You’d Better Believe it: Fascinating Facts about Greece



The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Everyone knows that Greece is the cradle of Western Civilization, the birthplace of democracy, that it has a stunningly beautiful coastline, and that our Independence Day is March 25th. However, there are some facts that very few people are aware of.

There may be some things about Greece and its history that even many Greeks don’t know. Why not take this opportunity to brush up on some interesting facts and factoids about this most fascinating country before you travel there for an idyllic vacation this summer.

For instance —

  • There are about 2,000 islands and islets in Greece, but only 170 of them are inhabited. The largest, Crete, has an area of ​​8,260 square kilometers.
  • Greece is the number one country in the world in the natural sponge trade.
  • Athens had a population of about 7,000 only two centuries ago. Today the capital’s residents exceed five million, almost half of the country’s population.
  • Surrounded by the sea, there is no place in Greece that is more than 137 km (85 miles) away from the sea. Greece has the tenth-longest coastline in the world.
  • Greece’s merchant fleet accounts for 70 percent of all European ships. Domestic law requires 75 percent of a ship’s crew to have Greek citizenship.
  • Last year, Greece welcomed over 30 million visitors — almost three times its own population of 11 million.
  • Approximately 7 percent of all the marble quarried on the planet comes from Greece.
  • In the 1950s, only 30 percent of Greeks knew how to read and write. Today, the illiteracy rate is just 5 percent.
  • Greece ranks third in the world in olive oil production. The cultivation of olive trees in the country began in ancient times. Indeed, some olive trees which are known to have been planted in the thirteenth century still produce fruit.
  • Even though Greece is surrounded by the sea, 80 percent of the country is mountainous. The country does not have even one navigable river because of its particular geomorphology.
  • Over twelve million people in the world speak Greek. There are ten million Greek residents, about one million Cypriots, and another million Diaspora Greeks, mainly in the US, Australia and in the countries of the EU.
  • The Greek language has been spoken for approximately 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest languages ​​in the world.
  • Athens has been inhabited for 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe.
  • On average, Greeks enjoy 250 days of sunshine a year. This corresponds to 6,000 hours of sun per year.
  • Life expectancy in ancient Greece was only 36 years for women and 45 years for men. Of the children who were born in those times, only one half managed to survive infancy.
  • Today, life expectancy has reached 77 years for men and 82 for Greek women. Greece ranks 26th in the world among countries with the highest life expectancy.
  • Greece has more archaeological museums than any other country in the world — which is only natural considering the age of its civilization.
  • About 100,000 birds from northern Europe and Asia spend the winter in Greece.
  • Slaves in ancient Greece accounted for 40-80 percent of the population of city-states. They were mainly prisoners of war, abandoned children or the children of slaves.
  • Wildlife in Greece includes 116 species of mammals, 18 amphibians, 59 species of reptiles, 240 species of birds and 107 species of fish. However, about half the mammalian species are now in danger of extinction.
  • Government corruption cost the country approximately 800 million euros in 2009 alone.
  • Eons ago in geological time, Greece was a rocky mass, covered completely by seawater.  Its mountainous area was formed after the collision of its tectonic plate with Europe, and even today the earthquakes in the Aegean are related to the movements of its particular plate within the lithosphere.