Peloponnesians - Orientation

Identification. The Peloponnesos is a large peninsula linked to the Greek mainland by the narrow isthmus of Corinth, cut through by the Corinth Canal in 1892-1893. Its name means "Island of Pelops" (progenitor of the Atreids, of whom Agamemnon and Menelaus of Trojan War fame are the best known). In medieval times it was known as "the Morea" (mulberry tree), either because the peninsula's shape vaguely resembles a mulberry leaf or because it was once the center of a silk industry and abounded with mulberry trees. With an area of 21,379 square kilometers it accounts for just over 16 percent of the total area of modern Greece and comprises 7 nomes: Achaea, Arcadia, Argolis, Corinth, Elis, Laconia, and Messenia. These are further divided into 21 eparchies, 36 municipalities, 1,315 communes or villages, and 2,573 localities or hamlets.

Location. The Peloponnesos is the southernmost extremity of the Greek mainland. Virtually surrounded by water, no point in the peninsula is more than 50 kilometers from the coast. In the north it is bounded by the Gulf of Corinth, in the east by the Aegean Sea, in the south by the Mediterranean and Sea of Crete, and in the west by the Ionian Sea. Cape Tenaro (also known as Matapan) is the southernmost point of mainland Europe after Tarifa, Spain. Most of the Peloponnesos is mountainous or hilly with small coastal plains around Corinth, Argos, Patras, and Messenia. An upland plain surrounds Tripoli and farther south a smaller flatland lies about Sparta. A chain of mountains, the southern extension of the European Alps, cuts through the peninsula. Prominent peaks include Mount Tayegetos (2,407 meters) above Sparta and Mount Kyllini (2,376 meters) and Mount Aroania (2,341 meters) in the north, all of which are snowcapped half the year. The Alfios, Peneus, and Maritsa are the largest rivers, but none are navigable. There are no lakes of any consequence. The climate of the Peloponnesos is Mediterranean with long hot summers and short wet winters, although there are significant differences between lowland and highland areas and it is difficult to generalize. In the winter temperatures drop well below freezing in the highlands and snowfalls can be heavy, but along the coasts snow rarely falls and temperatures are mild, averaging 10° C in January and 25° C in July compared to 5° C and 24° C for the highlands. Annual precipitation averages 60 centimeters on the coast and 80 centimeters inland.

Demography. By far the majority of the Peloponnesos's residents are ethnic Greeks, and although there are some Minorities, most have assimilated. Most conspicuous are the Tsiganes or Gypsies, who have lived in Greece and other parts of Europe for hundreds of years. In the Peloponnesos, as in other parts of Greece, these people lead a seminomadic existence, traveling about in small pickup trucks trading livestock, selling baskets, caning chairs, sharpening knives, repairing pots, telling fortunes, and begging. There are also Vlach shepherds, whose native language is related to Romanian, and Arvanites (Albanians), who live mainly in the east. Despite Slavic incursions in the early centuries of the Christian era and a relatively large number of Slavic place-names (especially in the south), attempts to identify a Slavic minority in the modern Peloponnesos have failed. The present Population of the Peloponnesos is about one million, of which half is rural and the other half urban or semiurban. Overall the population has remained more or less stable for the past thirty years, but there has been a major shift of people from the countryside to the towns and cities of Greece, particularly greater Athens/Piraeus. This movement, along with a limited international migration, continues, but it is much abated from the heyday of the 1960s and 1970s. Major urban centers in the Peloponnesos include Patras, the third-largest city in Greece and an important port with a population of approximately 175,000, Kalamata with about 50,000, Corinth with 25,000, and another half-dozen cities with populations over 10,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Virtually all Peloponnesians speak modern Greek, and it is the exclusive language of instruction in all schools. There are distinct regional accents on the Peninsula, but no true dialects survive as a principal vehicle of communication. On the other hand, Vlachs and Arvanites frequently use their respective languages among themselves in everyday discourse, although they are fluent in modern Greek as well. A dialect of Greek known as Tsakonian (with ancient roots) was spoken in parts of Laconia, but there are few who remember it today. Likewise, a Maniat dialect disappeared about the same time and, although some older Maniats know a few words of it, the dialect is not spoken by any of them on a regular basis.

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