Greece’s rich history begins with the epic poet Homer’s accounts of gods and heroes, which were recorded some 800 years before the birth of Christ. Greek civilization actually dates to roughly five centuries before Homer’s time.
As the birthplace of democracy and because of its stunning contributions to the arts and sciences, Greece is often called the cradle of western civilization.
Greece is located on the southernmost section of the Balkan Peninsula, and it is comprised of the mainland and roughly 1,400 islands sprinkled throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Athens is the capital, a city that ruled the sea 2,500 years ago. More than a quarter of Greece’s roughly 11 million citizens live in metropolitan Athens today.
Greece has been a parliamentary republic since 1975 and is a member of the European Union. The nation’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Greece is the home to such world landmarks as the Parthenon in Athens; the original site of the Olympic games; and the ancient oracle Delphi in the mountains of central Greece.
Visitors also flock to the country’s sandy beaches and the trendy celebrity haunts of the islands. The government’s tourism office estimated that 33 million tourists visited the country in 2018, a new record.
Keeping to its ancient maritime roots, Greece also is a world leader in the shipping industry. Greece’s merchant shipping fleet is the most valuable in the world at nearly $100 billion, according to Vessels Value, an international valuation company.
Economically, however, Greece has recently suffered through hard times brought on by years of overspending and widespread tax evasion that created a debt crisis. The economy spiraled after the 2009 global recession. Since 2010, Greece has had to negotiate three multibillion-dollar bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and European Union to service its creditors and keep its banking system afloat.
Greece’s unemployment rate remained among the highest in Europe last year, Trading Economics reported. Unemployment reached a high of 27.9 percent in July 2013 and stood at 18.6 percent as of this past October, the National Statistical Service of Greece reported.
The Greek parliament has been controlled since 2015 by a far-left coalition led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. His government has presided over a program of spending austerity to address the deficit. These measures prompted the layoffs of thousands of public servants, tax reform and budget cuts.
Greece’s gross domestic product growth has perked up since 2017 and grew at an annualized pace of 2.2 percent this past third quarter. Tsipras told The Guardian newspaper in 2017 that “the worst is clearly behind us.”