The historical and cultural heritage of Greece continues to resonate throughout the modern Western world - in its literature, art, philosophy and politics.
Situated in the far south of the Balkan peninsula, Greece combines the towering mountains of the mainland with over 1,400 islands, the largest of which is Crete.
Post-World War II Greece saw rapid economic and social change, with tourism and shipping becoming major contributors to the economy.
The financial crisis of the late 2000s hit Greece particularly hard, as the legacy of high public spending and widespread tax evasion combined with the credit crunch and the resulting recession to leave the country with a crippling debt burden.
At a glance
- Politics: After inconclusive elections in May 2012, a further round of voting in June restored a shaky coalition of the advocates of austerity measures
- Economy: Enormous debts have sent Greece into deep recession. Multi-billion-euro bailouts from the EU and IMF are conditional on tough austerity measures
- International: Greece calls for the restoration of a unified state in Cyprus. It is involved in a naming dispute with Macedonia
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
In 2010, amid fears of an imminent default on debt payments and of the debt contagion spreading to other countries, Greece's fellow eurozone countries agreed an unprecedented 110bn euro package to rescue its teetering economy.
The following year, an even bigger bailout of 130bn euros was required to stave off the imminent danger of Greece defaulting on its debts. However, these two bailouts combined - amounting to a total of 240bn euros - were not sufficient to plug the hole in the country's finances, and by 2013 it was clear that a further 10bn euros would be needed to cover the funding gap.
Greece's economy shrank by 23% between 2008 and 2013, and international lenders predict that it will continue to diminish in the immediate term.
At the prompting of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, Greece has been striving to reduce its debt burden from 160% of GDP to a target figure of 120%. It has also embarked on recapitalising its banks so as to put them on a sounder footing.
The main conditions attached to the various rescue packages Greece has received - drastic cuts in public spending, which have led to record unemployment levels - have prompted recurrent social unrest.
The protracted economic uncertainty has been accompanied by a rise in support for the virulently anti-immigration Golden Dawn party - which entered parliament for the first time in 2012 - and human rights groups have expressed concern at the increased incidence of violence against ethnic minorities.International relations
Greece has long been at odds with its close neighbour, Turkey, over territorial disputes in the Aegean and the divided island of Cyprus.
Relations warmed after both countries suffered earthquakes in 1999 and offered each other practical help.
Although the disputes remain unresolved, the Greek government gives strong backing to Turkey's EU bid. It sees dividends to be gained from the increased regional stability that it believes membership would bring.
Greece has been in dispute since the early 1990s with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece contends that the use of the name Macedonia by the neighbouring country implies a territorial claim over Greece's own region of the same name. The UN is involved in continuing mediation efforts.
Athens stepped into the global spotlight when the Olympic Games returned home in 2004. The games were hailed as a success, despite widely publicised fears that the infrastructure would not be complete in time.