The southeastern European nation of Greece occupies a rocky pile of peninsulas and islands at the bottom of the Balkans in the eastern Mediterranean. This small nation holds a pre-eminent place in the development of the western world, and is, of course, the land of ancient sites and architectural treasures. Here are some interesting facts about Greece.
Facts about Greece
1. Greece is officially called the Hellenic Republic.
Greece’s official name is the Hellenic Republic. It has been the official name of the country since the abolition of monarchy in 1973. To this day, the Greeks call their country “Hellas” or “Ellada” and refer to themselves as “Hellenes.”
The name comes from Hellen who was not the woman famed from the Trojan War (Helen of Troy), but the king of Phthia (at the northern end of the Gulf of Euboea) in Greek mythology. Hellen was the son of Deucalion (the Greek Noah) and Pyrrha is regarded as the eponymous ancestor of all Greeks.
2. The name “Greece” comes from Latin.
The English name “Greece” stems from the Latin designation “Graecia,” meaning “Land of the Greeks.”
3. Greece is the 95th-largest country in the world.
Occupying an area of 131,957 km² (50,949 sq mi), Greece is the 95th largest nation in the world. Comparatively, it is roughly the same size as England or slightly smaller than the US state of Louisiana.
4. There are about 6,000 islands, islets, and islets in Greece.
The Greek territory includes about 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean, Cretan, Ionian, and Mediterranean seas. These islands and islets make up about 17% of Greece’s territory.
Estimates of the number of inhabited islands range between 166 and 227. Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands
5. Greece has the third-longest coastline in Europe.
Due to its highly indented coastline and numerous islands, Greece has 13,676 kilometers (8,498 mi) of coastline. The country’s coastline is the third-longest in Europe and the 11th longest in the world.
6. No point in Greece is more than 80 km (50 MI) from the sea.
The Greek mainland is sharply indented and surrounded by water on three sides. Inlets of the sea penetrate so deeply that the farthest inland point in Greece is about 80 km (50 mi) from the coast.
7. About three-fourths of Greece is mountainous.
Greece is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe, with stony or partly forested mountains making up about three-quarters of the country.
8. Greece shares a land border with four countries.
Greece is bordered by Albania (212 km/132 mi) to the northwest, North Macedonia (234 km/145 mi), and Bulgaria (472 km/293 mi) to the north, and Turkey (192 km/119 mi) to the northeast.
9. Athens, the capital of Greece, is the oldest continuously inhabited capital city in Europe.
Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 5,000 years making it Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited capital city.
10. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was in Greece.
In addition to being the capital of Greece, Athens also holds the unenviable record of registering the highest temperature ever in Europe. On 10 July 1977, the mercury in Athens soared to a scorching 48 °C (118.4 °F).
11. The highest point in Greece is Mount Olympus.
Mount Olympus, the mythical abode of the Greek Gods, is the tallest mountain in Greece rising to an elevation of 2,918 m (9,573 ft).
12. There are no navigable rivers in Greece.
One of the interesting facts about Greece is that it has no navigable rivers. This is due to the country’s mountainous terrain which means there isn’t enough distance between the mountains and the coast for a river to get together what it takes to become navigable by boats.
13. During the Bronze Age, three separate civilizations flourished in Greece.
The three civilizations that flourished in Greece during the Bronze Age are the Cycladic, during the 3rd millennium; the Minoan, based on Crete but with an influence that spread throughout the Aegean islands; and the Mycenaean, which was based on the mainland but spread to Crete in about 1450 BC when the Minoans went into decline.
14. Ancient Greece was not a unified country or empire, rather, it was made up of over 1,000 city-states.
Ancient Greek civilization was concentrated in what is today Greece and along the western coast of Turkey. Politically Greece was never unified like the Roman empire. Instead, ancient Greece was divided into polises, or city-states, which were neither cities nor states.
They were self-sufficient communities with their own army, laws, and customs. There grew to be over 1,000 city-states in ancient Greece. Some of the main city-states of ancient Greece were Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rhodes, Aegina, Delphi, Thebes, Syracuse, Égina, Árgos, Erétria, and Elis.
