France, officially the French Republic (French: République française, is a state in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is often referred to as l’Hexagone ("The Hexagon") because of the geometric shape of its territory. It is bordered (clockwise starting from the northeast) by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco; with Spain and Andorra to the south. France is linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.
France is a founding member state of the European Union and is the largest one by area. France has been a major power for several centuries with strong cultural, economic, military and political influence in Europe and in the world. During the 17th and 18th centuries, France colonised great parts of North America; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France built the second largest empire of the time, including large portions of North, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.
France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its main ideals expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. France is one of the most developed countries and possesses the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh largest economy by purchasing power parity. France enjoys a high standard of living as well as a high public education level, and has also one of the world's highest life expectancies. It is the most visited country in the world, receiving 82 million foreign tourists annually. France is a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the Francophonie, the G8, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, and the Latin Union. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and possesses the third largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world with ~300 active warheads.
The word "Frank" had been loosely used from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages, yet from Hugh Capet's coronation as "King of the Franks" ("Rex Francorum") it became usual to strictly refer to the Kingdom of Francia, which would become France. The Capetian Kings were descended from the Robertines, who had produced two Frankish kings, and previously held the title of "Duke of the Franks" ("dux Francorum"). This Frankish duchy encompassed most of modern northern France but because the royal power was sapped by regional princes the term was then applied to the royal demesne as shorthand. It was finally the name adopted for the entire Kingdom as central power was affirmed over the entire kingdom.
The name "France" itself comes from Latin Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks," or "country of the Franks". There are various theories as to the origin of the name of the Franks. One is that it is derived from the Proto-Germanic word frankon which translates as javelin or lance as the throwing axe of the Franks was known as a francisca. Another proposed etymology is that in an ancient Germanic language, Frank means free as opposed to slave. This usage still survives in the name of the national currency prior to the adoption of the euro, the franc.
However, it is also possible that the word is derived from the ethnic name of the Franks, because as the conquering class only the Franks had the status of freemen. In German (and other Germanic language, such as Scandinavian languages and Dutch), France is still called "Realm of the Franks" (Frankreich, Frankrike, Frankrige). In order to distinguish from the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne, Modern France is called Frankreich in German, while the Frankish Realm is called Frankenreich. In some languages, such as Greek, France is still known as Gaul.
The borders of modern France are approximately the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was conquered by Rome under Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity first appeared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and became so firmly established by the fourth and 5th centuries that St. Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only region “free from heresy”.
In the 4th century AD, Gaul’s eastern frontier along the Rhine was overrun by Germanic tribes, principally the Franks, from whom the ancient name of “Francie” was derived. The modern name “France” derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris. The Franks were the first tribe among the Germanic conquerors of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity rather than Arianism (their King Clovis did so in 498); thus France obtained the title “Eldest daughter of the Church” (La fille aînée de l’Église), and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves “the Most Christian Kingdom of France”.
His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressively unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance into a Kingdom of France. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania (the southern area of modern-day France). In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of southern France were exterminated. In 1066, the Duke of Normandy added King of England to his titles. Later Kings expanded their territory to cover over half of modern continental France, including most of the North, Centre and West of France.
The exact boundaries changed greatly with time, but French landholdings of the English Kings remained extensive for centuries. Strong French counterattacks, helped by English weakness during the Wars of the Roses, won back mainland territory until only Calais remained. Under Mary I of England this was lost to the Spanish Netherlands.
Charles IV (The Fair) died without an heir in 1328. Under the rules of the Salic Law adopted in 1316, the crown of France could not pass to a woman, nor could the line of kinship pass through the female line. Accordingly, the crown passed to the cousin of Charles, Philip of Valois, rather than through the female line to Charles' nephew, Edward, who would soon become Edward III of England. In the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. However, Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War.
In the most notorious incident during the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572.
The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. At this time, France possessed the largest population in Europe (see Demographics of France) and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. Since the 18th century, French was the most used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, before English took the lead in the 20th century. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In addition, France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
The monarchy ruled France until the French Revolution. It did not fall immediately after the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, but endured until the creation of the First Republic in September 1792. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed (in 1793), along with thousands of other French citizens during the Reign of Terror. A guerrilla war and counterrevolution, known as the Revolt in the Vendée, cost more than 100,000 lives before it was crushed in 1796. After a series of short-lived governmental schemes, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799, making himself First Consul, and later Emperor of the First Empire (1804–1814). In the course of several wars, his armies conquered most of continental Europe, with members of the Bonaparte family being appointed as monarchs of newly established kingdoms. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic wars.
