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Major Cities of France in the continent of Europe

ParisMarseilleLyonToulouseNiceNantesStrasbourgMontpellierBordeauxLilleRennesLe HavreReimsSaint-ÉtienneToulonGrenobleAngersDijonBrestLe MansClermont-FerrandAmiensAix-en-ProvenceLimogesNîmesToursSaint-DenisVilleurbanneMetzBesançonCaenOrléansMulhouseRouenBoulogne-BillancourtPerpignanNancyRoubaixFort-de-FranceArgenteuilTourcoingMontreuilSaint-PaulAvignonSaint-DenisVersaillesNanterrePoitiersCréteilAulnay-sous-BoisVitry-sur-SeinePauCalaisColombesLa RochelleAsnières-sur-Seine

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THE FRANCE COAT OF ARMS
France-Coat of arms.svg
Locator map of France.svg
Location of France within the continent of Europe
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Map of France
Animated-Flag-France.gif
Flag Description of France:The French flag was officially adopted on February 15, 1794.

The flag - the tricolore - consists of three vertical bands of equal width, displaying the country's national colors: blue, white and red. The blue band is positioned nearest the flag-staff, the white in the middle, and the red on the outside. Red, white and blue have come to represent liberty, equality and fraternity - the ideals of the French Revolution. Blue and red are also the time-honored colors of Paris, while white is the color of the Royal House of Bourbon.

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accept the bitter to get better

Official name République Française (French Republic)
Form of government republic with two legislative houses (Parliament; Senate [348], National Assembly [577])
Head of state President: François Hollande
Head of government Prime minister: Manuel Valls
Capital Paris
Official language French
Official religion none
Monetary unit euro (€)
Population (2013 est.) 63,853,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 210,026
Total area (sq km) 543,965
Urban-rural population Urban: (2009) 84.6%
Rural: (2009) 15.4%
Life expectancy at birth Male: (2012) 78.4 years
Female: (2012) 84.8 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate Male: (2000–2004) 98.9%
Female: (2000–2004) 98.7%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 41,750

About France

France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. It plays an influential global role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the G-8, the G-20, the EU and other multilateral organizations. France rejoined NATO's integrated military command structure in 2009, reversing de Gaulle's 1966 decision to take French forces out of NATO. Since 1958, it has constructed a hybrid presidential-parliamentary governing system resistant to the instabilities experienced in earlier, more purely parliamentary administrations. In recent decades, its reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of a common currency, the euro, in January 1999. In the early 21st century, five French overseas entities - French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Reunion - became French regions and were made part of France proper.

France, officially French Republic, French France or République Française, country of northwestern Europe. Historically and culturally among the most important nations in the Western world, France has also played a highly significant role in international affairs, with former colonies in every corner of the globe. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Alps and the Pyrenees, France has long provided a geographic, economic, and linguistic bridge joining northern and southern Europe. It is Europe’s most important agricultural producer and one of the world’s leading industrial powers.

France is among the globe’s oldest nations, the product of an alliance of duchies and principalities under a single ruler in the Middle Ages. Today, as in that era, central authority is vested in the state, even though a measure of autonomy has been granted to the country’s 21 régions in recent decades. The French people look to the state as the primary guardian of liberty, and the state in turn provides a generous program of amenities for its citizens, from free education to health care and pension plans. Even so, this centralist tendency is often at odds with another long-standing theme of the French nation: the insistence on the supremacy of the individual. On this matter historian Jules Michelet remarked, “England is an empire, Germany is a nation, a race, France is a person.” Statesman Charles de Gaulle, too, famously complained, “Only peril can bring the French together. One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 kinds of cheese.”

This tendency toward individualism joins with a pluralist outlook and a great interest in the larger world. Even though its imperialist stage was driven by the impulse to civilize that world according to French standards (la mission civilisatrice), the French still note approvingly the words of writer Gustave Flaubert:

  • I am no more modern than I am ancient, no more French
  • than Chinese; and the idea of la patrie, the fatherland—that
  • is, the obligation to live on a bit of *earth coloured red
  • or blue on a map, and to detest the other bits coloured green
  • or black—has always seemed to me narrow, restricted, and
  • ferociously stupid.

At once universal and particular, French culture has spread far and greatly influenced the development of art and science, particularly anthropology, philosophy, and sociology.

