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Geography and Landscape


France (La France; officially: République Française) is a republic in Western Europe. The total area of France is 543,965 km2, making it the second largest country in Western Europe and the 37th in the world by area. France is thirteen times the size of the Netherlands and about the same size as Spain and Portugal combined. In all of Europe, France is the largest country after Russia and Ukraine. The greatest distance from north to south is 975 kilometers, about the same as from east to west.

Most of France's borders are natural. To the west is the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwest the Pas de Calais and the English Channel, to the east the Rhine, the Jura Mountains and the Alps, to the south the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees.

France also borders Belgium (620 km) and Luxembourg (73 km) in the north, Germany (451 km), Switzerland (573 km), Italy (488 km) and Monaco (4.4 km) in the east, and the south to Spain (623 km) and Andorra (57 km).

France Satellite photo NASAFrance Satellite photo NASAPhoto: Public domain

The French state comprises, in addition to metropolitan France "la Métropole", the overseas departments: Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique and Reunion, the "collectivités territoriales" Îles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and Mayotte, and four overseas territories: New Caledonia, Vanuatu, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. Furthermore, France also claims a part of Antarctica: Adélieland. New Caledonia also has a new status since January 1, 2000. The overseas departments (DOM) have approximately 1.7 million inhabitants and the overseas territories (TOM) and New Caledonia had slightly more than 430,000 inhabitants in 1996. Today all these areas are represented in the French National Assembly.


The French landscape consists of plains, coasts and old and young mountains. The mountains are located in the south and east of France and cover about 25% of the total area of France.

The lowlands and hills, below 500 meters, cover most of the country. Ancient mountain ranges include the Armorican Massif in Brittany, which is up to 400 meters high, the hilly foothills of the Belgian Ardennes, the Vosges in the northeast, which reach up to 1400 meters, and the Massif Central, which is up to 1800 meters high. The shapes of these fold mountains, which originated in the Carboniferous, have been severely worn down because they have been exposed to wind and weather for about 300 million years.

Rivers have cut deeply in the Massif Central, including the gorge of the Ardèche river. The area west of Clermont Ferrand is a volcanic landscape of which the Monts Dômes forms a chain running from north to south. The old volcanoes generally only rise a few hundred meters above the fertile land. The Puy de Dôme, the highest mountain in the range, and other conical mountains are examples of dead volcanoes. Many major rivers originate in this area: Loire, Dordogne, Tarn, Ardèche and Hérault.

Spring water and museum in Chaudes Aigues, FranceSpring water and museum in Chaudes Aigues, FrancePhoto: OT chaudes aigues in the public domain.

In the Auvergne there are many hot springs, of which the spring water of Chaudes Aigues is the warmest in Europe with a temperature of 82 °C.

Young mountains are in the south the Pyrenees and in the east the Alps and the Jura. These so-called folding mountains are partly very high, with Mont Blanc (4807 meters) on the border with Italy as the highest mountain in Europe. These "young" mountains were mostly formed in the tertiary period from 65 million to 2,5 million years ago. The weathering has not yet struck like this, and as a result these mountains still have sharply drawn shapes. The Alps are easily accessible due to the presence of long and large river valleys. This is an important difference from the Pyrenees, which are more of a closed block and barrier.

Mont Blanc, highest mountain of EuropeMont Blanc, highest mountain of EuropePhoto: Björn SCC CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Pyrenees consist of two mountain ranges that overlap at the point where the Garonne rises in the Valle d'Aran, a corner of Spain north of the watershed in the Pyrenees. There is a clear difference between the forests and meadows of the moist and fresh Atlantic Pyrenees and the vineyards and orchards of the sun-drenched flank on the side of the Mediterranean, one of the driest areas in France. The highest waterfall in Europe (422 meters), the Grande Cascade de Gavarnie, can be found in the Cirque de Gavarnie, a rocky amphitheater carved by rivers and glaciers and rimmed with peaks of up to 3000 meters.

The Northern Alps (Alpes du Nord) comprise the Isère basin with its tributaries. The climate here is colder and more humid with a lot of snow. There are numerous glaciers that provide a lot of melt water in summer. Due to the great decline, the rivers are very suitable for the construction of dams and the generation of electricity.

The Southern Alps (Alpes du Sud) comprise the basin of the Durance and the Verdon. The relief here is less impressive. The climate is warmer, drier and sunnier.

Gorges du Verdon, FranceGorges du Verdon, FrancePhoto: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho from Lahti, Finland, CC 2.0 no changes made

In the north lies a large saucer-shaped plain with Paris roughly in the middle, the so-called Basin of Paris. This low plain is vast and has an undulating landscape with wooded ridges in the east. These are steep edges or cuestas, hard remnants of a worn-out rock layer. The limestone layers of the Paris Basin reach the coast at the Channel and form a steep chalk or falais coast there. The Paris Basin is bounded by the Armorican Massif, the Massif Central, the Vosges and the Ardennes.

In the southwest there is also an extensive lowland, which includes Bordeaux, the Aquitaine Basin. South of Bordeaux is a dune coast with extensive beaches and beach lakes. The area behind the dunes, Les Landes, was always swampy due to poor drainage, but many forests have been planted here since the 19th century.

Dunes of Les LandesDunes of Les LandesPhoto: Franck-fnba Creative CC 4.0 International no changes made

The Massif Central does not consist of one mountain range, but is an enormous plateau between the Loire and the Mediterranean Sea and covers one sixth of France (91,000 km2). The highest peaks are in the Auvergne in the north. The Causses and Cevennes further south are less high but rougher, with churning rivers and rock gorges.

The Rhône Valley runs between the Massif Central and the Alps, which fans out to the south in a delta made up of river clay. Here too there are lakes behind the beach wall and the drainage is poor. In this area lies the Camargue, a wild and protected area. To the west of the Rhône delta there is a fairly wide coastal plain with an extensive beach and to the east of this delta the coastal plain is very narrow and the rocky coast sometimes rises steeply from the sea, while the beaches are mainly found in bays.

In Normandy, the famous Mont-Saint-Michel, an 80-meter-high rocky island, lies in front of the mouth of the river Couesnon. There are many islands off the coast of Brittany. Sein is no higher than a big wave and produces scallops, lobster and spiny lobster. Oessant is an important point on the sea chart and notorious for its shipwrecks. Belle-Ile, Hoëdic and Houat, with excellent beaches, lie off the sheltered south coast. Groix is a smaller version of Belle-Ile, with a rocky coast and beach. At Concarneau lie the nine uninhabited Glénan Islands, now a nature reserve. Bréhat has a mild climate and exotic vegetation.

Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, FranceMont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, FrancePhoto: Amaustan CC 4.0 International no changes made

The coast of France is very long, 6200 kilometers, and varied. Where an old or young mountain occurs, there is a rocky coast with often deep coves. It concerns the coast of Brittany, Normandy, Provence and the island of Corsica. North of Cap Gris-Nez and south of the Gironde estuary we find a dune coast. To the north of the Seine estuary the coast consists of steep limestone cliffs or falaises. In the southwest, the dunes are very high and wide. The highest sand dune in Europe is the "Dune du Pilat", on the coast of Aquitaine. It is nearly 3 kilometers long, 115 meters high and 500 meters wide. As the dunes grew, small rivers were sometimes dammed and lakes were created. Such a lake in the vicinity of the coast, which is closed off from the sea, is called an "étang". These lakes are also found on the Mediterranean coast.

The Mediterranean Sea has a real silting coast due to the large supply of sand and clay via the rivers and the low ebb and flow currents. This allows the sludge to settle fairly quietly.

The longest river in France is the Loire with a total length of 1006 kilometers. It flows from its source in the Ardeche to its funnel mouth at St. Nazaire on the Atlantic coast.

Loire, longest river of FranceLoire, longest river of FrancePhoto: David Monniaux CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Rhône, which has its source in Switzerland, is fed by melt water from the rivers Isère, Drôme and Durance. The Garonne flows from the Pyrenees via Toulouse and Bordeaux to the Atlantic Ocean. From the Massif Central, the Tarn and the Lot join.

The Dordogne has its source in the Massif Central and has a total length of 490 kilometers. Just north of Bordeaux, it merges with the Garonne, and together they form the Gironde, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

Other important rivers are the Rhine, the Garonne and the Seine which flows right through Paris (775 km).

Climate and weather

France shows a great variation in climatic conditions, mainly due to the decreasing influence of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the influence of the Mediterranean Sea in the southeast and the presence of mountains such as the Alps and the Pyrenees. France is generally in the flow of westerly winds and therefore most of the country has a moderate maritime climate. Temperatures are gradually increasing from north to south.

France has four different climates.

Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and in the southern part of the Rhone Valley, there is a Mediterranean climate where summers are dry and warm and winters mild and humid. Notorious in the Rhône valley is the mistral, a strong cold wind that blows from the Massif Central through the valley of the river to the Mediterranean Sea. This wind sometimes feeds into a storm because the Rhône valley functions as a draft hole. The least precipitation falls in the southeast: Avignon and Marseille, with 600 mm per year, with a maximum in both spring and autumn, as well as a sharp minimum in July.

Heavy snowfall in southern Marseille, FranceHeavy snowfall in southern Marseille, FrancePhoto: Compo CC 4.0 Internationall no changes made

In the west there is a moderate maritime climate with relatively small differences between summer and winter temperatures. The average annual temperature in this region is 11 °C. Rain falls in all seasons, although autumn has the most rainy days. The annual amount of precipitation is on average more than 1000 mm in many places. Brittany has the most pronounced maritime climate

In the east there is a continental climate with cold winters; the number of frost days is on average 83. In summer the average temperature is 19 °C and there is relatively little rainfall.

In the center of France there is a transitional climate with characteristics of both a sea and a land climate. Compared to the temperate maritime climate, the temperature differences between summer and winter are larger, while the average rainfall is less and is around 650 mm per year.

As a result of the slow heating in the spring and the slow cooling of the seawater in the autumn, the temperature near the coast is often much higher in the autumn than in the spring. Although most of France has a moderate climate, the observed temperature extremes are still far apart: Paris occasionally has maximum temperatures of about 40 ° C and an absolute minimum of -16 ° C.

Rainy Paris, FranceRainy Paris, FrancePhoto: Domwlive CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The amount of precipitation is largely determined by the presence of mountains: Biarritz at the foot of the Pyrenees with almost 1500 mm per year and Annecy in the Alps with almost 1300. Significant snow occurs almost exclusively in the mountains: in the Pyrenees lies a layer of snow at 2500 m altitude for more than 200 days a year.

Besides the mistral mentioned earlier, other local winds are the föhn-like autan and the cold northern bise.

Area where the mistral blows in FranceArea where the mistral blows in FrancePhoto: Vi..Cult.. CC 3.0 Unported no change made

Plants and Animals


France has a rich and varied flora with more than 4000 different types of higher plants. The four main areas are: a very gradually merging Atlantic and Central European vegetation and an alpine and Mediterranean vegetation.
The tree line lies in the various mountain ranges at different heights; in the Pyrenees at 2500 meters, in the French Alps at 1900 meters, in the Auvergne at 1500 meters and in the Vosges at 1100 meters. In the past, France was almost entirely covered with forest, currently only a quarter. Large forests can still be found in the Basin of Paris (Fontainebleau, Compiègne), in Normandy, and near Orléans.

Forest of Fontainebleau in the springForest of Fontainebleau in the springPhoto: Clément Bardot CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the plains and hills of the Atlantic and Central European area, the forest consists of deciduous forest: oak birch forest on poorer soils, oak hedge-beech forest on nutrient-rich soils, beech forest in the ascending old state forests, alder, elm and ash forests in the river valleys.

Where forests are lacking, in the Atlantic area, the heather is particularly noticeable, with mainly gorse species and red heather.
The dunes with their characteristic vegetation are especially well developed in the north, on Cotentin, in Charente-Maritime and in Les Landes, where they are covered with maritime pines. Famous are the orchid-rich limestone grasslands that can be found all over France. In the mountains you will find, from low to high, belts of beech forest, beech-spruce forest, Norway spruce forest and the alpine zone. Remote alpine meadows are home to countless wildflowers, including crocuses, blue and yellow gentians, numerous varieties of lilies and orchids, alpine anemones, bellflowers and tulips. The nationale tree of France is the yew.

Yew, national tree of FranceYew, national tree of FrancePhoto: Sitomon CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

More than 400 types of flowers are found in the Pyrenees, 160 of which are only here, including the Pyrenean ramonda and saxifrage, special types of acelia and lilies, small purple crocuses and pink androsace.

In summer, the mountain pastures of the Pyrenees are full of flowers such as Turkish lilies, columbines, lapwing flowers, gentian, violets, geraniums, daffodils and orchids.

The Mediterranean flora and vegetation in the extreme south has its own character. The original holm oak forest has almost disappeared and been replaced by maquis, an evergreen thorn bush, which thrives on stony soil and garrigue, a heather-like vegetation with dwarf oak, lavender and rosemary, which grows mainly on calcareous soil with olive groves, vineyards and cultures of fig and almond, on the Côte d'Azur of oranges and lemons.