Following Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the monarchy was re-established (1814–1830), but with new constitutional limitations. In 1830, a civil uprising established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848. The short-lived Second Republic ended in 1852 when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte proclaimed the Second Empire. Louis-Napoléon was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century until the 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 square kilometres (4,767,000 sq mi) of land. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 square kilometres (4,980,000 sq mi) in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6% of the world's land area.
The Fourth Republic was established after World War II and, despite spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses), it struggled to maintain its political status as a dominant nation state. France attempted to hold on to its colonial empire, but soon ran into trouble. The half-hearted 1946 attempt at regaining control of French Indochina resulted in the First Indochina War, which ended in French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new conflict in Algeria.
The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to civil war. In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which contained a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962 that led to Algerian independence.
France has been at the forefront of the European Union member states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to create a more unified and capable European Union political, defence, and security apparatus. The French electorate voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty in May 2005, but the successor Treaty of Lisbon was ratified by Parliament in February 2008.
Technically speaking, there is no standard type of "French" architecture, although that has not always been true. Gothic Architecture's old name was French Architecture (or Opus Francigenum). The term “Gothic” appeared later as a stylistic insult and was widely adopted. The Gothic Architecture was the first French style of Architecture to be copied in all Europe. Northern France is the home of some of the most important Gothic cathedrals and basilicas, the first of these being the Saint Denis Basilica (used as the royal necropolis); other important French Gothic cathedrals are Notre-Dame de Chartres and Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The kings were crowned in another important Gothic church: Notre-Dame de Reims. Aside from churches, Gothic Architecture had been used for many religious palaces, the most important one being the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
During the Middle Ages, fortified castles were built by feudal nobles to mark their powers against their rivals. When King Philip II took Rouen from King John, for example, he demolished the ducal castle to build a bigger one. Fortified cities were also common, unfortunately most French castles did not survive the passage of time. This is why Richard the Lionheart's Château Gaillard was demolished, as well as the Château de Lusignan. Some important French castles that survived are Chinon, Château d'Angers, the massive Château de Vincennes and the so called Cathar castles.
Before the appearance of this architecture France had been using Romanesque architecture like most of Western Europe (with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula, which used Mooresque architecture, which now consists of Spain and Portugal). Some of the greatest examples of Romanesque churches in France are the Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse (largest romanesque church in Europe) and the remains of the Cluniac Abbey (largely destroyed during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars).
The end of the Hundred Years' War marked an important stage in the evolution of French architecture. It was the time of the French Renaissance and several artists from Italy and Spain were invited to the French court; many residential palaces, inspired by the Italians, were built, but mainly in the Loire Valley. Such residential castles were the Château de Chambord, the Château de Chenonceau, or the Château d'Amboise. Following the renaissance and the end of the Middle Ages, Baroque Architecture replaced the traditional gothic style. However, in France, baroque architecture found a greater success in the secular domain than in a religious one. In the secular domain the Palace of Versailles has many baroque features. Jules Hardouin Mansart was said to be the most influential French architect of the baroque era, with his famous dome, Les Invalides. Some of the most impressive provincial baroque architecture is found in places that were not yet French such as the Place Stanislas in Nancy. On the military architectural side, Vauban designed some of the most efficient fortresses in Europe and became an influential military architect; as a result, imitations of his works can been found all over Europe, the Americas, Russia and Turkey.
After the Revolution the Republicans favoured Neoclassicism although neoclassicism was introduced in France prior to the revolution with such building as the Parisian Pantheon or the Capitole de Toulouse. Built during the French Empire the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte Marie-Madeleine represent this trend the best.
Under Napoleon III a new wave of urbanism and architecture was given birth. If extravagant buildings such as the neo-baroque Palais Garnier were built, the urban planning of the time was very organised and rigorous. For example, Baron Haussmann rebuilt Paris. The architecture associated to this era is named Second Empire in English, the term being taken from the Second French Empire. At this time there was a strong Gothic resurgence across Europe and in France the associated architect was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In the late 19th century Gustave Eiffel designed many bridges, such as Garabit viaduct, and remains one of the most influential bridge designer of his time, although he is best remembered for the iconic Eiffel Tower.
In the 20th century, Swiss Architect Le Corbusier designed several buildings in France. More recently French architects have combined both modern and old architectural styles. The Louvre Pyramid is an example of modern architecture added to an older building. Certainly the most difficult buildings to integrate within French cities are skyscrapers, as they are visible from afar. For instance, in Paris, since 1977, new buildings must have been under 37 meters, or 121 feet. France's largest financial district is La Defense, where a significant number of skyscrapers are located. Other massive buildings that are a challenge to integrate into their environment are large bridges; a good example of the way this has been done is the Millau Viaduct. Some famous modern French architects include Jean Nouvel or Paul Andreu.
