Greece is known worldwide for its glorious historical past, which is reflected in its rich cultural heritage. Iconic archaeological sites, monuments of great importance, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and internationally recognisable artworks are encountered all over the country. Arts such as architecture, sculpture, pottery, weaving, music, jewelry making and painting have a long tradition in Greece, where civilizations have been developing and expanding since the Prehistoric Years. Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and monasteries, Ottoman buildings, charming Frankish castles and traditional settlements all combine to create one of the most beautiful and rich stories in the world!
The Paleolithic Era: approx. 120,000 – 10,000 BC.
The creation of Greece’s historical map has its origin in the Paleolithic Era. During those ages, the first traces of human habitation appeared. By the Neolithic Age (approx. 7,000 – 3,000 BC), the expansion of human civilization is clearly reflected on buildings spread throughout the land, as constructions and cemeteries found in Thessaly, Sesklo, Dimini, Northern Greece and the Peloponnese indicate.
The Bronze Age: approx. 3000-1100 B.C.
During the Bronze Age the appearance of the first urban centers in the Aegean region (Poliochni on the island of Limnos), as well as the flourishing settlements on Crete, mainland Greece, the islands of the Cyclades and the Northeastern Aegean reflect the era’s importance. In these regions were created gradually cultural constructions of universal interest, among them the Cycladic civilization, one of the most ancient in Europe.
The Minoan Civilization: 2nd Millennium BC
While a sort of civilizational big bang was in process during the 2nd Millennium BC, organized palatial societies made their appearance on the Minoan Crete. Among the accomplishments of this era was definitely the first writing system. The Palace of Knossos dominated the cultural movement during this period, interacting also with other civilizations flourishing in the Eastern, and thus giving birth to cultural elements that decisively influenced cultures on the Greek mainland and the islands of the Aegean. Consequently, the Mycenaean civilization prevailed and flourished after the enormous destruction caused to Crete and the Minoan civilization by a massive volcanic eruption on Santorini (around 1500 BC)
The Mycenaean civilization: last centuries of the 2nd Millennium BC
During the last centuries of the 2nd Millennium BC, the Mycenaean Greeks became the dominant force in the Aegean – a prevalence that lasted for approximately 500 years and ended around 1200 BC. At this certain point the extensive destruction of the Mycenaean centers led to the decline of the Mycenaean civilization. As a result, large part of the population was forced to migrate to the coastal regions of Asia Minor and Cyprus, generating the 1st Greek colonization.
The Geometric Period: 9th – 8th Century BC
Approximately two centuries of economic and cultural downturn, historically known as the country’s Dark Age, was followed by the time defined as the Greek Renaissance years. This period was marked by great achievements, as the formation of the Greek city-states, the creation of the Greek alphabet and the composition of the Homeric epics, around the end of the 8th Century BC.
The Archaic Period: 7th – 6th Century BC
Social and political changes took place during the years that followed. The Greek city-states established colonies as far as Spain to the west, the Black Sea to the north and North Africa to the south, period historically defined as the 2nd Greek colonization, and settled the foundations for the upcoming prosperity of the Classical Period.
The Classical Period: 5th – 4th Century BC
The Classical Period was marked by the cultural and political prevalence of Athens, which was so dominant that the second half of the 5th Century BC is known as the Golden Age of Pericles. However, the greatness of the period belonged not only to Athens but also to the history of mankind in general. The achievements in all fields of science and art during those years consisted the keystone of contemporary western civilization.
However, by the time Peloponnesian War ended, in 404 BC, Athens had lost its place as the prominent city of Greece. The military actions of Philip II during the 4th Century BC catapulted the Macedonians into the leading role in Greece. Upon Philip’s II guidance, the scene was set for the grand expansion of Macedonian hegemony to the East. Philip’s son, the famous leader Alexander the Great – often refereed in history as “the military genius” – campaigned in the East and conquered territories that extended up to the Indus River, and gradually created a majestic empire. An empire that radically changed, not only the world as it was at the time, but the course of human history as well.
With Alexander gone, the vast empire he created had to be divided among his generals in order to be ruled. This resulted in the creation of the kingdoms that would prevail during the Hellenistic Period (3rd – 1st Century BC).
During the years of the Hellenistic Period, the Greek city-states lost of their dominance and prestige, even though they preserved their autonomy. The dynamic appearance on the political scene of the Romans and the final conquest of Greece in 146 BC forced the country to join the vast Roman Empire, most of whose emperors acted as benefactors to the Greek cities, especially Athens, due to their admiration of Greek culture. During the 1st Century AD, Christianity, the new religion that emerged and was destined to depose Dodekatheon worshipping, began to spread all over Greece through the travels of Apostle Paul.
In 324 AD, Constantine the Great decided to move the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople, positioning the eastern part of the empire as the political, commercial and cultural center. This was meant to mark the beginning of the Byzantine Period, during which Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire and main corpus of the flourishing and glorious era of the Byzantine years.
After 1204, when Western crusaders occupied Constantinople, parts of Greece were apportioned to western leaders, while the Venetians occupied strategic positions in the Aegean, both islands and coastal cities, in order to control the trade routes. The reoccupation of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1262 marked the last stages of the empire’s pass through history.
In addition to the above mentioned conflicts, the Ottomans gradually began to seize parts of the empire from the 14th Century AD, finalizing the dissolution of the empire with the capture of Constantinople in 1453. The Island of Crete was the final area to be occupied by the Ottomans in 1669. The Ottoman occupation lasted until 1821, when the glorious Greek War of Independence initiated.
The Greek War of Independence led to the creation of an independent Greek state in 1830, even though Greece’s control of some of her sovereign territories was still limited. During the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, areas with Greek population were gradually inducted into the Greek State. Greece’s sovereign territory would reach its peak after the end of World War I, in 1920, with the substantial contribution of the then prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos. The Greek state took its current territorial form after the end of World War II, with the addition of the Dodecanese Islands.
In 1974, after a seven-year military dictatorship, a referendum was held and the government changed from a constitutional monarchy to a presidential parliamentary democracy. In 1981 Greece became a member of the European Union, contributing to the establishment and expansion of the European ideals with its strategic geographical position, high ideals and vast cultural heritage!
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