Orange tree, FranceOrange tree, FrancePhoto: Tomwsulcer in the public domain


The animal world of France is in line with that of Western, Central and Southern Europe. Typical mountain fauna can be found in the Western Alps and the Pyrenees. Due to the strong temperature differences in the sea of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the coasts have completely different fauna. Due to the vast expanse of the area, one finds a number of different elements under the animal world.

The genet reaches its northern border in France; the flamingo breeding grounds in the Camargue (Rhône Delta) are the most northerly in Europe and the Mediterranean. The night heron and the egret also breed in this delta and the beaver can also be found here. Unbridled hunting of all kinds of game and birds has contributed to the impoverishment of the fauna; national parks and reserves are still too few in number to ensure the survival of countless rare species.

Pyrenean desman, FrancePyrenean desman, FrancePhoto: Muséum de Toulouse CC 4.0 International no changes made

Brown bears are still found in the Pyrenees, which do not live in the high mountains but on the edge of the highest point where people also live. Other mountain inhabitants are marmots, "isards" or Pyrenean antelope (chamois), snow partridge and the Pyrenean Desman or water mole, a nocturnal animal with webbed feet and a pointed snout only found in the Pyrenees and the Caucasus.

Pyrenean chamois, FrancePyrenean chamois, FrancePhoto: Tamás Cserkész CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The king of the Pyrenees is the bearded vulture, the largest European vulture with a wingspan of up to three meters. Other vultures that still occur here are the griffon vulture and the Egyptian vulture. In the Alps and the Pyrenees, chamois and ibex live at high altitudes and in the Alps characteristic species such as snowshoe hare, alpine marmot, alpine chough, alpine chough and ptarmigan.

Many species of bats live in the north and west, especially horseshoe bats and smooth noses. Furthermore, insect eaters such as mole, hedgehog and shrew and rodents such as hare, rabbit, hamster, squirrel, sleep-turbulent and real mice. Small predators include weasel, marten, polecat, badger and otter and ungulates red deer, roe deer and wild boar.

The bird population does not really have any special species. There are reserves for all kinds of seabirds off the coast of Brittany and here live auks, guillemots, puffins, cormorants, curlews and gannets. The coastal marshes in the west and south of France are stopping places for migratory waterfowl. The rock pigeon is an ancestor of the well-known city pigeon living on the rocks. The national bird of France is de )Gallic) rooster.

National symbol of France is the (Gallic) roosterNational symbol of France is the (Gallic) roosterPhoto: Remi Jouan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the South of France the number of animal species is much larger, partly because of the Mediterranean and South European species. Examples are the bee-eater, the roller and the greater number of reptiles and amphibians.Common seals live along the Atlantic coast and monk seal, harbor porpoise, bottlenose dolphin and dolphin live along the Mediterranean coast. The mouflon occurs on the island of Corsica.

European moeflon on Corsica, FranceEuropean moeflon on Corsica, FrancePhoto: Vassil in the public domain


Prehistory and Antiquity

The oldest objects found in France date back to between 1 million and 400,000 years ago. The oldest human remains, a skull, is about 400,000 years old. From 90,000 to 40,000 BC. the Neanderthals populated French territory. After a dramatic climate change, they disappeared and were succeeded by the Cro-Magnon, who were the first to deal with prehistoric art. Cave paintings, carvings and artfully carved bone tools date from the late Paleolithic. These are mainly found in the Dordogne with the caves of Lascaux as the most famous attraction.

Murals in the caves of Lascaux, FranceMurals in the caves of Lascaux, FrancePhoto: Jack Versloot CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Other special remains from the period of about 5000 BC. are megaliths, consisting of dolmen, allées couvertes and menhirs. These megaliths are mainly found along the Atlantic coast, especially in Brittany. From the Mediterranean (c. 5500 BCE) and colonization from the Rhineland (c. 4800 BCE) arable and livestock farming was introduced into the French areas.

In the Bronze Age, a center of bronze industry and trade emerged in Brittany. From the Rhineland in the late Bronze Age, the Urnfield culture spread throughout France. In the Iron Age, the Hallstatt culture (750-450 BC) and the La Tène culture (450-50 BC) were important. Of great significance in this period was also the foundation of the Greek colony of Massilia (now: Marseille), which resulted in, among other things, trade contacts with the classical world.

Massilia (Marseille) at the age of emperor CaesarMassilia (Marseille) at the age of emperor CaesarPhoto: Cristiano64 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In Northern France, Marne culture flourished around this time. A lot of bronze crockery has been found from this period and even complete trolleys. All this points to a dichotomy in prehistoric society with a social elite but also feudal traits.

With the Gallic Wars of Caesar (58–51 BC) and his incorporation of "Gallia" into the Roman Empire, prehistory and antiquity come to an end.

Middle Ages

Christianity was first introduced to France in the 2nd century. The first Christians were still persecuted, but the turning point came in 312 with the conversion of King Constantine. Christianity then became the official state religion. By 500, the church had acquired a powerful position alongside the state and exerted great influence.

From about 300 on, the Roman Empire began to decline and it was extremely difficult to defend Gaul against barbarian tribes from Germany. After 400 the Vandals invaded en masse and Attila the Hun advanced as far as Eastern France and the Romans withdrew to Orléans. In 455, Rome itself was conquered and Gaul became prey to the West Goths, Burgundians, Alemanni and Franks.

In 481 Clovis became the first Merovingian king of the Salian Franks, laying the foundation for modern France. Clovis converted to Christianity and married Clothilda, a Burgundian princess, thus increasing the power of the Franks. After the death of Clovis, a succession war ensued between marauding feudal lords who tried in vain to maintain authority and order. During this time it was not the Frankish kings, but their officials, the stewards, who exercised actual power.

Baptism of Clovis I in 496, FranceBaptism of Clovis I in 496, FrancePhoto: Garitan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 732 Charles Martel, one of these stewards, seized power and became the first Carolingian king. Martel gained much power, but Gaul only became one through his grandson Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor by the Pope on December 25, 800. He became the founder of the Holy Roman Empire and managed to keep a number of countries in Central and Western Europe together. After his death the empire was divided among his sons and the western part, Francia, fell prey to the expansion drive of neighboring dukes.

After the Treaty of Verdun, concluded in 843, the area west of the rivers Scheldt, Meuse, Saône and Rhône came under the rule of Charles the Bald. His successors showed little decisiveness and several territorial monarchs seceded from the Frankish empire. Under Charles III the Fat, the Frankish unified kingdom was somewhat restored, but in 887 Charles was deposed and the West and East Frankish empires gradually emerged from which France and Germany would eventually emerge.

Around the year 900 the threat of the predatory Normans increased but it was Charles III the Simple who managed to make an agreement with their leader Rollo that would limit the Normans to their raids to Normandy. Other leaders of the Frankish house, such as Robert I and Louis IV, had much to do with the great vassals. During that time, a number of territorial principalities arose, including Flanders and Normandy. Ultimately, the Carolingian House died out with the death of Louis V.

Statue of Hugo Capet, king of France (987-996)Statue of Hugo Capet, king of France (987-996)Photo: Thesupermat CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

With German support, Hugo Capet (987-996) was elected king and the dynasty of the Capetians began, which succeeded in making the monarchy hereditary. The power of the Capetians ceased to the south of the Loire and to the north of the Loire was mainly based on the support of a few bishops. Louis VI was the first to keep the great vassals in check and in 1124 he managed to prevent an invasion by the German emperor. His son Louis VII married Eleanor of Aquitaine and thus managed to extend his influence to the Pyrenees.

After the divorce of Louis and Eleonora in 1152, Eleonora married Henry II Plantagenet, who thereby could add the South of France to his empire. In 1154, Henry also became king of England and therefore posed a great threat to France. However, Louis VII's successor, Philip II August, managed to recapture large parts of France. The battle won against the Anglo-Flemish coalition at Bouvines in 1214 gave him a lot of prestige in France and Europe.

In the thirteenth century, various monarchs were able to further expand the French crown domain, including parts of Languedoc and Toulouse. The first absolute monarch was Philip IV the Fair, who came into conflict with the Vatican in Rome, among other things. The conflict resulted in the appointment of a Pope Clement V, subject to the king, who even settled in Avignon in the south of France. Philip IV was succeeded by his three sons, Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV respectively, the last of the direct line of the Capetians.

Picture of Philp IV the Fair, king of France (1285-1314)Picture of Philp IV the Fair, king of France (1285-1314)Photo: Rijksmuseum in the public domain

After Charles IV his son Philip VI came to power, but the English king Edward III also made claims to the French crown. This eventually led to the so-called Hundred Years' War in which France initially suffered one defeat after another. The bubonic plague epidemic of 1348-1352 claimed the lives of 4-5 million people, about 25% of the French population. In 1360, the peace of Brétigny was concluded, which forced France to cede some areas (including Aquitaine and Calais) to England, but managed to keep Burgundy. Under Charles V, France managed to recover definitively.

In 1392 Charles VI was declared insane and a council of regency in fact assumed power

Fifteenth and sixteenth century

Of course, that was not without problems and in particular John the Fearless of Burgundy and Louis of Orléans made each other's lives very miserable. The English king made good use of this and defeated the French in 1415 at Azincourt. A special event at this time was the liberation of Orléans from the English besiegers by Joan of Arc, the Virgin of Orléans. On May 30, 1431, she was burned to death by the English.
After the murder of John the Fearless, Burgundy joined the English. In 1435, with the help of the Burgundian Philip the Good, the French managed to recapture Normandy and Guyenne from the English, ending the Hundred Years' War. Under Louis XI rebellions threatened again by the nobility, who were once again supported by the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold. Louis managed to quell the revolt through secret support and bribery, and after Charles' death, Burgundy and Picardy were added to the French Empire. In 1491, through his marriage to Anna of Brittany, Brittany also became part of the French Empire.

Joan of Arc, heroine of France Joan of Arc, heroine of FrancePhoto: Siren-Com CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Valois-Burgundy antagonism, which developed into a battle between Valois and Habsburg, raged not only in the Netherlands, but also in Italy for Naples and Milan since 1494. The Italian wars were only the stakes and part of the battle waged especially by Francis I (1515–1547) against the Habsburg encirclement. At the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), France, Italy, Flanders and Artois surrendered, but annexed Metz, Toul and Verdun, as well as Calais.

From 1562 to 1598 the country was torn apart by the religious and political party strife between the Protestant Huguenots, led by the Bourbons, and the Catholics under the Guises, between which the weak crown tried to negotiate. After the murders of Duke Hendrik de Guise (1588) and King Henry III (1589), the throne fell to the Bourbon Huguenot, Henry of Navarre. His transition to Catholicism, as Henry IV (1589–1610), took the wind from the Catholic League and in 1598 (Treaty of Vervins) managed to make peace with Spain, which had openly supported its opponents.

Henry IV, king of France (1589-1610)Henry IV, king of France (1589-1610)Photo: Kaho Mitsuki CC 4.0 International no changes made

The same year he granted freedom of religion to the Huguenots (Edict of Nantes) and, assisted by Minister Sully, devoted himself to the economic recovery of the country.

Absolute Monarchy

The period of Maria de Médici and the early years of Louis XIII were not the strongest periods in French history. This quickly changed with the decisive action of Cardinal Minister Richelieu, who eliminated the Huguenots as a political force in 1628. The nobility and the parliaments also lost much of their influence and after 1614 the States General did not even meet again. In the Thirty Years' War, Richelieu chose the Protestant powers to humiliate the Habsburgs. This enabled his successor Mazarin to claim a large part of Alsace at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
After the resistance of the nobility and the parliaments was finally overthrown, nothing stood in the way of an absolute monarchy and the struggle with the Spanish Habsburgs was carried through with vigor. The Spanish wedding of the Sun King Louis XIV even brought the Spanish throne within reach. Under Louis XIV France was the most powerful state in Europe and industry, trade and overseas colonization were vigorously promoted, among other things by organizing a powerful naval force.

Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu ; 9 September 1585 – 4 December 1642), commonly referred to as Cardinal Richelieui, was a French clergyman and statesman.Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu commonly referred to as Cardinal RichelieuiPhoto: Metropoolian museum in the public domain

In 1685, the Edict of Nantes was revoked, after which the Protestant Huguenots emigrated en masse and the economy, and in particular industry, was dealt a heavy blow.

The War of Devolution (1665–1669) and the Dutch War (1672–1678) provided Louis, at the expense of Spain, Franche-Comté and many border towns in the Southern Netherlands. The rest of Alsace and Luxembourg were also occupied in peacetime. The other European powers were organized by the Dutch William III, who had also been king of England since 1688. In the Nine Years' War (1688-169) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) further plans to expand France were blocked and the balance in Europe could be maintained.

