Fun Facts: Greece

June 9, 2023

Paul Kay

Have you taken a vacation to Europe? Are you looking for Europe vacation ideas? We have fun facts about Greece in this post. Since you are a traveler, you are probably looking for destinations or vacations. Greece is home to over 2,000 islands, although only around 170 of them are inhabited. The Greek alphabet is the oldest continuously used alphabet in the world, with origins dating back to the 8th century BCE. Greece has more archaeological museums than any other country in the world, with over 100 museums dedicated to the country's rich history. The Olympic Games, which originated in ancient Greece, were held every four years for over 1,000 years, from 776 BCE to 393 CE. Are you intrigued yet? As a fellow traveler, here are some fun facts to consider about Greece.

Most people know that the Olympic Games originated in Greece. The above picture is what remains at the site of the original Olympic Games. The ancient Olympic Games were first recorded in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece. They were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the gods, and were considered to be one of the most important religious and sporting events of the ancient world.

The ancient Olympics were held every four years and were a celebration of athletic skill, strength, and endurance. The games included a variety of events, such as running, jumping, wrestling, and chariot racing, and attracted athletes and spectators from all over the Greek world.

Roman Emperor Theodosius I

The ancient Olympic Games were eventually banned in 393 AD by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I as part of a wider effort to suppress paganism in the Roman Empire. However, the idea of the Olympics lived on, and in the late 19th century, a movement emerged to revive the games. The modern Olympic Games were first held in Athens, Greece in 1896 and have since become a global sporting event, held every four years in a different city around the world.

Where did civilization begin? It certainly can be hotly debated.  Greece can easily claim that at least Western civilization started with the Greeks.  Greece history can be traced back to the Stone Age.  The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations came from Greece.  

Detail of ancient ruins of famous Minoan palace of Knossos

The Minoan civilization was an ancient civilization that was based on the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea. It existed from around 2600 BC to 1100 BC and was one of the earliest advanced civilizations in Europe. The Minoans were known for their sophisticated palaces, such as the Palace of Knossos, and their complex systems of writing and trade. They developed a unique form of art, characterized by bright colors, intricate patterns, and images of nature and animals.

The Minoan civilization was a peaceful and prosperous society, based on trade and agriculture. It maintained trade connections with other civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean, such as the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians, and was a major cultural and economic center in the region. The end of the Minoan civilization is still somewhat of a mystery, but it is believed to have been caused by a combination of factors, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and invasions by the Mycenaeans, a neighboring civilization from the mainland of Greece.

Today, the Minoan civilization is best known for its art and architecture, which continue to fascinate and inspire scholars, tourists, and visitors to Crete. The legacy of the Minoans has also had a lasting impact on the island, which continues to be a major tourist destination and a rich cultural center.

Greek Gods protected their form of civilization and were widely revered.  The Greek people were farmers and fishers.  They lived in villages and some of these had walls to define the area and to serve as some form of protection.  Most villages had a marketplace or agora and a community square or meeting place.  The Greeks developed governments and organized their citizens according to some sort of constitution or set of laws. They raised armies and collected taxes.  They created city-states which were protected by a particular god or goddess.

Homer, the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey Greece 8th century BC

Greece has a rich cultural heritage that dates back to the Bronze Age, around 3000 BC. During the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC), the Mycenaean civilization developed in Greece and became renowned for their elaborate palaces, works of art, and epic poems such as the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey both written by Homer who is considered to be one of the greatest poets of ancient Greece. He is believed to have been born around the 8th century BCE. Homer is famous for composing the epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." These works are considered to be masterpieces of ancient Greek literature, and they have had a significant influence on Western literature and culture. "The Iliad" tells the story of the Trojan War, while "The Odyssey" recounts the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus as he tries to return home after the war. Both works are characterized by their vivid descriptions of battles, heroes, and gods, as well as their exploration of important themes such as heroism, honor, and the role of the gods in human affairs.

In the years following the Mycenaean period, Greece went through a Dark Age, and the cultural and intellectual achievements of the Mycenaeans were lost. However, the Greek city-states emerged during the Archaic period (800-480 BC), and over time, the city-states grew stronger and more prosperous.

One of the most important events in Greek history was the Persian Wars (499-449 BC), during which the Greeks, led by Athens and Sparta, successfully defended themselves against Persian invasion. The conflict was sparked by the expansionist ambitions of the Persian Empire and its attempts to expand its rule into the Greek world. The initial conflict took place in Ionia (modern-day Turkey), where the Greeks living there sought help from their fellow Greeks in mainland Greece.

The Greeks, led by the city-states of Athens and Sparta, formed a coalition and successfully repelled two Persian invasions, in 490 BC at the Battle of Marathon and in 480 BC at the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis. These victories marked a significant turning point in the war and showed that the Greeks were capable of standing up to the might of the Persian Empire.

