity and construction): Manufactured goods-processed foods, shoes, equipment, cement, glass, transport equipment, petroleum products, construction, electrical power; Services-transportation, communications, trade, banking, public administration, defense.


Climate and clothing

Lightweight clothing May-September, woolens October-April


Greek visas are required of holders of official and diplomatic US passports, but not of visitors holding US tourist passports and intending to stay less than 2 months. Visitors wishing to extend their stay must submit an application 20 days before the expiration of the 2-month period. No special inoculations are required, but health requirements change. Travelers should check the latest information.


Telephone service within Athens is satisfactory, and calls to the US may be made easily. Athens is 7 standard time zones ahead of the eastern US.


Street and highways in Greece are hard-surfaced; smaller roads are sometimes rough and ungraded. Tourists wishing to drive must have an international driver's license. The international car insurance card is valid if Greece is listed on the card. Intercity and local public transportation is adequate, inexpensive, and crowded at rush hours. Taxis are numerous in Athens, but because they are relatively inexpensive they are difficult to find during rush hours.