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Greece Information - Page 2
The earliest human remains found in Greece are those of Neanderthal man. At around 6000 BC there were communities of Neolithic farmers. By 2000 BC Crete, benefiting from its position on maritime trade routes, was the dominant power. The palaces at Knossos and other Minoan (named after King Minos) sites were elegant, properly plumbed buildings with beautiful wall paintings.

Minoan rule collapsed around 1400 BC, perhaps triggered by earthquakes and the great explosion of Santorini. Mycenae in the Peloponnese became the next dominant power.

This period is said to be that of the Trojan War in which Agamemnon of Mycenae and Menelaus of Sparta led the Greek armies to besiege, and destroy, the city of Troy in Asia Minor.

The fall of Mycenae and the other kingdoms came with the arrival of the Dorians from the north. By around 800 BC Greece had settled into a patchwork of states based on major cities: Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Corinth among them. Emigration, caused by rising populations and lack of resources, led to the establishment of Greek cities along the coast of Asia, in Sicily and Italy and as far away as Spain.

The Asian cities had fallen under the control of the Persian Empire, but rebelled in 499. To punish the mainland Greeks the Persians invaded in 490 but were defeated by the Athenians at Marathon (the marathon race recalls the distance run from the battle to Athens with news of the victory). In 480 the Persians returned but were beaten again, though Athens was burned.

From 431-404 Athens and Sparta fought for supremacy (Peloponnesian War). Weakened by the war the city states were unable to resist Philip of Macedon who defeated the Greek armies in 338.

Under Philip's son, Alexander, the Greeks invaded and conquered Persia, taking Egypt and marching as far as India before Alexander's death in 323.

Rome, the next great power in the Mediterranean, eventually conquered Greece in 146 BC.

In 330 AD the Roman emperor Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium - a Greek city. The Eastern Empire remained in place despite the fall of Rome and Greece remained a Byzantine possession (though parts were conquered by the Normans).

Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1485 and Greece came under Ottoman rule.

As the Turkish Empire weakened in the nineteenth century the Greeks began to fight for their independence, supported by many Europeans, among them Lord Byron. In 1830 independence was declared. The Balkan Wars (1912-13) finally drove the Turks from Europe.

Greece fought on the side of the Allies in World War I and was allocated a large portion of western Asia Minor in the division of the Turkish Empire. But a revived Turkish army, under Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) defeated the Greeks in 1922 and drove them out.

On October 28 1940 Mussolini, the Italian leader, who had invaded Albania, demanded passage through Greece. The Greeks replied "No". No Day (Okhi Day) is now a national holiday. The Italians were driven back through Albania, but in 1941 the Germans invaded and the country was occupied.

Guerilla groups fought the occupying forces and when the war ended a Civil War began, lasting until 1950. Political unrest continued through the fifties and sixties. In 1967 a group of Colonels seized power and remained in control until 1975. Their attempt to unite Cyprus with Greece led to a Turkish invasion of the island. The army then mutinied, deposing the Junta and Greece returned to civilian rule. A referendum was held to decide the future of the monarchy and a majority voted for its abolition.

The Greek economy has traditionally had an agricultural base but today agriculture contributes a relatively small percentage to the Gross Domestic Product. Crops include corn, barley, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, grapes, peaches, citrus, figs, pomegranates, cotton, tobacco, beef, dairy producst and wine. The resources of the sea are important, not only fish but also sponges - many Greek sponge divers emigrated to Florida to start a sponge industry there.

The most important mineral deposits are the petroleum and gas fields in the Aegean Sea and bauxite and iron ore on the mainland. Other resources are lead, lignite, magnesite, marble, nickel, zinc and salt.

Manufacturing industries include food processing, textiles, chemicals and metal goods.

The services sector accounts for the largest percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. Earnings from merchant shipping play an important role in the economy. Tourism is the major earner of foreign currency: Greece's climate and coastline as well as its history and architecture attract many tourists every year.

Examples of early Greek art include jewellery dating back to Prehistoric times and Bronze Age artifacts. Among other items, clay vases with their decorations of chariots and horses and scenes from Greek life and mythology are a source of information about the Ancient World. In fact, remains of Greek pottery provide us with evidence of Greek migration - the colonial times of Magna Graecia.

Classical Greek sculpture has been admired for centuries especially the representation of materials gracefully draped over figures. An example of this is the sculpture of the goddess of Victory, Nike.

Ancient Greek literature is still read today. The epic poems of the Trojan War: The Iliad and The Odyssey and the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides played an important part in the establishment of Western literature. The tragedies of Aeschlus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes are classics of the theatre.

The most widely known modern Greek writers are the poets Cavafy and Seferis (a Nobel prize winner) and the novelist Kazantzakis (Christ Recrucified, Zorba the Greek).

The oldest music still in day to day use in Greece are the religious chants of Byzantine origins. Popular Greek music shows a very heavy Eastern influence. The bouzouki is the instrument most people think of in connection with Greek music.

As with most countries, football is the most popular sport. Basketball also has a large following. The Greek coastline and Mediterranean climate attract many water sports enthusiasts for sailing, windsurfing, water skiing and scuba-diving. The country's main contribution to sport has, of course, been the establishment of the Olympic games and the main athletics' disciplines such as discus, javelin, long jump and footraces. The first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in Athens in 1896.

In 2004 Greece won the European Football Cup and the Olympic Games were hosted in Athens.

The Greek Orthodox calendar contains many saints days. The main religious festival is Easter; Christmas New Year's Day, Independence Day and May Day are also major celebrations. There are many cultural and arts festivals. October 28th is the main patriotic holiday: Okhi (No) Day, when Greece refused to surrender to Mussolini's invasion.

News from Greece is available from Newslink.

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