Athens (AFP) – Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla on Wednesday began their first joint official visit to Greece, a country of mixed feelings for the British royal family.
“The relationship between our two countries goes back such a very long way,” Charles told Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos at the presidential palace in Athens.
“I know we have shared an awful lot together over many, many years,” he said.
Britain was among the powers that in the 19th century helped Greece secure independence from the Ottoman Empire, and the two countries were allies in both world wars.
“Your visit adds a very important link in this chain of friendship,” Pavlopoulos said.
The three-day visit comes as the Prince’s Trust International, an initiative founded by Charles that has helped nearly 900,000 disadvantaged youths in the UK, expands its skills training activities to Greece.
“Knowing that Greece, and so many Greeks, have been going through such a very difficult time in recent years, I wanted to find a way – however small and inadequate – to help the young people of Greece achieve their full potential,” the prince told Kathimerini daily.
In a meeting with Charles, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras noted that he had accepted an invitation from his British counterpart Theresa May to visit London on June 26.
The 69-year-old heir to the throne has frequently visited Greece privately for holidays.
But this is just his second official visit to the country of his father’s birth.
“Apart from anything else, Greece is in my blood and I have long had a fascination for her ancient culture and history,” Charles told Kathimerini ahead of the visit.
“Not to mention the fact that I have been so fortunate to have visited some of Greece’s many beautiful and unique places,” he added.
Charles, who laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens, will also visit an allied cemetery and on Thursday and will travel to the island of Crete on Friday for a tour of the ancient Minoan palace of Knossos, excavated by the British archaeological school.
Greek media noted Wednesday that Greece is the only European country never visited by Charles’ mother Queen Elizabeth II in an official capacity.
Charles’ father Prince Philip was born on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece.
Shortly after Philip’s birth, the Greek royal family was forced to flee the country following defeat to Turkey in the 1922 Asia Minor campaign.
Prince Andrew commanded an army group in the campaign, and he narrowly avoided being executed alongside the royalist prime minister and other officials in the angry popular backlash that followed the defeat.