France has also been influential in government and civil affairs, giving the world important democratic ideals in the age of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and inspiring the growth of reformist and even revolutionary movements for generations. The present Fifth Republic has, however, enjoyed notable stability since its promulgation on September 28, 1958, marked by a tremendous growth in private initiative and the rise of centrist politics. Although France has engaged in long-running disputes with other European powers (and, from time to time, with the United States, its longtime ally), it emerged as a leading member in the European Union (EU) and its predecessors. From 1966 to 1995 France did not participate in the integrated military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), retaining full control over its own air, ground, and naval forces; beginning in 1995, however, France was represented on the NATO Military Committee, and in 2009 French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that the country would rejoin the organization’s military command. As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—together with the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China—France has the right to veto decisions put to the council.

The capital and by far the most important city of France is Paris, one of the world’s preeminent cultural and commercial centres. A majestic city known as the ville lumière, or “city of light,” Paris has often been remade, most famously in the mid-19th century under the command of Georges-Eugène, Baron Haussman, who was committed to Napoleon III’s vision of a modern city free of the choleric swamps and congested alleys of old, with broad avenues and a regular plan. Paris is now a sprawling metropolis, one of Europe’s largest conurbations, but its historic heart can still be traversed in an evening’s walk. Confident that their city stood at the very centre of the world, Parisians were once given to referring to their country as having two parts, Paris and le désert, the wasteland beyond it. Metropolitan Paris has now extended far beyond its ancient suburbs into the countryside, however, and nearly every French town and village now numbers a retiree or two driven from the city by the high cost of living, so that, in a sense, Paris has come to embrace the desert and the desert Paris.

Among France’s other major cities are Lyon, located along an ancient Rhône valley trade route linking the North Sea and the Mediterranean; Marseille, a multiethnic port on the Mediterranean founded as an entrepôt for Greek and Carthaginian traders in the 6th century bce; Nantes, an industrial centre and deepwater harbour along the Atlantic coast; and Bordeaux, located in southwestern France along the Garonne River.

Geography of France

The Land

France lies near the western end of the great Eurasian landmass, largely between latitudes 42° and 51° N. Roughly hexagonal in outline, its continental territory is bordered on the northeast by Belgium and Luxembourg, on the east by Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, on the south by the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, and Andorra, on the west by the Bay of Biscay, and on the northwest by the English Channel (La Manche). To the north, France faces southeastern England across the narrow Strait of Dover (Pas de Calais). Monaco is an independent enclave on the south coast, while the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean is treated as an integral part of the country.

The French landscape, for the most part, is composed of relatively low-lying plains, plateaus, and older mountain blocks, or massifs. This pattern clearly predominates over that of the younger, high ranges, such as the Alps and the Pyrenees. The diversity of the land is typical of Continental Europe.--->>>>>Read On<<<<

  • Drainage

The river systems of France are determined by a major divide in the far eastern part of the country, running from the southern end of the Vosges down the eastern and southeastern edge of the Massif Central to the Noire Mountains, the southwestern promontory of the massif. This divide is broken by occasional cols (depressions) and lowland corridors, notably the Langres Plateau, across the Jurassic outer rim of the Paris Basin. Along the divide originate most of the rivers of the larger, western part of the country, including the Seine and the Loire. Other major rivers include the Garonne, originating in the Pyrenees, and the Rhône and the Rhine, originating in the Alps.

THE SEINE SYSTEM

The main river of the Paris Basin, the Seine, 485 miles (780 km) in length, is joined upstream on the left bank by its tributary the Yonne, on the right bank south of Paris by the Marne, and north of the city by the Oise. While the Seine has a regular flow throughout the year, there may be flooding in the spring and, occasionally more severely, during the customary fall-winter peak of lowland rivers. Efforts have been made to reduce flooding on the Seine and its tributaries by the building of reservoirs. A number of islands dot the Seine along its meandering, generally westward course across the central Paris Basin and through the capital city itself. One of these, the Île de la Cité, forms the very heart of the city of Paris. Eventually the river enters the English Channel at Le Havre.

