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Villes en Méditerranée : une petite « Odyssée »

The Myth of Greek Summer

Le mythe de l’été grec
Nikos Belavilas
p. 65-72


Greece, and particularly that part of it consisting of islands, has been for some decades now among the world’s major tourist destinations, especially during the summer months. Throughout its coastal regions, infrastructures have developed which serve this seasonal flow of millions of travellers each year.
The beginning of this tourist flow towards Greece, which culminated in the early twenty-first century, is to be dated to the 1960s and 1970s. It was at that time that through literature, the cinema, and music, the image of the ‘Greek summer’ integrated into the sui generis geographical and cultural environment of the sea and the islands, and became widespread in Europe and the USA.
Greece is characterised by the scattering of the large number of islands, and their geographical isolation and exclusion both from the hinterland and from the zone of the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean. This particularity is complemented by the special political and social conditions of the second half of the twentieth century and by the system of land ownership, which has contributed to the development of particular tourist infrastructures. All these considerations together have shaped an idiom which differs in many of its manifestations from the general model of Mediterranean tourism.
The myth of the ‘Greek summer’, in spite of the tectonic changes in the conditions, the magnitudes, the quality, and the nature of tourism, compared with its early period, has survived - in a social and economic framework totally different from that which gave it birth.

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Index terms

Mots-clés :

tourisme, îles, été

Keywords :

tourism, islands, summer

Geographical index :

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Editor's notes

Nikos Belavilas est architecte de formation. Professeur d’urbanisme et d’histoire urbaine à l’École nationale polytechnique d’Athènes, directeur du Laboratoire d’environnement urbain de cette même école, c’est un spécialiste reconnu de l’héritage industriel et des patrimoines portuaires. Parmi ses œuvres majeures, citons Ports et peuplements dans l’archipel de la piraterie, Odysseas Press, Athènes 1997 (en grec), et Mines dans la mer Égée-Archéologie industrielle en Grèce (ed.), Melissa Press, Athènes 2010 (en grec). C’est aussi un intellectuel engagé, autant pour la défense des droits de l’homme en Méditerranée orientale, que plus récemment dans les programmes d’aide aux réfugiés en Grèce.

Nikos Belavilas is an architect. Professor in urban planning and history at the National Polytechnic School in Athens, director of the Urban Environment Lab of the same School, he is a renowned specialist in industrial and port heritage. Among his major works are to be found Ports and People in the Archipelago of Piracy, Odysseas Press, Athens 1997 (in Greek) and Mines in the Aegean. Industrial Archaeology in Greece (ed.), Melissa Press, Athens, 2010 (in Greek). He is also an intellectual who is actively involved in the promotion of human rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and, more recently, in refugee assistance programs in Greece.

Full text



© Jean‑Christophe Ballot

1 - The birth of the myth

1The discovery of the ‘Greek summer’, synonymous with the rediscovery, after the age of the ‘travellers’ and of the Enlightenment, of the islands of the Archipelago, is an issue of the 1970s and 1980s, without any denial of its origins in the inter-War years, or even earlier.

2The Romantic travellers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century in Greece were almost always concerned with the sea and the antiquities. But the intellectuals of the 1930s –poets, writers, artists– were also in search of the landscapes and the human images of the islands. They painted pictures of and hymned the whiteness, purity, simplicity, and the ‘folk wisdom’ of the world of the Greek Archipelago.

3Greece was slow to enter upon the post-War era. After the end of the Second World War, a bloody civil war developed until 1949, to be followed by a long period of political instability, and a dictatorial regime. Greece entered a period of political normality only in 1974, three decades after the end of the war.

4Greece for three decades was a country with a particularly high level of emigration (ETIENNE, 2000). At the same time, the period after the 1950s was marked by the intensive urbanisation of a few urban centres at the expense of the countryside, the migration of the agrarian populations to the cities, and economic migration to Europe, North America, and Australia (MALOUTAS, 2000). A direct result of this lasting development was the gradual decline of the island communities (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 – The city and the port of Naxos island after WW2. Postcard (1945)

Fig. 1 – The city and the port of Naxos island after WW2. Postcard (1945)

Source: Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis, L’ Architecture populaire en Grèce, (1952), Ελληνική Λαϊκή Αρχιτεκτονική, Athens: Themelio, 1977 (Greek Edition).

