To celebrate THINK Global School’s 2015 term in Athens, Greece, we’ve compiled seven interesting facts about this fascinating country. We really enjoyed our three months living and learning in Greece, and hope you find these facts useful!
Fact #1: Some of Greece’s olive trees are over 3,000 years old
Personally, I marvel at the massive 300 year old trees in my neighborhood, but compared to Greece’s 2,000 year old olive trees, they are still babies! Olive trees are known for their durability and ability to survive in harsh conditions, but Greece’s pleasant Mediterranean climate means that they are able to flourish for centuries upon centuries. The olive tree of Vouves is considered to be the oldest tree in Greece, with scientific estimates placing it at over 3,000 years old. After all that time, it is still producing olives today!
The olive tree of Vouves. Image courtesy of Top Ten Z Pictures
Fact #2: Greece would really like the ‘Elgin marbles’ back, Britain..
You’ve probably heard of the Parthenon, right? It’s that kinda famous temple that was built back in 438 BC. Well, not surprisingly, the Parthenon was home to some of Athens’ most exquisite sculptures and pieces of art. This was not lost on Thomas Bruce of Elgin, a Scottish nobleman and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who visited Athens in 1800. After visiting the Parthenon and seeing its sculptures, Bruce thought to himself “oh, I like those” and promptly commissioned artists of his own to recreate the sculptures for display at his home in Scotland. Bruce quickly found that recreating the sculptures wasn’t nearly as easy as just taking the originals, so he obtained a permit from Athens’s Ottoman rulers and carted off roughly half of the sculptures back to Scotland over the next four years.
Around 1816, Bruce found himself struggling with the burden of debt and in a position where he needed to sell the marbles, and fast. He bequeathed them to London’s British Museum in exchange for £35,000, where they remain today. Despite Greece’s best efforts to have the sculptures returned (they really aren’t happy about it — citing Bruce obtained them illegally), the British Museum isn’t budging, as the exhibit is one of, if not the most, visited annually. It’s a hotly contested debate that isn’t likely to end any time soon.
Learn more about the history of the Elgin Marbles in this great video by YouTube user Archaesoup Productions:
Fact #3: All the world’s a stage, well..at least a good portion of Athens is
Before television, Netflix, smartphones, and all of the other wonderful bits of technology that keep us endlessly entertained, there was the theater. And do you know where theater originated? If you guessed Athens, Greece, in the 5th Century BC, you would be correct! The ancient Greeks were fairly consumed with honoring their gods, and Dionysus, the god of winemaking, revelry, and fertility, was the first to be honored on the stage. The tragedy and comedy both emerged during this time and are still very popular to this day.
You can still visit many of Greece’s ancient theaters, including the Theater of Dionysus, which is believed to be the oldest theater in the world.
Also, theater is still alive and well in Athens, as the city boasts more stages than any other city in Europe (our count is 148). So if acting is your thing and you want to take the world by storm, pay a visit to where it all began — Greece!
The Theater of Dionysus
Fact #4: Greece is great for birdwatching
It’s not just tourists and Greece’s inhabitants that love the mild and sunny weather: many migratory birds stop off in Greece to rest on their way down to Africa (many have a long way to go, flying all the way to South Africa!) What really benefits Greece, though, is its diversity of terrain. There’s a little something for every bird, whether they like wading in Lake Kerkini, camping out in the hills of Dadia Forest, or basking in the coastal waters of the Aegean Sea. In total, you have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of 442 different species of bird in Greece. Not bad at all seeing as the United States has 914 species, and Greece is only the size of Alabama!
Fact #5: The sunken city of Atlantis might be located here
The mythical lost island city of Atlantis is as popular a bit of folklore as any: Disney created a major motion picture about the sunken civilization in 2001 and a popular luxurious Caribbean resort uses its name to great effect.
But is Atlantis real? The story of Atlantis originated in Timaeus and Critias, dialogues written by Plato in the years leading up to his death in 348 BC. Plato tells of a massive, highly advanced island located in the Atlantic Ocean, whose people are descended directly from Poseidon. Over time, as the civilization faltered, it eventually found itself at war with Athens, a war it would lose and one that would bring about its cataclysmic destruction. Atlantis sank to the bottom of the ocean, its civilization wiped out.
People have debated about the existence of Atlantis for hundreds of years, but anunderwater 2009 discovery off the coast of Southern Greece is clearly “the oldest submerged town in the world.” The town contains ruins dating back to 2800 BC, and features buildings, streets, tombs, and places of worship.
Given the evidence, do you believe that Atlantis is real? We’ll never know for sure!
Fact #6: In Greece they celebrate name days as well as birthdays
Do you have trouble keeping up with all of your friends birthdays, inevitably leading to embarrassment when you forget one? Maybe consider moving to Greece, where the name day is more commonly celebrated than the birthday. As long as you can memorize your Greek Orthodox saints, you should be in good shape!
The Orthodox Greeks (98% of the country) are still very strict about their naming conventions, and in most cases the first grandson is named after their grandfather and the first granddaughter is named after their grandmother. These family names span generations and are associated with a saint, hence the celebration of name days. Quite a few Greeks celebrate their children’s birthday as well as their name day, so even better — twice the cake!
Fact #7: Greece has been locked in a territorial dispute with Turkey over Cyprus since the ’70s
In March of 2014, the Ukranian territory of Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation, leading to an all-out war over the strategically valuable region. Forty years before, in 1974, Greece found itself in a somewhat similar situation regarding the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Located 50 miles south of Turkey, Cyprus is a highly developed nation that features a Greek and Turkish population (Ottoman conquerers led the way for Turks on the island some 400 years ago).
In the 70s, nationalist tensions between the two populations began to rise, and a failed coup d’état by the Greeks to annex the entire island led to a Turkish invasion in the northern region. This invasion led to the displacement of many Greek Cypriots living in the North, and to this day Turkey still controls the region, much to the dissatisfaction of Greece. With no resolution in sight, this split has the potential to play out for many more decades to come.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to the amazing country of Greece. Check out our Instagram account to see all of our adventures in the birthplace of democracy!