15 Interesting Facts About Greece You May Not Know
Greece is one of the most popular tourist destinations around the world. In fact, this summer is expected to break records for the number of tourists visiting the country! From the stunning Greek island views, ancient history and civilization, and delicious food, it is surely a destination that should be on everyone's bucket list.
With nearly 40% of Greek people living in Athens, it is the capital and heart of Greece. Athens is a dynamic and vibrant city that lands on the top 10 European Best Destinations list every year. Whether or not you have travel plans for Athens or generally Greece, here are 15 interesting facts about Greece and Greek culture you might not know!
1. The Acropolis of Athens was a runner-up for the New 7 Wonders of the World
Acropolis means “high city” in Greek. There are many in Greece, but the one in Athens is the most famous one and is situated high above the city, surrounded by stone walls which protect the ancient city from attacks. Acropolis was a runner up for the New 7 Wonders of the World but unfortunately did not make the cut when the winners were announced in 2007. Because Acropolis has been destroyed through the years by occupying forces and natural disasters, Athens has made significant efforts towards its restoration. Many historical objects were moved to the new Acropolis Museum that opened in 2007 to prevent further damage. In 1987, the Acropolis was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. A female is the “patron of Athens” and also the head of warfare and strategy
According to Greek mythology, the goddess of warfare, strategy, and wisdom is Athena. She was deemed the honor of being the patron of the city after she won over the people with her offering of an olive tree and beat Poseidon’s offering of water. Interested in learning more about this story? Then, you could join our “Boudoir of the Gods” mythological tour!
It’s interesting how a female is depicted as a goddess of warfare. She doesn’t have the stereotypical narrative of a female and is never featured in romantic stories that would feminize her. It is said that Zeus, her father, represented the violence, savagery, and gore that is associated with war. Athena on the other hand represents the strategy, justice, and discipline of war.
3. Democracy originated in Greece
The concept of democracy originated in Athens, where the Greek word demokratia (δημοκρατία) meant “people-power”. Other common political terms such as monarchy, aristrocracy, and tyranny are also borrowed from the ancient Greeks. In Athenian democracy, citizens voted directly on legislation and bills and the election was done exclusively by the male citizens. They even had the power to exile politicians for 10 years!
4. Zappeion was built specifically for the revival of the modern Olympic Games
Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games, which were meant to be played in honor of Zeus, God of the sky and leader of the Greek gods. While that might be common knowledge, a lesser known fact is the story of Evangelis Zappas. He is the man behind the Zappeion, a building in central Athens that was built specifically for the revival of the modern Olympic Games, the first of which were held in Athens square in 1859.
Zappas was a businessman, adamant about restoring the ancient games and eventually managed to convince the state to establish a fund for the Olympics that lead to their revival. Unfortunately, Zappas died in 1865, well before the Zappeion was finished being constructed in 1888.
5. A significant amount of the Parthenon marble sculptures are kept abroad
When you are in the Acropolis Museum, you might wonder why one of the six Caryatids (sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support) is missing. In 1801 during the Ottoman Empire, Thomas Bruce (Lord Elgin), removed about half of the Parthenon marble sculptures, including one of the Caryatids, and sold them to British government. In 2017, Greece threatened legal action against the British government for hoarding alleged stolen property from the Parthenon and hired Amal Clooney to represent them.
As of now, the Greek government has dropped the legal battle against the UK, but the Acropolis Museum of Athens still includes a designated space to house the marbles should they return. Interestingly, even the Brits are in favor of Greece and a number of politicians and celebrities have spoken out about the issue. Only 23% of British respondents to a 2014 YouGov poll believed that the UK should keep the Parthenon marbles.
6. The evil eye is a common superstition
When visiting Athens, you will most likely notice jewelry and other ornaments in the shape of a big blue eye. The “evil eye” or "mati" in Greek, is the most common superstition or belief in Greece. It is believed that an envious or angry person can cast a curse on you, resulting in a string of bad luck. Wearing blue eye charms or blue beads can ward away the “evil eye”.