THE LOIRE SYSTEM

The Loire, the longest French river, flows for 634 miles (1,020 km) and drains the widest area (45,000 square miles [117,000 square km]). It is an extremely irregular river, with an outflow eight times greater in December and January than in August and September. Rising in the Massif Central on Mount Gerbier-de-Jonc, it flows northward over impervious terrain, with many gorgelike sections. Near Nevers it is joined by the Allier, another river of the massif. Within the Paris Basin the Loire continues to flow northward, as if to join the Seine system, but then takes a wide bend to the west to enter the Atlantic past Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. The Loire is artificially joined to the Seine by several canals. The river’s torrential flow, a hindrance to navigation, covers its floodplain with sand and gravel, which has commercial importance. The river is also a source of cooling water for a chain of atomic power stations near its course, which has raised concerns among environmentalists, as have various dam projects along the river. UNESCO designated the valley, between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes, a World Heritage site in 2000.

THE GARONNE SYSTEM

The Garonne, in the southwest, flows through the centre of the Aquitaine Basin. It is the shortest of the main French rivers, with a length of 357 miles (575 km), and it drains only 21,600 square miles (56,000 square km). Its outflow is irregular, with high waters in winter (due to the oceanic rainfall) and in spring, when the snow melts, but with meagre flows in summer and autumn. Its source is in the central Pyrenees in the Aran (Joyeuse) Valley in Spain, and its main tributaries, the Tarn, the Aveyron, the Lot, and the Dordogne, originate in the Massif Central. With the exception of the Gironde estuary, which is formed by the confluence of the Garonne and the Dordogne and is fully penetrated by the sea, the whole network is generally useless for navigation and is filled with powerful, rapid, and dangerous currents.

THE RHÔNE SYSTEM

In eastern France the direction of the main rivers is predominantly north-south through the Alpine furrow. The Rhône is the great river of the southeast. Rising in the Alps, it passes through Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to enter France, which has 324 miles (521 km) of its total length of 505 miles (813 km). At Lyon it receives its major tributary, the Saône. The regime of the Rhône is complex. Near Lyon the Rhône and its important Isère and Drôme tributaries, draining from the Alps, have a marked late spring–early summer peak caused by the melting of snow and ice. While this peak is generally characteristic of the river as a whole, it is considerably modified by the contribution of the Saône, of the Durance, and of some tributaries in the Mediterranean south as a result of the fall-winter rainfall peak. Thus, the powerful Rhône has a remarkably ample flow in all seasons. The course of the river and the local water tables have been much modified by a series of dams to generate power and to permit navigation to Lyon. The Rhône also supplies cooling water to a series of atomic power stations. West of the Rhône the Bas Rhône–Languedoc canal, constructed after World War II to provide irrigation, has proved to be an essential element in the remarkable urban and industrial development of Languedoc. East of the Rhône the Canal de Provence taps the unpolluted waters of a Rhône tributary, the Durance, supplying Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Toulon, and the coast of Provence with drinking water and providing impetus for urban expansion. At its delta, beginning about 25 miles (40 km) from the Mediterranean, the Rhône and its channels deposit significant amounts of alluvium to form the Camargue region.

THE RHINE SYSTEM

The Rhine forms the eastern boundary of France for some 118 miles (190 km). In this section its course is dominated by the melting of snow and ice from Alpine headstreams, giving it a pronounced late spring–summer peak and often generally low water in autumn. The Ill, which joins the Rhine at Strasbourg, drains southern Alsace. The Rhine valley has been considerably modified by the construction on the French side of the lateral Grand Canal d’Alsace, for power generation and navigation. The eastern Paris Basin is drained by two tributaries, the Moselle, partly canalized, and the Meuse; the former reaches the Rhine by way of Luxembourg and Germany, and the latter, as the Maas (Dutch), reaches the Rhine delta at the North Sea by way of Belgium and the Netherlands.

THE SMALLER RIVERS AND THE LAKES

North of the Artois ridge, a number of small rivers flow into the Escaut (Flemish and Dutch: Schelde) to reach its North Sea estuary through Belgium. The Somme rises in northwestern France and flows a short distance into the English Channel, and in the southwest the Charente, rising in the western Limousin plateau, and the Adour, rising in the central Pyrenees, flow into the Atlantic.

The French hydrographic system also includes a number of natural lakes of different origin. There are the lakes in depressions carved out by glaciation at the western periphery of the Alps, such as the lakes of Annecy and Bourget, the latter being the largest natural lake entirely within France. Others occur on the surfaces of ancient massifs and include the lakes of the Vosges. Some lakes are caused by structural faults and are lodged in narrow valleys, as are the Jura lakes. There are also lakes of volcanic origin, such as those in the Massif Central (crater lakes and lakes ponded behind lava flows), and regions scattered with lagoons or ponds, either created by coastal phenomena, as on the Landes (Atlantic) and Languedoc (Mediterranean) coasts, or caused by impervious terrain and poor local drainage, as in the Sologne plain. Major artificial lakes include the Serre-Ponçon reservoir, on the Durance River in the Alps, and the Sarrans and Bort-les-Orgues reservoirs, both in the Massif Central.

