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GREECE or the Hellenic Republic consists of a mainland portion and more than 1,400 islands. Mainland Greece occupies the southernmost portion of the Balkans Peninsula and shares borders with Albania in the northwest, with Macedonia (FYROM) and Bulgaria in the north, and Turkey in the northeast. The Aegean Sea lies to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Ionian Sea to the west.
The Ionian Islands (lonioi Nisoi), including Corfu (Kerkira), lie off the western mainland coast in the Ionian Sea. The remaining Greek islands scattered throughout the Aegean Sea. They include the Cyclades (Kikladhes) group in the southeast, Crete (Kriti) in the south, the Dodecanese group (Dhodhekanisos), including Rhodes (Rodhos), just west of mainland Turkey, the northern Aegean Islands, such a Thásos, Limnos, and Lésvós, and the Northern Sporades (Voriai Sporhadhes), situated off the eastern coast of Greece. In general, the islands are quite arid, hilly, and stony, with thin soils that are difficult to cultivate.
The mainland divided into several different regions, comprising Macedonia in the north and northwest, Thrace in the far northwest, Epirus in the west, Thessaly in the east, central Greece, and the Peloponnese Peninsula, which is joined to the rest of the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth. The northwestern and central regions of mainland Greece are rugged and mountainous, the Pindus Mountains’ main chain (Pindos Oros). Westwards the hills gradually become lower with flatter land towards the coast of the Ionian Sea.
A series of extensive plains interrupted by hills and mountains lie in the northeast. In contrast, to the east of the Pindus Mountains lies the extensive plain of Thessaly, a fertile agricultural region. The southeastern “finger” of mainland Greece consists of a series of hills, valleys, and plains. The Peloponnese Peninsula is largely mountainous, with steep ridges and narrow valleys extending in a northwest-southeast direction, although some lower, flatter land in the west.
In the north and the mountains, winters are much colder, and snow is plentiful at higher altitudes. Greece is not as densely forested as it was in the past. Still, both deciduous and pine forests occur on the hillsides with wildflowers, such as anemones and cyclamens, at higher altitudes around 1,220 meters or 4,000 feet. At lower levels and around the coasts, citrus fruits, olives, pomegranates, figs, dates, and grapevines are grown. Greece has a variety of wildlife, particularly in the remoter, sparsely populated mountainous regions. Animals include bears, wild boar, and chamois, and among the birds are pelicans, storks, and nightingales.
About 21 percent of people are engaged in agriculture, mostly on small family farms of about 32-41 square kilometers or 8-10 acres. Soils are poor in many areas, and erosion and lack of water add to the difficult farming conditions. Crops grown include tobacco, maize, wheat, barley, fruit (peaches, nectarines, grapes, oranges), sugar beet, olives, potatoes, and tomatoes. Livestock includes poultry, sheep, goats, pigs, and a relatively small number of cattle. Forestry and fishing are carried out on a small scale, and the government has undertaken replanting schemes to replace lost trees. The fish catch is for the home market only, although sponges are harvested for export.
The country is relatively poor in mineral resources, although it has significant oil and natural gas reserves in the Aegean Sea. Some lignite, iron ore, bauxite, copper, chromium, magnesium nickel, zinc, lead, and silver also occur and are mined and processed on a small scale. Pollution, both of the air by emissions from industrial plants and vehicles and the sea from sewage and industrial wastes, is a serious problem. Athens is affected by smog, which is damaging its archaeological heritage. Industries include oil refining, steel and metal production, chemicals, cement, machinery, textiles, shoes, clothing, and food processing.
Greece has traditionally been an agricultural country, but it has undergone a rapid industrialization process since the Second World War. This received a fresh impetus when the country joined the European Union in 1981. Tourism and service industries are also critical to the economy.
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The northern part of mainland Greece consists of a long strip of land between the northern shore of the Aegean Sea and Bulgaria‘s southern borders and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Rhodope Mountains occupy most of this region. The central part of the mainland, corresponding to the Greek peninsula’s bulk, is dominated by the Pindus Mountains, Greece’s most extensive mountain range. To the east, between mountain spurs, lie the plains of Thessaly and to the southeast, Boeotia and Attica. To the west lie the regions of Epirus and, farther south, Arkananía.
The southern part of the mainland, located south of Corinth, is a large, irregularly shaped peninsula called the Peloponnese. With an area of 21,446 square kilometers (8,278 square miles), it is connected to Attica by an isthmus that is only 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) across at its narrowest point. Although mountainous, it has a narrow coastal plain around its entire periphery.
Greece is bounded on the west by the Ionian Sea, south by the Mediterranean, and east by the Aegean Sea, a Mediterranean arm. Greece has 13,676 kilometers (8,498 miles) of seacoast.
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