Greece (Greek: Ελλάδα or Ελλάς), officially the Hellenic Republic (Greek: Ελληνική Δημοκρατία), is a country in Southeastern Europe, situated on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula. It borders Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the east. The Aegean Sea lies to the east and south of mainland Greece, while the Ionian Sea lies to the west. Both parts of the Eastern Mediterranean basin feature a vast number of islands.
Greece lies at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is heir to the heritages of classical Greece, the Byzantine Empire, and nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule. Regarded as the cradle of western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, western literature, political science, major scientific principles and drama including both tragedy and comedy, Greece has a particularly long and eventful history and a cultural heritage considerably influential in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and fundamentally formative for the culture of Europe and what may be called the West.
Modern Greece is a developed country, a member of the European Union since 1981, a member of the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union since 2001, NATO since 1952, the OECD since 1961, the WEU since 1995, and ESA since 2005. Athens is the capital; Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion, Volos and Larissa are some of the country’s other major cities.
Greece consists of a mountainous and craggy mainland jutting out into the sea at the southern end of the Balkans, the Peloponnesus peninsula (separated from the mainland by the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth), and numerous islands (around 2 000), including Crete, Euboea, Lesbos, Chios, the Dodecanese and the Cycladic groups of the Aegean Sea as well as the Ionian Sea islands. Greece has the tenth longest coastline in the world with 14 880 km; its land boundary is 1 160 km (721 mi).
Four-fifths of Greece consist of mountains or hills, making the country one of the most mountainous in Europe. Western Greece contains a number of lakes and wetlands and it is dominated by the Pindus mountain range. Pindus has a maximum elevation of 2 636 metres (8 648 ft) and it is essentially a prolongation of the Dinaric Alps.
The range continues through the western Peloponnese, crosses the islands of Kythera and Antikythera and find its way into southwestern Aegean, in the island of Crete where it eventually ends. (the islands of the Aegean are peaks of underwater mountains that once constituted an extension of the mainland). Pindus is characterized by its high, steep peaks, often dissected by numerous canyons and a variety of other karstic landscapes. Most notably, the impressive Meteora formation consisting of high, steep boulders provides a breathtaking experience for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the area each year. Special lifts transfer visitors to the scenic monasteries that lie on top of those rocks.
Meteora is situated in the Trikala prefecture. The Vikos-Aoos Gorge is yet another spectacular formation. The Vikos-Aoos Gorge is a popular hotspot for those fond of extreme sports. Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in the country, located in the southwestern Pieria prefecture, near Thessaloniki. Mytikas in the Olympus range has a height of 2 920 m (9 570 ft) at its highest peak. Once considered the throne of the Gods, it is today extremely popular among hikers and climbers who deem its height as a challenge. Moreover, northeastern Greece features yet another high altitude mountain range, the Rhodope range, spreading across the periphery of East Macedonia and Thrace; this area is covered with vast, thick, ancient forests. The famous Dadia forest is in the prefecture of Evros, in the far northeast of the country.
Expansive plains are primarily located in the prefectures of Thessaly, Central Macedonia and Thrace. They constitute key economic regions as they are among the few arable places in the country. Volos and Larissa are the two largest cities of Thessaly. Rare marine species such as the Pinniped Seals and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle live in the seas surrounding mainland Greece, while its dense forests are home to the endangered brown bear, the lynx, the Roe Deer and the Wild Goat.