|France is the largest
country in Western Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay and English Channel,
between Belgium and Spain, southeast of the UK; bordering the Mediterranean
Sea, between Italy and Spain. Its total surface area is 551,500 square
kilometres, divided into 95 departments, to which are added 8 overseas
departments and territories. Each is administered by a general council
with a Pr�fet who works from a Pr�fecture.
The population is the second-largest in the European Union, behind Germany, and approximately the same size as those of the United Kingdom and Italy. However, France's surface area is in no way comparable with those of the giants of the other continents, e.g. the United States, Russia, India and China.
The terrain consist mostly of flat plains or gently rolling hills in the north and in the west; while the remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in the south, and the Alps in the east.
Total coastline is 3120 km (1939 miles) including inlets and bays); with 4 sea fronts: the North Sea, the Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean with 5500 km (3,418 miles) of coastline and the largest beach in Europe at La Baule, Loire-Atlantique department of the Western Loire measuring 12 km - 7.5 miles.
The highest sand dune is the Dune de Pilat - 150 m (492 feet) found at the Gironde d�partement in Aquitaine. The highest mountain in Western Europe is the Mont Blanc, ascending to 4807 meters (15,771 feet), in the Savoy Alps. The highest inhabited village (2200 m - 7218 feet) is Saint-V�ran (Hautes-Alpes), with a skiable area of 1,950 km2 equipped with 4200 ski lifts and 13000 km (8,078 miles) of downhill ski pistes.
15 million hectares of France are forest woodlands. And there are about 6000 species of plant life found, with 200 of them specific to France.
Paris, the capital and largest city of France is located in the north central area, about 370 km (about 230 mi) from its Atlantic Ocean outlet at Le Havre. Roughly circular in shape, Paris is divided by the Seine, which enters in the southeast and loops to the north before leaving the city in the southwest. The river contains two islands: Île de la Cit� and the smaller Île Saint Louis.
Paris is situated in a low-lying basin; the city is mostly flat, although the elevation gradually increases from the river to the low hills that ring the city's edge. The highest natural feature within the city proper is the Butte de Montmartre, at 129 m (423 ft) above sea level.
The Paris metropolitan area contains nearly 20 percent of the nation's inhabitants and dominates the economic, cultural, and political life of France to an extraordinary degree.
The original site of Paris was on the Île de la Cit� and the adjacent left (south) bank of the river. The Romans established a regional capital here in the 1st century AD, naming it Lutetia. With few topographic constraints on its growth, Paris expanded through the years in a generally circular form and was enclosed by a successive series of walls for defense.
On becoming obsolete, the walls were demolished, and their sites were transformed into wide streets and handsome boulevards, creating vital access routes within the city. Until recent years, building heights within Paris were limited to 20 m (66 ft) or about six stories; thus, the city, although densely inhabited, has a low skyline except for outlying new developments, such as La D�fense, an area of high-rise buildings that house the offices of many international companies.
The first humans found in France (Homo Erectus) are believed to have lived around 950,000 B.C., and at around 400,000 B.C. they (Homo Sapiens) discovered fire. A discovery in 1868 found in Dordogne, south west of France make us to believe that there used to live in circa 25,000 the Cro-Magnon man whose physionomy differed only slightly from ours. Around 10,000 B.C. at the end of the ice age, Neanderthal men evolved slowly towards the more settled Neolithic civilizations (4,000-2,500 B.C.). People began to cultivate crops and settle herds, villages started to appear (many villages of today still occupy the same locations as those started then).
As early as 2500 B.C. the Celts, emerging from Central Europe, settled in Germany and Gaul. They started to work with iron to make tools and weapons, and lived in well organized societies. Then Greeks tried to settle in Celtic Gaul and managed to establish a small colony in Marseille in 600 BC. These were followed by the Roman Empire when it began its expansion in the South of France causing the collapse of the organized socities in 125 B.C. Eventually, the Romans lead by Julius Caesar, entirely invaded Gaul during the Gallic Wars (58-51 BC). The Romans brought unity and peace for two centuries of Pax Romana during which agriculture, cattle-breeding and urban development were greatly improved.