Louis XIV (Louis Dieudonné; 5 September 1638 – 1 September 1715), known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, was King of France from 14 May 1643 until his death in 1715Louis XIV known as Louis the Great or the Sun KingPhoto: Jebulon in the public domain

The frivolous policies of Philip of Orléans and Louis XV followed and France even went partially bankrupt. From 1743 Louis XV ruled personally, but was guided by dubious figures such as Madame de Pompadour. Both the War of the Austrian Succession, which lasted from 1740 to 1748 and the Seven Years' War from 1756 to 1763, were unsuccessful and, partly as a result, supremacy at sea and in the colonial world was lost and taken over from England.

Thus the French influence in Canada, Louisiana and the East Indies was lost. In Europe they still managed to bring in Lorraine and Corsica. Financial reforms were carried out under the weak Louis XVI, but government debts nevertheless rose sharply. For the first time since 1614, the States General was reconvened due to this dire situation.

French revolution

Because the weak government did little to remedy the situation, the unrest among the population rose, which on June 17, 1789, declared itself a National Assembly. Feudal rights and class privileges were abolished and the rights of man and the citizen were proclaimed.

On July 14, 1789 the time had come. The people stormed and occupied the Bastille, a prison in Paris that was the symbol of absolute monarchy. This was the beginning of the French Revolution. The royal family fell and a turbulent time started. In 1791 the promulgated constitution was recognized by the king. However, he did use his veto to protect the hated nobles and un-sworn priests and the population did not accept that.

Siege of the BastilleSiege of the BastillePhoto: Rama Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr no changes made

The rebellious Paris city council and the new National Convention proclaimed the "first" republic between 21 and 25 September 1792. In the Convention, power was disputed between two groups: the Girondins, moderate republicans, and the radical Montagnards, with the famous figures Danton, Robespierre, Hébert and Marat. The moderates were eliminated with a lot of bloodshed by the radicals, but also quarreled among themselves, especially between supporters of Danton and Hébert.

Eventually Robespierre brought them both down, but was himself killed on July 28, 1794. After this violent period, peace returned to France for a while. But from the confused situation, the Constitution of the Year III and the Directoire were born, a new assembly that tried in vain to restore order. An uprising of the Parisian bourgeoisie ensued, which was bloodily suppressed by the Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte. They also had to contend with constant Catholic and royalist revolts in the Vendée and with serious financial problems.

Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of FranceNapoleon Bonaparte, emperor of FrancePhoto: Anderiba12 CC 4.0 International no changes made

The republic was able to defend itself well against various foreign enemies and the French territory was cleared of foreign elements by the end of 1793. People could even start thinking about spreading the principles of revolution across Europe again. The Directoire sent Napoleon to Egypt and that was the beginning of France as a colonial power in North Africa. It had also been thought to get rid of Napoleon in this way, but this failed completely.

Consulate and Empire

A coup d'état followed on November 9, 1799, after which the constitution of the year VIII was enforced and the consulate was established, where General Napoleon Bonaparte was the strong man.

When Napoleon finally came to power, he marched with his armies through a number of European countries to spread the ideas of the French Revolution. He was forced to participate in wars with ever-changing partners, the so-called coalition wars, but always with England as the main opponent. He conquered a large empire on the continent (including Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland) but would eventually encounter the English supremacy at sea, the constant resistance in Spain and the nationalism evoked by France in the rest of Europe.

In France itself, education, the judiciary and the administration were reformed and centralized, among other things by issuing the "Code Civil" and other codes. In addition, relations with the church were restored and the economy restructured. Due to all these successes, he appointed himself consul for life in 1802 and emperor for life in 1804.

However, his constant war plans met increasing opposition and after a number of significant defeats in Russia, among others, he was exiled to the island of Elba. In March 1814 he abdicated. The exile lasted only 100 days and he returned a hero. After the defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, the "little general" was over and the restoration began. Napoleon was exiled by the English to the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, where he would spend the last years of his life and died in 1821.


After Napoleon the monarchy of the Bourbons was reinstalled and gained France had a new king, Louis XVIII, who would rule until 1824. The centralized government and legislation of the republic and of the empire were preserved, but the nobility and the clergy regained their political dominance to the detriment of the bourgeoisie. Foreign policy, in the wake of the Holy Alliance, aroused resistance.

Louis XVIII, king of France and Navarra (1814-1824)Louis XVIII, king of France and Navarra (1814-1824)Photo: Peter d'Aprix CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The start of a new colonial expansion through the conquest of Algiers (1830) could not help. The authoritarian seizure of power of Charles X (1824–1830), the liberals immediately responded with the July Revolution of 1830.

July Monarchy

The bourgeois Louis-Philippe of Orléans (1830-1848) withdrew the unpopular measures of his predecessor. He accepted to rule with a constitution that placed political power in the hands of the possessing class. Since the economic depression of 1846, republican and socialist agitation has steadily gained ground.

Louis-Philippe I, King of France Louis-Philippe I, King of France Photo: Unknown in the public domain

When the conservative Guizot wanted to forcibly oppose the demanded universal suffrage in February 1848, the people began to move. The socialist Louis Blanc and the republicans formed a provisional government. Despite the popular uprisings of May and June, the bourgeois republicans prevailed. Louis-Philippe fled to England and in France it was decided not to establish a new kingdom for the time being, but the Second Republic was proclaimed.

Second Republic

The call for a strong man brought Louis Napoleon to the presidential seat with the help of the Catholics. In return, he was expected to favor the Catholic religion. After a conflict with the Legislative Chamber over the electoral law, he rescinded this law on December 2, 1851 and engaged in a constitutional reform allowing the establishment of the Second Empire a year later on December 2, 1852, and continued as an absolute monarch as Napoleon III. In the Crimean War and the Italian campaign important military victories were achieved that put France on the map as an international power.

Napoleon III, president of the French Republic (1848-1852), and Emperor of France (1852-1870)Napoleon IIIPhoto: Rama CC 2.0 France no changes made

Trade and industry also flourished. Because of the ambiguous attitude towards the Pope in the Italian war of freedom, the Catholics increasingly turned against Napoleon III and since 1859 he was forced to rule less autocratically. The free trade agreements with England and some other countries provoked much domestic criticism and the decline in Mexico was not forgotten either. In contrast, new colonies were founded in Algeria, Senegambia (now Senegal and Gambia), Cochin-China and Cambodia in the period 1858-1867. The lack of decisiveness in the Prussian-Austrian War in 1866 also cost him a lot of prestige. He tried to reorganize the army and amend the constitution to save face, but that was no longer successful. Following the Hohenzollern candidacy for the Spanish throne, the Franco-Prussian War broke out.

Third Republic

In this war a severe defeat was suffered at Sedan on September 1, 1870 and this led to the proclamation of the "Third Republic" in Paris and a treaty with the German Empire on May 10, 1871. In this it was agreed that France would divide Alsace and a part. of Lorraine to the Germans.
In March 1871, a more radical city council had meanwhile been elected in Paris. This so-called "Paris Commune" rebelled against the national government, which sent tropics to recapture the capital. After six weeks of urban guerrilla warfare, the uprising was crushed and some 20,000 "communards" shot or deported. In 1871 the National Assembly was also elected, in which the monarchist majority soon met with great disagreement. As a result, the Third Republic was constitutionally established in 1875.

Barricade during the Paris Commune, 1871Barricade during the Paris Commune, 1871Photo: André Devambez in the public domain

In 1876, the Republicans gained a majority in the Assembly and Royalist President Mac-Mahon resigned. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, government was dominated by a number of major political scandals, including the trading of knighthoods (1887), the Panama scandal (1892-1893) and of course the Dreyfuss affair (1894-1906).

In the strongly anti-Catholic domestic politics, the separation of church and state was once more proclaimed. Social legislation got under way only slowly. Foreign policy in this period was dominated by various treaties with other major European powers. For example, there was cooperation with Germany on various African issues and after various disputes with the English, they were also approached. Due to the brutal attitude of the German Emperor Wilhelm II, France and Russia signed a two-fold alliance in 1892-1894, the so-called Duple Alliance.

In North Africa, France and Italy managed to maintain their interests, which further improved France's international position. Also with England all colonial disputes were resolved in an Entente Cordiale in 1904. The ties with Russia also became closer and eventually led to a Triple Entente with these two countries, which strengthened the position vis-à-vis Germany. As a result, France was more or less withdrawn from the First World War by the Serbian conflict between Russia and Germany.

International relationships leading into World War IInternational relationships leading into World War IPhoto: Xiaphias, CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Until 1917, France was not very successful in the fight against the Germans. At the river Marne they managed to halt the German advance. For four years the war would take place in trenches and many millions of soldiers and civilians were killed. In November 1917, the Clemenceau government came to power and under his somewhat dictatorial leadership, the defenses of France were successfully reorganized, winning victory over the Germans a year later. At the Versailles peace conference, Clemenceau wanted to completely invalidate Germany, but this plan was not well received by the Allies. France did get back Alsace and Lorraine. France suffered heavy demographic and economic losses from World War I and the government of the right-wing National Union had its hands full with its relationship with Germany and a major strike wave.

Relations with the British also became increasingly difficult. The British took a moderate stance on the issue of Germany's reparations to France. The French government approached that point of view, but the government was thereby overthrown by the nationalist Poincaré. This broke through with a unilateral occupation of the Ruhr area in January 1923 in order to force a solution. Relations with the British were further strained by the Greco-Turkish war in which France supported Turkey and Great Britain supported Greece. France, meanwhile, had a number of continental allies: Belgium, Poland and the small entente that consisted of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania.

Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France (1906-1909 en 1917-1920)Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of FrancePhoto: P. Alvarez CC 4.0 International no changes made

It was not until 1924 that relations with the British were normalized again. The Ruhr policy was reversed by the new government and the British Dawes Plan on reparations was accepted. The Briand government created even more prestige in the world through the Pact of Locarno in 1925 and the Briand-Kellogg treaty in 1928. Poincaré also succeeded in stabilizing the precarious financial problems, but in contrast again had to contend with uprisings in Morocco and Syria. Before the elections, the National Union fell apart.

Tardieu's strict policy against Germany (1932) was criticized by British and exasperated Germany. For example, France was again dependent on its continental alliances and on a solid defense (Maginot Line).

The 1932 elections were won by the left, but financial difficulties, economic decline and criticism of the parliamentary system made a stable government impossible. There was fighting in Paris itself by communist, fascist and royalist groups. Prime Minister Doumergue formed a cabinet of national signature in February 1934 with a World War I hero, Philippe Pétain, and Louis Barthou. He tried to strengthen the French alliance system, including by involving Italy and Russia. He hoped in this way to isolate Hitler-Germany after the Polish abandonment of pro-Fanse politics, but was assassinated on October 9, 1934, while attempting to reconcile Yugoslavia and Italy. Not long after, Prime Minister Doumergue resigned. His successor was Laval, who was very unpopular due to his deflation policy.

Pierre Paul Henri Gaston Doumergue was president of France from 1924 to 1931.Pierre Paul Henri Gaston Doumergue was president of France from 1924 to 1931.Photo: Michel Huhardeaux CC 2.0 no changes made

In July 1935 a united front was formed between communists, socialists and radicals against the fascist groups. Barthou's foreign policy was also subject to much criticism, including the Treaty with Rome that was concluded with Mussolini. In 1936 the Rhineland was occupied by German troops and the Locarno Treaty was canceled, which France could do nothing about, partly due to lack of support from the English.

In June 1936, Léon Blum's Popular Front government came to power. He implemented social improvements which, however, cost a lot of money and therefore resulted in strong inflation. Subsequently, the French Bank and the arms industry were put under surveillance and vigorous action was taken against fascist groups. In the Spanish Civil War, France and England remained on the sidelines with a policy of non-intervention. The radical Daladier cabinet applied a sharp deflation policy, which provoked strikes, but the economic situation improved.

Léon Blum, prime minister of France (1936-1938)Léun Blum, prime minister of France (1936-1938)Photo: Anefo in yhe public domain

At the time, France was internationally behind Great Britain. Ex-ally Czechoslovakia was in fact extradited to the Germans at the Munich Conference in September 1938. After Germany's violation of the Munich Agreement, France and Great Britain gave guarantees to Poland and the Balkan states.


France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, along with Great Britain. This happened after the German invasion of Poland. On May 10, 1940, the German troops entered France and within weeks the French defense collapsed completely. The much-vaunted Maginot Line also proved unable to withstand the German supremacy and most of France was occupied by the Germans.

On June 22, Marshal Pétain's government concluded an armistice with Germany. Pétain succeeded Paul Reynaud, who had succeeded Daladier as prime minister on March 20, 1940. Two days later, an armistice was also signed with Italy, which had invaded France on June 10. Pétain's government settled in Vichy, which was in the unoccupied part of France. After the Allies landed in North Africa in November 1942, the Germans extended their occupation over all of France.

Philippe Pétain shake hands with Adolf HitlerPhilippe Pétain shake hands with Adolf HitlerPhoto: Heinrich Hoffman Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J28036 | Foto: Jäger, Oktober 1944

Ex-Prime Minister Laval had meanwhile taken over de facto leadership of the government in Vichy from Pétain and he strove for cooperation with the Germans. Pétain's deputy, Admiral Darlan, joined the Allies in November 1942. Pétain actually collaborated with the Germans. Outside France, General Charles de Gaulle, who had fled to England, continued the fight against the Germans with a small group of "free French". Various resistance movements arose in France itself, which worked together from May 1943 in the Conseil National dela Résistance.