15. Conflict between city-states in ancient Greece was common and the most devastating intra-Greek war was the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC).
The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was a war fought in ancient Greece between Athens and Sparta—the two most powerful city-states in ancient Greece at the time. The war, which was won by Sparta, shifted power from Athens to Sparta, making Sparta the most powerful city-state in the region.
The Peloponnesian War also ushered in a period of regional decline that signaled the end of what is considered the Golden Age of ancient Greece.
16. The red carpet tradition dates back to ancient Greece.
For many people, the red carpet is synonymous with prestige, status, celebrity, ceremony, and a whole lot of pomp and circumstance. But did you know that the red carpet tradition dates back to ancient Greece?
In fact, the earliest mention of a red carpet dates back as far as 458 BC in ancient Greek literature, in Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon. In this play, a red carpet is laid out before King Agamemnon upon his return home from the Trojan War. The “Crimson path” was to signify the stature, as it was luxury fit only for the gods.
17. Greece was once part of the Byzantine Empire.
When Emperor Diocletian decided to split the Roman Empire into two parts in 285 AD, Greece was part of the Byzantine Empire, which was also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire. Greece as part of the Byzantine Empire survived a millennium of triumphs and declines until Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
18. Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 300 years.
Following the Ottomans’ momentous capture of Constantinople in 1453, and their conquest of almost all the remaining Greek territory by 1460, the Greek state effectively ceased to exist for over the next 350 years.
The Ottomans allowed the Greeks a large degree of local autonomy and they managed to keep most of their culture and maintained their church during the years of control under the Ottomans, but Greece itself was poverty-stricken and languished in an impoverished and underpopulated backwater.
19. Greece attained independence in 1830.
Greek nationalism grew slowly as the Ottoman Empire declined – until in the 19th century a bloody struggle for independence was launched. The Greeks celebrate Independence Day on March 25. On that day in 1821, Bishop Germanos of Patras raised a blue and white flag at the monastery of Ayia Lavra near Patras and the struggle for Greek independence officially began.
After nine years of struggle, Greece was finally recognized as an independent state under the London Protocol of February 1830.
20. The two major Greek poems, the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer were written during the ancient Greece period.
The Iliad tells the story of the last year of the Trojan War fought between the city of Troy and the Greeks. It focuses on the events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. The Odyssey, in contrast, focuses on Odysseus’ ten-year journey to return home after the sack of Troy.
The authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two hugely influential epic poems of ancient Greece, is disputed. While some scholars believe Homer is solely responsible, others claim that the poems were retold and revised by numerous people.
21. At the end of World War I, Greece invaded Turkey in an attempt to reclaim Constantinople and much of Aegean Turkey, a region with a large native Greek population at the time.
Initially, the Greek attempt to take Asia Minor went well, but the Turks, led by their future leader Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), rallied and pushed the Greeks back
to the sea. There, in 1922, in Smyrna (Izmir) and other seaside towns, scores of Greeks were slaughtered or expelled.
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which definitively ended the Greco-Turkish war, Greece and Turkey agreed to an exchange of populations, and the boundaries of Greece were fixed more or less as they are today. Some 1.5 million Greeks who lived in Turkey had to move to Greece, and about 500,000 Turks were sent from Greece to Turkey.
These events ended a 2,500-year Greek presence in Asia Minor. Greeks refer to these events as “The Asia Minor Disaster” or “The Catastrophe”, and they remain a defining factor in the Greek perception of both themselves and of the Turks.
22. Conscription is mandatory in Greece.
Greece has universal compulsory military service for males over 18 years of age. Under Greek law, all men over 18 years of age must serve in the Armed Forces for 9 months.
23. Greece is a member of the European Union (EU) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
Greece joined the EU in 1981 and has been a NATO member since 1952.
24. Greece’s national anthem, which it shares with Cyprus, is the longest national anthem in the world by length of text.
