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Greece

General Information

Popular Attractions

Greece has now become a hotspot for the work laden men and women to take a quick break in. The beautiful Mediterranean beaches of this island nation captivate the mind and refresh the soul.

While the country with her glorious history and culture has lot to offer as attractions, there are sights one must see when visiting Greece for a quick tour. In the Greek capital city of Athens, the tourist must not miss to visit the two greatest attractions- the Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum. The ‘upper city’ or the Acropolis is the huge rock atop which the Pantheon, one of the world’s most classic building structures is located.

The Acropolis and The Pantheon are the landmark structures of Athens and can be seen from all parts of the city. The views of Athens from the Acropolis are stunningly beautiful. The Lykavittos Hill lying alongside the Acropolis also offers a beautiful view of the city. One can either walk up to the top along the winding road or by the funicular. Once on top the vision can stretch as far as Piraeus if the day is clear. The Acropolis can be photographed in all its grandeur from atop the Lykavittos Hill. Possessing only Greek treasures and artifacts, the National Archaeological Museum unlike other great museums of the world is truly national. It is so large that the tourist needs to spend greater part of a day to see the exhibits. One of the most popular tourist hunts in Athens is the Monastiraki area which is like a mini Athens. There are busy markets along the vibrant streets selling every article a tourist can bargain for. Adjacent to Monastiraki are the districts of Gazi or Psyrri which are booming with the most fashionable bars, restaurants and clubs of Athens. The tourist gets to see the Modern Athens here by being at these places at night.

Nearby Athens lie the beautiful Saronic Gulf Islands with magnificent sea front where the tourist can breathe fresh air of pine. The verdant Corfu, one of the seven Ionian Islands, is a visitor’s paradise.

Culture

The unique culture of Greece finds expression in the country’s tradition, art, music, language, religion and cuisine. Visitors to this country must therefore familiarize themselves with these cultural facets of Greece.

The cultural traditions of Greece have been mostly shaped by religion. The Greek people besides being religious are also sometimes still superstitious at the same time - believing in supernatural phenomena. 97% of the Greek populace is Orthodox Christians. Music has been an integral part of Greek culture since ancient times.

The Greek tragedy dramas of the 1st century AD relied on music for expression. Thereafter for almost the next 2000 years as the Greek civilization started its decline under the successive influences of the Roman and the Byzantine Empire, the Greek music did not flourish. It was revived only in the 19th century by such famous opera composers as Mantzaros and Samaras. The tastes of the Greek cuisine and wine are fabulous.

There are varieties of foods like Mezedes (appetizer) and Horiatiki Salata (salads). The main Greek dishes are meat based and the notable among these are Moussaka, Pastitsio, Paidakia and Kokoretsi. The Greek dance forms ‘hasapiko’, ‘kalamatiano’ and ‘tsamiko’ are performed at traditional ceremonies like marriage and other social celebrations. Eastern influence is pronounced in the dances and music of Greece due to the influx of refugees from Asia Minor during the twenties.

The contemporary Greek music has been considerably shaped by this influence as exemplified in the popular music from the stringed instrument ‘Bouzouki’. The testimony to a great architectural heritage of Greece yet to be fully explored is borne by the artifacts treasured at the National Archaeological Museum, the Acropolis and the Byzantine Museums in Athens. The archaeological museum at Crete Island displays rich collection of antiquities from the Minoan and early Greek periods. To view the Greek traditional costumes, the tourist while visiting Athens must go to the Museum of Greek Folk Art. To have a look at the Greek antiquities, there are other museums like the one in Olympia and the Benaki and Goulandris museums. Collections from the period of independence of Greece are found in the National Historical Museum.

Geology

Greece was submerged in a shallow sea till after the Cretaceous period and throughout the Triassic and Jurassic periods in the geologic past. During such submergence, the whole of Greece experienced limestone sedimentation with formation of massive layers of the rock. From these deposits rose during the Cretaceous a large island between Athens and Thesaloniki running from north to south.

These are the areas in present day Greece composed of crystalline rocks supplying the country with precious resources like iron ore, coal and manganese. These limestone formations spread all across Greece and were folded during the period of Alpine Orogeny when the Alps were formed. Karst and other cave phenomena are common in Greece two third of which is now covered with limestone. Mediterranean area where Greece is situated is the hub of the active convergence of the earth’s plates due to tectonic movements with the plates of Europe and Africa colliding against each other. Since the nucleus of this plate movement lies in Italy, the volcanism is more severe there compared to Greece which experiences occasional volcanism, earthquake and pouring out of thermal springs from the earth’s inner layers.

Earthquake activity mostly occurs in the Crete Island of Greece as it lies in one of the most seismically active areas of Europe. The Crete Islands which were formed some 10 million years ago experienced from about past 4 million years both subsidence and rising along with folding of rocks to arrive at its present form. The fauna and flora at the Crete Islands of Greece are highly endemic due to thriving on the islands in isolation for millions of years during the Pliocene period.

