A woman walks down a street in Greece.

At one time, most Greeks lived in the countryside, usually in small villages. About 60 percent of the people now live in urban areas. Almost one third of the total population lives in the greater metropolitan area of Athens, Greece's capital and largest city. Athens is the heart of Greece. It was the most renowned of the cities of classical Greece, and it is now the center of the country's government, industry, culture, and trade.

Language and Education

Modern Greek grew out of the classical Greek of ancient times. There are two forms of the modern language. The pure form, called katharevousa, is used mostly in writing. For their spoken language, Greeks use an everyday form of Greek called demotic. The alphabets of most European languages were strongly influenced by the classical Greek alphabet.


Almost all Greeks belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1000s. The government supports the church, but the constitution gives toleration to all faiths. The colorful religious holidays, with processions and music and rituals, enliven the Greek scene. The Orthodox priest is a striking figure—long-haired and bearded, dressed in flowing black robes. Unlike the Roman Catholic priest, he may marry and have a family. Greece has many monasteries and nunneries, although today fewer people live in them than formerly. Mount Athos on Chalcidice peninsula is a tiny religious state by itself. It has 20 monasteries, and no women may ever enter this area. Muslims make up about 2 percent of the population, a reminder of the time when Turkish Muslims ruled Greece. Before World War II more than 70,000 Jews lived in Greece, mostly in Salonika. Less than 10 percent of the Jews survived the Nazi occupation of Greece.

Way of Life

Most Greeks, especially those living in rural areas, have lower incomes and simpler ways of life than people living in countries of western Europe. Country people, even children, spend long hours tending livestock and working in the fields. One of the chief aims of recent Greek governments has been to improve the standard of living.

Greeks are an especially sociable people and enjoy such pleasures as eating, singing, and dancing together. The family plays an important role in Greek life. Family ties are strong and extend from the immediate family to include more distant relations.

Traditionally, one's first loyalty was to the family household. A business or farm often was operated as a family enterprise, permitting the pooling of resources. Greeks have a strict sense of honor and the achievements or failures of one family member reflected on the entire family.

Because of the generally warm climate, Greeks spend much of the year out-of-doors. The local coffee house is the traditional meeting place for Greek men, who gather to discuss politics and play backgammon as well as to sip coffee. Greek women spend much of their leisure time with other women.

The Greek diet includes such staple foods as bread, cheeses, lamb, olives, fruits, and a variety of vegetables. Typical dishes are spit-roasted lamb; mousáká (ground lamb, eggplant, and cheese); souvlakia, or shish kabab (roast lamb on skewers); dolmádhes (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice); and chicken soup flavored with lemon. Greek feta cheese is made from goat's or sheep's milk. Greeks generally take wine with their meals; a favorite is the resin-flavored retsína. Oúzo, an anise-flavored liquor, is often drunk before meals. Sweet, flaky pastries, usually made with honey, are popular desserts. Coffee is thick and strong and served in small cups.

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