One of the most unique facts about Greece is that it doesn’t have its own separate national anthem. It shares its national anthem, “Hymn to Liberty”, with Cyprus. “Hymn to Liberty” was initially adopted by Greece as its national anthem in 1865 and then by Cyprus over a century later in 1966.
Consisting of 158 stanzas, “Hymn to Liberty” is the longest national anthem in the world by length of text.
25. Feta is Greece’s national cheese.
Considered the national cheese of Greece, feta is the most famous traditional Greek cheese, dating back to the Homeric ages. Traditional feta is made from 100% sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s milk and up to 30% goat’s milk. The average per-capita consumption of feta cheese in Greece is the highest in the world.
26. Greece’s former currency, the drachma, was Europe’s oldest currency.
The former monetary unit of modern Greece, the drachma, was Europe’s oldest currency. It was believed to have been first minted in about 650 BC in what is now western Turkey.
Meaning “handful” in ancient Greek, it was the standard silver coin of Greek antiquity. The drachma was Greece’s national currency from 1833 to 1 January 2002 when the country switched to the Euro.
27. Athens, the capital of Greece, has the most theatrical stages in the world—more than Broadway and the West End combined.
One of the interesting facts about Greece is that its capital Athens has the most theatrical stages in the world. Once the center for theater in the age of the ancient Greeks, it is no surprise that Athens is home to the largest number of stages in the world.
With both ancient outdoor places of performance and modern-day playhouses, there are a total of 148 theatrical stages in Athens—more than Broadway and the West End combined!
28. Greece is largely ethnically homogeneous.
A little over 90% of Greece’s population is made up of ethnic Greeks. Albanians and Turks form the largest minority groups. Other minorities are Macedonians, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Romani.
29. Voting is obligatory in Greece.
Voting is required by law for every Greek citizen who is between the ages of 18 and 70. Voters who fail to vote without good reason can legally be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of between one month and one year. However, the law isn’t enforced and there are no sanctions for failing to vote.
30. Greece leads the global merchant fleet.
One of the interesting facts about Greece is that this small nation controls the world’s largest commercial fleet. The shipping industry has been a key element of the Greek economy since ancient times.
Approximately 20% of global seaborne trade is carried in vessels controlled by Greeks who account for 0.15% of the world’s population.
31. The official religion in Greece is Eastern Orthodoxy, known also as Greek Orthodoxy.
Approximately 80-90% of the Greek population belongs to the Church of Greece (Greek Orthodox Church).
32. The word “alphabet” refers to the first two letters of the Greek alphabet.
The first two letters in the Greek alphabet are alpha (α)and beta (β). Hence, even though English uses Roman letters, the word “alphabet” actually refers to Greek characters!
33. The Greek alphabet was the first to use vowels.
The Greek alphabet has been in continuous use since the late ninth or early eighth century BC. It was the first alphabet to use vowels; before that, written language consisted only of consonants.
34. Today, Greek is the only language to exclusively use the Greek alphabet for writing, however, at various times in the past the Greek alphabet has been used to write various languages.
Several languages such as Lydian, Phrygian, Bactrian, Thracian, Gaulish, Hebrew, Arabic, Old Ossetic, Albanian, Turkish, Aromanian, Gagauz, Surguch, and Urum at some point in their history employed the Greek alphabet for writing.
35. Greeks have bestowed the world with many notable inventions.
The Greeks are an innovative lot for sure. The ancient Greeks were forerunners in different areas including arts, science, philosophy, architecture, and gifted the world with incredible innovations that are still used by people all across the globe.
Some of the most notable inventions to come from Greece are the alarm clock, the Antikythera mechanism (the oldest analogue computer), the shower, the vending machine, the astrolabe, automatic doors, central heating, the catapult, the water mill, the crane, the lever, cartography, the odometer, the stadium, and the arch bridge.
36. Greece was home to two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Greece was home to the Statue of Zeus and the Colossus of Rhodes. The Statue of Zeus, at Olympia, was about 12.4 m (41 ft) tall and plated with gold and ivory. It represented Zeus sitting on an elaborate cedarwood throne ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold, and precious stones. Built in the mid-5th century BC, the Statue of Zeus was destroyed by a fire in the mid-5th century AD.