During the 2nd century AD, Romans brought Christianity into Gaul; but by the third century the power of the Roman Empire had begun its decline. The 4th century started with Barbarian invaders from the East such as the Franks, the Vandals and the Visigoths. Clovis, King of the Franks, converted to christianity and his power brought unity to Gaul, starting the Merovingian dynasty.
Charles Martel, the first leader of the Carolingian dynasty, initiated the expansion of the Franks' kingdom and stopped the Muslim advance from Spain in 732. Charlemagne (742-814) continued this expansion and conquered most of Germany and Italy to reunite most of the former Roman Empire. Shortly after his death, however, his kingdom was divided under the pressure of invaders such as the Normans (Vikings) and the Magyars (Hungarians).
Towards the end of 1000 AD, France consisted of numerous feudal Lordships. The Carolingian dynasty died out in 987 when Hugues Capet was elected to the throne of France by the Lords, starting the Capetian Dynasty. The early Capetian kings had very limited power over the independent Lords. In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy invaded England while the first Crusades started in 1095.
Despite the mariage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II of England which yielded most of the western part of France to the British Crown, the Capetians continued to centralize the Lordships under their control. Philippe IV (the Fair), even pressured sucessors of Pope Boniface VIII to move the papal court to Avignon in 1309. After the death of the last Capetian king Charles IV, Edward III of England claimed the French Throne and started the Hundred Years War in 1337. Thanks to the courage of a French peasant girl, Joan of Arc, Charles VIII emerged victorious in the war and drove the English back to Calais.
In the early 16th century, after a series of Italian wars, Francois I strengthened the French Crown and welcomed to France many Italian artists and designers such as Leonardo da Vinci. Their influence assured the success of the Renaissance style characterized by enlarged doors and windows, the great sophistications of the interiors.
The Loire Valley Chateaus (Chambord) and Francois I's Chateau of Fontainebleau are perfect examples of the Renaissance style, which combined defensive fortresses with luxurious palaces.
Between 1562 and 1598, the increasse in the number of the Huguenots (Protestants) led to the Wars of Religion. Catherine de Medici ordered the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of hundreds of Protestants. In 1589, Henri IV, a target of the massacre, becomes the first Bourbon king of France and astutely converted to Catholism. He ended the Wars of Religion by enacting the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed religious and political rights to the Huguenots.
The 17th century was marked by a period of exeptional power and glamour for the French Monarchy. Starting with King Louis XIII and the Cardinal Richelieu who together transformed the feudal French Monarchy to an Absolute Monarchy, by controlling the opposition of the "Grands" (the Lords) and the growing power of the Protestant (siege of La Rochelle, 1628). Mazarin, Louis XIV's regent, ended the popular revolts of La Fronde. Louis XIV, in turn, managed to keep all the Princes and Lords at his court in Versailles, to better control and display his glorious power.
Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, was the most powerful and opulent monarch Europe had seen since the Roman Empire. Political brillance in this period was matched only by the genius of the writers, architects and musicians generously promoted by the royal court. Alas, all of this exuberance, including Louis XIV's endless wars, had a cost which was to be paid by the entire nation, largely impoverished towards the end of his reign. The growing resentment of the Bourgeoisie, who demanded political rights more in keeping with their expanding power and wealth, would prove to be a political challenge to the king's successors.
The 18th century's Enlightment brought thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau to struggle against the principles of the old regime and absolutism. In 1789, the state's financial crisis brought social turmoil, triggering the Revolution. On July 14th, a Parisian mob revolted and stormed the Bastille prison, symbol of the old regime. A few weeks later, the revolutionaries enacted the Declaration of the Rights of Man which embodied the principles of Libert�, Egalit�, and Fraternit� (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) and had far reaching consequences for all the other European monarchies.