  • Soils

On a broad, general scale, virtually the whole of France can be classified in the zone of brown forest soils, or brown earths. These soils, which develop under deciduous forest cover in temperate climatic conditions, are of excellent agricultural value. Some climate-related variation can be detected within the French brown earth group; in the high-rainfall and somewhat cool conditions of northwestern France, carbonates and other minerals tend to be leached downward, producing a degraded brown earth soil of higher acidity and lesser fertility; locally this may approach the nature of the north European podzol. The brown earth zone gives way southward to the zone of Mediterranean soils, which in France cover only a limited area. They are developed from decalcified clays with a coarse sand admixture and are typically red in colour because of the upward migration of iron oxides during the warm, dry summers. These soils can be quite fertile.

Over large areas of France, soils have developed not directly from the disintegrated bedrock but from the waste sheets created by periglacial action. These may provide a particularly favourable soil material; most notable is the windblown limon that mantles the Paleogene and Neogene limestone plateaus of the central Paris Basin and the chalk beds to the northwest, the basis of the finest arable soils of France. The quality of the soils depends heavily upon the origin of their waste sheets; sand spreads derived from the granites of the Hercynian massifs, for example, provide only poor soils. The bedrock, however, is not without influence. Soils developed over clays are likely to be heavy and wet, although not necessarily infertile, as in the Jurassic clay and chalk vales of the eastern Paris Basin. Limestone and chalk enrich soils with lime, which is generally favourable, but there is a marked north-south contrast. The limestone areas of southern France tend to be swept almost bare of soil by erosion; the soil then collects in valleys and hollows. The soils of the higher mountains are naturally stony and unfavourable.

Finally, human action is an extremely important factor in soil quality. As soon as the original forest was cleared, some modification of the soil was inevitable. Generally, farmers through the ages have maintained or improved soil quality by draining and manuring; especially noteworthy were the activities of Flemish peasants who virtually created their soil out of a marshy wilderness. Not all human intervention has been as successful, however. For example, the degradation of brown earths under heath in western France is not a natural feature but the product of human clearance and grazing practices. Large-scale arable cultivation with no use of animal manure is leading in places to soil degradation and soil erosion.

  • Climate

The climate of France is generally favourable to cultivation. Most of France lies in the southern part of the temperate zone, although the subtropical zone encompasses its southern fringe. All of France is considered to be under the effect of oceanic influences, moderated by the North Atlantic Drift on the west and the Mediterranean Sea on the south. Average annual temperatures decline to the north, with Nice on the Côte d’Azure at 59 °F (15 °C) and Lille on the northern border at 50 °F (10 °C). Rainfall is brought mainly by westerly winds from the Atlantic and is characterized by cyclonic depressions. Annual precipitation is more than 50 inches (1,270 mm) at higher elevations in western and northwestern France, in the western Pyrenees, in the Massif Central, and in the Alps and the Jura. In winter eastern France especially may come under the influence of the continental high-pressure system, which brings extremely cold conditions and temperature inversions over the cities, during which cold air is trapped below warmer air, with consequent fogs and urban pollution. The climate of France, then, can be discussed according to three major climatic zones—oceanic, continental, and Mediterranean, with some variation in the Aquitaine Basin and in the mountains.

THE OCEANIC REGION

The pure oceanic climate prevails in the northwest, especially in Brittany. It is characterized by its low annual temperature variation, with Brest having an average temperature in January of 43 °F (6 °C) and in July of 61 °F (16 °C); by its extreme humidity and moderate rainfall (35 inches [890 mm] of rain falling through the year), accompanied by cloudiness and haze; by the frequency and sometimes the violence of the west winds that blow almost constantly; and by large variations in the weather, which can change several times a day. This oceanic climate is somewhat modified toward the north, where the winters are cooler, and toward the south, where, in the Aquitaine Basin, the winters are mild and the summers warmer. There is also less rainfall, although at Toulouse great summer storms are quite frequent.

