Official name: Hellenic Republic
Area: 131,940 square kilometers (50,942 square miles)
Highest point on mainland : Mount Olympus (2,917 meters/9,571 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres : Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 772 kilometers (480 miles) from east to west; 940 kilometers (584 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries : 1,210 kilometers (752 miles) total boundary length; Albania 282 kilometers (175 miles); Bulgaria 494 kilometers (307 miles); Turkey 206 kilometers (128 miles); Macedonia 228 kilometers (142 miles)
Coastline: 13,676 kilometers (8,498 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Greece is located at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula in southern Europe. Several seas surround the mainland: the Aegean, Mediterranean, and Ionian Seas. In addition, one-fifth of the country is made up of hundreds of islands, many of them uninhabited, that lie in all three of these bodies of water. With a total area of 131,940 square kilometers (50,942 square miles), Greece is almost as large as the state of Alabama. Greece is divided into fifty-one prefectures.
Greece has no territories or dependencies.
Greece has a temperate Mediterranean climate moderated by both sea and mountain breezes. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are generally cool and rainy. The weather at the higher elevations is colder and wetter. Average January temperatures range from 6°C (43°F) in the northern city of Thessaloníki, to 10°C (50°F) in Athens near the southern end of the mainland peninsula, to 12°C (54°F) at Irâklion on Crete. The average July temperature at sea level is near 27°C (80°F), with the thermometer topping 38°C (100°F) on the hottest days. Rainfall increases from south to north, ranging from 41 centimeters (16 inches) in Athens to about 127 centimeters (50 inches) on the island of Corfu.
The northern part of mainland Greece consists of a long strip of land between the northern shore of the Aegean Sea and the southern borders of Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. The Rhodope Mountains occupy most of this region. The central part of the mainland, corresponding to the bulk of the Greek peninsula, is dominated by the Pindus Mountains, Greece's most extensive mountain range. To the east, between mountain spurs, lie the plains of Thessaly and to the southeast, Boeotia and Attica. To the west lie the regions of Epirus and, farther south, Arkananía. The southern part of the mainland, located south of the Gulf of Corinth, is a large, irregularly shaped peninsula called the Peloponnese. With an area of 21,446 square kilometers (8,278 square miles), it is connected to Attica by an isthmus that is only 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) across at its narrowest point. Although mountainous, it has a narrow coastal plain around its entire periphery.
Greece is bounded on the west by the Ionian Sea, on the south by the Mediterranean, and on the east by the Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean.
Greece has 13,676 kilometers (8,498 miles) of seacoast.
The Corinth Canal cuts through the isthmus connecting the Peloponnese to the rest of the Greek mainland, linking the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf and making the Peloponnese technically an island. Numerous other gulfs and straits separate Greece's islands and peninsulas in the Aegean, Mediterranean, and Ionian Seas.
Greece's major island regions are the Ionian Islands, which hug the western coast from Albania to the Peloponnese; the Aegean Islands, scattered about the sea of the same name; and Crete, which separates the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. The Aegean Islands include the Cyclades, the Northern and Southern Sporades groups, and numerous individual islands. Crete, the site of the first European civilization, is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth-largest Mediterranean island, with an area of 8,308 square kilometers (3,207 square miles).
The coast of the Greek peninsula is mostly rocky, although there are some strips of lowland along the shore. The most distinctive formation along the coast of the Greek mainland is the Chalcidice (Chalkidhiki) Peninsula in northern Greece, from which three narrow, smaller peninsulas jut into the Aegean. The port city of Thessaloníki is located on a natural harbor at the western end of this peninsula. Farther to the east, the Thracian coastline is generally smooth and uniform. The coast of central Greece has deeply indented bays about halfway down its length on both the east and west and is also indented to the south. The coast of the Peloponnese has good harbors and includes some plains areas. At its southern end, cliffs meet the sea on the capes of Akirítas, Matapan, and Maléa.
Lake Korónia and Lake Vólvi mark the northern end of the Chalkidhiki Peninsula. Lake Vistonis in western Thrace, although called a lake, is actually a lagoon. Another major lake is Lake Trichonida near the southern end of the Pindus Mountains.
Greece has relatively few rivers. Those it does have are short, and none are commercially navigable. In the north, the Evros (Maritsa), Néstos, Struma, and Vardar flow across the plains of Thrace and Macedonia and into the northern Aegean Sea. With a total length of 480 kilometers (300 miles), the Evros is the country's longest river. It forms part of Greece's border with Bulgaria in the north as well as its border with Turkey in the east. The rivers of central Greece are the Aliákman, Arakhthos, Akhelóos, Piniós, and Sperkhiós. The Aliákman (320 kilometers/200 miles) is the longest river located entirely in Greece. The major rivers of the Peloponnese are the Alpheus (Alfiós) and Evrótas.
There are no desert regions in Greece.
The most extensive plains in Greece are found at the mouths of the Struma and Nestos Rivers in the northern part of the country and in Thessaly, whose lowlands constitute the country's most fertile farmland. Attica is mountainous in the north but levels off to plains that extend from Athens to the end of the peninsula. Fertile lowlands are also found in the alluvial plains of the Peloponnese.
Greece's terrain is generally rugged, with mountain ranges and their spurs running northwest to southeast through much of the mainland. Altogether, mountains cover four-fifths of Greece. The Rhodope Mountains in northern Greece rise to over 1,800 meters (7,000 feet) in many places. Their highest peak is Mount Órvilos, at 2,212 meters (7,287 feet). The Pindus Mountains, Greece's major mountain range, belong to the Dinaric mountain system that also spans Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Albania. In central Greece, the range is divided into three segments by the Métsovon Pass and, farther south, by Mount Timfristós. Its spurs extend into the eastern part of central Greece, separated by structural depressions. The mountain spur north of Thessaly is home to Greece's highest peak, the legendary Mount Olympus, mythic home of the Greek gods. The Pindus range extends southeastward through the mainland peninsula to the Gulf of Corinth, where Mount Parnassus is located. A series of ridges extending southward into the Peloponnese give the peninsula its distinctive "four-fingered" shape.
An extensive system of caves runs southward to the sea at the Gulf of Laconia under the southern part of the Peloponnese region. The caves include an underground river, accessible to tourists by guided boat since 1963. The caves are filled with extensive stalactite and stalagmite deposits. The first documented exploration of the caves was in 1895, when spelunkers found evidence of human bones and prehistoric fossils.
There are no major plateau regions in Greece.
With a height of 160 meters (525 feet), the Kremasta Dam on the Achelos River is the tallest dam in Europe.
To explain their barren, rocky landscape, the Greeks adopted the legend that the gods poured the world's soil through a sieve and created Greece from the rocks that remained.
Greece: Athens and the Mainland . New York: DK Publishing, 1997.
The Thomas Cook Guide to Greek Island Hopping. Peterborough, United Kingdom: Thomas Cook, 1998.
Van Dyck, Karen, ed. Greece. Insight Guides. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.