5The Aegean and Ionian in their process of desertion, as early as the inter-War years, had begun to emerge as an image of a complex of islands untouched by the impacts of modern life and of a sui generis isolated breed of islanders. This occurred at the same time as the great resorts of the Adriatic and the Côte d’Azur had long been mature tourist destinations. The travelogues of Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, and the writings, immediately after the war, of Patrick Leigh Fermor conveyed to the public experiences of the Greek sea. They are texts redolent of summer, written in the sun, beside the waves (Figure 2).

Fig. 2 – A sketch of the Greek architect Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis for the city of Paroikia, Paros island (1952)

Fig. 2 – A sketch of the Greek architect Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis for the city of Paroikia, Paros island (1952)

Source: Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis, L’ Architecture populaire en Grèce, (1952), Ελληνική Λαϊκή Αρχιτεκτονική, Athens: Themelio, 1977 (Greek Edition).

6The blossoming of the literature of the ‘Greek summer’ spread, and was rewarded with two successive international distinctions, the Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded to two poets of the Aegean, an early one to George Seferis (1963), and a later one –when Greece had started to become well known as a tourist destination– to Odysseas Elytis (1979). Subsequently, the poetry of the islands and of the summer was turned into a vernacular cultural commodity by means of music, when it was taken over by the - then young - composer Mikis Theodorakis, who, in setting to music Elytis and Seferis, disseminated their art throughout the world.

7In the world of cinema, of that very broad art for vast audiences, a parallel with the literature and the trend in music emerged. The Aegean, the port of Piraeus, and the island ports, antiquities, little tavernas, local ‘retsina’ wine, ouzo, and bouzouki made their appearance on stage, making their imprint on films by young directors, such as Michalis Kakoyannis, or Jules Dassin, persecuted during the McCarthy era in the USA, who settled in Greece in 1956 with a young actress, Melina Mercouri. One of the oldest island settlements, the port of Hydra, was the setting for the dramatic love story of a black-clad young island girl and an Athenian intellectual which became one of the archetypal stories, projected with the title A Girl in Black (1956), directed by Kakoyannis. Another, more primitive, more ‘esthète’, treatment of the sea and eroticism, in the blinding light of the Aegean, was set in wild seaside landscape with images of bare locations and nude people, by the, also young and talented, director Nikos Koundouros. This is the film Young Aphrodites (1963) (Figure 3).

Fig. 3 – Nude girls under the sun

Fig. 3 – Nude girls under the sun

“Young Aphrodites” by Nikos Koundouros (1963)

Source: Greek Film Archive, The Greek Film Archive Foundation.

8However, there is a movie that can be identified as a cultural symbol of the Greek islands and their touristic transformation identified with the change in the times for the Greek islands. It is the emblematic Alexis Zorbas, or Zorba the Greek (1964) a creation for the international market, based on the short story by the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, adapted for the cinema by Kakoyannis, again with music by Theodorakis. Here sea and sun were the background for the meeting between the open-hearted opportunist islander with the reserved, cold foreign traveller, who together personified two figures who were in the years which followed to dominate the mythology of Greek tourism (Figure 4).

Fig. 4 – The local and the traveler dancing at the seashore

Fig. 4 – The local and the traveler dancing at the seashore

“Alexis Zorbas” by Michalis Kakoyannis (1964)

Source: Greek Film Archive –The Greek Film Archive Foundation.

9The co‑existence of the two and their joint financial enterprise, which was ruined –a failure by the standards of common sense– are met in the end not with tears, but with celebration and dancing by the side of the sea, into which they dive nude. The foreigner becomes familiar with the weaknesses of the Greek –and loves them.

10By means of the movies of Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri, chiefly by Never on Sunday (1960) and what was the internationally known soundtrack which accompanied it –Paidia tou Peiraia– by the composer Manos Hadjidakis, awarded an Oscar, the sounds and the images denoting the Greek sea had now reached all the major European and American cities. Thus film and music awards came to complement poetry awards.

11Films, short stories, poems, songs, images, from the 1960s onwards followed this successful social model, of the Greek and the foreigner, of the tourist and the local, in the popular island landscape and its culture, down to the present day.

