In terms of tourism, Greece is all too often only associated with summer, sun, souvlaki and sirtaki – as a classic Mediterranean holiday destination – or else with grand monuments from antiquity, such as the Acropolis. Indeed, when thinking of Greek history most people would associate it mostly with antiquity, the earliest European civilization pioneering in philosophy, literature, the Olympic Games, and being the cradle of democracy. (The latter is true only to a certain extent, as it concerned only privileged males, maybe 10-15% of the total population; true democracy with full suffrage didn’t reach Greece until millennia later.)
But Greece has also had a modern history full of very dark chapters. One is the military dictatorship under Georgios Papadopoulos from 1967 to 1973 and then under Dimitrios Ioannides until 1974 (which also impacted on Cyprus
The two places covered on this website so far are associated with this time when political opponents (from the left) were sent to cruel concentration-camp
-like prison colonies on remote islands:
(Gyaros) former prison island
Greece also suffered tremendously in WWII
, when it was occupied by the Axis powers of Nazi Germany
, fascist Italy
and their ally Bulgaria
. The Bulgarians set about a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing in the north-east of the country, the Germans plundered Greece to the extent that there was a famine in Athens that cost tens of thousands of lives. Forced labour was introduced and massacres as retaliation for acts by the Greek resistance were commonplace (as depicted e.g. in the book and movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”). Often hundreds of civilians were slaughtered and whole villages burnt to the ground.
And with the German Nazis also came the Holocaust
. Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, once had a majority Jewish population. The Nazis saw to most of them being sent into the gas chambers of Auschwitz
, while the Jews in the Bulgarian zone were mostly sent to Treblinka
. The Italians did not partake in the Holocaust, but after Italy
’s surrender to the Allies in September 1943, the Germans took over the formerly Italian occupied parts of Greece, and thus the Holocaust also reached those areas where Jews had previously still been safe. In the end it is estimated that over 90% of the Greek Jews were killed, one of the highest proportions anywhere.
A dedicated Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki is in the pipeline; the cornerstone was laid in 2018, but it has still not opened. Athens has at least a Holocaust monument.
But commemoration of the Holocaust in Greece is a recent thing. Before it was largely overshadowed by what happened immediately after the German and Bulgarian withdrawal in late 1944. This was the start of the Greek Civil War
that was to last until late 1949. It began with infighting between different factions in the former resistance, and it ended with the defeat of the left-wingers and victory for the right-wing royalists. The civil war can also be regarded as the first proxy war of the Cold-War
era, due to the Soviet
involvement on the one side (the communists’), and British and US
involvement on the (anti-communist) other side. There is a War Museum in Athens
that presumably covers all this.
Since the end of the military dictatorship of the 1960s and 70s, Greece has become a more or less stable democracy and a modern republic, a member of both NATO
and the EU and is part of the eurozone. The Greek debt crisis in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis almost led to an exclusion of Greece from the eurozone, but that was averted through (partly EU-imposed) tough internal “reforms” in the form of severe “austerity measures”. These meant, however, that the brunt of the price to pay was borne by the poorer sections of the population, and unemployment, especially amongst the younger Greeks, became a desperate issue. Many left the country to seek a better life abroad. But that’s a different sort of darkness than what is normally the subject of this website.
There are many more places of interest to dark tourists other than those mentioned above, from shipwrecks and ship graveyards to industrial wastelands in the north as well as many remnants from WWII and the occupation.
I’ve only ever been to Greece once – as a teenager, decades before I started my work on dark tourism and this website. It’s one of the biggest gaps in my European travel portfolio. I really should go back and “do” Greece properly and with a dark-tourism focus.
A very good starting point would be to join one of Explorabilia’s “Forgotten Greece” tours
, which cover a host of otherwise difficult to reach places, many of them dark. See this separate sponsored page
The cities of Athens and Thessaloniki could also be easily done on an independent basis, while the former prison islands of Makronisos
would require more effort. In fact Yaros is one of the most difficult to reach places in the country.
The “ordinary” holiday destinations, on the other hand, are served by a well-oiled tourism industry, which is also one of the key pillars of Greece’s economy. You really could do worse than spending some money in this economically battered country. I hope I will be able to do so myself in the not too distant future, and will then greatly expand and update this section and add new chapters about specific places.