The Colossus of Rhodes was a colossal statue of the Greek sun-god Helios that stood in the ancient Greek city of Rhodes, located on the island of Rhodes off the coast of modern-day Turkey.
The gigantic statue was made of shaped bronze plates fastened to an iron framework and supposedly stood 32 m (105 ft) atop a 15 m (50 ft) platform. Completed around 280 BC, the Colossus of Rhodes stood for about 54 years until it was toppled by an earthquake in 226 BC.
37. The first nude scene in European cinema history was in the Greek movie Daphnis and Chloe in 1931.
Greeks were always famous even in antiquity, for being comfortable with their sexuality and they made sure to express this in their cinema, too. The 1931 film Daphnis and Chloe, directed by Orestis Laskos, contained the first nude scene in the history of European cinema.
Greek actress Loucy Matli, who played the titular character, Chloe, went topless in the movie’s famous swimming scene. Daphnis and Chloe was also the first Greek film to be screened abroad.
38. The first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776 BC at Olympia, Greece.
The first recorded Olympic Games were held at Olympia in the Greek city-state of Elis in 776 BC. However, both archaeological and literary evidence suggests that the games may have existed at Olympia much earlier than this date, perhaps as early as the 10th or 11th century BC.
The ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. From 776 BC, the Games were held in Olympia every four years for almost 12 centuries until the Roman emperor Theodosius I banned them in 393 AD.
The first Olympic champion was a Greek cook named Coroebus who won the only event–a 192-m (630 ft) footrace sprint race.
38. The first modern-day Olympic Games took place in Athens, Greece in 1896.
The first modern-day Olympic Games took place in Athens between 6-15 April 1896. The inaugural Games of the modern Olympics featured as many as 280 athletes, all-male, from 12 countries. Athens hosted the Summer Olympics again in 2004, becoming one of the few cities to host the Olympics more than once.
39. The national animal of Greece is the dolphin.
The national animal of Greece is the dolphin, which is associated with the Greek god Delphinus.
40. In Ancient Greece, small penises were desirable, and big ones were deemed for “old men and barbarians.”
“Bigger is always better” didn’t hold water in ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks had a predilection for small penises, as it was thought a man with a large penis was a grotesque and barbarous half-animal, incapable of resisting primitive sexual desires.
The Greeks lauded small willies as a sign of modesty and self-control and a man with a small penis was considered smarter and closer to the wisdom of the gods.
41. Greece has produced two Nobel laureates.
Two Greeks have won the Nobel Prize. Poets Giorgios Seferis and Odysseas Elytis won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963 and 1979 respectively.
42. The national drink of Greece is Ouzo.
Ouzo is a strong alcoholic beverage native to Greece that is distilled from the remnants of grapes that have been pressed for wine. This strong and fragrant aperitif takes its flavor from anise, fennel seeds, and other spices. Ouzo has about the same potency as whisky or gin and is served chilled and drunk neat.
43. Greece is one of only five countries to have competed in every Summer Olympic Games.
Interestingly, Greece is one of only five countries (along with Australia, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland) to have competed in every Summer Olympic Games.
44. In Ancient Greece, the sweat of athletes was bottled and sold to the wealthy of Greek society.
Just as they are today, athletes were seen as heroes and celebrities in Ancient Greek society. However, the Greeks took hero worship to a whole new disgusting level. Rather than collecting posters or autographs, they preferred to collect the bodily fluids of their heroes.
However, this wasn’t some kinky fetish. At the time, the sweat (known as “gloios”) which athletes produced during competitions and workouts was thought to have magical healing powers.
As soon as the athletes finished their workout, specially-employed sweat collectors would go around the changing rooms scraping the skin of the naked athletes with a special metal tool called “strigil.”
They would collect these scrapings and bottle it all up, ready to be taken to market and sold as ointment. The “gloios” was marketed as a panacea for general aches and pains.
