Greece is a crossroads of ideas, customs, languages and knowledge for people in southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean since antiquity.
Greece’s cultural heritage can be described as largely based on a skilful reshaping of elements from Ancient Greek imagination, Byzantine glories and European Modernity that form a cosmopolitan spirit of modern Hellenism.
The Greek Antiquity
Stone and Bronze Age
Spanning from 2 million BC to 3,200 BC, the Stone Age in the Greek lands is divided in the Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic, and the Neolithic Periods. The increase of population which occurred during the Early Bronze Age, particularly in southern Greece, resulted in a rise in number of settlements.
The geographic position of Crete in the southernmost part of the eastern Mediterranean and its natural environment played a decisive role in the genesis, evolution and overall character of Minoan civilization. Under the influence of Minoan Crete, the Mycenaean Civilization flourished in mainland Greece (Mycenae in Argolis, but also in Tiryns, Pylos, Athens, Thebes, Orchomenus and Lolkos). Its syllabic script (Linear B) was an early form of Greek, as proven in 1952 by the English architect and classical scholar Michael Ventris who deciphered it.
The Aegean Sea constituted a region that attracted people as early as the 11th millennium BC, constituting a region of intense economic, social and cultural activities.
The two centuries known as the Dark Years (1150 – 900 BC), were followed by the Geometric Period (9th – 8th Century BC). This period constituted the beginning of the ancient Greek Renaissance and was marked by the formation of the Greek City-States, the consolidation of the Greek alphabet and the composition of the Homeric epics (end of the 8th Century BC).
The awareness among all Greeks of common descent, customs and language was strengthened during the Archaic period. At the same time, a feeling of a more particular ‘local’ pride was cultivated. The Greek City-States expanded their trade and cultural calibre as far as Spain to the west, the Black Sea to the north and Northern Africa to the south and they heralded the upcoming Classical period.
The political, social and economic rise of Athens as well as the cultural and military empowerment of Sparta laid the foundations for the successful repulse of invading Persian forces (490-479 BC). This instance of collective resistance set the preconditions for the “Golden Era”, also known as the Greek Classical period. It was a time when fundamental concepts of human thought such as Democracy, the Olympic Games and Theatre flourished. The works of spirit and art from that period continue to be a source of inspiration and admiration to this day.
New forces emerged during the 4th Century BC. The Greek Kingdom of Macedonia, with Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, played a dominant role in Greece. Alexander’s campaign to the East marked the expansion of Greek civilization to a region stretching from mainland Greece to the Indus River. In the wake of Alexander’s death (323 BC), a number of kingdoms were formed, mainly by his commanders, signalling the commencement of the Hellenistic Period (3rd – 1st Century BC). During that era, the Greek City-States maintained their autonomy for the most part yet lost much of their old power and prestige. Nevertheless, literary and art production continued to thrive. Finally, the conquest of Greece by Rome in 146 BC ushered in the period of Roman domination.
That was the era of osmosis between the Greek and the Roman cultures, which led to what later came to be known as the Greco-Roman civilization. At the same time, Christianity, the new religion that would depose Dodekatheon worshipping, spread all over Greece. The decision by the Emperor Constantine to move the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople (324 A.D.) shifted the focus of attention to the eastern part of the empire, marking thus the beginning of the Eastern Roman Empire, later called “Byzantine Empire”.
Early Byzantine Era
Emperors Constantine (the Great) and Justinian dominated the period from 324 to 610. During their reigns, the Roman tradition was assimilated and transcended in order to provide the basis for the emergence of the Hellenic character of the Byzantine Empire. During their time, state institutions were strengthened, and the boundaries of the Empire expanded significantly.
Middle Byzantine Era
In the Middle Byzantine era, the Empire was repeatedly contested both by old rivals (Persians, Lombards, Avars, Slavs) and by newly emerging ones (Arabs, Bulgars). Major Byzantine scholars (e.g. Patriarch Photios, Michael Psellos, Romanos Melodos) elaborated Byzantine spiritual and literary life, contributing to the preservation and dissemination of Greek classical heritage. This period witnessed the introduction and gradual adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet in the eastern Balkans.
Late Byzantine Era
In the year 1204 Constantinople was lost for the first time, as it was conquered by Latin crusaders. It was the beginning of a long and painful period of land losses and state decline, marked by the invasion of the Turkish tribes in Asia Minor. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 marked the end of the Byzantine Era. The Greeks struggled to maintain their identity under Ottoman rule for the next four centuries.