THE CONTINENTAL REGION

The plains of the northeast are particularly affected by a continental climate. The city of Strasbourg has the greatest temperature range in France. Winter is cold, with an average of 83 days of frost and with snow cover for several weeks, although the weather is often sunny. In summer, storms cause maximum precipitation in the region in June and July, although total rainfall is comparatively light.

The climate of the Paris Basin is somewhere between the oceanic and the continental. The average yearly temperature is 53 °F (11 °C) in Paris. In addition, the relatively light annual rainfall (23 inches [58 cm]) follows a pattern of moderately heavy rain in spring and early summer and autumn, as in the oceanic countries, but the maximum amount of rain falls in summer, with storms of the continental type. In summer, spray irrigation is needed for crops in the continental climatic region and the Paris Basin.

THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION

In the southeast the Mediterranean climate extends over the coastal plains and penetrates the valley of the lower Rhône River as far as the Montélimar area. It affects the southern Alps, the southeastern slopes of the Cévennes and the Noire Mountains (in the Massif Central), and the eastern Pyrenees. The latitude and the proximity of the warm Mediterranean Sea contribute to mild winters, with an average temperature of 47 °F (8 °C) in January at Nice and with only a few days of frost. Precipitation is heavy and tends to fall in sudden downpours, especially in the autumn and spring, whereas summer is nearly completely dry for at least three months. In coastal Languedoc-Roussillon, annual rainfall totals can be as low as 17 to 20 inches (430 to 500 mm). It is a unique area because of its clear skies and the regularity of fine weather. This area is also subject to the violent north winds called the mistral, which are peculiar to southern France. The winds are caused by high-pressure areas from central France that move toward the low-pressure areas of the Gulf of Genoa. Permanent irrigation systems are characteristic of the Mediterranean lowlands.

The Aquitaine Basin is intermediate between the oceanic and the Mediterranean climates. Winters tend toward the oceanic type, but springs and summers are warm, although less arid than in the Mediterranean zone.

The mountains have varied climates. West-facing slopes in the Pyrenees have some of the highest precipitation figures in France. Snow cover stays from December to the end of April above 3,000 feet (900 metres) and is perpetual above 9,000 feet (2,700 metres) in the Alps and 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) in the Pyrenees. Locally, the contrast between the sunny south-facing valley slopes (adrets) and the shaded north-facing slopes (ubacs) can be of great importance for land use and settlement, while some intermontane basins can have quite advantageous climates as opposed to that of the surrounding peaks and plateaus.

  • Plant and animal life
PLANT LIFE

Vegetation is closely related to climate, so that in France it is not surprising that there are two major but unequal divisions: the Holarctic province and the smaller Mediterranean province. Most of France lies within the Holarctic biogeographic vegetational region, characterized by northern species, and it can be divided into three parts. A large area of western France makes up one part. It lies north of the Charente River and includes most of the Paris Basin. There the natural vegetation is characterized by oak (now largely cleared for cultivation), chestnut, pine, and beech in uplands that receive more than 23.6 inches (600 mm) of annual rainfall. Heathland is also common, as a predominantly man-made feature (created by forest clearance, burning, and grazing). Broom, gorse, heather, and bracken are found. South of the Charente, the Aquitaine Basin has a mixture of heath and gorse on the plateaus and several varieties of oak, cypress, poplar, and willow in the valleys. On the causses of the Massif Central and on other limestone plateaus, broom, heath, lavender, and juniper appear among the bare rocks. The vegetation of eastern France, constituting a second part of the Holarctic division, is of a more central European type, with trees such as Norway maple, beech, pedunculate oak, and larch; hornbeam is often present as a shrub layer under oak. The various high mountain zones form a third Holarctic part; with cloudy and wet conditions, they have beech woods at lower elevations, giving way upward to fir, mountain pine, and larch but with much planted spruce. Above the tree line are high mountain pastures, now increasingly abandoned, with only stunted trees but resplendent with flowers in spring and early summer.