45. Greece is home to 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Given its rich history, it comes as no surprise that Greece is home to 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the most notable UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece are the Acropolis in Athens, the Medieval City of Rhodes, Meteora, Mount Athos, the Archaeological Site of Olympia, Archaeological Site of Delphi, and the Old Town of Corfu.
46. The Greek island of Ikaria is one of the five “blue zones” in the world.
Blue Zones are regions of the world where a higher than usual number of people live much longer than average. In other words, a blue zone is an area where people are either reaching age 100 at extraordinary rates, have the highest life expectancy, or the lowest rate of middle-age mortality.
Ikaria, a Greek island lying about 50 km (30 mi) off the western coast of Turkey is one such blue zone. It is called “the island where people forget to die” due to the high proportion of 100-year-olds.
47. Greece was involved in a contentious naming dispute with its neighbor North Macedonia for nearly three decades.
In 1991, Macedonia (now North Macedonia) declared independence from Yugoslavia and wrote into its constitution that its name was the Republic of Macedonia. Greece immediately opposed this, arguing that it implied territorial claims over Greece’s northern region — also called Macedonia.
Underlying the naming dispute between the two countries was over which nation could claim the ancient Macedonian kingdom — birthplace and homeland of Alexander the Great — as its national heritage. Greece demanded that “Macedonia” not be included in the new nation’s name and vehemently insisted that its constitution be changed to eliminate that word as well.
Macedonia was willing to take a different name for international use but strongly refused to change its constitution. For almost three decades, neither side would budge and the standoff threatened the stability of the Balkans.
Finally, in 2018, Greece’s parliament voted narrowly to approve the name Republic of North Macedonia ending a 27-year dispute over its northern neighbor’s name. In February 2019, the name of Macedonia was officially changed to North Macedonia.
48. The tradition of birthday candles began in Ancient Greece.
The next time you bite into a birthday cake, thank the ancient Greeks. They’re the reason we blow out candles at birthday parties.
The widespread tradition of blowing out candles that adorn a birthday cake is believed to be an ancient Greek votive ritual to honor the goddess Artemis. For birthdays, the ancient Greeks baked round honey cakes and topped them off with lit candles to make them glow like the moon, a popular symbol associated with Artemis.
49. IN 1944, Greece SUFFERED THE WORLD’S FifTH-WORST HYPERINFLATION ON RECORD DURING WHICH IT TOOK APPROXIMATELY 4.3 DAYS FOR PRICES TO DOUBLE.
One of the most mind-blowing facts about Greece is how bad hyperinflation was in the country in 1944. The primary cause of Greece’s hyperinflation was World War II, which ladened the country with massive debt, dissolved its trade, and resulted in four years of Axis occupation.
By printing money instead of taxing its citizens, Greece’s finances were in a downward spiral. During the worst period of Greece’s hyperinflation in October 1944, Greece’s monthly inflation rate peaked at 13,800% and saw prices double every 4.3 days.
50. Football is the most popular sport in Greece.
Like in most European nations, football (soccer) is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Greece. Greece has traditionally been one of the weaker European footballing nations, only making its first World Cup appearance in 1994.
The high point in Greece’s football history came in 2004 when they won the UEFA European Football Championship.
51. The Ancient Greeks used to go to the gym naked as a tribute to the gods.
In fact, the word ‘gymnasium’ means “school for naked exercise.”
52. The Greek diaspora is one of the oldest and largest in the world, spread across the entire globe.
Since time immemorial, Greeks have been wanderers and travellers. In modern times, most Greeks have immigrated due to socioeconomic and political reasons.
The Greek diaspora can be found almost everywhere in the world, with significant numbers in the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, and Germany.
Some famous people of Greek ancestry include actors John Stamos, John Cassavetes, Michael Chiklis, Telly Savalas, Zach Galifianakis, and Elias Koteas, actresses Jennifer Aniston, Tina Fey, Rita Wilson, Olympia Dukakis, and Nia Vardalos, tennis players Pete Sampras, Mark Philippoussis, Nick Kyrgios, musician Tommy Lee, businesswoman Arianna Huffington, and politicians Spiro Agnew and Michael Dukakis.