Greece has a history steeped in mythology. The Bronze Age brought three civilizations onto the scene, the Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean people. The Cycladic people were great sailors, exporting their goods throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The Minoans from Crete were the first advanced civilization on the continent. Their decline gave rise to the first great group on the mainland, the Mycenaean people. By the 12th century, all three of these faded out.
The Dorians controlled Greece next, although their origins remain a mystery. It is from these four ancient civilizations that Poseidon, Zeus and Apollo came to be part of the Greek religion, and these three would be part of the famous Greek pantheon later. This was a time of city-states, and each of them was quite different from the other in their governmental structure. Over time, Athens grew as the trade power, while Sparta became the seat of the military.
Over time, Athens and Sparta grew into two rival powers. It was not until the end of the Peloponnesian War that the two cities were united under Spartan rule in 404 BC. Sparta installed oligarchies in the country, and the general population was far from pleased with their new government. An uprising with the help of Persia brought the city-state of Thebes into power for a short time, but they were unable to hold their position. This led to the rise of Macedon as the leading power in Greece. As the one city-state with a king, Philip II, they brought monarchy to the country.
Philip’s son, Alexander the Great, was one of the greatest figures in Greek history. He put a decisive stop to the growing unrest that came after his father’s death and restored order to the kingdom. Once Greece was stable, Alexander conquered Persia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. His empire pushed even further into what is now India, eventually settling in Babylon before his death.
Upon Alexander’s death, the empire was divided among his three generals. This divided land allowed the Roman Empire to take over what is now known as Greece. They gave it the name Achaea, and the people enjoyed 300 years of relative peace, a period known as the Pax Romana. It was during this time that the people became known as Greeks. The Roman educational system and philosophies unified the Hellenistic people and paved the way for a unified country.
In 250 AD, Goths invaded Greece, and Rome’s hold began to crumble, eventually giving place to the Byzantine Empire. This was the same timeframe in which Christianity, through the influence of Paul the Apostle and other missionaries, began to gain a foothold in the land. Under Byzantine Emperor Constantine I, power of the empire shifted from Rome to Constantinople, and this allowed Greece to thrive.
Eventually, the Crusades brought the Franks to Greece. In the fourth Crusade, crusaders attacked Constantinople with the help of the Venetians. Over time, the Venetians gained control of all major ports, eventually destroying the Byzantine Empire.
This allowed the Turks to move in and take control, and starting in 1453, Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire. This reign lasted several hundred years. There were a few skirmishes with Venice, but throughout this time the Ottomans maintained primary control. In 1762, however, that changed when Russia sparked a rebellion in Greece, successfully pushing out the Turks and Venetians. The Russian leader Catherine the Great and her successors ruled the land until the first rumblings of independence grew in 1814 in the town of Odessa. Greece’s official war for independence began in 1821, and fighting continued until 1829, when the Russian Sultan accepted Greek independence.
Since that time, Greece has been an independent country. There have been struggles over boarders and changes in the government, but no major foreign ruling body has taken control since 1829. This rich history filled with numerous cultures makes Greece a unique and interesting place to visit.
- The varying groups who once lived in and ruled Greece created a multi-faceted culture that draws the best from most of these groups.
- Ancient Greek philosophers pioneered much in the subjects of history, philosophy, physics, architecture, geometry and biology. They also created literary forms that still stand today, and their ideal of beauty is still held in high esteem throughout the world.
- The Greek language is one of the oldest in Europe, having been spoken for over 3,000 years.
- Greece has one of the most abundant populations of wildlife, with 240 birds and 116 mammals calling the region home. Half of the mammals that live in Greece are endangered.
- “Greeklish,” a form of the Greek language written with Latin characters, is becoming more prevalent as Greece tries to become a player in the global Internet-based world.
- Greece has over 3,000 islands, about 150 of which are inhabited, with the largest island being Crete.
- Each year, around 16.5 million tourists visit Greece. This is more than the country’s entire population of 10 million. Because of this, the country has more international airports than most other countries.
- In Greece, voting in political elections is required by law once an individual reaches the age of 18.
- Greek mythology brought us many of our phrases and legends. “Taking the bull by the horns,” for example, comes from the story of Hercules seizing the horns of a raging bull to save the city of Crete.
- Mount Olympus – The highest point in Greece and the legendary home of Zeus and the Olympian gods and goddesses, this is a popular stop on any visit.
- Meteora – These monasteries perch above steep rocks and invite spiritual reflection while offering amazing views.
- Rhodes – The most popular city for tourists visiting Greece, this island city, which is the capital of the island by the same name, has been inhabited since the Stone Age.
- The Acropolis – Perhaps no other building points to the architecture and history of ancient Greece as much as this iconic structure, located in Athens.
- Kos – White sand beaches line deep blue water in this coastal location. Biking to the beach is a popular activity here.
- Corfu – Known as the garden island, this vacation paradise is steeped in history and filled with lush vegetation.
- Thessaloniki – This is the city to visit if you want to experience the sophisticated nightlife of Greece.
- Patmos – The island where the apostle John wrote the final book of the Bible has morphed into an artistic paradise with a laid-back culture.
- Delphi – This village sits on the edge of a cliff, and in ancient times it was believed to be the home of the country’s most powerful oracle.
- Hydra – This colorful fishing town allows no motorized transport, with the exception of construction and sanitation vehicles, so you will be transported into a different era where donkeys and mules were the main means of transportation when you visit.
How to Get Cash
- Currency exchanges are easy to find in big cities and tourist areas. These moneychangers accept cash and traveler’s checks, and offer a fair exchange rate.
- Automated money exchange machines can also be found throughout Greece, with several in the Athens airport.
- Dollars and pounds can be exchanged for euros at most major banks. This is affordable only when exchanging larger sums due to the structure of the fees.
- ATM machines can be found almost anywhere in Greece, but many will accept only five digit PIN codes, not four digit.
- Credit cards with major logos are accepted at most retailers. However, local shop owners may ask for a minimum purchase, and may not allow credit cards to be used for discounted items. You can use your credit card at most hotels, travel agencies and stores, but not at many restaurants.
- If you find yourself facing a cash crisis, look for a Western Union or similar service in any major city to have money wired to you.