Under the Ottoman Turks the Greek populations took recourse to their church and religion, as these were the only recognized institutional forms of identification of and administration for the non-Muslims. The awakening of the Greek collective identity brought about the Greek War of Independence in 1821, which led to the emergence of the Modern Greek state (1830).
The Formation of the Greek State (1830-1897)
The Modern Greek State at the beginning comprised only Peloponnesus, west and east-central Greece (Sterea Hellas), and the Aegean Islands of Cyclades and Sporades. During the rest of the 19th Century, new areas inhabited by compact Greek populations were gradually included into the Greek state. At the same time, the newly emerged state took its first steps toward political and economic modernization.
The Territorial Integration of the Greek State (1897-1922)
The period from 1897 to 1922 witnessed the territorial integration of the Modern Greek state. Important events and headlong developments, as well as the improvement of constitutional democracy determined the evolution of Greece and decisively contributed to its formation as a modern state.
Greece in the Interwar Period and the World War II
The Greek inter-war period between 1923 and 1940, (from the Asia Minor Catastrophe until the World War II) was a period of transition and unfinished political consolidation. Although major economic, as well as democratic constitutional changes took place, Greece shared with the rest of Europe times of uncertainty and of great efforts to achieve systemic stability both at home and abroad.
Contemporary Greece (1945-2010)
The heavy death toll paid by the country during World War II and the subsequent Civil Strife, left Greece in a rather disadvantageous position at the threshold of the post-war Era. Nevertheless, a period of economic reconstruction began shortly afterwards, combined with new efforts for democratic political consolidation. These efforts were interrupted by seven years of military dictatorship (1967-1974). From 1974 onwards the ripening of the political environment brought about the consolidation of the country’s institutions. Greece became a full member of the E.E.C. in 1981 and joined the European Common Currency in 2002.
Read More on the History: www.e-history.gr/en/
Did you know?
- Some scholars say that the Greek civilization has been around for so long that it has had a chance to try nearly every form of government.
- The word ‘barbarian’ comes from Greek “barbari” or “varvari”, which means people who don’t speak Greek and therefore sound like they’re saying ‘bar-bar-bar-bar’.
- At its height, Greek colonization reached as far as Russia and France to the west and Turkey to the east.
- Alexander the Great was the first Greek ruler to put his own face on Greek coins. Previously, Greek coins had shown the face of a god or goddess.
- Europe’s oldest currency is the Greek drachma, used for more than 2,500 years. Greeks replaced the drachma with the euro in 2002.
Greece has a vast heritage that needs to be preserved, with Greek civilization constituting one of the cornerstones of modern civilization. At the same time, it must meet the needs of modern culture.
The Greek Ministry of Culture is the guardian and coordinator of the promotion and protection of cultural heritage and reality.
Cultural Heritage: A treasure to be cherished and preserved
Greece is home to a wealth of cultural resources both tangible and intangible which have to be protected and promoted. The country has thus introduced suitable legal instruments and adopted and complied with various international regulations and conventions. However, the management of our built cultural heritage does not stop there. Nowadays, it incorporates spatial planning, combats illicit trade of antiquities, unifies sites, engages local societies and ensures the conditions required for its rational use and promotion. Three Greek cities have been designated as European Capitals of Culture (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras), with Athens being the first one in the history of the institution.
Monuments & Sites
There is a wide spatial distribution of monuments (prehistoric, classical, Byzantine, modern) from all time periods in the entire Greek territory but special attention deserves to be given to Central Macedonia (Thessaloniki area), Eastern Central Greece (Attica, Voiotia, Evia), Southern Aegean (Cyclades, Dodecanese, Crete) and southern Peloponnesus (Argolis, Peloponnesus, Elia).
Major restoration initiatives include the Acropolis Restoration Project while the launching of an international campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles is in conjunction with the creation of the new Acropolis Museum.
World cultural heritage monuments in Greece
A large number of the designated monuments of all periods are also included in the World Cultural Heritage list of UNESCO. The Acropolis of Athens, the archaeological sites of Olympia, Delphi and Vergina, as well as a selection of medieval and modern manifestations of culture top the list. However, since, cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects but includes traditions or living expressions passing on from one generation to another, values such as the Mediterranean diet has also received a UNESCO cultural heritage status.
