France, officially the French Republic (French: République française is a sovereign state comprising territory in western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The European part of France, called Metropolitan France, extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. France spans 640,679 square kilometres (247,368 sq mi) and has a total population of 67 million. It is a unitarysemi-presidential republic with the capital in Paris, the country’s largest city and main cultural and commercial centre.
During the Iron Age, what is now Metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls, a Celtic people. The Gauls were conquered in 51 BC by the Roman Empire, which held Gaul until 486. The Gallo-Romans faced raids and migration from the Germanic Franks, who dominated the region for hundreds of years, eventually creating the medieval Kingdom of France. France emerged as a major European power in the Late Middle Ages, with its victory in the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453) strengthening French state-building and paving the way for a future centralized absolute monarchy. During the Renaissance, France experienced a vast cultural development and established the beginning of a global colonial empire. The 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots).
France became Europe’s dominant cultural, political, and military power under Louis XIV. French philosophers played a key role in the Age of Enlightenment during the 18th century. In the late 18th century, the absolute monarchy was overthrown in the French Revolution. Among its legacies was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, one of the earliest documents on human rights, which expresses the nation’s ideals to this day. France became one of modern history’s earliest republics until Napoleon took power and launched the First French Empire in 1804. Fighting against a complex set of coalitions during the Napoleonic Wars, he dominated European affairs for over a decade and had a long-lasting impact on Western culture. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments: the monarchy was restored, it was replaced in 1830 by a constitutional monarchy, then briefly by a Second Republic, and then by a Second Empire, until a more lasting French Third Republic was established in 1870. The French republic had tumultuous relationships with the Catholic Church from the dechristianization of France during the French Revolution to the 1905 law establishing laïcité. Laïcité is a strict but consensual form of secularism, which is nowadays an important federative principle in the modern French society.
France reached its territorial height during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it ultimately possessed the second-largest colonial empire in the world. In World War I, France was one of the main winners as part of the Triple Entente alliance fighting against the Central Powers. France was also one of the Allied Powers in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis Powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains to this day. Following World War II, most of the French colonial empire became decolonized.
France topographically is one of the most varied countries of Europe, with elevations ranging from 2 m (7 ft) below sea level at Rhône River delta to the highest peak of the continent, Mont Blanc (4,807 m/15,771 ft), on the border with Italy. Much of the country is ringed with mountains. In the northeast is the Ardennes Plateau, which extends into Belgium and Luxembourg; to the east are the Vosges, the high Alps, and the Jura Mountains; and along the Spanish border are the Pyrenees, much like the Alps in ruggedness and height.
The core of France is the Paris Basin, connected in the southwest with the lowland of Aquitaine. Low hills cover much of Brittany and Normandy. The old, worn-down upland of the Massif Central, topped by extinct volcanoes, occupies the south-central area. The valley of the Rhône (813 km/505 mi), with that of its tributary the Saône (480 km/298 mi), provides an excellent passageway from the Paris Basin and eastern France to the Mediterranean.
There are three other main river systems: the Seine (776 km/482 mi), draining into the English Channel; the Loire (1,020 km/634 mi), which flows through central France to the Atlantic; and the Garonne (575 km/357 mi), which flows across southern France to the Atlantic.
Three types of climate may be found within France: oceanic, continental, and Mediterranean. The oceanic climate, prevailing in the western parts of the country, is one of small temperature range, ample rainfall, cool summers, and cool but seldom very cold winters. The continental (transition) type of climate, found over much of eastern and central France, adjoining its long common boundary with west-central Europe, is characterized by warmer summers and colder winters than areas farther west; rainfall is ample, and winters tend to be snowy, especially in the higher areas. The Mediterranean climate, widespread throughout the south of France (except in the mountainous southwest), is one of cool winters, hot summers, and limited rainfall. The mean temperature is about 11°c (53°f) at Paris and 15°c (59°f) at Nice. In central and southern France, annual rainfall is light to moderate, ranging from about 68 cm (27 in) at Paris to 100 cm (39 in) at Bordeaux. Rainfall is heavy in Brittany, the northern coastal areas, and the mountainous areas, where it reaches more than 112 cm (44 in).
France’s flora and fauna are as varied as its range of topography and climate. It has forests of oak and beech in the north and center, as well as pine, birch, poplar, and willow. The Massif Central has chestnut and beech; the subalpine zone, juniper and dwarf pine. In the south are pine forests and various oaks. Eucalyptus (imported from Australia) and dwarf pines abound in Provence. Toward the Mediterranean are olive trees, vines, and mulberry and fig trees, as well as laurel, wild herbs, and the low scrub known as maquis (from which the French resistance movement in World War II took its name).
The Pyrenees and the Alps are the home of the brown bear, chamois, marmot, and alpine hare. In the forests are polecat and marten, wild boar, and various deer. Hedgehog and shrew are common, as are fox, weasel, bat, squirrel, badger, rabbit, mouse, otter, and beaver. The birds of France are largely migratory; warblers, thrushes, magpies, owls, buzzards, and gulls are common. There are storks in Alsace and elsewhere, eagles and falcons in the mountains, pheasants and partridge in the south. Flamingos, terns, buntings, herons, and egrets are found in the Mediterranean zone. The rivers hold eels, pike, perch, carp, roach, salmon, and trout; lobster and crayfish are found in the Mediterranean.
As of 2002, there were at least 93 species of mammals, 283 species of birds, and over 4,600 species of plants throughout the country.
The national parks of France is a system of ten national parks throughout metropolitan France and its overseas departments, coordinated by the government agency Parcs Nationaux de France. The French national parks protect a total area of 3,710 square kilometres (1,430 sq mi) in core area and 9,162 square kilometres (3,537 sq mi) in buffer zones in metropolitan France. This puts over 2% of the total area of metropolitan France under some level of protection. French national parks draw over seven million visitors every year.
- Les Calanques: In the Bouches-du-Rhône (13) and Var (83) départements. Around 11,200 hectares on land and 78,000 hectares marine. Periphery: about 34,000 hectares on land and 145,000 hectares marine.
- Les Cévennes: Southern Massif Central, La Lozère (48), Gard (30), L’Ardèche (07). Created in 1970, covering 93,500 hectares. Periphery: 278 500 hectares
- Ecrins: Hautes-Alpes (05), L’Isère (38) Opened in 1973, covering 91,800 hectares. Periphery: 178 400 hectares.
- Guadeloupe: French territory (971), the park was formed in 1989 covering 21,850 hectares. Periphery: 94 065 hectares.
- Le Reunion: (974) Opened in 2007, the park is 105,500 hectares running the length of the island. Periphery: 87 800 hectares
- Mercantour: Alpes-Maritimes ( 06 ), Alpes de Haute-Provence (04 ) Opened 1979, 68,500 hectares. Periphery : 146 000 hectares.
- Parc des Forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne – previously Entre Champagne et Bourgogne: Cote d’Or (21), Haute-Marne (52), in the pipeline, total area including periphery covering 80,000 hectares -opening date to be confirmed
- Port-Cros: Iles d’Hyères – Var (83) Opened 1963, this is the smallest park, 700 hectares on land, 1,300 hectares marine. Periphery : 1000 hectares
- Pyrénées: Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), Hautes-Pyrénées (65). Opened in 1967 with 45,700 hectares of land. Periphery: 206 300 hectares
- La Vanoise: Savoie (73), The first National Park, opened in 1963 with 53,500 hectares. Periphery: 146 500 hectares