GREECE, Hellas, officially known as the "Hellenic Republic" is the southeastern most country in Europe, occupying the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is bordered by Albania, X-Yugoslavia (the Republic of Skopje) and Bulgaria from the north, and the European part of Turkey from the northeast. From the east by the Aegean Sea, from the south by the Mediterranean Sea, and from the west the Ionian Sea, including more than 400 islands, which occupy more than one fifth of its total land territory the total area of the country is 131,957 square kilometers (50,949 square miles).
The mainland portion of Greece comprises the regions of Thraki and Macedonia in the north; Epirus, Thessaly, and Central Greece in the central section; and in the south Peloponnisos, a peninsula which is connected to the rest of the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth. The remainder of Greece consists of more than 400 islands, (only 149 are inhabited.) These are Evia, Crete, or Kriti, the Northern Sporades, the Cyclades, the Dodecanisa, Chios, Limnos, Lesvos, Samos, Samothraki, and Thassos, all of which are spread out in the Aegean Sea. In the west, the Ionian Sea, is where the Eptanisa are found, a group of seven inhabited major islands and three small uninhabited ones.
The coastal waters of the country are relatively shallow and penetrate far inland. Despite its indented coastline, Greece has fine natural harbors, namely its main harbor of Piraeus, the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea, after Marseilles in France. Piraeus is considered an excellent harbor in the East Mediterranean waters.
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Land and Resources

Greece is famous for its natural beauty. The land is mountainous and rugged, but Greece is relatively poor in natural resources. Although a small country, Greece has a very diverse topography. The most important divisions of the country are the central mountains; the damp, mountainous regions in the west; the dry, sunny plains and lower mountain ranges in eastern Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thraki; Central Greece, the southeastern "point" (peninsula) of the mainland that cradled the city-states of the country, the mountainous regions of Peloponnisos; and the islands, most of which are in the Aegean Sea.
The central mountain area, the Pindus Mountains, which extends from a northern to a southern direction, is one of the most rugged, isolated, and sparsely populated parts of the country. Mount Olympus (2,917m/9,570ft), Greece's highest peak, was considered in ancient times to be home to the 12 gods. Its western slopes, which extend through Epirus down to the Ionian Sea, are lower and more hospitable. The southeastern extremity of Central Greece, Attica, is broken into many isolated valleys and plains by mountain ridges, where the Athenian Plain, with Athens in the center, is located. Thessaly, a plain ringed by mountains, is one of the most fertile parts of the country. Macedonia has the largest plains in Greece. Thraki, east of Macedonia, has a varied topography of mountains, valleys and several coastal plains. Peloponnisos, is mountainous, but to a lesser degree than Central Greece. It is shaped like a giant hand with impassable mountain ridges extending like fingers into the sea. Between the mountains are narrow valleys, which are isolated from one another, but which open onto the water. The western section of Peloponnisos is less mountainous than its eastern parts. The islands of the Aegean Sea are generally high, rugged, stony and dry, and consequently their contribution to economic life of the country is limited. They are important however, because of their great beauty, historical importance, potential for tourism and strategic military value.

Climate

The climate of Greece is similar to that of other Mediterranean regions. In the lowlands the summers are hot and dry, with clear, cloudless skies. The winters are relatively mild, but rainy. The mountainous regions are much cooler, with considerable rain during the summer months. Frost, sleet, ice, or snow are rare in the lowlands, but most mountains are covered with snow in the winter. Precipitation varies from region to region. For example, in Thessaly less than 38mm (1.5in) of rain falls in some years, whereas parts of the western coast receive about 1,270mm (50in). The mean annual temperature in Athens is about 17° C (63° F); the extremes range from a normal low of -0.6° C (31° F) in January to a normal high of 37.2° C (99° F) in July and at times higher in August.

Natural Resources

Greece is poorly endowed with natural resources of high economic value. Only 23% of the land is arable, while the rest consists mostly of barren mountains. Forests, probably abundant in ancient times, have to a great extent been depleted. Subsequent soil erosion has made reforestation difficult. Greece has little black coal, and its lignite is of poor quality. On the other hand, the country does have significant petroleum and natural gas deposits, located under the Aegean Sea, near the island of Thassos. The deposits of bauxite and iron ore are rich in metal content, but the reserves of other commercially important minerals, such as chromium, nickel, copper, uranium, and magnesium, are relatively small. Although the waters surrounding the country are inhabited by a large variety of fish, only a few species are plentiful.

