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A bitesize history of Greece

The history of Greece goes back to its first settlers, around 40,000 years ago who mainly lived a rural hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The country's development doesn't just concern mainland Greece – each of its many islands and colonies can lay claim to some monument, philosopher or stunning piece of architecture that illustrates the growth of this extraordinary country. And, with anywhere between 1,200 and 6,000 islands that come under Greek influence or rule, you'll understand why the history of this country is so important.

The Minoans on Crete

It wasn't until the birth of the Minoan culture on Crete, around 2,200 BCE that Greek civilisation started to flourish.

From the splendours of the Minoan Palace at Knossos, first established around 7,000 BCE by Neolithic settlers, and developed into the wondrous ruins that are on show today, this site was in constant occupation until 1450 BCE when much of Crete was destroyed by earthquake and Mycenae occupation.

The Mycenae

At the same time as the Minoans on Crete flourished, the Mycenae on mainland Greece were starting to expand their empire and develop their artistic culture. The archetypal Greek urn dates back to this time. Thebes, Athens and Mycenae itself all developed between 1600 and 1100 BCE. The Mycenae travelled around both the Aegean and the Mediterranean – you'll see remnants of Mycenae civilisation on Rhodes, though why this flourishing civilisation declined so rapidly is still a mystery to historians.

The birth of the modern age

From 800 BCE until 146 BCE, Greece entered an era of unparalleled growth and development. This was the era that saw the birth of the philosophy of democracy, led to the teachings of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle – as well as the founding of the Olympic Games in 776 BCE, and the building of the famous Parthenon in Athens.

Many of the monuments that you'll see on your travels around Greece were built during this period. The famous leader, Alexander the Great, came to prominence during this time and also expanded his Macedonian empire from Egypt to Persia and beyond.

The Romans come to Greece

In 146 BCE the ever growing Roman empire invaded Greece and its colonies. Look out for Roman ruins on many of the Greek islands, including Rhodes.

In common with many countries around the world, the history of Greece is dominated by both military and cultural invasion. The development of the Byzantine empire, with its capital in Constantinople – today's Istanbul – led to a series of invasions across this part of the world. At the same time the Roman empire was on the decline.

Almost a thousand years later, the Orthodox church split with the Roman Catholic papal hierachy. Greece still is an Orthodox country, and you'll see some stunning churches and monasteries everywhere you travel across the country and its islands.

Venetian influence

The 11th century was a period of rising power for some of the Italian states, including Venice. Crete, Zante and Kefalonia are the islands where you can still spot Venetian buildings, as well as remains of fortresses and castles.

The Ottoman empire

It's often the fact in history that as one empire declines another rises, and in the case of Greece, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire under the Turks led to the takeover of Constantinople and the final decline of the Byzantine Empire. From 1453 until 1821 the Turks dominated Greece, and at this stage in its history Greece was still a collection of city states rather than a unified country.

Thief or saviour

It was also during the 19th century that the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire, Lord Elgin, started to export the valuable marbles from the Parthenon back to the UK with the permission of Greece's Ottoman rulers. In 1816, the British government bought the marbles from Lord Elgin and placed them in the British Museum. The current Greek government is demanding their return.

A very British hero

Another famous Brit to visit Greece during this time was the renowned poet Lord Byron. At the start of the Greek war of independence, Byron vowed to help the Greeks in their struggle against the Ottoman empire, though, sadly, he died in Missolonghi in 1824. The Greek War of Independence took place between 1821 to 1832, and Byron is still revered as a hero in Greece today.

An independent Greece

After so many of years of occupation, Greece was finally liberated in 1832. The years of the 19th century were turbulent. Greece was desperately poor and even though the country was finally independent, it faced many problems in all sectors, not least the fact that independence hadn't returned all of its territories and citizens to Greek rule.

Greece continued to undergo many problems during the late 19th and the 20th century. Major world wars both had a devastating effect on the country, as did internal political strife. In a country where everyone has strong opinions and isn't afraid of voicing these sentiments, it's easy to understand why the country has suffered civil wars, political dissent as well as the rule of a political junta.

Current history

It wasn't until the overthrow of the military junta in 1974 that Greece started to develop its tourism industry and the whole country became open and accessible for all visitors. The country is still ruled by democracy, a Greek idea that dates back to 508 BCE, and continues to impressive worldwide visitors with its accommodating personality and relentless beauty.

You only have to admire its enchanting monuments, wonderful architecture or explore its stunning towns and cities to see that this is a country that always survives.

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