2 - Tourism, lifestyle and politics

12Just a few kilometres from Zorba’s beach in Crete, at the same period, what was perhaps the first and the most famous of the camps for nudist hippies was set up: the large sandy beach at Matala with its caves (URBAIN, 1999). In spite of the profound conservatism of the dictatorial regime, the leaders of the Junta, although they were uncultured colonels, realised that what was going on at Matala served as a pole of attraction for young tourists from all over the world, and allowed it to develop into one of the best know alternative destinations of that period. The tourist with the backpack, that ‘neat vagrant’ of J. Menier (MENIER, 1992) had arrived on the beaches of the Aegean. It was the beginning of the new‑born love of European and American young people for the ‘Greek summer’ of freedom and anti-conformism.

13The central government policy option of development of the tourist sector had been set in motion in the decade preceding the dictatorship. It was marked by a series of projects which had to do mainly with the development of tourist infrastructures and the showcasing of archaeological sites. Centred at first on the Attica‑Delphi‑Epidaurus triangle, this policy soon extended to model tourist projects on the islands. There were hotels, organised beaches, marinas, national highways to the archaeological sites and works to highlight them.

14At the same time as large tourist facilities were being built in Spain and the South of France, on the Greek coasts, on the basis of a state programme, a series of modernistic hotels, of medium and large size, was constructed by the newly-constituted National Tourism Organisation (Greek initials: EOT) and by the –also state-owned– National Bank of Greece. Among the most successful examples were the chain of EOT’s Xenia Hotels, on Andros and Nafplion, (1958), on Mykonos (1960), on Samos, at Volos, at Mesolonghi, the National Bank’s Asteras Hotel at Vouliagmeni, as well as a series of organised beaches for swimmers on the Saronic Gulf, on the Athens front. At the same time, the Club Méditerranée dipped its toe in Greek waters by setting up organised vacation villages on the Ionian coast.

15From that point on, alongside the main poles of attraction for tourists, Athens and the archaeological sites on its periphery, the gradual discovery of the Aegean beyond Attica began. Hitherto unknown islands in the Cyclades complex, and the mainland wooded shores and beaches of Chalkidiki peninsula or Pelion mountain took their place alongside the old familiar resorts of the select - Corfu with its Achilleion from the Austro-Hungarian period, and Rhodes with its Casino from the period of Italian rule (Hotel ‘ton Rodon’, 1938-39).

16Tourist development started out with inconceivably small magnitudes –of a few thousand tourists each year– which rose by geometrical progression year after year: 70,000 arrivals of tourists in 1950, 520,000 in 1960 (WEF, 2007).

17In 1965 the figure reached a million (NSSG, 1983). The great explosion in the number of arrivals and the take‑off of the figures took place after 1970, and mainly on the return of democracy and the lifting of an informal embargo imposed on Greece by Europe because of the country’s authoritarian regime.

18In observing the initial sui generis international youth alternative tourism with Greece as its destination, it can be argued that it was one of the pillars of tourist development.

19Two different kinds of conditions are related to its initial establishment and its long-term survival.

20The first one has to do with the social liberation and emancipation of the young. This was an international phenomenon; in Greece, it occurred during the dictatorship –and was directed against it. Free camping, nudism, living in communes in the sun by the sea, gathering round the camp fire at night, walking along the alleyways of the old settlements and staying in them –this was a lifestyle which was sought after, even if it was only temporary. The phenomenon of the dominance of youth ‘on the beach’, of eroticism, and the nude bodies which J. D. Urbain (URBAIN, 1999) describes ironically but aptly determined to a large degree the identity of tourism in Greece, as it did in the rest of the world. Freedom, folk culture, youth. It was not so much a matter of a love of the picturesque as of the discovery of a lifestyle which called into question the dominance of the bourgeois way of life of city residents. The option at its beginning was not independent of the great world-wide movement of young people’s questioning and sexual liberation of 1968.

21On the other side, the island communities, in total isolation and economic indigence, rubbed shoulders with social groups of foreign or indigenous (mainly) young people who were willing to pay for accommodation, food, and other products and services which had never existed before on the islands. Ever-increasing demand transformed local populations and economies.

