Here’s question for you: which country has the longer coastline- India, or Greece? For the record, India, at 1.3 billion, is virtually tied with China as most populous country in the world. It’s the 7th largest by land area.

At 10.4 million, Greece is the 89th most populous, and the 95th largest by land area. (It’s about the same size as Louisiana, the USA’s 30th largest state.)

So which country has the longest coastline? It’d have to be India, right? I mean, both countries are peninsulas, except India is a vastly larger peninsula.

And that’s where the surprise lies: India is a fairly flat country, topographically. Therefore most of India’s coastline is “smooth,” with relatively few inlets. Greece, in contrast is rugged and mountainous, which translates to innumerable coves, inlets, and bays. And don’t forget all those islands, which account for fully 40% of Greece’s coastline.

The coastline of Greece is 15,000 km (8,700 miles) long (60% mainland, 40% islands). Nearly half of it is beaches or pocket beaches. India, by contrast, has only 7,000 km (4,350 mi.) of coastline. That’s right- massive India’s total coastline is less than half that of tiny Greece’s.

All of which helps to explain Greece’s millennia-long, deep ties to the sea. These restless, seafaring people have been plying the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Black Sea (and, some say, the Atlantic) for thousands of years.

In addition to that, there are all those mountains, which usually make for poor food production. Also, Greece is at the nexus of several east-west, north south trade routes. Most of the islands, as well, while providing protection from overland attack, are also mountainous, forcing their inhabitants to supplement their diets with large amounts of fish, which also necessitated sailing skills.

As Greece expanded its nautical reach, various city states began to found colonies throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins in the 8th century, BC. The entire coastal belt of Asia Minor became a network of Greek colonies, and did southern Italy and Sicily, which was given the name Magna Graecia by the Romans. The same applies for the circumference of the coastal Black Sea, whose most famous city, Byzantium, later Constantinople and then Istanbul, was founded, according to Herodotus in the 667 BC by Byzas, a legendary king from Megara, near Athens.

Much of Mediterranean France, Spain, and portions of North Africa also became colonized by various city states. Some modern cities which began their existence as Greek colonies were Naples (Neapolis) in Italy, Syracuse in Sicily, Marseilles (Massalia) and Nice (Nikaia) in France, Alexandria in Egypt (which is also the largest city on the Mediterranean and formerly the largest city in the world), Odessa, Ukraine, Crimea, Russia, and the aforementioned Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul, in modern-day Turkey.

Pericles, in his Funeral Oration, delivered during the Peloponnesian War, praised Athens greatness as being owed to its prowess as a seafaring city-state (“Μέγα το της θαλάσσης κράτος”– “Great is the state which plies the sea”).

There is no point in Greece that is more than 80 miles (130 km) from the sea, and it seems that just about everyone in the country has at least a rudimentary understanding of how to operate a boat. The sea is so much a part and parcel of the Greek psyche that it is even represented in the blue of the stripes of the Greek flag. As a famous hymn to Greece proclaims:

“My proud flag, my glorious flag, comprised of heaven, and sea, my glorious flag.”

 In the modern age, Greece’s intimate relationship with the sea remains unbroken. Greeks are among the most adept captains of large vessels, and the country has the 6th largest merchant navy in the world. Shipping is the second-largest driver of the Greek economy after tourism.

The love affair with what Homer termed the “wine-dark sea” carries on into the twenty-first century, with the country’s tourism boom placing Greece as one of Europe’s most-visited nations, with 31 million visitors to this country in the last year. That’s three times Greece’s population.

It’s all about the beach and the sea. And the line in Bob Dylan’s song Mr. Tambourine Man, “Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea” always conjures the image of Zorba dancing on the beach in Crete.

Just the mention of wanting to go to a Greek island for vacation elicits all kinds of positive responses from friends and family members. There is a deep cultural link between the idea of Greece, her light, and her sea, with those of us in the modern age.

The sea in Greece is timeless, ever changing yet remaining the same, crystal clear and aquamarine, a perfect element for swimming, snorkeling, wind-surfing, paddle boarding, or, as the ancients did, sailing. It is fair to say that, without the sea, there would be no Greece.