The island nation of Greece is still undergoing plate movements evident from the faster rising of the Greek Islands on the western part compared to the eastern part. The rocks Greece is composed of range from Permian to Oligocene period pre-Neogene to Neogene and quaternary limestone. The mountains and karst landscapes were formed by pre-Neogene limestone and Neogene, their soft and eroded form has formed the rich soils of the low lying areas of Greece.

History

Greece has a rich and varied history dating back to ancient times.

The oldest recorded settlement in this island nation was some 11,000 years before the birth of Christ that continued throughout the Paleolithic era up to 3,000 BC. It was followed by the Minoan, the Mycenaean and the Cycladic Civilizations covering the period 2,600 BC to around 1,000 BC. During the Classical Period (480-323 BC) of the Greek history also referred as the Golden Age, the country was blessed with great mathematicians and philosophers.

Greece was invaded time and again by the Macedonians, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Turks. The Turkish reign oppressed the Greek people who ultimately revolted and started the Independence War in 1821. The independent Greek State was formed in 1831 after about 10 years of war against the Turks. Although declared a republic, the monarchy was restored in 1935. However the King did not remain in power for long as the Prime Minister Metaxas in a coup took over power from him to start a dictatorship regime. Greece was under political and social unrest at that time due to group clashes between the ultra-left and right wings.

During the World War II, the Greek Prime Minister Metaxas decided to side with the Allied Force and refused Italian dictator Mussolini’s approach to allow the Axis Power to set up defense base within Greece. That day of refusal, the 28th day of October, 1940 is still observed in Greece as a public holiday (Okhi Day). Italy then occupied parts of Greece which was subsequently conquered by the Germans forcing the King to flee the country.

After the sudden death of Metaxas in course of the World War, clashes erupted again between the Communists and the Conservative government of Greece. In this bloody Civil War that ended in 1949 with the victory of the government forces, thousands of people were killed and made homeless. Although the Communists continued to enjoy popular support in Greece through the sixties, power was seized by a military group of dictators till democracy returned to Greece in 1974.

Political

Greece is a parliamentary democracy as defined in the country’s new constitution that was adopted in 1975.

The Constitution went subsequent amendments in 1986 and 2001. The party with the majority in the parliament forms the government in which the executive power is vested with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Elections are conducted where the people vote to elect their representatives in the parliament. The Greek Constitution lays down provisions for a social state governed by the rule of law to protect individual and social rights and to ensure equality, liberty and human dignity. Separate delegation of powers has also been enshrined in the Constitution of Greece.

The supreme legislative body in the Greek state is the Parliament. The President of the Greek Republic issues only those laws enacted by the Parliament. The Greek citizens with legal voting right directly cast their secret ballots to elect the 300 members for the Parliament. The country’s law sanctions the electoral system and the electoral districts and elections to the Parliament are held every 4 years. The Socialist (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) and the Rightwing (New Democracy) are the two main political parties in Greece. The former was established by Andreas Papandreou and the latter by Constantinos Karamanlis.

The President of the Greek Republic has been excluded from any policy making by the Constitutional amendment of 1986. The President who is elected every 5 years only coordinates the legislative, the executive and the judicial powers. A Special Session of the Parliament elects the President through a secret ballot. The government in Greece means the Parliamentary Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the other elected ministers and the General Secretaries. They together lay down the general policy of the country in accordance with the Greek Constitution and the Law. They also frame and are responsible for the general policy of the government in line with that for the country. Thus in the Greek government system, the Prime Minister is the chief policy maker.

The judicial power in Greece is exercised by civil, criminal and administrative courts. Greece has 13 local governments controlling the respective regions.

Infrastructure/Getting Around

Athens, the capital city of Greece is connected by air with the major cities of Europe and the world by the national airline Olympic. Other international carriers also operate flights to and from Athens.

For tourists from outside Europe, flying from a city in Europe would be cheaper than direct flights to Athens from outside Europe. Olympic operates flights to other domestic destinations and the tourists flying to Greece by the airline will get tickets at discounted rate. Summertime charter flights are galore from many European cities to destinations in mainland Greece as well as to the various Greek island resorts like Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, etc.

A tourist traveling on charter flight must be careful regarding a day trip to Turkey or the passport getting branded with Turkish stamp as these make the return ticket legally null and void as per law of Greece. The most popular tourist approach to Greece by road is through Italy which also has ferry services across the Adriatic Sea from Venice and other places. One can also come to Thessaloniki (mainland Greece) along the highways from Sofia or Istanbul but the latter route can cause customs hassles and delays. D

irect bus service to Greece from Western Europe is costly and a tourist would do well to travel by train to Italy and catch the ferries to reach various destinations in Greece like Patra from where one can take a train to Athens.

Driving through the congested roads of Athens will drive one mad. Other places of Greece are not that crowded. A tourist preferring to drive his or her car must be cautious as road accidents in Greece are quite high due to poor conditions of road, traffic jams, etc. Except for the major roads, roadmaps for other roads are not accurate and rain can make the road conditions worse.

Compared to other European cities, taxis in Greece are still a little cheaper. Getting a taxi in Athens for a particular destination is difficult which is not the case in other areas. The cab drivers are mostly courteous and helpful. 


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