22Development also had another face. In parallel with the backpack, low-budget youth tourism, on Ios and on Amorgos, a procession of the famous and wealthy was taking place at a distance of a few nautical miles from those islands, in the heart of the Cyclades. The international jet set, with Aristotle Onassis, Maria Kallas, Jackie Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, gradually, from 1954 onwards, made their appearance for vacations in the hitherto insignificant and impoverished village of Mykonos. (Figure 5)

Fig. 5 – Mykonos at the beginning of the touristic era. Postcard (1970)

Fig. 5 – Mykonos at the beginning of the touristic era. Postcard (1970)

Source: Archive of Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens.

23The island, with the archaeological site of neighbouring Delos as an exceptional weapon for attracting tourists, came to host scores of luxury yachts, one of the first island airports, and a rapidly increasing number of bars and places of entertainment. It is striking that in 1954, Mykonos had two bars, in 1978, 27, and in 1988, 50, while in 1997, 130 places of entertainment were in operation. Similarly, whereas in 1978 there were just 16 restaurants and tavernas, in 1997, there were 350 operating on Mykonos (SPILANIS, 2008). The fortunes of Mykonos were later followed by those of the island of Santorini.

24The few dazzlingly white settlements on Santorini, hovering over the fathomless marine crater, ascending the cliff on the back of donkeys, and the sight of the sunset from the end of the island every evening have for years now been the recognisable characteristics of the ‘Greek summer’ for millions of tourists from all over the world.

25It was through a, not all that slow, process at Matala, on Mykonos, on every small or large island that the ‘ritual contact of the holidaymaker with the autochthon’ was performed and succeeded (URBAIN, 1999). The combination of the desire of the tourist for free, non-organised, trips to ‘small’ destinations with the scope and will of the local farmer or fisherman for an increase in income was the primary foundation on which the whole relation between the tourist and the tourism professional on the islands was built.

26On the other hand, ‘major’ organised mass ‘heliotropic’ tourism soon followed, but not in the whole of the Aegean and Ionian. The example of the Spanish coast, the tall hotel complexes with their large capacity, and the unifunctional tourist zones –virtually new cities with bars and restaurants– rapidly found a field for application on the coastlines of Rhodes, Cos, northern Crete, Corfu, Santorini, and Mykonos. But it was confined to those islands. Multiple small islands did not join in the game. Great geographical isolation, even though in the case of Mykonos and Santorini, this was rapidly eliminated, was in part maintained and played its role in that of the rest of the islands. The limited space, the inaccessible areas, and the total absence of infrastructures did not permit the constant spatial development, large hotels, big roads, and airports with mass arrivals and departures which the shore of the Mediterranean, without geophysical discontinuities, allows.

3 - Magnitudes and particularities

27The lace-like indented Greek coastline constitutes a geophysical particularity, as it differs from the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean. The country is ringed by coasts of a length of nearly 13,700 km, four times greater than the EU27 average. The ratio between coastline length and country area is very high in the case of Greece: 105 km per square kilometre, as compared with 26 for Italy, 20 for Portugal, 9 for Turkey, and 8 in the case of France. This is more than double the European and world average, and almost double that of the Mediterranean countries (NBG, 2014).

28The same is true with hours of sunshine. The Greek Archipelago is lit by the sun for at least two hours more per day than the average European country, and for much longer than those of northern Europe.

29The coastline is discontinuous, highly fragmented, with its greatest length being on the islands –many isolated islands, in spatially discrete units with significant differences (SPILANIS, 2005). The Aegean has 3,053 islands, of which 53 are habitable according to international definitions; the whole country has nearly 70 such units. These are islands deserted because of poverty and migration in the 1950s which recovered in terms of population with the coming of tourism from the 1980s onwards. The tendency towards such recovery at the island tourist destinations had become apparent in the case of Rhodes and Mykonos at an earlier date.

30Most of the islands are ‘remote’ from the port of Piraeus for the summer visitor –things are even worse in winter– by a much greater distance than their actual geographical distance, since the lack of transport and the infrequency of sailings make the journey to the Northern and Southern Aegean an adventure of many hours, ‘or even days’. (Figure 6).

