At the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Greece was at the crossroads of the ancient world. Its current population is around 11 million, with more than a quarter living in the capital and largest city, Athens. Modern Greece traces its cultural roots directly to ancient Greece, widely considered to be the cradle of Western civilization. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, tragic and comic theater, certain mathematical and scientific principles and medicine. The country is home to no fewer than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Greek name for Greece is Hellas; in English we refer to the Hellenistic period. The word Greece derives from the Latin word Graecia, used by the Romans to refer to Hellas. The ancient Greek civilization is considered to have begun in the Cyclades around 3200 B.C., continued with the Minoans in Crete (2700–1500 B.C.) and the Mycenaeans on the mainland (1900–1100 B.C.). The classical Greek period began around the time Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey in the 8th–7th century B.C.; the first Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C. This period flourished until the 2nd centuries B.C., then it began to lose the battle with Rome for control of the known world. By the 6th century A.D. Greece’s classical age passed into history after some 13 centuries.
Today Greece is a very popular destination with a thriving tourist industry. Visitors to Athens have the opportunity to see one of the world’s most famous archeological sites, the Acropolis. Featuring the Parthenon, the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus and Odeon of Pericles, the exquisite small temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea or monumental gateway to the area, this sacred space perfectly captures and symbolizes the values and the aesthetic of this ancient culture. There are archeological museums, art museums and galleries, theatrical performances—even some in the ancient theaters—sporting events and wonderful dining and nightlife. It is possible to take short day trips outside the city to see some of the other UNESCO Sites like Epidaurus and Delphi.
Another extremely popular Greek destination is the island of Corfu. Its ancient Greek name, Korkyra, comes from the name of a beautiful nymph whom the sea god Poseidon fell in love with; he abducted her and brought her to the island to live. The walled citadel or “castle city,” Corfu City, is a UNESCO Site. Visitors enjoy exploring the island’s well-kept temples, gardens and statuary, charming streets and squares, clear waters and very friendly people.