The second major vegetation division of the country lies within the Mediterranean climatic zone and provides a sharp contrast with the plant life elsewhere in France. The pronounced summer drought of this zone causes bulbous plants to die off in summer and encourages xerophytic plants that retard water loss by means of spiny, woolly, or glossy leaves; these include the evergreen oak, the cork oak, and all the heathers, cistuses, and lavenders. Umbrella, or stone, pine and introduced cypress dominate the landscape. The predominant plant life of the plateaus of Roussillon is the maquis, comprising dense thickets of drought-resistant shrubs, characterized in spring by the colourful flowers of the cistuses, broom, and tree heather; in most areas this is a form that has developed after human destruction of the evergreen forest. A large part of Provence’s hottest and driest terrain is covered by a rock heath known as garigue. This region is a principal domain of the vineyard, but lemon and orange trees grow there also. At elevations of about 2,600 feet (790 metres), as in the Cévennes, deciduous forest appears, mainly in the form of the sweet chestnut. At elevations of 4,500 feet (1,370 metres) this gives way to a subalpine coniferous forest of fir and pine.

Forest covers 58,000 square miles of France (15,000,000 hectares), which is more than a quarter of its territory. Most forests are on the upland massifs of the Ardennes and Vosges and within the Jura, Alps, and Pyrenees mountain chains, but extensive lowland forests grow on areas of poor soil, such as that of the Sologne plain south of the Loire River. The planted forest of maritime pine covering about 3,680 square miles (953,000 hectares) in the Landes of southwestern France is said to be the most extensive in western Europe. Increasingly, forests are less a source of wood and more a recreational amenity, especially those on the fringe of large urban agglomerations, such as Fontainebleau and others of the Île-de-France region.

ANIMAL LIFE

The fauna of France is relatively typical of western European countries. Among the larger mammals are red deer, roe deer, and wild boar, which are still hunted; the fallow deer is rather rare. In the high Alps are the rare chamoix and the reintroduced ibex. Hares, rabbits, and various types of rodents are found both in the forests and in the fields. Carnivores include the fox, the genet, and the rare wildcat. Among endangered species are the badger, the otter, the beaver, the tortoise, the marmot of the Alps, and the brown bear and the lynx of the Pyrenees. Seals have almost entirely disappeared from the French coasts. While French bird life is in general similar to that of its neighbours, southern France is at the northern edge of the range of African migrants, and such birds as the flamingo, the Egyptian vulture, the black-winged stilt, the bee-eater, and the roller have habitats in southern France.

Demography of France

People

  • Ethnic groups

The French are, paradoxically, strongly conscious of belonging to a single nation, but they hardly constitute a unified ethnic group by any scientific gauge. Before the official discovery of the Americas at the end of the 15th century, France, located on the western extremity of the Old World, was regarded for centuries by Europeans as being near the edge of the known world. Generations of different migrants traveling by way of the Mediterranean from the Middle East and Africa and through Europe from Central Asia and the Nordic lands settled permanently in France, forming a variegated grouping, almost like a series of geologic strata, since they were unable to migrate any farther. Perhaps the oldest reflection of these migrations is furnished by the Basque people, who live in an isolated area west of the Pyrenees in both Spain and France, who speak a language unrelated to other European languages, and whose origin remains unclear. The Celtic tribes, known to the Romans as Gauls, spread from central Europe in the period 500 bce–500 ce to provide France with a major component of its population, especially in the centre and west. At the fall of the Roman Empire, there was a powerful penetration of Germanic (Teutonic) peoples, especially in northern and eastern France. The incursion of the Norsemen (Vikings) brought further Germanic influence. In addition to these many migrations, France was, over the centuries, the field of numerous battles and of prolonged occupations before becoming, in the 19th and especially in the 20th century, the prime recipient of foreign immigration into Europe, adding still other mixtures to the ethnic melting pot.

  • Languages

French is the national language, spoken and taught everywhere. Brogues and dialects are widespread in rural areas, however, and many people tend to conserve their regional linguistic customs either through tradition or through a voluntary and deliberate return to a specific regional dialect. This tendency is strongest in the frontier areas of France. In the eastern and northern part of the country, Alsatian and Flemish (Dutch) are Germanic languages; in the south, Occitan (Provençal or Languedoc), Corsican, and Catalan show the influence of Latin. Breton is a Celtic language related to languages spoken in some western parts of the British Isles (notably Wales), and Basque is a language isolate. Following the introduction of universal primary education during the Third Republic in 1872, the use of regional languages was rigorously repressed in the interest of national unity, and pupils using them were punished. More recently, in reaction to the rise in regional sentiment, these languages have been introduced in a number of schools and universities, primarily because some of them, such as Occitan, Basque, and Breton, have maintained a literary tradition. Recent immigration has introduced various non-European languages, notably Arabic.

