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Great Britain's (United Kingdom) influence on the histories, cultures, and imaginations of peoples of the world is colossal. From Camelot to Runnymede, bagpipes to the Beatles, British heritage and achievements permeate the lives and thoughts of people across the globe. Formally known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the nation was formed in 1707 by a political union of the much older kingdoms of Scotland and England.

A third partner in this union is Wales, a principality that shares the English government but is largely self-administered and has its own distinct culture and identity. Northern Ireland (also called Ulster) comprises another integral part.

The last 100 years have witnessed the fall of empire, the loss of the trading base and the nation's stubborn refusal to adjust to a diminished role in the modern world - from Colonial Empire to bickering member of the EEC in a few short decades. But while the Family may have taken a right Royal battering, many of the other august institutions at the cornerstone of British life have muddled their way through with a stiff upper lip and a strong sense of protocol.

Its landscapes, towns, and urban scenes are immortalized in nursery rhyme, painting, fiction, poetry, motion picture, and television; its laws and institutions have served as a model for scores of countries; its language is the closest candidate to an international tongue on the planet today; the inventions of its laboratories and workshops sustain our daily routines. Visitors flock to Britain for a variety of reasons. Most of them visit London for its marvelous historical and cultural offerings theater, museums, galleries, dance, symphonies, shopping, pub life, and the pomp of Whitehall and Buckingham Palace.

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