Fig. 6 – Tourists, locals, cars and trucks leaving the boat after a 14 hours travel

Fig. 6 – Tourists, locals, cars and trucks leaving the boat after a 14 hours travel

Port of Agios Kyrikos, Ikaria island (2009)

Source: Archive of Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens.

31Thus the ‘virtual’ distance of the islands renders the Aegean islands the most remote –in terms of real time/distance– of Greece’s territory, and the island peripheries of the Southern and Northern Aegean the most remote, according to Eurisles 2000, from the European centre, much more remote –particularly the last two in the Aegean– than the Balearics, Corsica, the Orkney Islands, and the Shetland Islands (SPILANIS, 2005).

32Greece is a country spread over sea coasts and flooded with sunshine. Why has it not developed in terms of tourism in the same way as the shores of the north‑western Mediterranean or, later, Turkey? Why has the original myth of the ‘Greek summer’ not been lost in landscapes of extensive building and all‑inclusive, mass accommodation and catering hotels, as is the case with so many Mediterranean coastal regions? Here a series of historical, geographical, and political particularities come into play.

33The first factor was probably the extensive small-scale ownership and fragmentation of the land. Some 51% of the country has this status - that of small private lots (NBG, 2014). The very small agricultural property has a size of around 4.8 Ha average, much lower than in Spain (24 Ha), Portugal (12 Ha), France (53.9 Ha), Italy (7.9 Ha), and the EU (14.3 Ha) (NBG, 2014). There was an absence, that is to say, of large plots of land suitable for sale to tourist enterprises for the siting of large tourist units.

34A second important factor relates to the fact that Greece was and is geographically isolated from the rest of the Mediterranean tourist complex. Apart from the country’s physical isolation, on the tip of the Balkan peninsula, its geopolitical isolation from the North during the critical period 1960-1990, and, more specifically, the existence of Yugoslavia and Albania as barriers on the west, of Turkey and Bulgaria on the east did not allow large geographical coastal continuities of tourist development to take shape, either from the Adriatic towards the Ionian or from the Black Sea towards the Aegean.

35Thus, Greece was for decades linked with the European and international world by a single maritime line, with a long voyage time, from the Italian ports of Brindisi and Ancona to the port of Patra, and then via the port of Piraeus to the islands, or by its few international airports. This, in conjunction with the fragmentation of the island complexes meant that the time required for a trip to the Aegean for the European or American tourist of the last two decades of the twentieth century was measured in days, with many ports or airports, ships or aeroplanes and many transits before the final island destination was reached. Whereas a tourist from the European centre could reach the resorts of the western Mediterranean coastline in a few hours by train or motor vehicle, for the Aegean, three to four days were needed. In a second phase, after the 1980s, the development of charter flights changed to a significant degree this ratio of journey times, making possible a direct linkage of many islands with cities abroad, by means of a journey of a few hours’ duration.

36This sui generis phenomenon –of the initial delay in the development of tourism, and the development of another, ‘small’, tourism– probably retarded the upward trend in tourist traffic in comparison with mass sun-seeking international tourism, but reinforced the identity of the Greek summer as a virgin and undisturbed phenomenon.

37From the 70,000 tourists of 1950, and the one million of 1965, the numbers rose to 6.5 million in 1980, and to 17.5 million in 2007 (WEF, 2007; NSSG, 1983; NSSG, 1999). The overwhelming number of arrivals were in the summer months (NSSG, 1999). Today, tourist arrivals fluctuate around 20,000,000 annually (Table 1).

Table 1 - Evolution of tourist arrivals in Greece (1950-2007)


70 000


520 000


1 400 000


6 500 000


9 000 000


13 000 000


17 500 000

Source: Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens

38The introduction of charter flights changed the relation of the journey, spreading tourism over a dozen islands where during these years airports were built. In 1977, there were already 11.5 thousand charter flights, with 1.2 million passengers; in 1981, there were 18.8 thousand flights, with 2.0 million passengers (NSSG, 1983). In 1996, charter flights increased almost fourfold, reaching 51 thousands carrying 7 million passengers (NSSG, 1999). Of the total number of travellers who reached Greece by air, only 35% landed at the central international airports of Athens and Thessaloniki, while the remaining 65% flew directly toward the islands (NSSG, 1999). A special note: of the total of the inhabited islands of the Aegean and the Ionian, only one in seven hosted large numbers of tourists arriving by air. On the rest, arrival continued after a lengthy voyage by coastal shipping (Figure 7).

