Greece is a south-eastern European country, located at the very tip of the Balkan peninsula. The country is bordered by Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Greek mainland also borders three seas: the Aegean, Ionian, and Mediterranean seas. Greece has a pleasant Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The climate does differ somewhat between north and south Greece, with cooler winters in the north and milder winter weather in the south. In the summer, temperatures average 30 to 35 degrees Celsius with peaks of 40 degrees. In the winter, temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celsius.
With its long history and integral role in the development of democracy, Western philosophy, political science, mathematics, and Western drama, Greece is widely considered to be the birthplace of Western civilization. Famous Greeks in history include the philosophers Aristotle and Socrates, the poets Sappho and Homer, and the doctor Hippocrates.
Greece, of course, is also famous as the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The very first Olympics to appear in written records were held in Greece in 776 BCE, and were dedicated to the gods of Olympia. According to the ancient records, the 776 Games had just one event—a 192-metre race—which was won by a cook named Coroebus.
Greece is one of the oldest countries in the world, with evidence of human habitation dating back to 270,000 BCE. The oldest Neolithic settlements in Europe, which are more than 9,000 years old, were also found in Greece.
By the 8th century BC Greek-speakers had settled in many other Mediterranean countries, and by the 5th century BC the Greek City-States of Athens, Sparta, and others were well-established. For several centuries early in the common era, Greece was part of the Roman Empire, but after the collapse of the empire, Greece fell under Byzantine rule. After several centuries, the fall of the Byzantine Empire paved the way for 400 years of Ottoman control. When that empire, too, fell into decline, Greece finally declared independence in 1821. Formerly a monarchy, Greece became a democratic republic in 1975.
The flora and fauna of Greece is abundant and diverse. Of the more than 6,000 plants known to exist in Greece, more than 700 are found here and nowhere else. There are more than 50,000 species of animal, too, and around 25% of these are endemic to the country. And, because there are more than 10,000 caves of all sizes in Greece, it’s believed that there are many more species yet to be discovered. Unique animal species include several rodent and fish species, as well as lizards and amphibians.
The island of Crete is particularly noteworthy for its unique plants: the tiny Dittany plant, a low-lying shrub with small pink flowers. The plant is named for Dikti mountain, the birthplace of Zeus according to Greek mythology. Another fascinating species found only on Crete is the Cretan Plane Tree, a very large evergreen. One tree in particular, the Plane Tree of Gortys, is said to be a trysting place for Zeus and Europa.
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