This month, we are talking about sports diplomacy and what better country to celebrate than the one with the birthplace of the Olympics? Greece is a legendary country thanks to its centuries-old history, its culture and landscapes and also thanks to its great influence on today’s societies and languages. This small country is one of the oldest in the world and is full of surprises. In this short article, we will highlight some fascinating but often unknown facts about this small pearl of the Mediterranean.
Greece is located in Southern Europe and it hosts about 11 million people. Its language is Greek and its currency is the Euro. It joined the European Union in 1981 and the euro-zone in 2001. Greece is a parliamentary republic with a Prime Minister as head of government and a president as head of State. Greece is a mountainous and volcanic country, but it also has a very long coastline.
Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world
Greece is one of the oldest countries of the world and the cradle of Western civilization. It comes as no surprise that Athens is also one of the oldest cities in the world. It is believed than Athens has been continuously inhabited since the 5th-4th century BC. Today, Athens is Greece’s largest and capital city and hosts about a third of the entire country’s population.
Similarly, Greek language is also one of the oldest in the world and in Europe. It has been used for more than 3,000 years.
Greece has more islands than you would think!
Greece counts more than 2,000 islands, amongst which only 170 are inhabited. Greece’s biggest island is Crete, the most famous for tourists is undoubtedly Santorini and its most historically valuable is Rhodes, as it is home to one of the World’s Seven Wonders: the Colossus of Rhodes. Even though Greece is ranked 98th country by area, it has the 11th longest coastline of the world, thanks to its many islands.
Greece annually attracts more tourists than the amount of its entire population
Even though Greece’s economy has struggled in the past years, tourism is still on the up and up. A large part of the country’s economy is actually based on tourism, which contributes to around 16-20% of Greece’s gross domestic product. Every year, it welcomes more than 20 million people, mostly thanks to its many beaches, idyllic sceneries, widely diversified wildlife and the 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites it displays. Greece also benefits from a great climate with more than 250 sunny days per year, making it one of the sunniest places on Earth.
Greece is the birthplace of the Olympic Games
As we all know, the first Olympic Games in history took place in Greece, in Olympia to be precise. The first Olympic Games began in 776 BC and were a religious ceremony at that time, in honour of Zeus. They inspired the modern Olympics that officially started in 1896 in Athens. Since then, Greece has hosted the Olympics twice (1896 and 2004), and also hosted the 1906 Intercalated Games. Before every opening of the OG, the Olympic torch is lit in Olympia and must be relayed to the location of the Games. It will then continue to burn until the closing ceremony.
Greece is the third biggest producer of olives in the world
Greece is often either the world’s second or third leading producer of olives and olive oil, with Spain being the first and Italy the third member of the podium. The Greeks have been producing olives since ancient times. In fact, some trees are about 2,000 years old and still produce olives today!
At its height, Ancient Greek civilization reached Spain, Russia, Turkey and Northern Africa
Ancient Greece was mostly constituted of quite independent city-states rather than one main State with one ruling. But at its peak, Ancient Greek civilization reached territories as far as Spain, France, Russia, Turkey and colonies in Northern Africa. Its zones of influence were concentrated on the coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea.
Voting is mandatory in Greece
Every citizen aged 18 or more is required to vote by law. In Greece, voting is compulsory but not enforced. Globally only 22 nations use a compulsory voting system, of which most are democracies, such as Australia, Argentina, Belgium or Luxembourg for example.
Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the EU
Greece’s unemployment rate often surpasses 20 percent, while the European average stands at less than 10 percent. Although it has recently decreased - Greece’s unemployment rate reached 23.3 percent in October 2016, and dropped to 20.7 percent in October 2017 - it is still the highest level of the Union, closely followed by Spain.
Greece has also been one of the European States that suffered the most from the last major economic crisis. Greek economy is not holding up very well and because of it, is heavily indebted. Due to this, a Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone has been seriously considered several times.
British poet Lord Byron is regarded as a Greek national hero!
Lord Byron was so fascinated and fond of Greece that he joined their battle of independence against Turkey. Motivated by liberal causes, he wished to give the Greek their freedom. However, he died in the town of Missolonghi soon after his 36th birthday. For his bravery, his engagement and his sacrifice in the war, he is still today considered a national hero in Greece.
Greece and Turkey have had tense relationships for centuries
In 1830, Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), but since then, the two countries have faced each other in four main wars. Their relations would sometimes improve or deteriorate. In the 1950s, it deteriorated again due to the Cyprus conflict. But in 1999, they somehow reconciled after an earthquake hit both countries. However, Cyprus still remains an issue today, as it is currently occupied by both Greek Cypriots and Turkish forces.
Greece might be an idyllic country with thousands of dream beaches and gorgeous islands, but it suffers from undoubtedly very complicated situations. Its economy has been striving for years to repay its debt, fight corruption, and manage its tense relationship with Turkey as they control the frozen but still ongoing conflict in Cyprus. With ups and downs, Greece seems to be doing alright for now. And hopefully it will eventually reach a harmonious stability.
1. The first Olympic games began in, you guessed it, Olympia way back in 776 BC. They were originally associated with a religious festival dedicated to Zeus. They occurred every 4 years and continued for about the next 12 centuries. However, they stopped in 393 AD and did not make a return until over 1500 in the summer of 1896 AD in Athens, Greece.
2. These first modern Olympic games were organized by the same organization that runs the Olympics today -the IOC (International Olympic Committee).
3. The original events included: cycling, fencing, gymnastics, sailing, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling – all summer events.
4. This is because the winter Olympic games were not introduced until 1924 in Chamonix, France.
5. Originally, the Olympics were only for men – as competitors and as fans. During the ancient games, men also competed nude.
6. It wasn’t until the 20th century, that women entered the Olympic scene. Margaret Abbott was one of the first female Olympians, having entered the 1900 Olympics. Not only did she compete, but she also was the first woman to win a gold medal.
7. 112 years later, the 2012 Olympic Games held in London, were the first in which all participating countries sent female athletes.
8. The Olympic Rings were introduced in 1913, but did not make their Olympic debut until 1920 in Antwerp. The rings represent the five inhabited continents of the world.
9. The Olympic Torch, another symbol of the games, is lit in Olympia, Greece and traverses sometimes thousands of miles, before it reaches the Olympic stadium and the opening ceremony.
10. Since their founding, the Olympic Games have been hosted by 23 different countries.