See full list of sites here: www.whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/gr
Either public or private, established in Greece or abroad, Hellenic Cultural Foundations conduct researches, exhibitions, conferences and education programmes, all aiming at promoting Greek culture and its links to the world.
Did you know?
- Greece has more archaeological museums than any other country in the world.
The presence of theatre never ceased to influence the way of life and thinking of Greeks. Be it recreational or instructional, theatre tradition remains strong.
Greece, due to its geographical position, is from the 12th century a land of ‘passage’ that links Europe to Asia, the Aegean Sea to the Mediterranean, the South of Europe to the Holy land and North Africa. Influences from all those places converge in the land and in its literature.
Book publishing has led a continuous upward trend over the past 30 years in Greece. New businesses have emerged, media groups have penetrated the book sector and there has also been a decisive creation of booksellers’ chains.
The global reputation of Modern Greek music rests largely on the works of Manos Hatzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis. However, Byzantine music, traditional folk music and mostly classical music have contributed to the country’s musical tradition as well as its international fame.
Cinema was an extremely popular activity in the 1950s and 1960s, although its popularity later declined, though many important films were made in the 1970s. Its popularity has been on the rise again in the last decade, mainly due to the building of new venues and the restoration of old ones.
Greece is universally known as the cradle of several architectural cultures. Besides the Classical and the Byzantine, that acquired and persistent dissemination westwards and eastwards respectively, one could mention a long succession of architectural traditions that flourished on Greek soil.
The history of the visual arts in Greece has been similar to that of the state history itself and has experienced the given relationship between centre and periphery.
Contemporary visual art production in Greece aims at capturing international attention. But what exactly does it mean to be a young Greek artist in the early 21st century?
Festivals and Cultural Events
Linked to tourism and a warm climate that allows cultural events to be held in open-air spaces, festivals in Greece have been an integral part of the country’s culture and economy for many decades.
All over the country, municipal authorities in collaboration with cultural centres and other agents have established festive cultural events in countless smaller towns and villages. The majority of festivals in Greece are held during the summer months in open-air spaces, ancient theatres or specially created installations at sites of particular historic and aesthetic interest.
Christmas in Greece
Christmas (Xristougenna), the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most joyful days of the Greek Orthodox Church. Traditionally, the Christmas holiday period in Greece lasts 12 days, until January 6, which marks the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany). There are many customs associated with the Christmas holidays, some of which are relatively recent, “imported” from other parts of the world (like eating turkey on Christmas day and decorating the Christmas tree). In the past, Greeks decorated small Christmas boats in honour of St. Nicholas and today, they are increasingly choosing to decorate boats, instead of trees, reviving this age-old Christmas tradition.
• “Kalanda” or Carols
The singing of Christmas carols (or kalanda) is a custom preserved in its entirety to this day. On Christmas and New Year Eve, children go from house to house in groups singing the carols, accompanied usually by the sounds of the musical instrument “triangle,” but also by guitars, accordions, lyres and harmonicas. Until some time ago, children were rewarded with pastries but nowadays they are usually given money.
• Christmas Elves
Greece’s hobgoblins are called “kallikántzari”, friendly but troublesome little creatures which look like elves. Kallikantzari live deep down inside the earth and come to surface only during the 12-day period from Christmas until Epiphany. While on the earth’s surface, they love to hide in houses, slipping down chimneys and frightening people. Throughout Greece, there are various customs and rituals performed to keep hobgoblins away. Kallikantzari disappear on the day of Epiphany when all waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.
• Sweets & Treats
Traditional culinary delights symbolize good luck in the New Year and adorn the white-clothed tables. “Melomakarona” (honey cookies) and “Kourabiedes” (sugar cookies with almonds) are the most characteristic and they characterize the beginning of Christmas festivity. Another traditional custom that dates back to the Byzantine times is the slicing of Vassilopita (St. Basil’s pie or New Year’s Cake). The person who finds the hidden coin in his slice of the cake is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.
Easter in Greece
The Feast of all Feasts
Considered the most important holiday on Greek calendar and one of the richest in folklore, the celebration of Orthodox Easter (Pascha) is unique throughout Greece. From Crete to Macedonia, Easter customs become a herald of the spirit’s and nature’s rebirth, while Easter celebrations constitute a vivid aspect of the folk culture, rich in meaning and symbolism.
