Although ultimately a victor in World Wars I and II, France suffered extensive losses in its empire, wealth, manpower, and rank as a dominant nation-state. Nevertheless, France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. Since 1958, it has constructed a presidential democracy resistant to the instabilities experienced in earlier parliamentary democracies. In recent years, its reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of a common exchange currency, the euro, in January 1999. At present, France is at the forefront of efforts to develop the EU's military capabilities to supplement progress toward an EU foreign policy.
France, officially the French Republic (French:
République française), is a country whose metropolitan
territory is located in Western Europe and that also comprises a
collection of overseas islands and territories located in other
continents. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea
to the English Channel and North Sea, and from the Rhine to the
Atlantic Ocean. French people often refer to Metropolitan France
as L'Hexagone (The "Hexagon") because of the geometric
shape of its territory.
France is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany,
Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. In some of its overseas
departments, France also shares land borders with Brazil, Suriname,
and the Netherlands Antilles. France is also linked to the United
Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English
Channel (La Manche in French).
The French Republic is a democracy which is organised
as a unitary semi-presidential republic. It is a developed country
with the seventh-largest economy in the world. Its main ideals are
expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
France is one of the founding members of the European Union, and
has the largest land area of all members. France is also a founding
member of the United Nations, and a member of La Francophonie, the
G8, and the Latin Union. It is one of the five permanent members
of the United Nations Security Council wielding veto power, and
it is also one of eight acknowledged nuclear powers. With almost
75 million foreign tourists each year, France is the most popular
international tourist destination in the world above Spain (52 million)
and USA (41 million).
The name France originates from the Franks, a Germanic
tribe that occupied the region after the fall of the Western Roman
Empire. More precisely, the region around Paris, called Ile-de-France,
was the original French royal demesne.
The borders of modern France are roughly the same
as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul
was conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and the Gauls
eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, which evolved into the French
language) and Roman culture. Christianity took root in the 2nd century
and 3rd century AD, and became so firmly established by the fourth
and fifth centuries that St. Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only
region “free from heresy”. In the Middle Ages, the French would
adopt this as a justification for calling themselves “the Most-Christian
Kingdom of France.”
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. Existence as
a separate entity began with the Treaty of Verdun (843), with the
division of Charlemagne's Carolingian empire into East Francia,
Middle Francia and Western Francia. Western Francia approximated
the area occupied by modern France.
The Carolingians ruled France until 987, when Hugh
Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France.
His descendants, the Capetian, Valois and Bourbon dynasties progressively
unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance.
The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century and the
reign of Louis XIV. At this time France had a tremendous influence
over European politics, economy and culture and possessed the largest
population in Europe (see Demographics of France).
The monarchy ruled France until 1789, when the French
Revolution took place. King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette,
were killed, along with thousands of other French citizens. Napoleon
Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799, making himself
First Consul, and later Emperor of what is now known as the First
French 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.
Following Napoleon's defeat in 1815, the French
monarchy was re-established. In 1830, a civil uprising established
the constitutional July Monarchy followed by the Second Republic
in 1848. The short-lived Second Republic ended in 1852 when Louis-Napoleon
Bonaparte proclaimed the Second French Empire. Louis-Napoleon was
unseated following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to be 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 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.
After France's liberation in World War II the country
managed to hold on to its colonial empire, the comparative economic
status, population and status as a dominant nation state. The Fourth
Republic was established after World War II, to be replaced in 1958
by the current semi-presidential Fifth Republic established under
General Charles de Gaulle.
In 1946, France's attempt at regaining control of
its Indochina colony resulted in the First Indochina War, which
finally ended with French defeat and withdrawal in 1954. Only months
later, France faced a new, and even harsher conflict in its oldest
major colony, Algeria. The debate over whether or not to keep control
of Algeria, then home to over 1 million European settlers, wracked
the country and nearly led to civil war. In 1958, the Fifth French
Republic was established, with a greatly strengthened presidency;
in this role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together
while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War of Independence
was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962, which led to Algerian
In recent decades, France's reconciliation and cooperation
with Germany have proved central to the political and economic integration
of the evolving European Union, including the introduction of the
euro in January 1999. France has been at the forefront of European
Union member states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary
union to create a more unified and capable European Union based
political, defence and security apparatus. However the French electorate
voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty
in May 2005.
National Anthem of France
most recognizable anthem in the world, "La Marseillaise"
was written and composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle,
captain in the Engineering corps garrisoned in Strasbourg
during the night of 24 to 25 April 1792 at the behest of the
city's mayor, Baron de Dietrich. The song, entitled Chant
de Guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin, was taken up throughout
the country. A general in the Egypt Corps, François
Mireur, in Marseille for the purpose of concluding plans for
the joint march by the Montpellier and Marseille volunteers,
had it printed under the title Chant de Guerre pour les Armées
aux Frontières. The Marseille troops adopted it as
a marching song; they were singing it as they entered Paris
on 30 July 1792, and the Parisians dubbed it the Marseillaise.
The anthem is probably the first example of the "European
march" style of anthem.
Under the First Republic, "La Marsiellaise" was
one of the civic songs that contributed to the success of
the Revolution. However, it has not been continuously used
since the Revolution; both Empires, the Restoration and the
Second Republic passed over it in favour of occasional songs.
There was no real national anthem under Napoléon I,
and the Bourbon restoration (1815-1830) used two anthems,
"Vive Henri IV" was used as a national anthem, and
"Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa
famille" ("Where can we feel better than in our
familly") could be considered the royal anthem. Under
Louis-Philippe (1830-1848) the national anthem was "La
Parisienne" ("The Parisian") by Casimir Delvigne.
The Second Republic's anthem was "Le Chant des Girondins"
("The Song of Girondists") by the famed writer Alexandre
Dumas. The 1852-1870 national anthem was "Partant pour
la Syrie" ("Going to Syria"), written by Hortense
de Beauharnais, queen of the Netherlands and mother of Emperor
Napoleon III, the French ruler of this time.
Not until the Third Republic was the Marseillaise restored
to its rank of national anthem on all occasions at which military
bands were called upon to play an official air. The French
State retained it and the Free French Government once more
gave it pride of place alongside Le Chant des Partisans by
André Montagnard, customarily sung as the anthem. At
last the Marseillaise was made the official national anthem
by the constitutions of the Fourth and Fifth Republics (Article
2 of the Constitution of 4 October 1958). In 1974, President
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing had it modified in accordance
with earlier scores and slowed the tempo. Since 1981 however,
the anthem has once again been performed according to the
scores and tempo in use until 1974.
The lyrics, speaking of bloody battles and a call for citizens
to take up arms, have been debated endlessly whether to alter
the words to suit the more peaceful times that France currently
enjoys, but the original words, capturing the spirit of the
French revolution, remain.
Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé
Entendez vous dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!
Amour sacré de la patrie,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs!
Liberté, Liberté cherie,
Combats avec tes defenseurs!
Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire
Accoure à tes males accents!
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire!
Nous entrerons dans la carrière
Quand nos ainés n'y seront plus;
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leurs vertus.
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivre
Que de partager leur cercueil,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueil
De les venger ou de les suivre!