In June 1944, a mighty Allied invasion force landed on the coast of Normandy and Provence in the south. The Germans could not stop the advance of the Allies. By September 1944, almost all of France was liberated and on May 8, 1945, Germany agreed to the unconditional surrender in Reims.

De Gaulle became head of a French National Liberation Committee in 1943 and returned as head of a provisional government upon liberation in August 1944. This government relied on the progressive Catholic MRP (Mouvement Républicain Openbare), the socialists and the communists. The French who had cooperated with the Germans were punished. Pétain was sentenced to death (changed to life by De Gaulle) and Laval was executed. In January 1946 De Gaulle withdrew from the government.

Charles de Gaulle, president of France (1959-1969)Charles de Gaulle, president of France (1959-1969)Photo: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F010324-0002 / Steiner, Egon / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Fourth Republic

In October 1946 the new constitution was approved by popular vote and the socialist Vincent Auriol became the first president of the Fourth Republic in January 1947. The period after the Second World War was characterized by a combination of great political instability and favorable economic developments. The cabinets succeeded each other in rapid succession and a number of important prime ministers of the time were Georges Bidault, Robert Schuman, Antoine Pinay and the radical Mendès-France. It was he who made the decision to come to an armistice in the war in Indochina.

Pierre Mendès France, prime minister of France (1954-1955)Pierre Mendès France, prime minister of France (1954-1955)Photo: Unknown CC 3.0 Netherlands no changes made

After the right-wing parties briefly lost their appeal, the conservatives quickly recovered after the war. In the early 1950s, Pierre Poujade organized the disaffected middle class and craftsmen, with which the organized right-wing popular protest made its re-entry into French politics.

De Gaulle, who had opposed the new constitution because of what he considered to be too weak a position of the executive power vis-à-vis parliament, founded his own party in 1947, the Rassemblement du Peuple Français. Decolonization finally brought down the Fourth Republic. In Algeria, resistance against French rule had arisen in 1954. Fearing possible negotiations with the Algerian nationalists, the French in Algeria, with the support of the army, formed a revolutionary "committee de salut public" on May 13, 1958, which advocated a government under De Gaulle. To prevent a civil war, President Coty (who had succeeded Auriol in 1954) ordered De Gaulle to form a cabinet, which, in addition to the right-wing parties, also received support from the MRP and some of the radicals and socialists (1 June 1958).

Although the Fourth Republic eventually fell to its own instability, at the European level it initiated many integration plans (Coal and Steel Community, Defense Community) aimed at promoting stability in Europe. However, these plans cannot be seen in isolation from the post-war Germany policy, with which France attempted to gain control of the Federal Republic of Germany by integrating it into Western Europe.

Fifth Republic

Now that he had come to power, De Gaulle continued his plans for constitutional reform. On September 28, 1958, more than 80% of the voters voted in favor of the new constitution that gave the president a lot of power and authority. In addition, the new Gaullist party Union pour la Novelle République was given the largest fraction in the national assembly. De Gaulle himself was installed as president on January 8, with Michel Debré as prime minister who was succeeded in 1962 by the future president Georges Pompidou.

Michel Jean-Pierre Debré, first prime minister of the Fifth French Republic Michel Jean-Pierre Debré, first prime minister of the Fifth French RepublicPhoto: Eric Koch / Anefo in the public domain

The situation in Algeria caused right-wing politicians and soldiers to revolt. However, this coup d'état in the Algerian capital Algiers on April 22, 1961 failed. On April 8, 1962, more than 90% of the population voted in favor of Algeria's independence in a referendum. Algeria eventually became independent after a bloody colonial war after an amendment to the constitution on October 28, 1962. After elections in March 1967, the Gaullists and their allies still retained a narrow majority; De Gaulle's term of office was extended by seven years in December 1965.

The De Gaulle period was generally marked by the restoration of France's position as an independent and influential country among the great nations of the world. Moreover, De Gaulle ultimately wanted a large Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals, and this required the influence of the United States to be reduced. As a result of this thesis, France withdrew its troops from NATO authority in 1966 and all NATO bases were cleared. They also wanted to become a nuclear power and therefore did not sign the non-proliferation treaty. Great Britain was twice banned from the EEC, but relations with Germany were normalized, as were those with Russia and other Eastern European countries. The French got along well with the Arab countries, but that had repercussions on the relationship with Israel. In the second half of the 1960s, dissatisfaction arose among students and workers with the policy of the government. In May 1968, the famous uprising broke out in Paris, which would last only a month after promises of wage increases for the workers.

Civil unrest in May 1968 in France Civil unrest in May 1968 in FrancePhoto: Andre Cros CC 4.0 no changes made

In the elections held in June, the Gaullists made great gains and formed a front against the socialists along with the independent republicans and other independents.

1970s and 1980s

In April 1969, De Gaulle resigned because his proposals regarding reforms, including a new regional division, had been rejected. The presidential elections brought a victory for the Gaullist Georges Pompidou. On domestic territory, Pompidou aimed for rapid industrialization, in foreign policy he followed the De Gaulle line, although less rigidly. For example, he cooperated in the accession of England to the EEC and more often took positive positions at NATO meetings.

Georges Pompidou, 19th president of France (1969-1974)Georges Pompidou, 19th president of France (1969-1974)Photo: Eric Koch / Anefo, CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The March 1973 parliamentary elections were won by the cooperating socialists and communists, but the governing parties retained the majority. The Left also formed a coalition in the death of Pompidou (April 2, 1974) and the subsequent presidential elections. These were won in May 1974 by the Minister of Finance and Economy, the independent republican Giscard d'Estaing.

He defeated the socialist leader François Mitterrand with very little difference. The Gaullists at that time had no new candidate for the presidency and therefore gave their support to the Republican Giscard. Jacques Chirac became Prime Minister of a cabinet of Gaullists and Republicans. In 1976, the president fired Chirac and appointed Raymond Barre prime minister.

Under Giscard, the policy pursued by his immediate predecessors was broadly continued. In foreign policy, the pursuit of a strong Europe controlled by France and the Federal Republic of Germany, independent of the United States, was maintained, as was the pro-Arab stance in the Middle East.

Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing, 20th president of France (1974-1981)Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing, 20th president of France (1974-1981)Photo: White House Staff Photographers in the public domain

In former French Africa, France continued to be represented by the presence of military troops and advisers, while its financial and economic influence was further increased. Inland, Giscard had to deal with separatist movements in Corsica and Brittany, among others. In May 1981, Giscard was surprisingly defeated by the socialist presidential candidate François Mitterrand.

He became the country's first socialist president since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. After the parliamentary elections in June, a government of socialists (PS) and communists (PCF) under P. Mauroy tried to improve the nationalize the French economy by nationalisation. In June 1982, disappointing results forced them to water down progressive economic policy. Under L. Fabius, the communists were no longer part of the government. After UDF – RPR, led by Jacques Chirac (RPR), had won the parliamentary elections in March 1986, the Fifth Republic was confronted with a political variant unknown in the history of France, the "cohabitation": a prime minister and a president of different political colors. After Mitterrand had again won the presidential election from Chirac in May 1988, after the parliamentary elections of June 1988, a socialist government under the leadership of M. Rocard was re-established.

Jacques Chirac, 21st president of France (1995-2007)Jacques Chirac, 21st president of France (1995-2007)Photo: Rob Croes / Anefo in the public domain

In the eighties, the following were particularly noticeable: the shrinking electoral base of the communist party and its political influence, the rise of the extreme right in the form of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front and the rise of the Greens, Les Verts, who have been represented in the European Parliament since June 1989.

The nineties

for the first time, a woman became Prime Minister of France (Édith Cresson) in 1991. Unpopular measures, including premium and tax increases, were devastating for her popularity and she was already succeeded in April 1992 by Pierre Bérégovoy. He stepped down as Prime Minister after the socialist defeat in the elections of 12 March 1993 and was succeeded by Édouard Balladur. In May the disappointed Bérégovoy committed suicide, partly as a result of the failure of his economic program. In July 1993 the bad economic situation led to attacks by speculators on the French franc. As a result, the French franc was effectively forced out of the European Monetary System. The Balladur government faced numerous corruption scandals in 1994 that forced some ministers to resign.

Édouard Balladur, prime mister of France (1993-1995)Édouard Balladur, prime mister of France (1993-1995)Photo: Dutch National Archives CC 3.0 Netherlands no changes made

In the presidential elections of May 1995, Jacques Chirac, leader of the Gaullist RPR and mayor of Paris, first left his party colleague Balladur behind and also won in the second round against the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin. Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front won 15% of the vote. After initially delivering on some of Chirac's election promises, the popularity of Prime Minister Juppé, who advocated a punitive austerity policy, declined rapidly.

A wave of strikes paralyzed public life in late 1995 and mass strikes continued in October and November 1996 in the railways, aviation, education and other government departments. Truck drivers started blockades to improve their working conditions, which demand the government partially met. Meanwhile, economic growth slowed and unemployment reached a post-war record.

In 1995 Paris was shaken by a number of terrorist attacks by the Algerian fundamentalist-Islamic organization GIA and Corsica was the subject of a large number of bombings in 1995 and 1996 by various nationalist movements.

Former president François Mitterrand died in early January 1996. In municipal elections in February 1997 in the southern French town of Vitrolles, the Front National won an absolute victory, placing the fourth southern French city in the hands of the far right, while Nice is ruled by a kindred spirit of Le Pen.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, chairman of Front National (1972-2011)Jean-Marie Le Pen, chairman of Front National (1972-2011)Photo: Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the spring of 1997, President Chirac called early elections in the hope of strengthening the position of the Juppé government. In two rounds of elections, the socialists led by Jospin and their allies won a major victory on June 1, taking 282 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly.

In 1995, French nuclear tests on Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific provoked fierce protests, especially from Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Following the trials, France signed the Rarotonga Treaty for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the South Pacific in early 1996. In June 1996, Defense Minister Millon announced at a biannual meeting of his NATO colleagues in Brussels that France wanted to contribute to a "new" NATO with a distinct European defense identity.

In the run-up to the European summit in Dublin in December 1996, disagreements arose between France and Germany about the Stability Pact, which should ensure budgetary discipline among the participating countries after the entry into force of EMU. Paris argued for more political freedom: wider margins and less autonomy for the European Central Bank.

With the early parliamentary elections in May / June 1997, President Chirac aimed to create additional time to implement, if necessary, painful measures necessary to meet the criteria for participation in EMU. Chirac gambled and lost: the winner was the Socialist Party (PS) led by Lionel Jospin, who formed a coalition with the Communists (PCF) and the Greens. Initially, the popularity of the new coalition government-Jospin was great, but was soon put to the test by, among other things, opposition from the trade unions against restructuring in social services and that of secondary school students who took to the streets en masse in October 1998 to increase their resources. to demand secondary education.

Lionel Jospin, prime minister of France (1997-2002)Lionel Jospin, prime minister of France (1997-2002)Photo: User:EdouardHue CC 4.0 International no changes made

The introduction of a 35-hour working week in 1998 to create more jobs did not help the relationship between government and employers and in 1999 Jospin's position was further weakened when Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, after Jospin, was the most powerful man in the government announced his resignation on November 2, after being accused of corruption.

21st century

In September 2000, French voters voted in favor of a constitutional amendment reducing the presidential term from seven to five years; 73% were in favor of the change. The parliamentary right came to power in 2002 after a surprisingly passed Presidential election, in which the extreme right succeeded in eliminating the socialist presidential candidate Jospin in the first round. The result was widespread support for the re-election of President Chirac, who faced Le Pen as a candidate for the National Front.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin, prime minister of France (2002-2005)Jean-Pierre Raffarin, prime minister of France (2002-2005)Photo: Claude TRUONG-NGOC CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Given the circumstances, the government and Prime Minister Raffarin, appointed by President Chirac, proceeded cautiously, even too cautiously according to some commentators. Social peace was wanted at all costs, because it was considered essential for maintaining consumer confidence and thus employment. Necessary reforms such as tax reform (in France still no tax is levied at source) and liberalization / privatization of semi-public enterprises and reform of the health sector were pushed aside. Instead, the government focused on issues such as decentralization, street security and increasing defense spending. Still, the first year of the Raffarin government ended with a relatively positive balance before the summer of 2003. Successes were mainly achieved in tackling crime (less crime) and traffic problems (fewer road casualties).

In the summer of 2003, the tide began to turn. In July, the government's proposal for an institutional reform for Corsica was rejected by almost 51 percent no votes. This put the government's decentralization legislation under greater pressure. There was also unexpectedly a lot of resistance from the population against the changes to the pension system, against the decentralized recruitment of support staff in the education sector in the context of the decentralization policy and against the tightening of the benefit criteria for employees in the theater and festival world. On top of that came the catastrophic heat wave in August 2003 that claimed more than 15,000 victims.