Easter is a moveable holiday. Its celebration falls on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox. All over Greece, a plethora of customs and traditions are observed during the week prior to Easter, the Holy Week. The preparations for the celebration of the Resurrection start on Holy Thursday. On that day, housewives traditionally prepare special cakes named tsourekia, biscuits and red coloured eggs. The use of eggs is a symbol of rebirth while the red colour stands for the blood of Christ. In the past, in many households, people used to place the first red egg on the icon stand of the house in order to cast out evil spirits.
Friday is the most sacred day of the Holy Week, the day of the culmination of the passion of Christ with the deposition from the cross and Christ’s burial. Because it is a day of mourning, housewives avoid doing housework. Women and children go to church to decorate the Epitaph (Bier of Christ) with flowers, while in the evening the Epitaph procession takes place. On Saturday morning, preparations start for the festive dinner and a special soup is cooked called “magiritsa”.
Shortly before midnight, people gather in church holding white candles which they light with the “Holy Light” distributed by the priest. When the latter chants “Christ is risen” (Christos Anesti), people exchange wishes and the so-called “Kiss of Love”. With the “Holy Light” of the candles they make three times the sign of the cross on the door post over the front door of their houses for good luck. Then they all gather around the table, they crack red eggs and wish one another Christos Anesti. On Sunday morning, mainly in Greek countryside, lamb is prepared on the spit and people eat and dance usually until late at night.
Easter is by far the holiest of Greek holidays, but it is also the most joyous, a celebration of spring, of rebirth in its literal as well as figurative sense. As Greeks leave the cities in droves to spend Easter in the countryside, food is central to all festivities.
The Easter table reflects tradition combined with the seasonality of Greek cuisine. The ingredients, the seasonings, and the dishes might differ from place to place, there is always one rule surely followed: nothing must be wasted.
The most typical dishes are whole lambs on a spit, slowly roasting; red-dyed eggs, braided sweet pastries (breads) called tsoureki; Easter soup (magiritsa) and grilled tripe roll (kokoretsi).
Travelling in Greece during Greek Orthodox Easter offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy the Greek countryside and to experience some traditional and festive atmosphere.
• Visiting the Ionian island of Corfu during Easter is ideal, since the town hosts the most splendid and melodic celebrations in the country, with the city’s philharmonics in full action. On Holy Saturday morning, one of the highlights is the dropping of ceramic pots “botides” full of water from the windows onto the cobblestone streets.
• In the Aegean island of Chios, another custom takes place where residents of the village of Vrontados revive the tradition of “the rocket war.” After Resurrection, Vrontados breaks into a pandemonium of fireworks lighting up the midnight sky.
• In the Cycladic island of Tinos, on Holy Friday, parishioners of both Orthodox and Catholic churches carry the Holy Sepulchres of their churches to the port, where they join forces in chanting hymns, before each Sepulchre follows its own itinerary through neighbourhoods.
Apokries: The Greek Carnival
Greece’s Carnival season known as “Apokries” is mainly a period of masquerading, but also eating, drinking and dancing. Traditionally, it begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates on the weekend before “Clean Monday,” (Ash Monday) the first day of Lent. “Apokria”, literally means “goodbye” to the period of meat-eating, or abstinence from meat (Apo-kreo, meaning away from meat).
Carnival officially begins on a Saturday evening with the “opening of the Triodion,” the Lenten Triodion, as it is called – which a liturgical book of the Orthodox Church that contains hymns with three odes and begins to be chanted on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee through Holy Saturday.
The following week is a fast-free week until Meatfare Sunday which is the last day before Easter for eating meat. On Thursday of this week which is known as Tsiknopempti “Charred, Smoky or Barbeque Thursday” because of the smell of the grilled meat in the air, family and friends gather in taverns or homes to eat large quantities of charred meat and celebrate, just ten days before the beginning of Lent.
The last Sunday of the Carnival period is known as “Cheesefare Sunday” or “Tyrofagos” as only dairy products can be consumed on this day. Cheesefare Sunday is the final day of pre-Lent, as the Monday following, known as Clean or Ash Monday, marks the beginning of Great Lent. During the weekend preceding Clean Monday, carnival celebrations around Greece culminate with vigorous parades, masquerade parties, reviving many traditional customs in different parts of the country, and proving that carnival in Greece is closely related to the cultural heritage of each region.