7. Greeks tend to smoke inside restaurants, despite the current anti-smoking law
According to the European Commission for World No Tobacco Day, Greece is the EU’s heaviest smoking country with 37% of Greeks who smoke. France and Bulgaria were tied in second place, both with a 36 percent smoking rate, then Croatia at 35 percent. Smoking indoors is actually banned in indoor public spaces in Athens, but it’s still the norm for people to smoke inside. Despite the fact that the law against smoking in public places was passed 10 years ago, it seems like Greece is not close to implementing it.
8. The island of Ikaria is one of the five “blue zones” with one of the longest life spans in the world
Ikaria looks similar to any number of other Greek islands, but there is one vital difference: people there live much longer. Around 30% live well into their 90s, which is on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America. They also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age and remain physically active deep into their 90s. There is no surefire explanation for this, but it is believed that it can be attributed to their low-calorie diet consisting of a lot of beans and locally grown greens containing antioxidants.
9. Name days are just as widely celebrated as birthdays
Many common Greek names are derived from religious saints; for instance, Constantinos (or variations such as Costas and Dinos) and Helen (Ellen, Eleni, Lena). They are wished a happy name day by their family and friends on the days that the saint is celebrated in the church. For a lot of people in Greece, this is just as big of an occasion or even more so than their birthday!
10. Greek Coffee is brewed differently and contains three parts
Greek Coffee (similar to turkish coffee) is made with a fine grind of coffee that is boiled in a tall, narrow pot known as a briki, cezve or an ibrik. The three main parts to Greek coffee include the grounds, the thick and strong liquid coffee middle and creamy foam to top it off. It's meant to be sipped slowly with grounds remaining in the cup as they settle to the bottom.
Want to know more about the Greek coffee's history and try one while enjoying the most amazing view? Then, join our "Get a Taste of Athens" food tour for the ultimate Greek cuisine experience!
Greeks also love iced coffee, which can come in variations such as a freddo cappuccino, freddo espresso, and the ever-popular frappe. Additionally, if you visit Greece, you’ll notice that coffee is normally served with cold water and accompanied with sweets.
11. The national drink of Greece is ouzo
Ouzo is an alcoholic beverage which comes with anise flavor and is traditionally consumed before a meal to stimulate appetite. Another drink you should try while in Greece is the rakomelo, a hot mixture of the alcohol beverage raki with honey. It can be quite strong of a drink on its own so as always, consume responsibly!
12. The palm trees around the National Gardens were brought in by Queen Amalia
Taking a stroll around the National Gardens, you’ll notice the beautiful palm trees surrounding the area. Palm trees are not native to Athens but were actually planted by Greece’s Queen Amalia, who was married to King Otto (1833 to 1862). The Queen oversaw the design of the garden, originally called the Royal Gardens. She adored palm trees and as many as 15,000 plants were shipped from Italy. Many of the species planted at the time are still alive today!
13. You’ll find a bakery in practically every corner in Greece
Bakeries in Greece bake fresh Greek sweets and savory items that you could grab on the go. For breakfast consider munching on a koulouri, a large bagel like bread that can be eaten on its own or with cream cheese. You can show off your koulouri and capture it with an instant camera during our "Athens Instant Photo" tour. You’ll also want to test out some typical Greek snacks and pastries like the different varieties of pita (try the famous cheese, spinach, or chicken ones). Also check out the bougatsa, made with the most creamy custard wrapped in golden brown crispy phyllo and the famous loukoumades (deep-fried dough, traditionally topped with honey and nuts).
14. Athens has 90 stunning open air cinemas for the summer
Get some fresh air and relax while watching a film under the stars at one of the 90 seasonal outdoor cinemas in Athens. Usually situated on rooftops, enclosed courtyards, and terraces, the films are usually in their original language with Greek subtitles. At around just 6-10 Euros, some of the best places to visit include Cine Thisseion which was built in 1935 and Cine Paris located on a roof garden in Plaka.
15. Greece has more varieties of olives than any other country in the world
Greece is the world's largest producer of black olives and has more varieties of olives than any other country. The most prized Greek olive variety are tiny olives called Koroneiki. Crete and the Peloponnese peninsula are famous for producing these olives. Despite their small size, they are packed with high quality oil. When green, they’re used for table olives and when black and ripe, they're usually harvested for making olive oil of the finest quality.
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Which facts did you find more interesting and which ones you already knew? Let us know by commenting below!
Words: Prachi Oza