Then the government went into free fall in terms of popularity: the press talked about the beginning of the end. Although it seemed at the beginning of 2004 that the government was regaining confidence - partly because of the hard stance in favor of the non-denominational character of the French state (prohibition of the Islamic headscarf) - this was not translated in the regional elections of 21 and March 28, 2004. The left got 13 percentage points more than the right (50.3 versus 36.8 percent). The left came to power in all regions (including the hitherto impregnable strongholds of the right). With the exception of Alsace and Corsica. As a result, part of the government team was replaced and the Raffarin III government took office.

In a televised address, President Chirac had placed the renewed Raffarin III government in the context of the need for structural reforms in France. Reforms and social justice had to go hand in hand. France, according to the president, should have a real social dialogue. Reforms should preferably be broadly supported. At the same time, state finances need to be restructured. The Raffarin III government statement was in line with the president's wishes.

On Sunday 29 May 2005, the French people voted en masse in a referendum against the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union. Chirac subsequently appointed Dominique de Villepin as prime minister and reappointed Nicolas Sarkozy as "ministre d'Etat" (thus number two in the government by protocol) to the position of Minister of the Interior. On the recommendation of De Villepin, the government team has been drastically reformed and greatly reduced in size (all state secretaries have been removed).

On June 9, 2005, Prime Minister De Villepin made the government statement in the Assembly. The announced measures related in particular to socio-economic policy: "Get France back to work" was the central message. The cost of the package of measures is estimated at EUR 4.5 billion. The 2006 income tax cut (President Chirac's announcement in July 2004) has been suspended for the time being. De Villepin will not implement the employment package through laws, but through "ordonnances". He bypasses lengthy procedures (and amendments) in Parliament. Opposition, of course, strongly opposed this alleged "authoritarian" form of government.

Dominique Villepin, prime minister of France (2005-2007)Dominique Villepin, prime minister of France (2005-2007)Photo: Georges Seguin CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The French press speaks of the “after days of Chirac”. There is clear unrest within the ruling party UMP. The younger generation of right-wing politicians wants to prevent the left from taking over the Elysée again in 2007 and is therefore trying to take more control of the UMP in its own hands. It is also recalled that the UMP was supposed to be a breakthrough party, with all kinds of movements and not just Gaullists or Chirac supporters. Behind this pursuit of blood group recovery, one can see the opening of the first skirmishes over Chirac's succession. De Villepin's appointment coupled with Sarkozy, both very ambitious and possibly in the running for the next presidency, raises questions about the team spirit of the new administration.

The socialists have also been severely affected by the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty. Although the official party line mandated support for the treaty, the second man of the PS, Laurent Fabius, led an active no campaign. After the French 'no', party leader François Hollande therefore had no other choice than to expel Fabius as a member of the board. The division within the PS is now considerable. The party congress of the PS has been brought forward half a year to the autumn of 2005 in order to repair the debris before the campaign for the 2007 presidential election starts.

Nicolas Sarkozy has been president since May 16, 2007. The president has relatively great power, because he is head of state and government leader. In July 2008, France will hold the presidency of the European Union for six months. In October 2008, the magnitude of the credit crunch becomes noticeable and in February 2009 the government is pumping billions into the economy. In March 2010, the governing parties suffered a major loss in regional elections. In June 2010, the government announced drastic cuts to reduce the national debt.

Nicolas Sarkozy, 23rd president of France (2007-2012)Nicolas Sarkozy, 23rd president of France (2007-2012)Photo: Richard Pichet CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In September 2010, after the National Assembly of France, the Senate in France also approved the burqa ban. When the law goes into effect, all face-covering clothing will be banned in public areas. Women who wear face-concealing clothing on the street or in public places can be fined 150 euros by law. In May 2012, the socialist Francois Hollande takes office as the new president. In 2013, France sends an intervention force to the former colony of Mali.
In March 2014, Manuel Valls becomes the new prime minister, after a rise of the National Front. The front also won nationally in the European elections in May 2014. At the end of 2014, the work pilotage rose to a record high. The year 2015 is dominated by terrorist attacks on French territory by the Islamic State. In January 17 victims fell, mostly employees of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In November, 130 people were killed in various attacks in Paris.
In February 2016, the clearing of the "jungle" of Calais, a large camp with illegal immigrants who want to make the crossing to Great Britain, begins. On July 14, 2016, Islamic State strikes again when a truck crashes into a crowd on National Day, killing more than 80. In May 2017, center candidate Emaunuel Macron wins the French presidential election against the ultra-right Marine Le Pen. His movement La Republique en Marche won the absolute majority in parliamentary elections in June.

Emmanuel Macron, 25th president of FranceEmmanuel Macron, 25th president of FrancePhoto: CC 4.0 International no changes made

End 2018 major nationwide "yellow-vest" protests take place at attempts to curb fossil fuel use through price hikes turn violent, prompting a partial government climb-down. Protests continue into 2019, In july 2020 President Macron appoints Jean Castex prime minister, after Edouard Philippe resigned in the wake of a poor showing for the governing La République En Marche! party in local elections. In Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb to the northwest of Paris, a history teacher who recently showed caricatures of the prophet Mohammed was beheaded in the street. The eighteen-year-old Chechen culprit was shot dead by the police.

Jean Castex, prime minister of France since 1 july 2020Jean Castex, prime minister of France since 1 july 2020Photo: Florian DAVID CC 4.0 International no changes made

2021 and early 2022 will be marked by the upcoming elections in which Macron will face Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains, Marine Le Pen of Rassemblement National and Éric Zemmour of Reconquête, among others.


Mainland France had 62,814,233 inhabitants in 2017. When the overseas departments are added to this, the population amounts to 67,106,161, making France second in the European Union after Germany.

The population of France increased sharply after 1945 due to, among other things, advances in health care and the expansion of social services. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the population growth was limited and between the two world wars the population even decreased.

French people shopping in Dijon, FranceFrench people shopping in Dijon, FrancePhoto: Unknown, CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Population growth declined sharply from the mid-1960s, but has seen a slight increase since 1977. In 2017, the birth rate was 12.2 per 100 inhabitants and the death rate 9.3 per 1000 inhabitants. Life expectancy at birth was 85.2 years for women and 78.8 years for men in 2017.

In addition to the natural population increase, a significant part of the increase can be attributed to the immigration of foreigners (in particular Algerians, Portuguese, Italians, Spaniards, refugees from (French) Africa and Moroccans). Most immigrants (85%) live in Paris and the surrounding area, in the Rhône-Alpes region and on Corsica.

The population growth was 0.39% in 2017. Population growth varies greatly from region to region. For example, the population in Northern France traditionally grows much faster than in the South of France.

The population composition in 2017 as a percentage is as follows:

0-14 years 18.3%
15-65 years 63.4%
65+ 19.3%

Rural France is sparsely populatedRural France is sparsely populatedPhoto: Victor Grigas CC 4.0 International no changes made

France is relatively sparsely populated and even one of the least populated countries in Europe. The average population density was 114 inhabitants per km2 in 2017, but the population is very unevenly distributed. Sparsely populated areas are the Massif Central, the plateaus of the Paris Basin, Les Landes and the high mountains. Densely populated areas are the departments of Ille-de-Paris, Nord, Rhône, Val de Marne and Hauts-de-Seine. These are areas characterized by intensive agriculture, but mainly industrial and urban zones.

In 2017, 80% of the population lived in an urban environment. In 1973 this was still 73%. Many people choose to live in Paris. The formation of "metropoles d'équilibre" such as Nantes, Lille, Strasbourg, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Lyon has attempted to restore balance in France and slow the growth of Paris.

Satellite photo of densely populated ParisSatellite photo of densely populated ParisPhoto: Axelspace Corporation CC 4.0 International no changes made

The largest cities in France in 2017 are:

Paris 10.8 million
Lyon 1.6 million
Marseille 1.6 million
Lille 1 million
Nice 967,000

The Basque Country is mostly on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, and only one in ten of the 500,000 people who speak Basque has French nationality. Although the Basques are culturally and ethnically linked, the Spanish and French Basques have different backgrounds. The Spanish Basque Country was rapidly industrialized and the Basques soon played an important role in the economy and politics.

French Basques in traditional costumes in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, FranceFrench Basques in traditional costumes in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, FrancePhoto: Marie Cuvelier CC 4.0 International no changes made

Comprising the departments of Soule, Labourd and Basse Navarre, the French Basque Country was a backward area of farmers and fishermen until tourism emerged in the nineteenth century. Although almost all acts of violence by the Spanish Basques, there are sometimes demonstrations and actions in French cities.


The official language is French, in addition, minorities speak Breton (Brittany), Occitan (the south), Basque (in the western Pyrenees), German (Alsace-Lorraine), Dutch (French Flanders), Catalan (Roussillon), Italian (around Nice), Corsican (in Corsica).

The French language is a Roman language spoken by approximately 100 million people as their mother tongue, of which approximately 60 million in France. French is further spoken in Belgium down the line Visé-Mouscron and Brussels, in Switzerland (Suisse romande), Italy (Aosta Valley), Haiti and Canada (Quebec), and in many former French colonies. Where Frenche is the language of administration and administration French is a continuation of the Vulgar Latin, which was introduced and developed in Gallia Transalpina by the Roman conquerors (58–50 BC).

Dialects of the French language worldwideDialects of the French language worldwidePhoto: Jonatan argento CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The history of French begins when the Carolingian Renaissance, which revived the study of Classical Latin, made people aware of a gap between Latin, language of administration, jurisdiction and religion, and everyday language. This is evidenced, among other things, by a decision of the Council of Tours (813), which henceforth had to be preached in the vernacular ("lingua romana rustica"). Broadly speaking, three periods can be distinguished in the history of French: Old French (early 9th - early 14th century), Middle French (early 14th - early 17th century) and modern French (early 17th century - present).

4 volume French dictionary (1889)4 volume French dictionary (1889)Photo: LPLT / Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The French language originally consisted of Latin words introduced by the Romans, supplemented by words of Celtic and Frankish origin. From the 12th century onwards, these "folk words" are borrowed from Latin, the "learned" words. In the 16th century, many words were also borrowed from Italian. Many words have also been borrowed from Dutch and, since the 18th century, also from English.

Especially in recent decades, much has been borrowed from English in the field of technology, sports, fashion, and the like, which has resulted in the derisive term Franglais. French purists oppose this "invasion" of foreign words.


The French population is about 80% Roman Catholic (approx. 48 million), 4.5% predominantly Sunni Islamic (approx. 4 million) and there are also small minorities of Protestants (approx. 950,000), Jews (approx. 700,000; the largest Jewish community in Europe) and Armenian-Christian. Catholicism was the state religion since the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV.

Since the separation of church and state in 1905, the state no longer has any involvement with the Church. The Roman Catholic Church has eighteen provinces in France and a total of 95 dioceses. The Archbishop of Lyon is at the head of the ecclesiastical provinces.

Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of LyonPhoto: MEDEF CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

After St. Bartholomew's Day (1572), the power of Protestantism in France was broken. Protestant churches were not recognized until the law of 1802. The main Protestant denominations are: the Église Réformée de France, the Église de la Confession d'Augsburg d'Alsace et de Lorraine, the Église évangélique luthérienne and the Église réformée d'Alsace et de Lorraine.

Since 1905 there has been a federation of Protestant churches consisting of Reformed, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and free churches: the Fédération Protestante de France.

Protestant theological faculties for the training of ministers are located in Aix-en-Provence, Montpellier, Paris and Strasbourg; the last two are inter-confessional faculties. Despite the relatively small number, the influence of the Protestants in France is quite large.

Notre-Dame de Paris is an early Gothic cathedralNotre-Dame de Paris is an early Gothic cathedralPhoto: Madhurantakam CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


State structure

Under the 1958 constitution, France is a parliamentary republic whose president as head of state has extensive powers. The president has been directly elected by the people by universal suffrage for seven years since 1962. In 2002, the President of France will be elected for a term of five years instead of the current seven years.

The president enacts laws passed by parliament or by the people (in the case of a referendum), signs the decisions of the council of ministers he chairs, appoints the prime minister and, in case of need, can exercise all of the legislative and executive powers. withdraw and declare the dissolution of the National Assembly.

Text of the Constitution of FranceText of the Constitution of FrancePhoto: Erasoft24 CC 1.0 Generic no changes made

If desired, the president can even replace the prime minister, except when there is a so-called "cohabitation" in the government. This only occurs when the composition of the National Assembly is such that the president is forced to appoint a prime minister of a different political color from his own. After the elections of June 1, 1997, this situation arose when the neo-Gullist president Chirac ruled the country together with a cabinet and a Prime Minister Jospin, who were of leftist signature. The collaboration between Chirac and Jospin went quite smoothly for the first four years.

The government, headed by the prime minister, is proposed and appointed by the president. The government determines and implements the general policy of the country and is accountable to the National Assembly.