Fig. 7 – The small island of Fournoi

Fig. 7 – The small island of Fournoi

One of the most isolated islands of the Eastern Aegean (2009)

Source: Archive of Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens.

4 - Island cities and settlements

39Island Greece takes the form of an archipelago in its eastern part, in the Aegean. In the west is the chain of the Ionian Islands, while to the south, Crete closes off the geographical complex. The islands’ population numbers 1,500,000, 13% of the country’s total (HSA, 2011). These large island units –the Aegean, the Ionian, and Crete– are distinct and do not communicate with one another, but only by way of Attica, the metropolitan ports and airports of the two poles of Athens and Piraeus.

40In this fragmented geographical area there are no large cities (HSA, 2011). The urban scales fall when compared to the rest of Greece.

41Only the two port-cities of Crete, Iraklio and Chania, together with the city of Rhodes, approach a size of 50,000 inhabitants. The first two, the Cretan cities, are of the greatest antiquity and developed during the post-War period of internal migration thanks to the movement of the large island’s villagers to them. And they have continued to develop in the age of tourism. The third, the modern city of Rhodes, as ancient as the previous two, is the product of two phases of the twentieth century: the settlement of the Italians in the inter‑War period, as the headquarters of the Dodecanese colony, and then that of the tourism explosion in the last part of the century. In the case of the rest of the islands, the ‘cities’ have retained to a large degree the sizes and the space reminiscent of towns. After Crete and Corfu, only four cities in the Aegean – Cos, Mytilene, Chios, and Ermoupolis, like Corfu in the Ionian-, have more than 10,000 residents. And yet the vast space of the islands is urbanised, with a dispersed urbanity, a low intensity urbanisation (KOTZIA et al., 2006).

42Scores of ‘chores’ –the main settlements of small islands– and hundreds of villages spread over large and small islands. They communicate chiefly by the dense sea routes and their innumerable small harbours, and are frequently cut off in winter because of the high seas. They live in the calm of their isolation nine months of the year, waiting for the three months of summer. Settlements continuing to engage in agriculture and fishing, as they have come down from the depths of history, satellites of their ports, they live on the cusp of their relationship with soil and sea, on the one hand, and of the invading summer cosmopolitanism, on the other.

43The very few cities together with the galaxy of towns and settlements which cover the islands have had the tourist phenomenon grafted on to them, and co-exist with it by means of the formation of a local idiom –the characteristic small units of tourist accommodation which have spread over the whole of the Aegean and the Ionian as features of a local domestic economy.

5 - Hotels, ‘rooms to let’, and small scales

44Within this framework, in tracing the development of tourist infrastructures, another particularity can be identified, directly related to the great fragmentation of island and coastal land and space, and the high incidence of small properties –factors mentioned above.

45During these years, very few large-scale hotel complexes were built in Greece. From the time of the first state Xenia hotels of the 1960s and the organised villages of the Club Méditerranée, hotels were as a rule small in comparison with their international equivalents, while alongside them another typical tourist unit, rented rooms, developed. These were small ekistic complexes, under family management, of 5 to 10 beds, incorporated into or next door to the residences of the owners.

46When mass tourism first started out, in 1977, the country had 3.4 thousand tourist hotel units, with 232 thousand beds. In 1981, the number had risen to 4.1 thousand units, with 286 thousand beds (NSSG, 1983). Fifteen years later, the hotel units had almost doubled in number, reaching 7.9 thousand units, with 571 thousand beds in 1996 (NSSG, 1999). Today this number is 766 thousand beds, of which 65% are to be found in the islands (SPILANIS, KIZOS, 2015)

47This stock developed linearly for many years, but magnitudes remained small. Whereas at the international level tourism is seen to be covered by hotels which in 2011 had on average 60 beds –in the particular case of the Mediterranean, 88– in Greece the average hotel unit had just 20 (WEF, 2014, 2013, NBG, 2014). The magnitudes represented by the averages at country level of hotels in Turkey (129 beds/hotel), Portugal (104 beds/hotel), France (88 beds/hotel) (WEF, 2013; NBG, 2014) seem enormous in comparison with their Greek equivalents. A second consideration is that Greece is much lower than Spain, France, Portugal, and Turkey in its share of international chain hotel rooms (NBG, 2014). To sum up, this means small hotels and few international names of mass and super-organised tourism companies.