Clean (or Ash) Monday is a public holiday in Greece which marks the end of the carnival festive season and the start of Lent or the period of fasting until Easter. Weather permitting, people spend Clean Monday outdoors, organizing picnics while children fly kites. Since it marks the beginning of the fasting period special food is eaten on this day. Eating red meat, poultry, fish or dairy products is not permitted. However, a host of other dishes and delicacies is available: lagana (a special unleavened bread eaten only on this day), taramosalata (a fish roe spread), dolmadakia (vine leaves stuffed with herbed rice), grilled octopus, gigantes plaki (oven-baked broad beans), seafood salads and shellfish as well as a special semolina pudding known as halvas are just some of them.
• Patras: The King of Greek Carnivals
The port city of Patras hosts the biggest carnival in Greece, and one of the biggest in Europe. Known as the “King” of Greek Carnivals, begins in January with an announcement by the town crier, and reaches its peak in the last weekend of carnival. Patras carnival features a variety of events: balls, parades, street theatre, and much more. The carnival reaches its apogee on the last weekend of Triodion: Saturday evening brings the walking parade (with participants taking the streets holding torches), while the phantasmagorical floral, artistic, and satirical floats parade on Sunday, with the Carnival King and Queen in all their splendour. But Patras carnival is mostly the thousand carnival-goers of all ages, participating spontaneously to the events taking place everywhere in the city -homes, bars, streets – turning the whole city into a gigantic party.
• Xanthi: The Folk Carnival
The Thracian city of Xanthi hosts one of the most popular carnivals in the country. Xanthi carnival started in 1966 as an urban event but has incorporated many traditional elements, based on the city’s multicultural character that renders it the most folklore of urban carnivals. The highlight is the Folk Parade on Saturday before Ash Monday: bringing together cultural associations from all over Greece, the troupes go singing and dancing through the neighbourhoods of the picturesque Old Town and merge in an all-night Balkan folk music fiesta in the main square. Cheesefare Sunday leads to the custom of Burning the tzaros, a human effigy placed on top of a pile of brushwood.
• The “Old Men” of Skyros
The carnival in the Aegean island of Skyros comes alive with the sounds of clanging goat bells. These are worn around the waists of the island men who take part in the carnival playing the role of geros (old man), a figure dressed in a hooded black cape and hanging goat skin. The “old men” run through the streets individually or in groups, singing, dancing and making as much noise as possible, while locals and guests must always toast, drink and dance with the “old men”.
• “Flour War” in Galaxidi
In Fokida Prefecture, the town of Galaxidi is one of Greece’s top destinations especially during carnival season. The picturesque small-town impresses visitors with its tranquil charm and its rich maritime heritage, notably the old captains’ mansions, the so-called kapetanospita. During Carnival, the town revives the unique custom of “Alevromoutzouromata” dating back to the heyday of the town’s merchant fleet, as a fun event for departing sailors at the end of the Carnival. On Clean Monday, Galaxidi is transformed into a battlefield as hundreds of people pelt mercilessly one another with large quantities of flour and dance around the fires – the most daring even jump over them!
Did you know?
- In Greece, people celebrate the “name day” of the saint that bears their name rather than their own birthday.
- There are over 4000 traditional dances that come from all regions of Greece. There are also Pan-Hellenic dances, which have been adopted throughout the Greek world.
- Greeks do not wave with an open hand. It is considered an insult to show the palm of the hand with the fingers extended.
From the wide range of macro and micro indicators there some indicative indexes which would portray the current state of development in life expectancy, health status and quality of life. Greece ranks 29th, out of 187 countries, according to the UN Human Development Indicator. Average life expectancy is 79.9 years and adult literacy rate (% aged 15 and above) is 97. The average Greek is 42 years old.
Greece has a population of approximately 11.20 million. Athens is the largest city and capital of Greece, with a population of over four million and a history of more than 6,000 years. The second largest city, Thessaloniki, with one million inhabitants, is located in northern Greece and is an important seaport, cultural focal point, and regional business centre. Other large cities include Piraeus, the main port of Greece, Patras, Volos, Larissa, and Iraklion on the island of Crete. More than 60% of the country’s population resides in cities.
