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The Peloponnese covers an area of some 21549 km² (8320 square miles) and constitutes the southernmost part of mainland Greece. While technically it may be considered an island since the construction of the Corinth Canal in 1893 like other peninsulas that have been separated from their mainland by man-made bodies of waters, it is rarely, if ever referred to as an "island". It has two land connections with the rest of Greece, a natural one at the Isthmus of Corinth and an artificial one in the shape of the Rio-Antirio bridge (completed 2004).

The peninsula has a mountainous interior and deeply indented coasts, with Mount Taygetus its highest point. It possesses four south-pointing peninsulas, Messenia, the Mani Peninsula, Cape Malea (also known as Epidaurus Limera), and the Argolid in the far northeast of the Peloponnese.

Greece lies at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is heir to the heritages of ancient Greece, the Byzantine Empire, and nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule. Greece has a particularly long and eventful history and a cultural heritage that both shaped and has been shaped by cultures throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe. It is usually regarded as the birthplace of the first major democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature, political science, major scientific and mathematic principles, and Western drama including both tragedy and comedy.

Geography


Greece consists of a mountainous 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 kilometres (9,246 mi); its land boundary is 1,160 kilometres (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 south western 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 2,917 metres (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.

Climate


The climate of Greece can be categorised into three types that influence well-defined regions of its territory. The Pindus mountain range strongly affects the climate of the country by making the western side of it (areas prone to the south-westerlies) wetter on average than the areas lying to the east of it (lee side of the mountains). The three distinct types are the Mediterranean, the Alpine and the Temperate types. The first one features mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The Cyclades, the Dodecanese, Crete, Eastern Peloponessus and parts of the Sterea Ellada region are mostly affected by this particular type. Temperatures rarely reach extreme values although snowfalls do occur occasionally even in the Cyclades or the Dodecanese during the winter months.

The Alpine type is dominant mainly in the mountainous areas of Northwestern Greece (Epirus, Central Greece, Thessaly, Western Macedonia) as well as in the central parts of Peloponnese, including the prefectures of Achaia, Arcadia and parts of Laconia, where extensions of the Pindus mountain range pass by). Finally, the Temperate type affects Central Macedonia and East Macedonia and Thrace; it features cold, damp winters and hot, dry summers. Athens is located in a transitional area featuring both the Mediterranean and the Temperate types. It averages about 16 inches (40.6 cm) of rain annually. The city's northern suburbs are dominated by the temperate type while the downtown area and the southern suburbs enjoy a typical Mediterranean type

Culture


Greek culture evolved over several thousand years, with its earliest known civilization being in the Mycenean and Minoan era, continuing into Classical Greece, the birth of the Hellenistic era and through the influence of the Roman Empire and its Greek Eastern successor the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire also had a significant influence on Greek culture, but the Greek war of independence is credited for the revitalization of Greece and establishing a single sovereign single entity, of its multi-faceted culture throughout the ages.

Notably Greece is known as "the cradle of Western civilization".

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