Legislative power is exercised by the parliament, which consists of two chambers. The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) has 577 members, 22 of whom are from overseas departments and territories. The Assembly is elected for five years through a district system. The senate is mainly elected by the members of the "conseils généraux", the departmental councils, and by the municipal councils.

The Assemblée Nationale is located at Palais Bourbon in ParisThe Assemblée Nationale is located at Palais Bourbon in ParisPhoto: David.Monniaux CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The senate has much less powers than the Assembly and has 321 members, 12 of whom are representatives of the French abroad and 13 for the overseas departments and territories. Senate members are elected for nine years and the senate is renewed for a third every three years. The president of the senate is the second highest office holder in the country after the president.

All French citizens of 18 years and older have the right to vote and to be elected to the Assembly one must be at least 23 years old and 35 years old for the Senate. Women have only had the right to vote since 1944.

Parliamentary and presidential elections take place in two rounds. If the candidate manages to obtain more than 50% of the vote in his constituency in the first round of the parliamentary elections, he is immediately elected. If he does not succeed, a second round follows in which a simple majority is sufficient. A condition for the parliamentary elections is that the candidate has obtained at least 12.5% of the votes in the first round.

In the presidential election, only two candidates who obtained the most votes in the first round can participate in the second round. For the current political situation see chapter history.

The hemicycle of the National AssemblyThe hemicycle of the National AssemblyPhoto: Richard Ying et Tangui Morlier CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Administrative division

The French state has 22 regions, which are divided into 96 departments. The country also has: four overseas departments, the "Départements d'Outre-Mer" (DOM): French Guyana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion; three overseas territories, the "Territoires d'Outre-Mer" (TOM): French Polynesia, the Wallis and Futuna Islands and New Caledonia; the two overseas 'collectivités territoriales' Mayotte and St-Pierre-en-Miquelon and some areas on the South Pole, "Les Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF). The prefet is in charge of each region and department and is the representative of the government and of each individual minister.

Regions of FranceRegions of FrancePhoto: Mightymights CC 4.0 International no changes made

The departments are divided into arrondissements (325), headed by a sous prefet; the arrondissements are divided into cantons (3,714) and these in turn into 36,433 municipalities. Approx. 90% of the municipalities have less than 2000 inhabitants. The arrondissements and cantons have only administrative significance.

The Union of the Corsican People (Union du Peuple Corse) has been fighting for the island's independence for years and has many hundreds of bombings to its name. The region of Corsica has a separate status since 1981, a degree of self-government. The bombings then temporarily abated, but in 1982 more than 800 attacks were committed.


Nursery and primary education

France has a long tradition of pre-primary education. It is therefore not surprising that the percentage of French children attending écoles maternelles is higher than in all other EC countries (excluding Belgium), and amounts to approximately 32% for two-year-olds and 100% for five-year-olds.

Pre-primary education is not compulsory and free in public schools (85% of all schools). The remaining 15% are schools for special or private (private) education that are subsidized by the state and / or region, and / or receive contributions from the families.

Education is compulsory for children from 6 to 16 years old. This obligation applies to primary education (école élémentaire) and the first cycle of secondary education (collège). Most pupils finish the four-year college at the age of 15 and then have to attend school in general technical or vocational education for at least one more year.

Primary school Roissy-en-FrancePrimary school Roissy-en-FrancePhoto: Antony-22 CC 4.0 International no changes made

Primary education, organized and managed by the municipalities, lasts five years and is attended by children aged 6 to 11. The five grades comprise two cycles: the first cycle (cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux) starts in the highest section of the nursery school and further includes the first two years of primary school, which includes a preparatory and a first elementary year.

The second cycle (cycle des approfondissements) covers the last three years of primary school that precede the college. These three years comprise the second year of elementary training and the first two years of further training.

Secondary education

The first cycle of secondary education lasts four years and is intended for pupils aged 11 to 15 and is again divided into three cycles: the adaptation cycle, the intermediate cycle and the orientation cycle. The second cycle of secondary education comprises general, technical and vocational education, which is given in lycea (lycées).

General and technical secondary education prepares students in three years for the examination of the general baccalaureate or the technical baccalaureate.

Secondary school Limoux FranceSecondary school Limoux FrancePhoto: Pinpin CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The vocational schools prepare the pupils in two years for the "certificat d'aptitude professionelle" (CAP) and the "brevet d'études professionelles" (BEP). The CAP is more specialized than the BEP and is issued for general professional skills, not in a specific subject but in one professional-commercial, administrative or social sector. After another two years, they can take an exam for the professional baccalaureate (baccalauréat professionnel). At the college, the study of a foreign language is compulsory from the sixth grade and from the 4th grade a second foreign or a regional language is learned. The study of a foreign language is compulsory in general and technical education.

At the end of the third year, pupils take a national exam with a view to obtaining the "diplôme national du brevet". The diploma is a general study certificate that does not determine the later choice of study.

General and / or technical education is concluded with a general or technical baccalaureate. Those who pass will gain access to higher education

Higher education

Higher education is provided in France by a wide variety of institutions. The organization and admission requirements differ according to the type of institution and the objective of the education provided.

Higher education institutions include:

-Universities that provide short courses and long courses. France has more than 70 universities. The Sorbonne in Paris is the oldest and dates back to the twelfth century.

Entrance main building Sorbonne, ParisEntrance main building Sorbonne, ParisPhoto: NonOmnisMoriar CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

-Public and private schools and institutions supervised by a ministry and providing higher professional education. Again, short courses and longer of three years or more after the baccalaureate.

-The "lycées d'enseignement général et technologique" also offers post-baccalaureate courses that prepare for higher technical courses that prepare for the "brevet de technicien supérieur" in two years

-long three-year courses are given to the "grandes écoles" which are private or public. Most of the higher officials and engineers in France come from this type of educational institution.

National Anthem

The national anthem of France, the "Marseillaise", was written on April 25, 1792 by engineer officer Joseph Claude Rouget de Lisle and sung for the first time with the Baron of Dietrich, mayor of Strasbourg.

The song takes its name from a battalion of Marseillary volunteers who sang the song during their assault on the Tuileries Garden in Paris in August 1792. Due to its revolutionary origins, the song has been prohibited twice during the 19th century. Opinions about the Marseillaise are still divided.

The National Anthem of France. La Marseillaise, expressed by the sculptor François Rude on the Arc de Triomphe, ParisLa Marseillaise, expressed by the sculptor François Rude on the Arc de Triomphe, ParisPhoto: Ana Paula Hirama CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

French fashion industry

The prestigious French fashion industry has an huge annual turnover of billions of euros. The Council of Paris Couture consists of 21 fashion houses. For most fashion designers, their collection is just a necessary advertisement for the much more profitable perfumes. In 1974 a new young group of couturiers was admitted, the "créatures de mode", inspired by Biba and Mary Quant from England. This group includes Chloë, Kenzo, Gaultier, Mugler and Cerruti.

French wines

Differences in climate, soil conditions and many other factors make for an enormous variety of wines. Generally speaking, white wines come from the north and red wines from the south. Grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot are nowadays planted all over the world and sometimes give the wine their name. In France, wines are classified according to their origin (region) and not according to the grape variety.

There are ten main wine-producing regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, Loire, Provence, Jura and Savoie, the South West, Languedoc-Roussillon and Rhône. The wine has its own character from each area. "Apelation contrôlé" laws guarantee the origin and quality of the wine.

France is the main exporter of wine in the world and ranks second in wine production.

Regions with vineyards, FranceRegions with vineyards, FrancePhoto: DalGobboM¿!i? CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Bordeaux vineyards are the best in the world. The five most famous districts are Médoc, Sauternes and Graves on the left bank of the Garonne, and St Emilion and Pomerol on the right bank of the Dordogne. Each area is divided into "appellations" and each appellation into lands called wineries.

Wine has been made on the limestone soils of the Champagne region since the Romans. It is the most northerly wine region in France and its cool climate contributes to the success of the famous sparkling wine believed to have been invented some 300 years ago. The main production area is around Reims and Épernay, where the main "maisons de champagne" are located. Tradition has it that Pierre Pérignon, cellar master of the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers near Épernay, discovered sparkling wine in the 17th century. Wine historians have debunked this story, but they recognize that Dom Pérignon played an important role in the evolution of champagne.

There are three grape varieties, red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay. Most champagnes are blends, but Blanc de Blancs is 100 percent Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs is made from red grapes.

French WineFrench WinePhoto: Dave Minogue CC 2.0 Generic no changes made



Until World War II, agriculture was by far the most important economic activity in France. Only then did industrial development really take off with the establishment of a planning office, which gave the government more control over the economic development of France. The plans of the planning bureau had to be approved by parliament. Also in 1945, large banking and insurance organizations, the energy sector, public transport and the Renault car factory were nationalized.

The Marshall Aid and the fact that France suffered little damage during the Second World War greatly helped to achieve a strong growth of the industry. The increasing integration of Europe, including the ECSC in 1951 and the EEC in 1957, and the good cooperation between government, trade unions and the business community also resulted in growth in metal processing, mining and the petrochemical industry.

Due to all this measure, industrial production increased rapidly after the war, and between 1970 and 1980 a production increase of 33% was achieved. In the 1980s, France faced high inflation, massive unemployment and declining domestic demand for products. In 1986, a five-year plan was drawn up and 65 state-owned companies were privatized to try to reduce public debt. At the end of the eighties, the economy picked up again due to, among other things, falling oil prices, tax relief and a good financing policy.

Ministry of Economic Affairs FranceMinistry of Economic Affairs FrancePhoto: Art Anderson CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

As of 1 January 2002, the coins and notes of the franc were replaced by euro coins and notes. Economic growth was 0.8% from 1990 to 1994. In 1998 it had risen to 3%, while inflation fell below 1%. Inflation rose again in 2000 and 2001 to 1.7 and 1.6 respectively. In 2000 GDP grew by 3.2%. Unemployment fell in that year from 10.6% in 1999 to 9.7% in 2000.

The gross domestic product in France in 2001 was 1,460 billion euros. Total growth for 2001 was 2%. The French economy was thus one of the fastest growing of the group of seven largest economies in the world.

Recent figures (2017) on the economy of France are:

GNP: 2.6 billion dollars (tenth economy of the world)
GDP Per Capita: $ 44,100
Economic Growth: 2.3%

France had a labor force of 30.7 million people in 2017, of which a growing number of women. The distribution of the labor force over the different economic sectors (2017) is: agriculture: 1.8%; industry: 20% and services sector: 77.2%.

The Ile-de-France region is by far the richest region in France; 22% of the national income is earned in this region. In general, the north of France is more densely populated and mainly focused on industry, while the south is more focused on tourism and agriculture. A second dividing line is that between east and west, with the east being more prosperous than the west.

Agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing


France has the largest agricultural sector in the European Union. Nevertheless, the relative importance of this sector has fallen sharply since World War II compared to the rest of Western Europe. In 2013, for example, only 1.5 million people were active in agriculture, forestry and fishing. In 1970 there were still 2.8 million.

Productivity has increased in the same period and France is still the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world after the United States. In 2000, France exported almost 40 billion euros worth of agricultural products. In the same year, France imported almost 30 billion euros.

40% of the agricultural companies specialize in intensive and extensive livestock farming, 20% in arable farming and 12% in viticulture.


About half of the agricultural land in France is used to grow grain. The grain yield is about 17% of the total agricultural yield, but grapes, vegetables, fruits and other important crops take up less agricultural land and yield much more.

France has approximately 30 million hectares of agricultural land, of which approximately 18 million hectares is cultivated land, making it the largest agricultural area in the European Union. Of this gigantic acreage, 58% is arable land, over 37% is permanent grassland and almost 5% is covered with permanent crops such as fruit, olives and vineyards. Cultivation improvement, expansion of the company size (e.g. through reallotment and cooperatives) and mechanization make an important contribution to the production increase per ha.

Growing tomatoes in green houses, FranceGrowing tomatoes in green houses, FrancePhoto: Mouh2jijel CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In order to be able to produce more profitably, efforts are being made to further increase the average farm size (approx. 30 ha in 1988) by, among other things, buying out small companies. In 1999 the sector had approximately 680,000 companies. The increasing increase in scale is also important, as a result of which the average farm size increased from 23.4 hectares in 1979 to 41.7 hectares in 1997.

The main agricultural lands are on the loam plateaus of the Paris Basin and in the north, where wheat, sugar beets, rapeseed and flax are grown, among other things. Alsace, the large river valleys and the irrigated zones of the south are also rich agricultural areas. Hops are mainly grown in Alsace and French Flanders. Oats and barley are cultivated more widely. Maize is grown in Languedoc and Aquitaine, while rice is still grown in the Camargue.

Horticulture and vineyards are mainly found in the valleys of rivers such as the Loire, the Garonne, the Rhône and along the Mediterranean coast. In addition, there are large horticultural areas around Paris, in the coastal regions of Brittany, Alsace and French Flanders. French viticulture includes many high-quality wines. France occupies an important place in the world ranking of producers of wheat, barley, sugar and wine.

