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Greece - Geography

The sea is the most consistent influence on the physical environment of Greece. The elaborately irregular Greek coastline, one of the longest in the world, includes about 15,000 kilometers of shore. No point on the mainland is farther than 100 kilometers from the water, and Greece includes more than 2,000 islands--of which about 170 are inhabited. Crete (Kriti), the largest of the islands, is the southernmost point of the nation with a significant population.

The second major physical feature, mountains, cover more than three-quarters of Greece's surface area. Although their general pattern is from northeast to southwest, the mountains and the basins between them form irregular barriers to movement across the peninsula. In Greece's early history, the isolating effect of the mountains encouraged populations to develop lasting traditions of independence because of their lack of communication with the outside world.

Beginning in ancient times, the sea endowed Greece with a seafaring tradition; the best-known work of classical Greek literature, Homer's Odyssey, describes a long and dangerous voyage assumedly made across the eastern Mediterranean from Asia Minor. Sea travel has promoted contact among populations in Greece and with other peoples, but its exposed peninsula has also made Greece vulnerable to attack from the sea.

Greece has a complex contour and a unique coast line. Except in the north, no part of the country is more than 50 miles from the sea. An approaching invasion force will see rocks and mountains everywhere, gray or brown and denuded of vegetation. Coming closer, a better view discloses precipitous cliffs behind which is a confused mass of hills and mountains. The coast has innumerable indentations, but the number of harbors is limited and the places where a large military force could debark are fewer still.

Mountains cover 80% of the country and extend in all directions [St. Elias and Olympus are very common names for mountains in Greece and the Near East. Mountains with these names will often be found within a few miles of each other. When mentioning these names, one must specify which of these is meant.]. There are few plains suitable for military movements; these are basins surrounded by mountains and reached only through deep and narrow valleys. There is not a navigable river; most of the "rivers" are mountain torrents which may indeed have a heavy flow of water after a storm but which in general have no water or very little. The mountains are arid and covered with stones and rocks rather than soil. Consequently, when it rains the water runs off at a prodigious rate. Slopes are habitually steep and rough.

There are few beaches along the coast: the mountains either come down to the sea (into which they jut out as promontories or capes) or are separated from it by small plains. The seaward side of the mountains is steep.

In the Greek peninsula the mountain system centers around the Pindus Mountains, which are unusually rough and a serious military obstacle. They start in Yugoslavia and extend southward in about the center of Greece. They separate Thessaly on the east from Epirus on the west. Near the north Greek boundary they exceed 6,890 feet in altitude. They then decline in height to 4,000 to 5,000 feet as far as the line Gulf of Arta - Gulf of Lamia. They then rise again to Mount Vardusia (7,715'), Mt. Giona, the highest in this part of Greece (8,340'), and Mt. Parnassus (also over 8,000 feet).

Near where the Pindus Mountains pass the north Greek boundary another range crosses them at nearly right angles, separating Greece proper on the south from Macedonia and Albania on the north. These are the Cambunian Mountains. West of the Pindus they do not form an important obstacle. East of the Pindus the mountains increase in height until at the coast of the Gulf of Salonika they culminate in Mt. Olympus (9,750' altitude). They then turn southwest, following the coast through Mts. Ossa and Pelion (6,400 and 5,310 feet, respectively) and shutting the Thessalian plain in from the sea.

At the south end of the Pindus, at Mt. Vardusia, other chains start out in several directions. One to the southeast forms the backbone of the Attica peninsula, on which Athens is located. Another going east arrives at Thermopylae, on the south side of the Gulf of Lamia. Between this chain and the one to Attica lies the Kopais plain. West from Mt. Vardusia is another chain parallel to the Gulf of Corinth. A little north of Mt. Vardusia, the Othrys Mountains extend eastward to the north side of the Gulf of Lamia.

All of these mountains are passable by troops, although their passes are few and are liable to be well guarded. Trails exist across the mountains for which guides are generally required. Except during the autumn and winter there may be no water in the mountains. Snow may be an obstacle in the higher altitudes.

The south part of Greece, known as the Peloponnesus or Morea, is detached from the north section by the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Aegina. An isthmus 3 miles wide connects the two parts.

Greece is naturally divided into the Peloponnesus (or Morea), East Central Greece, West Central Greece, and Macedonia. Traditionally, Greece is divided into nine geographic regions that are differentiated by topography and regional tradition but not by political administration. The six mainland regions are Thrace, Macedonia, and Epirus to the north, and Thessaly, Central Greece, and the Peloponnesus farther south. The three island regions are the Ionian Islands off the west coast, the Aegean Islands in the Aegean Sea between the Greek mainland and Turkey, and the island of Crete, which is considered a separate region.

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Page last modified: 27-07-2018 22:36:18 ZULU