The earliest French literature dates from the Middle Ages, when what is now known as modern France did not have a single, uniform language. There were several languages and dialects and each writer used his own spelling and grammar.The authors of French mediaeval texts are unknown, such as Tristan and Iseult and Lancelot and the Holy Grail. Much mediaeval French poetry and literature were inspired by the legends of the Matter of France, such as The Song of Roland and the various Chansons de geste. The “Roman de Renart”, written in 1175 by Perrout de Saint Cloude tells the story of the mediaeval character Reynard ('the Fox') and is another example of early French writing. The names of some authors from this period are known, for example Chrétien de Troyes and Duke William IX of Aquitaine, who wrote in Occitan.
An important 16th century writer was François Rabelais who influenced modern French vocabulary and metaphor. During the 17th century, plays by Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine and Molière, as well as the moral and philosophical books by Blaise Pascal and René Descartes, deeply influenced the French aristocracy leaving an important new niche for authors of the following decades, such as Jean de La Fontaine, who was an important poet from this century.
French literature and poetry flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 18th century saw the works of writers, essayists and moralists such as Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Charles Perrault was a prolific writer of famous children's fairy tales including “Puss in Boots”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Bluebeard”.
At the turn of the 19th century symbolist poetry was an important movement in French literature, with poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé. The 19th century saw the writings of French authors: Victor Hugo (Les Misérables), Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo), and Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), which are amongst the most well-known in France and the world. Other 19th century fiction writers include Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Guy de Maupassant, Théophile Gautier and Stendhal.
The Prix Goncourt is a French literary prize first awarded in 1903. Important writers of the 20th century include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote Little Prince which has remained popular for decades with children and adults around the world. For most of the 20th century, French authors had more Literature Nobel Prizes than those of any other nation.
Although the musical creation in France dates back to the Middle Ages, it knew its golden age in the seventeenth century thanks to Louis XIV, who employed several musicians and composers in the royal court. The most renowned composers of this period include Marc-Antoine Charpentier, François Couperin, Michel-Richard Delalande, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marin Marais, all of them composers at the court. After the death of the "Roi Soleil", French musical creation lost dynamism, but in the next century the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau reached some prestige, and today he is still one of the most renowned French composers. French classical music knew a revival in the nineteenth and twentieth century, at the end of the romantic movement, at first with opera composers Hector Berlioz, Georges Bizet, Gabriel Fauré, Charles Gounod, Jacques Offenbach, Édouard Lalo, Jules Massenet and Camille Saint-Saëns. This period was a golden age for operas, being popular in the country the opéra bouffon, the opera-ballet and the opéra comique genres. Later came precursors of modern classical music Érik Satie, Francis Poulenc, and above all Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, who invented new musical forms. More recently, at the middle of the twentieth century, Maurice Ohana, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Boulez contributed to the evolutions of contemporary classical music.
French music then followed the rapid emergence of pop and rock music at the middle of the twentieth century. Although English-speaking creations has reached some popularity in the country, French pop music, known as chanson française, has remained very popular. Among the most important French artists of the century are Edith Piaf, Georges Brassens, Léo Ferré, Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg. Although there are very few rock bands in France compared to English-speaking countries, bands such as Noir Désir, Mano Negra, Niagara, Rita Mitsouko and more recently Superbus, Phoenix and Gojira have reached worldwide popularity. Others French artists with international careers have been popular in several countries, for example female singers Mireille Mathieu and Mylène Farmer, electronic music pioneers Jean-Michel Jarre, Laurent Garnier and Bob Sinclar, and later David Guetta. In the 1990s and 2000s, electronic duos Daft Punk, Justice and Air also reached worldwide popularity and contributed to the reputation of modern electronic music in the world.\
Among current musical events and institutions in France, many are dedicated to classical music and operas. The most prestigious institutions are the state-owned Paris National Opera (with its two sites Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille), the Opéra National de Lyon, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. As for music festivals, there are several events organized, the most popular being the Eurockéennes and Rock en Seine. The Fête de la Musique, imitated by many foreign cities, was first launched by the French government in 1982. Major music halls and venues in France include Le Zénith sites present in many cities and other places in Paris (Paris Olympia, Théâtre Mogador, Élysée Montmartre, etc.).