48Alongside these magnitudes of hotel beds, another, of exceptional interest, appears: 190 thousand rooms with 407 thousand beds officially declared to EOT (NSSG, 1996). The real magnitude must be reckoned at higher levels, with thousands of rented rooms which have not been declared. The small-scale owners with a few rooms to let, incorporated into their own homes or on their own in very small complexes, and situated chiefly in towns and villages, are in competition with hotel enterprises.

6 - Epilogue

49Thus we can follow the formation of the Greek tourist idiom, of the space and the magnitudes of the ‘Greek summer’ from the few tourists of the 1950s to the millions of the twenty-first century. Half the tourists now arrive on charter flights directly to their destination or very close to it. For a certain percentage of the Greek islands, the exclusion of earlier times has been eliminated. But for most of them this is not the case. A very large portion of the tourists who visit them stay with small family enterprises with a few beds on scattered islands. Half of them do not stay in hotels but in rented rooms, more or less cohabiting with local families.

50Nobody planned this small-scale tourism: it arose out of circumstances.

51There is a sense in which in the Aegean the myth of the 1960s has not been crushed beneath the machinery of the construction industry and the weight of large numbers. On the contrary, tourism has developed in such a way that the archetypes which attract travellers have survived. Greece continues to be the place where summer goes together with small islands, small villages, small shores, and small landscapes.

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URBAIN J.-D., (2000 [1999]), Sur la plage. Mœurs et coutumes balnéaires (xixe-xxe siècles), Greek edition, Potamos, Athens.

WEF, (2013), World Economic Forum, Travel & Tourism Competitiveness. Report.

WEF, (2007), World Economic Forum, Travel & Tourism Competitiveness. Report.

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List of illustrations

Title Grèce
Credits © Jean‑Christophe Ballot
File image/jpeg, 236k
Title Fig. 1 – The city and the port of Naxos island after WW2. Postcard (1945)
Credits Source: Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis, L’ Architecture populaire en Grèce, (1952), Ελληνική Λαϊκή Αρχιτεκτονική, Athens: Themelio, 1977 (Greek Edition).
File image/jpeg, 128k
Title Fig. 2 – A sketch of the Greek architect Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis for the city of Paroikia, Paros island (1952)
Credits Source: Panos-Nikolis Tzelepis, L’ Architecture populaire en Grèce, (1952), Ελληνική Λαϊκή Αρχιτεκτονική, Athens: Themelio, 1977 (Greek Edition).
File image/jpeg, 120k
Title Fig. 3 – Nude girls under the sun
Caption “Young Aphrodites” by Nikos Koundouros (1963)
Credits Source: Greek Film Archive, The Greek Film Archive Foundation.
File image/jpeg, 112k
Title Fig. 4 – The local and the traveler dancing at the seashore
Caption “Alexis Zorbas” by Michalis Kakoyannis (1964)
Credits Source: Greek Film Archive –The Greek Film Archive Foundation.
File image/jpeg, 640k
Title Fig. 5 – Mykonos at the beginning of the touristic era. Postcard (1970)
Credits Source: Archive of Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens.
File image/png, 1.1M
Title Fig. 6 – Tourists, locals, cars and trucks leaving the boat after a 14 hours travel
Caption Port of Agios Kyrikos, Ikaria island (2009)
Credits Source: Archive of Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens.
File image/jpeg, 4.9M
Title Fig. 7 – The small island of Fournoi
Caption One of the most isolated islands of the Eastern Aegean (2009)
Credits Source: Archive of Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens.
File image/jpeg, 1.5M
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Bibliographical reference

Nikos Belavilas, « The Myth of Greek Summer », Méditerranée, 129 | 2017, 65-72.

Electronic reference

Nikos Belavilas, « The Myth of Greek Summer », Méditerranée [Online], 129 | 2017, Online since 06 July 2018, connection on 16 October 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.9195

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About the author

Nikos Belavilas

Urban Environment Laboratory, National Technical University of Athens,

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