After several more years of conflict, the Persians were eventually defeated at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. This marked the end of the Persian War and secured Greek independence from Persian rule. The Persian War had a lasting impact on the ancient world. It demonstrated the power of the Greek city-states and cemented their place as dominant powers in the region. It also marked the emergence of Athens as a major naval power and a center of intellectual and cultural development.

In addition, the war helped shape the idea of what it meant to be Greek and inspired a sense of unity and shared identity among the Greeks that still exists today. The bravery and determination displayed by the Greeks during the war has become an enduring part of their cultural heritage and has been celebrated in art, literature, and history for centuries.

Statue of Greek philosopher Socrates of Greece 5th century BC

During the 5th century BC, the city-states, particularly Athens, became centers of intellectual and cultural development, with philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle making significant contributions to the fields of philosophy, ethics, and science. In addition, the Athenian Empire was established, and democracy was introduced in Athens.

Close Up Of Statue Of Alexander The Great, Thessaloniki Greece

Alexander the Great was from Macedonia which, at the time, was much larger than Greece.  He was born in Pella, Greece and is considered one of history’s greatest military minds who.  He ruled as King of Macedonia and Persia which was the largest empire ruled by a single person. 

After Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, the Roman Empire turned its sights on Greece about 100 years later. In 205 BC and over the next few centuries, the country came under Roman rule.  Geographically, you can easily see why the Romans felt that they needed to conquer Greece.  They did and subsequently created the Byzantine Empire for a period.  

The Byzantine Empire lasted for approximately 1,123 years, from its creation in 330 AD, when the Roman Emperor Constantine established a new capital at Byzantium (renamed Constantinople), until its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Under Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church was allowed to continue to function, but Greeks were subject to a range of restrictions and discriminations.

Many wars later, there was the War of Independence which was between 1821 and 1829.  In 1830 Greece became officially recognized as an independent country.  What began with Alexander in 336 BC took until 1830 AD to finally resolve.

King Otto of Greece 1832

In 1832, Greece became an independent kingdom with Otto, a Bavarian prince, as its first king. This marked the end of centuries of Ottoman rule and the beginning of the modern era in Greek history. In 1912 and 1913, Greece participated in the Balkan Wars, which resulted in the liberation of much of the Balkan Peninsula from Ottoman rule. Greece expanded its territory as a result of these wars. During World War I, Greece remained neutral, but the country was severely impacted by the war's aftermath, including economic hardship and political instability. After the war, there was a military dictatorship which lasted until 1941. During World War II, Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany and suffered greatly as a result.

After the end of World War II, Greece was plunged into a brutal civil war between supporters of the communist and anti-communist forces. The conflict lasted from 1946 to 1949 and resulted in significant loss of life and economic damage. In the decades following the end of the civil war, Greece experienced a period of political stability and economic growth. The country joined the European Economic Community in 1981 and adopted the euro as its currency in 2001.  In the early 21st century, Greece was hit by a severe financial crisis that resulted in high levels of debt and unemployment. Despite a bailout by the European Union, the country continues to face economic challenges today.

The country of Greece and its borders had changed frequently over thousands of years until modern day Greece.  What tourists see today is a remarkable reflection of a civilization and its people that have evolved over thousands of years.   They have many historic relics to view for the tourists, but the country reinvents itself constantly – showing something new to anyone who visits.

Greece is much more than Athens.  People arrive in Athens because it is so historic and there is so much history that has been preserved.  In Athens you can easily see the Acropolis and Parthenon, the temple of Zeus, Monastiraki square, the ancient agora, the Panathenaic stadium and plenty of other museums and attractions.

Then there are the Greek islands which attract thousands because of their beauty and crystal blue seas.  There are ferries that take you for a day trip or you can stay longer at so many local and intimate hotels.

Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city and the capital city of the Macedonian region of Northern Greece.  Thessaloniki is a combination of old and new attractions.  The walled city can still be seen on a tour bus along with the famous White Tower plenty of Greek history.  Nearby is Mount Olympus, home of the Greek God Zeus.

Mount Athos is also near Thessaloniki and is considered the second-most important religious place of pilgrimage, after Jerusalem, for the more than 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  Permits are required to visit but most tourists visit by taking a boat and taking pictures of the majestic monastery.  The monastery can be visited but it is not for tourists.  It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all females are forbidden entry into the monastery itself.  

Madeline and I have been to Greece twice. The first time we stayed in Athens and visited the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Plaka (restaurants and shopping) and the Temple of Hephaestus.  Of course, we had great Greek food daily.  We went to Greece as tourists only.  We visited Athens to begin with and explored as much of the city as possible.  There is so much ancient history here to discover.  We also enjoyed the people, the culture, and the fabulous Greek food. On our next trip, we flew to Thessaloniki and toured Mount Olympus after we explored the city itself.

We would like to come back and visit the Greek Islands and explore some more. As a fellow traveler, you should visit Greece and soak up its wonderful cultural offerings. We have another post about attractions in the Greek mainland and another post about attractions on Greek islands. Hopefully the history of Greece and all it has to offer will get you interested in visiting.

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