After the re-establishment of democracy in 1974, the social objectives were redefined and new policies were introduced aiming at the expansion of social insurance coverage, improving the access to social services, balancing regional inequalities and reallocating resources. Public expenditure on health, is 4.8% of GDP (2018). Greece has the second highest ratio of number of physicians to people (6.3 per 1,000) (2014), after Cuba.
Modern Greek derives from the same idiom used by Homer and other renowned Greek poets and writers more than 3,000 years ago. Greek was the language of the Gospels and has made a major contribution to all western languages. It is considered one of the oldest languages. Thousands of English words come from the Greek language, sometimes via the Roman adaptation into Latin and then to English.
The Greek Alphabet
The Greek language can be studied through courses offered in Greek universities, state-run institutions, summer schools, private schools and online programs, all of them contributing to the fostering and promotion of the Greek language within and outside Greece, offering at the same time an invaluable insight of Greek culture.
Greek families have always placed a high value on education, which is the right of every citizen and is provided by the Greek state from kindergarten to the university level. Greek people have reached a very high level of education. The country sends more students abroad to study, per capita, than any other country in the world. European and American Universities boast large numbers of students from Greece, many of whom achieve high academic success.
The Greek Educational System
The Greek educational system is divided into three levels, namely primary, secondary and tertiary, with an additional post-secondary level providing vocational training. Education in Greece, including pre-school, primary and lower secondary education, is compulsory for all children 6 to 15 years old. The Greek educational system is under the supervision of the Hellenic Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs (YPEPTH).
Primary and Secondary Education
Primary education is divided into kindergarten lasting one or two years, and primary school (Demotiko) lasting six years, where children are admitted at the age of six. Lower secondary (Gymnasio) schooling is based on a wide curriculum aiming to provide subject-specific knowledge and to prepare pupils for the role of citizens in society. Upper secondary education includes two types of schools in which schooling lasts three years: the Unified Upper Secondary School (Eniaio Lykeio) and the Technical Vocational School (TEE). There are public and private school units of all levels and types of primary and secondary education.
Alongside mainstream schools of primary and secondary education, there are also special-orientation schools (like music, ecclesiastical and athletic lower and upper secondary schools). In addition, programs of intercultural education are provided to repatriated students of Greek origin and to students of foreign or gipsy origin, while minority schools are established for the education of the Muslim minority of Thrace. Last but not least, there are also experimental schools functioning under the supervision of Universities applying experimental methods of teaching.
Higher Education institutions in Greece are fully self-administered legal entities under public law, funded and supervised by the Hellenic Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs in accordance with Provision 16 of the Constitution. Public higher education is divided into Universities and Polytechnics (AEI), Technological Education Institutes (TEI) and Academies which primarily cater for the military and the clergy. Admission to tertiary education is based on a student’s performance in national level examinations taking place at the end of the third year of upper secondary education.
Undergraduate courses last typically 4 years (5 in polytechnics and some technical/art schools, and 6 in medical schools); postgraduate courses last from 1 to 2 years and doctorates from 3 to 6 years. Additionally, students are admitted to the Hellenic Open University upon the completion of the 22nd year of age by drawing lots.
All levels of education are catered for by both private and public schools. Public schools and universities do not charge tuition fees and textbooks are provided free to all students. There are also a number of private tutor schools, colleges and universities operating alongside the state education and providing supplementary tuition.
98%percent of the people adhere to the Greek Orthodox faith (Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%). Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution, and other religious groups, such as Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, have their own places of worship.
Young people in today’s Greece constitute 18.5%, forming an ever-changing group, tending to enter the job market and start a family later in life, as they are switching backwards and forwards between work and learning.
Emerging from an extremely influential state and political party system, Greek civil society has been steadily rising, with the formation and mobilization of an increasing number of NGOs and related networks active especially in social and environmental protection.
Greek society is very coherent and family, a basic social institution, seems strong enough to support its members even at the most difficult times. Retirement homes are rare in Greece and many grandparents live in close proximity to their children and grandchildren. Divorce rates are among the lowest in the European Union (2008), but abortion rates among the highest.