Environmental Problems

Rapid industrialization in Greece during the 1970s has resulted in heavy pollution. Especially air pollution, a serious environmental problem in Athens, where the government called 19 air pollution emergencies between 1982 and 1989. In addition to causing respiratory problems, the smog erodes marble and other stone and has pocked and discolored many of the country's priceless monuments and statues. Pollution monitoring stations have been installed throughout metropolitan Athens and in numerous other Greek cities. Recent efforts have reduced air pollution from heating and industry. Although motor vehicles must comply with emission standards, automobile exhaust, particularly from diesel-powered vehicles, is still a major pollution agent. Water pollution is also a problem, especially in the gulfs of Saronikos and Thermaikos, where untreated industrial wastes, sewage, and municipal wastewater are discharged.

Plants and Animals

Greece has a great diversity of vegetation. From sea level to an elevation of about 460m (1,500ft), olives, oranges, dates, pomegranates, figs, cotton, and tobacco are grown. From about 120 to 460m (400 to 1,500ft) deciduous and evergreen forests are found, where oak, black pine, chestnut, beech, and sumac grow. Tulips, hyacinths, and laurel are also characteristic of the area. Firs and such wild flowers as anemone and cyclamen are found above 1,220m (4,000ft), and mosses and lichens predominate above 1,525m (5,000ft).

Wildlife includes boar, European black bear, lynx, jackal, chamois, deer, fox, badger, and weasel. Among the birds are the hawk, pelican, egret, pheasant, partridge, nightingale, turtledove, and stork.

Soils

The soils in Greece is mostly very rocky and very dry, but the country is interspersed with small valleys where the soils are of the rich Mediterranean terra rosa, or red earth, variety.

Population

The population of Greece is about 98% ethnic Greek. About 1% of the population is classified by the Greek Government as Muslim. Most of the Muslims are of Turkish descent. About 100,000 Muslims live in Thrace. The remainder of the population includes people of Slavic, Albanian, and Armenian descent, as well as Vlachs, a people who speak a Romanian dialect.

Population Characteristics

The population of Greece at the 1994 census was 10,264,156. The estimated population in 1997 was 10,564,630, giving the country an overall population density of about 80 persons per square kilometer (207 per square mile). The population of Greece is very large in relation to the size and economic capacity of the country, and poverty exists. Both the birthrate (formerly one of the highest in Europe) and the death rate have declined in recent years, and in the mid 1990s the annual rate of population growth was less than 1%. About 63% of the population is urban. Much of the urban population is concentrated around Athens, Thessaloniki (Salonika) in Macedonia, in the western Peloponnisos, and on the islands. Kerkira (Corfu), Zakinthos, and Khios are among the most densely populated islands. Famous ancient cities such as Argos, Korinthos (Corinth), and Sparti (Sparta) are only small towns today.

Political Divisions

Under a reorganization plan introduced in 1987, Greece is divided for administrated purposes into 13 regions (diamerismata), which are subdivided into departments (nomous). The 13 regions, with their populations according to the 1994 census, are Northern Aegean (198,241), Southern Aegean (257,522), Attica (3,522,769), Crete (536,980), Epirus (339,210), Central Greece (578,876), Western Greece (655,262), Ionian Islands (191,003), Eastern Macedonia and Threce (570,261), Central Macedonia (1,737,623), Western Macedonia (292,751), Peloponnisos (605,663), and Thessaly (731,230). The 1975 constitution recognizes Mount Athos (1,472), located on the Khalkidiki Peninsula in Macedonia, as an autonomous district. Mount Athos is the site of many well-known monasteries and has a monastic administration.

Municipalities, or dimi (cities that have more than 100,000 inhabitants), are administered by a mayor and a city council, and communities that have 300 to 10,000 inhabitants by a president and a community council.

Principal Cities

The largest and most important city is Athens, the capital, with a population of 748,110. Piraeus, seaport of Athens, is the largest port of Greece (second largest in the Mediterranean Sea after Marseilles in France) with a population of 169,622. Thessaloniki, (sometimes referred to as the co-capital) with a population of 377,951, is a seaport and an important textile center. Patra, located on the northwestern part of Peloponnisos, is a major seaport with 155,180 inhabitants. Other sizable cities are Heraclion, Crete (117,167) and Larisa (113,426).

Religion

About 98% of the Greek people are followers of the Christian Orthodox Church of Greece. Although similar to the Eastern Orthodox religion of several eastern European nations, the Greek Orthodox religion is different in many ways as well. The remaining 2% of the population includes Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.

Language

The official language of Greece is Modern Greek, which is also spoken by the majority of the people. The vernacular Modern Greek and language of popular literature is Demotiki or Kathomiloumeni, as opposed to Katharevousa, a more formal Modern Greek or Purist Greek. Demotiki became the official language of the country by an act of parliament in 1976. It is used by the government, the newspapers, the media, and educational institutions. Great differences exist between the language of the educated classes and that used by the majority of the people. English and French are widely spoken (see Fact Page ).



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