During the following decade France saw a succession of rivaling regimes which guillotined Louis XVI and scores of moderates as well as radicals at the Place de la Revolution, now known as Place de la Concorde. The Terror regime of Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety brought turmoil, confusion and anarchy in France.
The Revolution ends in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte entered Paris and was crowned First Consul at the age of thirty. A brilliant politician and a military genius, he took the title of emperor Napoleon I in 1804. After establishing a powerful central administration and a strong code of law, he started numerous military campaigns which almost gave him the control of the entire European continent. First defeated in Russia in 1812 and then in Waterloo in 1815, he was replaced by Louis XVIII.
Louis XVIII's constitutional monarchy was overthrown under Charles X, whose conservatism was a reminiscence of the old regime and lead to the July Revolution of 1830. The following July Monarchy, had an elected King, Louis Philippe, (the Duke of Orleans). He ruled France for 18 years of stable prosperity. In 1848, Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected the first president of the Second Republic. In 1852, he was proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III by national plebiscite. It was he who commissioned Baron Haussman to redesign Paris and started the French industrial revolution.
In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war erupted, Paris fell to the Germans and France lost the Alsace and Lorraine regions. Following the defeat, Napoleon III was exiled and France's Third Republic marked the definite end of centuries of monarchy.
The industrial expansion was not slowed by the war and continued at a fast pace. To commemorate the centenial of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower was constructed during the Universal Exhibition of 1889. Simultaneously, the cultural and artistic scene thrived and evolved with the Impressionists, the Art Nouveau style, the novelist Flaubert and the satirist Zola.
The First World War erupted in 1914 in northeast France and after two years of German victories, fell into the horrors of trench warfare. The United States entered the war in 1917 and helped France to victory. The Allies demanded generous restitutions and payments from the Germans, who resented the humiliation for years, and was one of the factors which sparked WWII.
Despite the devastation of the war, the Entre Guerres (Between Wars) period allowed France to hold a leading role in the avant garde movement. From Paris to the Riviera, France attracted experimental artists, musicians, filmmakers and musicians from all over the world.
In 1940, the Germans invaded Paris and occupied the north and west parts of France until 1944. The rest of the country was under the authority of the puppet Government of Vichy led by Marshal Petain. Simultaneously, General Charles de Gaulle was organizing the Resistance movement of the Free France from London. Soon after the American, British and Canadian military invasion on the Normandy Beaches on June 6, 1944, de Gaulle entered Paris to head the new government of the Fourth Republic.
The postwar years deeply changed French society: consumerism was born, the service sector rapidly expanded, and high-tech national projects were successfully launched (Concorde, TGV...). Meanwhile, in the 50's and 60's, France had difficulty in coping with the claim to independence of its African and Asian colonies and with the liberalization of its society, leading to wars in Algeria, Indochina (Vietnam) and the violent student revolts of 1968.
|Politics and Government
The chief of state is the president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term. The head of government is the prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly majority and appointed by the president. The cabinet consists of the Council of Ministers appointed by the president on the suggestion of the prime minister.
Legislative branch is bicameral Parliament or Parlement which consists of the Senate or Senat (321 seats - 296 for metropolitan France, 13 for overseas departments and territories, and 12 for French nationals abroad; members are indirectly elected by an electoral college to serve nine-year terms; elected by thirds every three years) and the National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (577 seats; members are elected by popular vote under a single-member majoritarian system to serve five-year terms).
The judicial branch consist of the Supreme Court of Appeals or Cour de Cassation where judges are appointed by the president from nominations of the High Council of the Judiciary; Constitutional Council or Conseil Constitutionnel, three members appointed by the president, three members appointed by the president of the National Assembly, and three appointed by the president of the Senate; and the Council of State or Conseil d'Etat.
