Greece occupies a special place in the history of the world. This small country is the birthplace of Western civilization, and innovations ranging from philosophy to mathematics, literature, and democracy have roots here. Today Greece is a developed country and a member of the European Union with a strong economy and high standard of living.
Greece’s cultural heritage extends back over 3,000 years, when the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations arose on the mainland and surrounding islands. The Classical civilization that developed later was renowned in ancient times for its intellectual and artistic achievements, so much so that even its Roman conquerors acknowledged its heavy influence on their own culture: as Horace writes, “Conquered Greece conquered her untamed conquerors, and brought the arts to rustic Latium.” In the Middle Ages it formed part of the Byzantine Empire, and was later annexed by the Ottoman Turks.
The modern nation-state of Greece gained its independence from Turkey in the early 1800s. The next two centuries were marked by periods of political turmoil, but also economic development; in particular, Greek GDP growth averaged 7% each year between 1950 and 1973, and was second only to Japan’s during that period. Nowadays it is a politically stable and economically successful country. Services, especially tourism, constitute the most important sector of the economy, and millions of tourists flock to Greece each year to admire the country’s archaeological treasures, or simply to soak up the sun on one of its many beaches and enjoy the lively Athenian party scene. Shipping is also an important and long-standing economic activity, evidenced by the country’s huge merchant marine fleet, the world’s largest. Science, technology, and construction are growing rapidly in Greece as well.
The majority of immigrants to Greece come from the Balkan countries to the north, attracted by higher wages and plentiful work; however, there is also a sizeable community of expatriates from the US and Northern Europe who arrive to enjoy the country’s warm, sunny weather and easy-going atmosphere. Most immigrants cluster in Athens, Thessaloniki, or other large cities, which offer a blend of local culture and modern amenities. EU, EFTA, and Cypriot nationals enjoy privileged residency status in Greece, and entry requirements in general are fairly relaxed, due to the country’s high reliance on tourism.
The Greek language contains a wealth of literature due to its long history; Standard Greek, the official dialect in Greece, closely resembles Ancient Greek, although in simplified form. Its unique alphabet and relatively low incidence of loan words may make it a challenge for non-native speakers, so starting your studies before leaving for Greece is highly advisable. Several dialects, often descendants of other ancient varieties of Greek, are spoken throughout the country, and there are quite a few minority languages as well; some of these, including Aromanian and Arvanitika, are found only in Greece.