France (official name République Française), republic of Western Europe, the third largest country of Europe (in area) after Germany and the Russian Federation. The capital is Paris.
Land and climate
Roughly square, France extends for about 600 mi (966 km) from Flanders to the Spanish border, and for about the same distance west to east. It borders the sea in 3 directions and has a coastline of almost 1,900 mi (3,058 km). Beyond the mainland the French Republic includes the Mediterranean island of Corsica and the overseas departments of Réunion, Guiana, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. In general, the western and northern parts of France are composed of low-lying plains and plateaus, while the eastern and southern sections are characterized by hilly or mountainous terrain. The 3 major mountain ranges are the Pyrénées, the Alps, and the Massif Central. There are 4 major river systems. The Rhône rises in the Swiss Alps and flows swiftly south through Provence to empty into the Mediterranean, west of Marseilles. The Garonne rises in the Pyrenees and flows through the Aquitaine Basin to empty into the Bay of Biscay through a long estuary known as the Gironde. The Seine drains most of the large Paris Basin, flowing through Paris, then goes on to Rouen and finally joins the English Channel at Le Havre. It is the most navigable of French rivers. The Loire, the longest river of France, flows from the southeastern portion of the Massif Central north to Orleans, then west to the Atlantic at St. Nazaire. Except for the Mediterranean coast, the climate is mild. The north and west have warm summers, mild winters, and a moderate rainfall. The Mediterranean coast has mild winters and hot summers; some areas have fewer than 50 days of rain a year.
In the northern and central regions there are forests of oak and beech, with smaller numbers of poplars and pines. The high hills south of the Loire grow heather and gorse. The roads in much of France are often planted with long lines of poplars and other trees. Oak and chestnut are common in the west and alluvial valleys. In the Massif Central area are forests of beech and chestnut. In the south the vegetation is mainly evergreen. Among forest animals are deer, martens, and badgers. The many field animals include foxes, hedgehogs, mice, rats, rabbits, and moles. Mountain species include the chamois, marmot, and ibex. Birdlife is also plentiful. The rivers and mountain streams contain many kinds of fish. Lobsters and crayfish are among the products of the Mediterranean, Biscay, and the English Channel. Among the main mineral resources of France are coal, iron ore, and bauxite (for aluminum); the bauxite reserves of central France are among the richest in the world.
The accessibility of France brought many invasions and a broad mingling of racial and national types including Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Basque. After about the 9th century A.D., large-scale migrations ceased, and the many peoples gradually combined to become one nation with a single language. Among the many dialects, that of the Ile de France (in which Paris is located) came to dominate, and became the official language in the 16th century. There are minority groups speaking other languages, including Breton in Brittany, Basque and Catalan in the southwest, Italian in Corsica and the Nice area, German in Alsace and Lorraine, and Flemish in the Dunkirk region. A great number of castles, churches, cathedrals, parks, libraries, museums, and other cultural attractions are scattered throughout France. The nation is highly conscious of its cultural heritage, and national laws protect the more important monuments of the past. Among the best known of such institutions are the Louvre Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library) in Paris. The theater flourishes, and many of the principal ones are subsidized by the state—for example, the Comédie Française, the Opéra Nationale, and the Opéra Comique.
France is a major agricultural and industrial country. Leading crops include wheat, oats, rye, corn, sugar beets, rice, and all kinds of fruits. Millions of beef and dairy cattle, sheep, and hogs are reared. France is an important silk producer, and it leads in the production of high-quality wines. About 30% of the land is forested. Industry includes iron and steel production, oil refining and petrochemicals, aircraft, automobiles, and textiles. Paris is the chief manufacturing center. Tourism is important, and so is the production of high- fashion clothing, gloves, perfume, jewelry, and watches.
Greeks founded Marseilles about 600 B.C. The country was progressively settled and unified under the Gauls, Romans, and Franks. On Charlemagne's death (A.D. 814) the Frankish Empire disintegrated and feudal rulers became powerful. Their territories were increasingly welded together under the Capetians (987–1328), and the Hundred Years War (1338–1453) saw the eviction of the English. Under Louis XI (1461–83) and later monarchs, royal power was strengthened, reaching its zenith with Louis XIV (1643–1715). Continuing royal extravagance culminated in the French Revolution (1789), the execution of Louis XVI, and the establishment of the First Republic. The Bourbon restoration following the downfall of Napoleon (1815) was short-lived, and Louis Philippe was put on the throne (July Revolution, 1830). After his deposition, Louis Napoleon headed the Second Republic (1848), then made himself Emperor Napoleon III (1852). Defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870) led to his downfall and to the Third Republic. World War I left France victorious but devastated, and in World War II the country was occupied by Germany (1940). The Fourth Republic (1946) proved unstable and Gen. Charles de Gaulle was recalled to head the Fifth Republic (1958).He established a strong presidential government and gave independence to most French possessions (notably Algeria, 1962). He pursued conservative policies at home and stressed greater independence from the United States in foreign policy. After de Gaulle resigned over a constitutional issue (1969), his conservative policies were maintained by his successors Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. In 1981 François Mitterand, a Socialist, was elected president and instituted substantial changes in French domestic policy. In 1986 Conservatives won control of the Parliament, putting Jacques Chirac in office as prime minister, but Mitterand regained control in the 1988 elections. Chirac became president in 1995. In 1997 the Socialists won the parliamentary elections.