Culturally, it is the richest of countries, with a line of continuous civilization that begins from several millennia before Christ through to the present day, with a density of archaeological museums and sites unmatched anywhere in the world. Like most who visit, I know that places such as Delphi are more than simply rows of stones, not just remnants of ancient architecture. They have some kind of magic that draws us, its 21st-century visitors, in the same way they drew people several thousands of years ago. Sitting in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, for example, watching a play under a full moon, I have felt all those invisible barriers between past and present simply melt away. Standing in the stadium at Ancient Olympia, or at the entrance to the Palace of Knossos, has a similar effect.
In Greece, the idea of democracy was created, beauty was defined (even worshipped), the archetypes of comedy and tragedy were written, early forms of medicine were developed. We owe so much to Greece, and each day, even if unwittingly, we speak hundreds of words with roots in its ancient language.
But it’s not just the high culture of ancient history and the blazing glories of the Byzantine period (though these are undeniably beautiful and led the way for the rest of the world) that attract us to Greece. The living culture of food, wine and music are a huge daily pleasure for everyone in the country (Greek or visitor). Hedonism is, naturally, a Greek word. Dionysus was the God of the grape harvest, and quite rightly worshipped. There is no shame in enjoying yourself to the full there. You are positively meant to derive pleasure from the good things of life and to live for the moment.
The crisis that has hit Greece in recent times is undeniably hard for people there, but it has done nothing to mar the eternal beauty of their country. This cannot be tarnished and will endure for much longer than this period of hardship, which I hope will become simply a line in a history book.
Being intoxicated by a perfect, dry assyrtiko (never underestimate Greek wine) is one thing. Being drunk on the beauty of a landscape is another. I have travelled the length and breadth of Greece, slept on mountains and beaches (as well as in the cheapest and the most expensive hotels), and visited dozens of islands. Sometimes its sheer beauty is overwhelming. The rolling green-black hills of the Peloponnese, the dramatic mountains of Epirus in the north, the extraordinary bays of Halkidiki and the gentler landscapes of the islands – all of them are breathtaking.
The bright blue-and-white Greek flag, which evokes sky, sea and the dazzling white of so many buildings, is proudly flown all over Greece. There is, of course, a single Greece, but at the same time there are many: ancient and modern, mountains and sea, mainland and islands. All of these things bring me back, time after time after time.
Victoria Hislop is the author of seven novels set in Greece, including The Island. Her latest is Cartes Postales from Greece (Headline Review)