Vineyard in Volnay, FranceVineyard in Volnay, FrancePhoto: Mark Gorzynski CC 4.0 International no changes made

Livestock farming

France is the largest meat and dairy producer in Europe and livestock farms are spread all over the country. Important cattle regions are mainly found in the fringes of the Massif Central and in the Atlantic zone: Normandy, Brittany, Picardy and French Flanders.

Cattle Chauvé, FranceCattle Chauvé, FrancePhoto: Mark Gorzynski CC 4.0 International no changes made

Sheep farming, especially in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees, is important for mutton and cheese. In general, there is also a strong tendency in livestock farming towards the mechanization and expansion of agricultural cooperatives and reallotment.


The forest area is gradually increasing again due to afforestation of disused wastelands, abandoned fields and mountain areas. At present, just over a quarter of the total land area is covered by forests. The majority of the forests consists of deciduous trees, but conifers are rapidly expanding due to the higher yield.

Only the state's forested land is exploited. Two thirds of the forest land belongs to private individuals and is too scattered to be exploited successfully. About 550,000 people work in the forestry and timber industry.


Fishing is not an important sector for the French economy. And that is remarkable given the extensive coast, but the fishing quotas imposed by the European Union are preventing an expansion. It is therefore not surprising that only 0.1% of the working population works in the fishing sector.

The main branch of the fishery is coastal fishing. French fish production takes place mainly in Brittany, where more than half of the total production is realized. Some important ports are Boulogne, Concarneau, Le Havre, La Rochelle and Sète. Oyster farms are a sector that is developing well.

Fishing boats in the port of Le Havre, FranceFishing boats in the port of Le Havre, FrancePhoto: Philippe Alès CC 4.0 International no changes made

Mining and energy supply


The nationalized and highly modernized coal mines are mainly found in the Lorraine Basin and the somewhat smaller basins in southern and central France, the Basin of the North and Pas de Calais. Decreased yields and increasing use of nuclear energy caused production to be phased out gradually, e.g. from 22 million tons in 1976 to 9 million tons in 1995. It is already the case that about 15 million tons of coal have to be imported annually.

Not so long ago, France was one of the most important iron producers in Europe. However, iron production has fallen dramatically in recent decades. This was due to a shortage of markets and many competing countries. Important mining products are still aluminum ore, potassium salt and rock salt. Much less important raw materials are zinc ore, gravel, lead ore and uranium ore.

Gravel mine in Saint-Louis, Alsace, FranceGravel mine in Saint-Louis, Alsace, FrancePhoto: Hansueli Krapf CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Most of the (small) petroleum production comes from the fields of Parentis-en-Born in Les Landes and from the Paris Basin. Natural gas production in Lacq is stagnating after years of strong increase. A decrease is foreseen if no new gas bubbles are detected in the short term.

Energy supply

Electricity production has risen sharply in France, for example by 110% between 1980 and 2000. Only 10% of the electrical energy comes from thermal power stations, about 20% from hydroelectric power stations and over 70% from nuclear power stations.

Nuclear powerplant, Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux, FranceNuclear powerplant, Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux, FrancePhoto: Nitot CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

For the supply of petroleum, France is heavily dependent on the Middle East, for natural gas from Norway, Algeria, the Netherlands and Russia, for coal from Germany, Poland and South Africa. The use of gas in France is less than half of that in Germany or the United Kingdom, mainly due to the high production of nuclear energy.

In order to be able to provide for its energy needs as independently as possible in the future, France has made the development of nuclear energy a spearhead of policy and the use of nuclear energy has increased rapidly due to an accelerated energy program. During the eighties of the last century, France surpassed Japan and the then Soviet Union to become the second largest producer of nuclear energy.


Industrial production doubled in the 1960s, but from the 1970s onwards this sector suffered from the global crisis.

Nevertheless, industrial production increased, partly due to the strongly propagated increase in scale. The main industrial areas are to the east of the Le Havre – Marseille line. The Paris city region is a major center of the manufacturing industry (cars, electrical and electronic equipment, pharmaceutical and photographic products). In addition to research laboratories, haute couture, articles de Paris (jewelery, perfumes) and publishing houses, food and metal processing and the furniture industry are also particularly well represented. The industrial areas of the north and north-east (Alsace-Lorraine) are the most important centers of heavy metallurgy and of the chemical industry, and the textile industry is also important.

Industrial zone at Domont, north of ParisIndustrial zone at Domont, north of ParisPhoto: Ville de Domont CC 4.0 International no changes made

The third major industrial area is around Lyon and includes the Rhône and the Alps. The old textile area around Lyon and the old coal and metallurgy cores of St-Étienne and Le Creusot are undergoing a new development thanks to the expansion of the metal construction and (organic) chemical industry and especially the cheap hydropower energy, which formed the basis for the establishment in the Alps from modern electrochemical and electro-metallurgical companies.

Less important industrial zones are those on the Mediterranean coast, where salt pans, bauxite mines and the old fat-processing industry form the basis for a modern chemical and aluminum industry. Furthermore, there is metal construction, shipbuilding and fertilizer production. Southwest Aquitaine is a growing industrial area thanks to the electrochemical and metallurgical companies in the Pyrenees, the chemical companies of Lacq and the aerospace industry in Toulouse. In Brittany, in addition to the old food industry and shipbuilding, the car industry and electronic construction have also expanded significantly.

Aircraft industry is important for Toulouse, FranceAircraft industry is important for Toulouse, FrancePhoto: Nicolas Halftermeyer CC 4.0 International no changes made

France has many textile areas. The north is the main center for wool and flax fabrics and for cotton production. The Vosges (Mulhouse) and the Lower Seine region (Rouen) specialize mainly in cotton and Lyon is the major production area for synthetic and artificial fiber processing. In the Languedoc, Mazamet is a specialized producer of woolen fabrics. Incidentally, the textile industry continued to decline in the 1970s.

In addition to Paris and the north, ready-to-wear is spread over all major centers and is an important export product. The highly diversified metal construction mainly includes car production, shipbuilding (St-Nazaire, Bordeaux, Le Havre, Dunkirk, Marseille area), aircraft construction (Paris, Toulouse, Nice), electrical equipment, including Compagnie Générale d'Électricité (in Paris [ 60%], Lyon, Grenoble). Le Creusot is the center of the important arms industry. Food industry is widely spread; apart from the canning factories of Brittany and the biscuit factories of Nantes, Paris is the most important center.


The French biotechnology market is the third in Europe, after Great Britain and Germany. Medical biotechnology is the most important branch of this sector. The perspectives in agricultural biotechnology are somewhat less, there are fears of being swamped by cheap American genetically modified products. Environmental technology is only a relatively small part of biotechnology. Technopoles are French "brain parks", often located at universities or other research institutions, and are mainly focused on pharmacy.

The main regions where biotechnology is present are:

Ile de France, with computer science, surgical equipment and genetic research.

Rhône-Alpes, with medicines, veterinary products and vaccines.

Alsace, which is home to a collaboration of French, German and Swiss researchers called BioValley.

Logo BioValley, Alsace, FranceLogo BioValley, Alsace, FrancePhoto: Alsace BioValley CC 4.0 International no changes made

Nord / Pas de Calais, with mainly blood tests around the CHRU in Lille, the largest teaching hospital in Europe.

Toulouse and Montpellier, with a lot of agricultural research.


The total ICT sector can be divided into three sub-sectors: IT, telecommunications and electronics. Until 2000, the ICT sector in France grew by no less than 10% per year and in 1999 had a turnover of 148 billion euros and had more than 710,000 employees. The ICT sector is now very important to France.

Medical sector

The sector can be divided into two subsectors: X-ray equipment and medical surgical equipment. The X-ray equipment subsector is highly concentrated and the largest company accounts for 80% of the industry's turnover. Most companies in the medical-surgical sector are small and medium-sized enterprises.

Construction and infrastructure

The construction sector still has a lot of turnover in France, new homes and business premises are being built. The growth of the infrastructure is mainly realized by the local authorities and private clients. In addition, "Energie de France" and "Gaz de France" invested a lot in their infrastructure.

Machine industry

The French market for machines and tools amounted to 1.9 billion euros in 2000 and ranks seventh worldwide with 4% of the market. Within Europe, France ranks third after Germany and Italy with 10% of the market. In total, 6,500 people are employed by about 100 machine manufacturers.

Renault, producer of agricultural machines in FranceRenault, producer of agricultural machines in FrancePhoto: Peter Mooney CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The turnover of agricultural machinery is the largest in Europe at 3.8 billion euros. This sector has a trade deficit of more than 1 billion euros, which is caused by the large-scale import of harvesting and lawn mowers.

Chemistry and plastics

The turnover of the chemical industry in France in 2001 amounted to 85 billion euros, making this sector the second largest in the country after the automotive sector. On a world level with France with approx. 5% of global production in fourth place, after the United States, Japan and Germany. In total there are approximately 240,000 people working in the chemical sector in more than 2,100 companies.

Chemical factory Solvay in Tavaux, Jura, Franche-Comté, FranceChemical factory Solvay in Tavaux, Jura, Franche-Comté, FrancePhoto: Pline CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Chemical market size per sub-sector (2000):

Medicines 31%
Organic chemistry 25%
Parachemia 17%
Soap, perfume, etc. 16%
Inorganic chemistry 8%
Pharmaceutical basic products 3%

Metal (machining) industry

The French steel industry mainly produces semi-finished products. The number of jobs in this sector has fallen sharply in recent decades from 139,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 2013.

France ranks eleventh worldwide. In Europe, France comes third after Germany and Italy. The Member States of the EU are the most important trading partners with 92% of imports mainly from Belgium and Germany and 83% of exports mainly to Italy, Germany and Spain.

Transport equipment industry

Production is mainly attributable to PSA Peugeot Citroën with 57.5% and Renault with 41.4%. The French automotive industry employs approximately 320,000 people, including a third in the supply industry.

Pegeot factory in Rennes, FrancePegeot factory in Rennes, FrancePhoto: Pymouss CC 4.0 International no changes made

Three quarters of the turnover of the French aviation industry is generated from civil aviation and a quarter from defense. Most orders come from Europe, the United States, Canada and the Middle East.

The turnover of the railway industry is growing strongly, mainly due to the increase in exports.

Packaging industry

The packaging industry is a major sector in France. The food industry is the most important consumer of packaging and also the cosmetics and health industry. The main regions for the packaging industry are Rhône-Alpes, Ile-de-France, Haute-Normandy and Picardy. Almost 30,000 people are employed in this sector. The main trading partners are Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Great Britain.

Food, beverages and tobacco industry

The products of the food industry are mainly sold on the domestic market, making this sector less prone to economic downturns. There is a large export surplus of wine, dairy products, champagne and sparkling wines. France mainly imports canned goods, meat products, oils and fats. This sector employs more than 500,000 people, with which the sector provides almost 15% of the jobs of the total industrial sector.


France is the second largest exporter in Western Europe after Germany and is currently (2017) 6th in the world ranking. Trade relations are mainly maintained with the other EC countries and otherwise with associated states. The main trading partners are Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States. About one-sixth of foreign trade takes place with Germany. Since 1999, Spain has been France's third largest export market after Germany and Great Britain. Outside Europe, the United States is the main trading partner. Exports to East Asia amount to only a few percent of the total.

Export products FranceExport products FrancePhoto: Rom1sub, CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 2017, imports totaled $ 602 billion. Total exports from France were $ 550 billion in 2017. The export consists mainly of agricultural products such as wine, grain, butter and cheese, as well as semi-finished products, machines, equipment and cars. However, the auto industry faces strong competition from the Japanese auto industry. Important import goods are raw materials and energy sources, semi-finished products, industrial goods and agricultural products (especially tropical products, cotton and wool).


France has a well-developed traffic network, radially oriented towards Paris in terms of railways and roads.

The road network covers 964,000 km, of which approximately 8,600 km is a motorway (with mostly tolls) and 29,000 km of main and national roads. The French government has drawn up a "master plan" to extend the motorways by an additional 5,000 km. They also want more Trans-Pyrenean tunnels for a better connection with Spain. 60% of goods transport is by road.

A6, part of the Route du Soleil, FranceA6, part of the Route du Soleil, FrancePhoto: Alexandre Vialle CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The railway network comprises approximately 35,000 km of track (80% electrified). Important is the special TGV network or high-speed line. The super-fast TGV train (Train à Grande Vitesse) has been running since 1981, bringing cities such as Lyon, Bordeaux and Nice, but also Brussels and Amsterdam, a short distance from Paris. Expansions are foreseen via Strasbourg to Germany and to Spain and Italy.
Construction of the Channel Tunnel, which connects France to England, started in 1987. The Channel Tunnel, which runs between Calais in France and Folkestone in Britain, was designed by French and British engineers and opened in 1994. It is a 50 kilometer long railway tunnel that runs under the Pas de Calais. The crossing between the two countries now takes only 35 minutes. The Paris-London journey takes 2.30 hours, Brussels-London 2.40 hours.