The French Republic comprises metropolitan France, divided into 22 regions and subdivided into 96 departments, along with four overseas departments (DOM) - Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane (French Guiana) and R�union. It also includes four overseas territories (TOM) - French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories - and two "territorial collectivities" with a special status, Mayotte and St Pierre and Miquelon.
|Currency & Economy
France will be using the French Franc until July 2002, then the Euro. French coins come in denominations of 20 francs, 10 francs, 5 francs, 2 francs, 1 franc and then 50 centimes, 20 centimes, 10 centimes and 5 centimes. Coins are very useful for tips, parking meters, parking, launderettes, phone sometimes, tolls, etc. Banknotes are issued in denominations of 500 francs (Pierre et Marie Curie), 200 francs (Montesquieu for the old one, Gustave Eiffel for the new one) 100 francs (Eugène Delacroix for the old one and Paul Cezanne for the new one), 50 francs (The little Prince and Antoine de Saint-Exup�ry), 20 francs (Claude Debussy).
Most banks cash traveler's checks in French francs commission-free. Be sure to ask before you give them your checks. Traveler's checks issued in US$ and French Francs by American Express and Visa can be changed at many French post offices. New-Zealanders and Australians may have difficulty exchanging their traveler's checks. To avoid expensive multiple transactions (i.e. AUS$ in US$ then US$ in French francs), buy only US$ or French francs traveler's checks.
Banque de France offers the best exchange rates in the country (98% of the interbank rate and no commission, except 1% for traveler's checks).
In any case, we suggest you to pay as often you can with you Visa, Mastercard, Access, JCB card to save the change and commission costs. Credit cards companies do not earn money by shaving percentage points off their exchange rates. American Express and Diners are not widely accepted. The exchange rate may change at your advantage or disadvantage between the day you use your credit card and the day of billing.
If you credit card is stolen or lost, please call the following numbers :
Visa : 01 42 77 11 90 in Paris or 02 54 42 12 12 outside of Paris.
Eurocard, Mastercard, Access : 01 45 67 84 84
American Express : 01 47 77 72 00 or 01 47 77 70 00
ATMs are everywhere in Paris. Depending on the system that your bank at home use, you will probably be able to access your own personal account when you are in need of funds. The ATMs get the wholesale rate exchange rate which is about 5 % better than the exchange rates of the banks and the bureaux de change. Take care that they are often a limit on the amount you can withdraw daily or weekly.
Cr�dit Agricole and Cr�dit Mutuel ATMs are on CIRRUS. CCF (Cr�dit Commercial de France), Banque Populaire, UBP (Union des Banques à Paris), BNP (Banque Nationale de Paris), Cr�dit du Nord are on PLUS system and Visa. Cr�dit Lyonnais is on American Express.
V.A.T. Refunds for non E.C. Travellers Only
The French V.A.T. (T.V.A. in French), is 20.60 % on most goods. For some articles (basic food, but not restaurants, books, and medicine...), the V.A.T. is 5.50 %. According to the fact that these rates are calculated on price before V.A.T., the real amounts of the V.A.T. are about 17% and 5 % on the global price after V.A.T.. The refund value in around 14% or 15%, after commissions.
For tips/reminders regarding money matters, please click here.
France is in the middle of transition, from an economy that featured extensive government ownership and intervention to one that relies more on market mechanisms. The government remains dominant in some sectors, particularly power, public transport, and defense industries, but it has been relaxing its control since the mid-1980s. The Socialist-led government has sold off part of its holdings in France Telecom, Air France, Thales, Thomson Multimedia, and the European Aerospace and Defense Company (EADS). The telecommunications sector is gradually being opened to competition. France's leaders remain committed to a capitalism in which they maintain social equity by means of laws, tax policies, and social spending that reduce income disparity and the impact of free markets on public health and welfare.
Agriculture - products: wheat, cereals, sugar beets, potatoes, wine grapes; beef, dairy products; fish. Export commodities include machinery and transportation equipment, aircraft, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceutical products, iron and steel, beverages mainly to EU and the US. Import commodities include machinery and equipment, vehicles, crude oil, aircraft, plastics, chemicals also mostly from the EU and the US.