Greece has risen to prominence in a number of sporting areas in recent decades. Modern Greek champions have been awarded with numerous medals in individual and team sports such as basketball, wrestling, water polo, athletics, and weightlifting. Many of them have gained international recognition through their participation in world championships and Olympic Games. In 2004 the Olympic Games returned to its birthplace and created a unique capital gain to the benefit of the country itself and of the Olympic Games.
The Ancient Olympic Games
The Olympic Games and the Marathon have been established across the world by promoting world peace, fair play and the three Olympic values: excellence, respect and friendship.
Read more about the history of the Olympic Games
Olympia in the western Peloponnese was the home of the ancient Olympic Games, established by Hercules, according to tradition, in honour of the Olympian gods who were the first competitors. Evidence indicates that games were initially held at Olympia in the 9th century B.C. Named after the highest mountain in Greece, Olympus, the Games were recorded as held every four years since 776 B.C.E. In 676 B.C.E. they acquired Pan-Hellenic significance, and by 576 B.C.E., their prestige had reached its peak.
Special messengers were sent in every direction to announce the beginning of a sacred truce and there was a suspension of all disputes and warfare among Greek city-states. The largest cities were represented by official ambassadors to Olympia. The competitions testing strength and endurance lasted five days and included a wide variety of events. Eventually, additional contests included a four-horse chariot race.
Chariot and horse races took place in the hippodrome, while athletic contests were held in the stadium. Wrestling and boxing were combined in the pankration; jumping, discus-throwing, javelin-throwing, running, and wrestling were included in the pentathlon.
The victors of the games were honoured by all Greeks. Memorials were erected and they were praised in poems and songs. Victorious competitors did not receive any trophies or medals. The emblem of supreme honour was an olive wreath placed on their heads. Some cities were said to tear down sections of their walls to let their victorious athletes pass through, signifying that with such individuals they did not need fortifications.
The Olympics and other popular festivals were more significant as institutions than the individual honours accorded to athletes who competed. In addition to inspiring succeeding generations to pursue competitive sports, they also contributed to a sense of unity between the Greek city-states, as indicated by the fact that of an Olympic truce during the games.
For a thousand years, the games were held at regular intervals of four years. The games continued well after the decline of Olympia as a sanctuary and the Roman conquest of Greece. The advent of Christianity inspired radical social and religious changes and the old monuments were used to build a castle. The Games continued until A.D. 393, when the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I banned them by decree, while, in A.D. 426, Theodosius II ordered the total destruction of the sanctuary’s temples. The Goths delivered the final blow by destroying what could not be carried away.
In the following centuries, the river Kladeos covered the sacred land with sand and pebbles. It was not until 1875 that archaeologists brought it back to light and re-discovered ancient Olympia.
The first modern games took place in Athens in 1896. The modern revival of the Olympic Games is associated with Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) who, in January 1894, in a letter to the athletic organizations of every country, pointed out the educational value of sports to modern man, if practiced in accordance with the ideals of ancient Greece.
Since the Olympic revival, the Greek athletes always lead the parade that marks the opening of the Games preceded by the lighting of the Olympic torch. The flame that is used to light the torch comes from the sacred site of Olympia, where it is lit from the sun’s rays and then carried by a relay of runners to the city where the games are being held.
The first modern games took place in Athens in 1896. Many of the original Olympic contests were retained, with new events added. One of the original events still contested is the Marathon race, commemorating the feat of an unknown Athenian warrior. In 490 B.C., he ran in full armour from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, to bring the news that the invading Persians had been defeated. He could only utter the words “Rejoice, we are Victorious,” before falling dead from exhaustion.
This event is now regarded as the pinnacle of the Olympic Games. The present distance of the race is 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.2 kms, the distance between Marathon and Athens. The first Olympic Marathon in 1896 was won by a Greek runner, Spyros Louis, in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
Since their revival in Athens in 1896, the Olympic Games have been celebrated every fourth year, except for interruptions caused by World Wars. Athens hosted the Olympic Games of 2004 with a celebration of sports and culture that linked antiquity with the modern world.
Athens 2004 Olympic & Paralympic Games
The 2004 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, was a premier international multi-sport event held in Athens from August 13 to August 29, 2004 with the motto Welcome Home. 10,625 athletes competed, some 600 more than expected, accompanied by 5,501 team officials from a record 201 countries. There were 301 medal events in 28 different sports.