Train Grande Vitesse (TGV), high speeds train in FranceTrain Grande Vitesse (TGV), high speeds train in FrancePhoto: Alaric Favie, CC 3.0 Unported, no changes made

Inland navigation has a network of 8600 km of waterways. However, most of this network is only suitable for smaller vessels and is practically out of use. Inland shipping therefore only accounts for 4% of the goods transport. However, heavy traffic and transport have the Seine, the canalised Rhine and Moselle, most of the canals in Northeast France and the Rhône-Rhine Canal, which was built in 1988 and connects Rotterdam with the Mediterranean.
Several new waterways are under construction, including Seine – North-East, which will connect Paris with Lille and the Moselle, and the Mediterranean – Rhine, which has a high priority. The main inland ports are Paris, Rouen and Strasbourg.

The merchant fleet is largely state-owned and of the many seaports, Le Havre, Dunkirk and Nantes-St.-Nazaire are the most important. However, Marseille is the most important port for France or the Mediterranean and is the third port in Europe.

Harbour of Marseille, FranceHarbour of Marseille, FrancePhoto: Rama CC 2.0 France no changes made

Air France is the largest airline. UTA focuses most of its flights on Africa and Air Inter handles domestic air traffic. The main airports are: Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Le Bourget (closed to international traffic) near Paris and Nice airports as the third international airport, Lyon and Marseille.
Regional airports are increasingly used for international flights; East of Paris is a special airport for air traffic, Europort. Plans are to open a third airport in the Paris region in 2020: Chaulnes-Vermandovilliers, 130 kilometers north of Paris in the Somme department.

Airbus 320-111 from Air FranceAirbus 320-111 from Air FrancePhoto: Aero Icarus CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Holidays and Sightseeing


France is the world's leading holiday destination in terms of visitor numbers, followed by the United States and Spain.

Tourist activities are very unevenly distributed across French territory. Half of the jobs are concentrated in three regions: Ile-de-France, Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. The most visited attractions are Disneyland Paris (12 million visitors), the Eiffel Tower (6 million), the Louvre (6 million) and the Center Pompidou (5 million).

Disneyland ParisDisneyland ParisPhoto: Andrei Dan Suciu CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Government and business are trying to redistribute the tourist flow over regions in a more balanced way and spread it over the whole year. For example, "green" tourism (including camping on a farm) and new forms of tourism such as city tourism and thematic travel will be more developed.


Throughout France you can admire the remains of the country's rich history, which dates back to prehistoric times. About 15,000 BC. the earliest inhabitants of the country lived in the south of France. They lived in caves and painted wall paintings at Lascaux that became world famous. In Brittany, around 1500 BC. erected monuments consisting of gigantic stones called dolmens or menhirs.

Dolmen des Erves, Sainte-Suzanne, Mayenne, FranceDolmen des Erves, Sainte-Suzanne, Mayenne, FrancePhoto: Arnradigue CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 51 BC. Under the leadership of Julius Caesar, the Romans conquered what is now France, then called Gaul and for centuries it was a Roman province. Especially in the southeast of France there are still amphitheaters in cities such as Arles, Orange and Nîmes.

Romanesque architecture emerged in the 12th century. Monasteries and churches were built on the model of Roman basilicas. From this developed Gothic architecture, which would spread all over Europe from France. There are about 60 Gothic cathedrals in France, richly decorated with sculptures and stained glass windows. The most famous cathedrals are in Amiens, Reims, Paris (Notre Dame), Chartres and Beauvais.

Around 1500 French art came under the influence of the Italian Renaissance. Classical antiquity became a source of inspiration. Many castles were built along the Loire during this period. Later, the Louvre arose in Paris, which has long been the palace of the French kings.

The 17th century was the heyday of French art. The style of that time is called classicism. In Versailles, famous architects, painters and sculptors worked on the palace, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. King Louis XIV had a hospital built in Paris for wounded soldiers, the Hôtel des Invalides, where Napoleon Bonaparte is buried. It is considered the masterpiece of the classicist period.

The north facade of the Hôtel des Invalides, ParisThe north facade of the Hôtel des Invalides, ParisPhoto: Daniel Vorndran / DXR CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the second half of the 18th century, the Panthéon was built in Paris. At first it served as a church, later it became a resting place for famous French such as Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Emile Zola.

When the World's Fair was held in Paris in 1889, engineer Eiffel designed a 300-meter-high iron tower, which later became known as the Eiffel Tower, especially for the occasion. This building still dominates the image of Paris and attracts millions of visitors every year.

In the 20th century, French architecture has developed into one of the most prominent in the world. For example, the buildings of Le Corbusier can be found in many countries. An example of his style is the pilgrimage church Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp from 1955. Many buildings typical of this century have been built in Paris, such as the Center Pompidou, which houses all kinds of cultural institutions. Below is a brief description of some interesting French cities.

Interieure Centre Pompidou, ParisInterieure Centre Pompidou, ParisPhoto: Juliette Jourdan CC 4.0 International no changes made

Paris is overflowing with sights. There are of course well-known blockbusters such as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Élysées, Notre Dame and the Louvre. But there are also a number of less known, yet special places to visit. Le Marais is highly recommended. Le Marais has recently become one of the hippest districts in Paris. You could assume that it is actually a shame that it is now referred to in all books as the hippest district in Paris, as recently (especially in the summer months) Le Marais has been overrun by tourists. Many are afraid that this will cause the neighborhood to lose its authenticity.
So get to Le Marais before it's too late. Le Marais is a unique amalgamation of a gay area and a Jewish quarter. In this neighborhood you will find nice, hip shops and delicious (often kosher) restaurants, bakeries and delicatessen shops. You can also eat the tastiest falafel in all of France at L'as du Fallafel in the Rue des Rosiers (the Jewish street of Paris).

Eiffel Tower, icon of Paris and FranceEiffel Tower, icon of Paris and FrancePhoto: Chadi saad CC 4.0 International no changes made

Lyon is een stad met met talloze historische gebouwen vanaf de oudheid tot aan de moderne tijd. Romeinse ruïnes zijn zichtbaar op de heuvel in de buurt van de Fourvière Basiliek met het oude theater van Fourvière en het Amfitheater van de Drie Galliërs.
De beroemdste historische monumenten uit de Middeleeuwen en Renaissance zijn onder meer: De kathedraal van St. Jean, een middeleeuwse kerk met architectonische elementen uit de 13e, 14e en 15e eeuw, tevens het belangrijkste religieuze bouwwerk in de stad en de zetel van de aartsbisschop van Lyon. De basiliek van St-Martin-d'Ainay een van de zeldzame overgebleven romaanse kerken in basiliek-stijl. Het hele Vieux Lyon heeft veel gebouwen met Middeleeuwse en Renaissance kenmerken.
Uit de 17e en 18e eeuw zijn overgebleven: De Bartholdi Fontijn, het stadhuis, de barokke Chapelle Saint-Pierre, het Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon (17de en 18de eeuw), het historische ziekenhuis met een barokke kapel; de Temple du Change (17e en 18de eeuw), de voormalige beurs van Lyon, protestantse tempel sinds de 18e eeuw, het Place Bellecour, een van de grootste stadspleinen in Europa; de Chapelle de la Trinite (1622), de eerste barokke kapel gebouwd in Lyon en een deel van de voormalige École de la Trinite, nu Collège-Lycee Ampère.

Place bellecour, Lyon, FrancePlace bellecour, Lyon, FrancePhoto: Chabe01 CC 4.0 International no changes made

Lille was elected European Capital of Culture in 2004, along with the Italian city of Genoa. Lille has different architectural styles, with a lot of influence from Flemish architecture through the use of brown and red brick. characteristic are the two to three storey terraced houses with narrow back gardens. This is unusual in France.
Lille's street scene is a transition from the architecture of France to the neighboring countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and England, where brick houses were built in large numbers. Architectural heritage includes the Gothic style of the Middle Ages (Saint-Maurice and Sainte-Catherine churches); the Renaissance (Houses in Rue Basse), Flemish Mannerists in Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange), House of Gilles de la BoE), Classical style (Saint-Étienne, Saint-Andre churches, the Citadelle), Gothic Revival (Cathedrale Notre-Dame- de-la-Treille), Art Nouveau (House Coilliot), regional Art-Deco - Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and Euralille's contemporary modern structures.
Construction of a main urban project - the Euralille began in 1991. The center was opened in 1994 and the renewed district is now full of parks and modern buildings with offices, shops and apartments.

Vieille Bourse, Lille, FranceVieille Bourse, Lille, FrancePhoto: Velvet CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Bordeaux is classified as the "City of Art and History". Bordeaux is a historic city with many tourist attractions. There are beautiful neighborhoods - a must for visitors. If you want to go sightseeing in Bordeaux, it is best to walk in the historic center of the city, it is one large pedestrian area.
You can cross the river and visit the other side with a small ferry. You can also use efficient tram lines where you can make an unlimited number of rides within an hour. Les Quays is a promenade along the banks of the Garonne with a beautiful view over the countryside and the bridges of Bordeaux. You see the Aquitaine bridge, a bridge with a unique architecture. You can also walk along Sainte-Catherine street in the pedestrian center and enjoy the scenery.
The part of the city around Gambetta square is called "Little Paris". Visit the lush public gardens, north of Gambetta square, where you can relax and have a picnic. Entrance to the gardens is free. You will recognize the Roman architecture in the Triumphal Arch, in the center of La Victoire, where you can see some historical monuments, but at the same time you will be in the middle of the student life with many bars and restaurants.
The memorial in Quinconces Square pays tribute to the Girondin deputies who were beheaded by Robespierre. There are numerous museums and galleries in the city. During your stay in the city, don't miss the following: The Musee d'Art Contemporain at 7, Rue Ferrère is worth a visit if you are interested in Modern Art. There are always changing exhibitions and the museum has inspiring installations. The Musee D'Aquitaine is a beautiful museum that displays Gallo-Roman statues and relics dating back 25,000 years.

Les Quais, BordeauxLes Quais, BordeauxPhoto: Grand Parc - Bordeaux, France CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The most interesting part of Avignon is the old town surrounded by its defensive walls. There are a number of grandiose historical monuments. The buildings along the main street, the Rue de la Republique, belong to the period of the Second Empire (1852-1870) with Haussmannian facades surrounding the central square.
The neoclassical town hall and the theater district are well worth a visit. There are interesting statues in Place de l'Horloge, the main square of the city. Notre Dame des Doms is the unique cathedral from the 12th century, built in Romanesque style. Its most striking feature is the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on the west tower. The Mausoleum of Pope John XXII is one of the most beautiful works of art in the cathedral. It is a remarkable example of 14th century Gothic carvings. The Palais des Papes ("Papal Palace") is an impressive structure. John XXII began its construction in 1316 and John XXII and successive Popes completed construction in 1370.
There are notable public buildings such as the Hôtel de Ville (town hall) with a bell tower from the 14th century, and the old Hôtel des Monnaies, the papal mint built in 1610 later transformed into a music school. One of the finest examples of medieval fortifications that still exist are the ramparts, built by the Popes in the 14th century. The ramparts are still around Avignon. These strong walls with thirty-nine massive towers and several city gates have been beautifully restored. There are also a number of interesting museums in Avignon. Such as the Calvet Museum, named after Esprit Calvet, a doctor who donated his collections to the city in 1810. This museum has a rich collection of paintings, metal artifacts and a library with more than 140,000 volumes.
The Musee du Petit Palais (opened in 1976) overlooking the Palais des Papes, has an exceptional collection of paintings from the Avignon school. The Lambert Collection is famous for its contemporary art. The Musee Lapidaire, with its archaeological and medieval sculpture collections, is located in the old chapel of the Jesuit College.

Palais des Papes, Avignin, FrancePalais des Papes, Avignon, FrancePhoto: LonelyBanjo CC 4.0 International no changes made

Protected as a World Heritage Site, Amiens Cathedral is the tallest of the great Gothic churches from the 13th century and is the largest cathedral in France. The original cathedral was destroyed by fire, construction of the new church started in 1220 and was completed in 1247. Amiens Cathedral is world famous for its beauty and in particular for the beautiful display of statues on the main facade. The cathedral is described as the "Parthenon of Gothic architecture".

Notre-Dame d'Amiens is the largest Gothic cathedral in FranceNotre-Dame d'Amiens is the largest Gothic cathedral in FrancePhoto: Maria Gloo CC 4.0 International no changes made

Amiens is also known for its hortillonnages, floating (public) gardens on small islands in the marshes along the river Somme, surrounded by a network of artificial canals. Amiens consists of a number of beautiful neighborhoods ("quartiers" in French) such as St-Leu, St-Maurice, Henriville and Saint-Acheul. There are a number of interesting museums in the city such as the museum of the Hôtel Berny (Art, History), the Museum of Picardy (Art, Archeology, Ethnology) and the natural history museum. Amiens also has a number of theaters: La Comedie de Picardie, La Maison de la Culture, Chez Cabotans and La Maison du Theâtre.

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Bailey, R. / Frankrijk

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Van Reemst

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Last updated December 2021
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