Athens 2004 marked the first time since the 1996 Summer Olympics that all countries with a National Olympic Committee were in attendance. It was also the first time since 1896 that the Olympics were held in Greece, marking the return to the birthplace of both the ancient and modern Olympic Games.
Athens 2011 Special Olympics
The Special Olympics is a non-profit organization that invites children and adults with intellectual disabilities to explore their abilities in various sports activities. In 2007, the Special Olympics International Committee selected Athens to host the Special Olympics World Summer Games for the year 2011.
By being offered the opportunity to host the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games, 7 years after having hosted the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Greece became one of only four countries to have organized the entire range of great athletic multiple‐sport events.
Every year, thousands of runners from all over the world participate in the Athens Classic Marathon. The classic Marathon’s 42km is the link between a legend and a leading athletic event signalling the power of human will.
The Marathon Race stands out as it was born by a true historic and heroic event. It was a feat accomplished by a news-bearing foot soldier from ancient Athens, who announced – with his last words – the victory of the Greeks against the Persians during the Marathon Battle in 490 BC.
The Athens 2010 Race is considered historic as it marked the 2,500th anniversary since the Battle of Marathon.
In modern times, the 42,195m Marathon Race became one of the most competitive events during the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. A Greek athlete named Spyros Louis, running what has ever since been referred to as the Original Marathon Course from the ancient city of Marathon to the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, won the gold medal of the first modern Olympic Games and became a legend of Greek and International Athletics.
Apart from the sporting experience, athletes who participate in the Athens Classical Marathon have the chance to enjoy the traditional Greek hospitality, discover the fascinating landscape of our country and explore a city which is constantly improving.
The media landscape has changed a lot during the past thirty years. Major developments include the deregulation and privatization of the broadcasting system in the 1980s, resulting in a plethora of private TV channels and radio stations, both national and local, as well as the switch to digital media. Nowadays, Greece counts 160 private TV channels and 1,150 private radio stations.
Television is a well-established medium of information, entertainment and culture in contemporary Greek society. Following the deregulation of 1989 and the end of state monopoly, private television reached Greek households and dominated the market.
Numerous Greek television and radio stations are available via satellite around the world, mainly by Hellas Sat 2, the first Greek satellite. One satellite TV and three IPTV platforms are operating on subscription in Greece, as well as two analogue pay television channels.
Radio is another important source of information and entertainment in Greece. The first private radio station was Athina 98.4 FM, which went on air in 1987. Currently, around 930 Radio Stations broadcasting regularly in Greece, among which 52 in the Athens Region. The vast majority is private and transmits locally or regionally.
Greece has one of the highest numbers of newspapers relative to the size of the market, and therefore one of the lowest circulation rates. Today, 280 local, regional and national daily newspapers in Greece. In 2016, the country had 15 national daily newspapers, 11 national daily sport newspapers 4 national business newspapers, 16 national Sunday papers and 10 national weekly papers.
The two leading news agencies in Greece merged in 2006. The merger brought together Athens News Agency (ANA), which was founded in 1895, with the Macedonian News Agency (MPA), founded by the state in 1991 in Thessaloniki.
The Athens News Agency-Macedonian Press Agency (ANA-MPA) collects, processes and assesses national and international news, photos, as well as radio and television material and distributes it to media in Greece, Cyprus, the Diaspora and abroad. It places great emphasis on the development of mutual relations with Balkan countries, by promoting inter-Balkan cooperation between news agencies in the region.
Part of the agency’s services is online in English, French, Russian, Chinese and Albanian
By the end of 2016, all Athenian-based and national-circulation newspapers as well as TV channels had both a digital and a print version. Some of them offer their digital version in both electronic and pdf formats, while others also offer it in the form of app for mobile devices. Most of them offer their content for free, some (for example, Ta NEA) use pay-wall. The content of major Athenian newspapers is enriched with pieces specifically written for the web and embedded with videos and pictures (Ta Nea, Kathimerini, To Vima, etc.). As in other countries, articles for the web are structured in such a way to optimise their visibility and news consumption on search engines and social networks, since news consumption is moving to Internet-led media.
All national TV channels simulcast their programmes live on the web, but they also offer apps for tablets and smart phones. Some of them, (Skai TV) started offering catch-up services long time ago, while others soon followed this example. Antenna TV has its own web TV productions which are distributed on the web exclusively (Netwix). Nowadays, all channels provide social media interactions in their programmes, principally on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.