  • Religion

About three-fifths of the French people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Only a minority, however, regularly participate in religious worship; practice is greatest among the middle classes. The northwest (Brittany-Vendée), the east (Lorraine, Vosges, Alsace, Jura, Lyonnais, and the northern Alps), the north (Flanders), the Basque Country, and the region south of the Massif Central have a higher percentage of practicing Roman Catholics than the rest of the country. Recruitment of priests has become more difficult, even though the church, historically autonomous, is very progressive and ecumenical.

Reflecting the presence of immigrants from North Africa, Algeria, and Morocco, France has one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations: an estimated 5,000,000 Muslims, a sizable percentage of them living in and around Marseille in southeastern France, as well as in Paris and Lyon. Protestants, who number 700,000, belong to several different denominations. They are numerous in Alsace, in the northern Jura, in the southeastern Massif Central, and in the central Atlantic region. There are more than 700,000 adherents of Judaism, concentrated in Greater Paris, Marseille, and Alsace and the large eastern towns. In addition to the religious groups, there also are several societies of freethinkers, of which the most famous is the French Masonry. Large numbers, however, especially among the working classes and young population, profess no religious belief.

In the early 21st century the government approved a number of measures that reflected both France’s dedication to being a secular state, a principle known as laïcité, as well as the ambivalence and, in some cases, hostility felt by some French toward the country’s large Muslim population. In 2004 the government banned Muslim head scarves and other religious symbols in state schools. Additional controversial legislation passed in 2010 prohibited face-concealing garments—i.e., veils that fully covered a woman’s face—in public places.

  • Settlement patterns
RURAL LANDSCAPE AND SETTLEMENT

Centuries of human adaptation of the various environments of France have produced varied patterns of rural landscape. Scholars have traditionally made an initial contrast between areas of enclosed land (bocage), usually associated with zones of high rainfall and heavy soils, and areas of open-field land (campagne), generally associated with level and well-drained plains and plateaus. Two other patterns have evolved in the Mediterranean region and in the mountains.

BOCAGE

In its classic form, bocage is found in Brittany, where small fields are surrounded by drainage ditches and high earthen banks, from which grow impenetrable hedges arching over narrow sunken lanes. Similarly enclosed land is found elsewhere, however, notably on the northern, western, and southern fringes of the Paris Basin, such as in Normandy, as well as in the western and northern parts of the Massif Central, parts of Aquitaine, and the Pyrenean region. At higher levels hedges may be replaced by stone walls. Settlement mostly takes the form of hamlets and isolated farms.

OPEN-FIELD

The greatest extent of open-field land is found in the Paris Basin and in northern and eastern France, but there are pockets of it elsewhere. The landscape typically lacks hedges or fences; instead, the bewildering pattern of small strips and blocks of land is defined by small boundary stones. The land of one farmer may be dispersed in parcels scattered over a wide area. The land is predominantly arable, and the farmsteads are traditionally grouped into villages, which may be irregularly clustered or, as in Lorraine, linear in form.

MEDITERRANEAN

The generally block-shaped Mediterranean lowland parcels normally are not enclosed or are enclosed only by rough stone banks. However, in areas where delicate crops would be exposed to wind damage, there are screens of willows and tall reeds. Hillsides are frequently terraced, although much of this land type has been abandoned except in areas of intensive cultivation, such as the flower-growing region around Grasse. A very large farmhouse built on three floors is characteristic of wine-growing and sheep-raising regions, such as Provence. Rural population was formerly often clustered at high elevations, both for defense and in order to be above the malarial plains. In modern times there has been a move to more convenient lowland locations.

MOUNTAIN

In the high mountains and especially in the Alps, there is the contrast between the adrets, the sunny and cultivated valley slopes, and the ubacs, the cold and humid slopes covered with forests. The variety of vegetation on the slopes of the mountains is remarkable. Cultivated fields and grasslands are found in the depths of the valleys, followed in ascending order by orchards on the first sunny embankments, then forests, Alpine pastures, bare rocks, and, finally, permanent snow. A unique aspect of the mountain environment is that Alpine villages of the lower valley sides were often combined with chalets (burons in the Massif Central), temporary dwellings used by those tending flocks on summer pastures above the tree line.

POSTWAR TRANSFORMATION

After World War II the French government instituted a program of consolidation, whereby the scattered parcels of individual farmers were grouped into larger blocks that would accommodate heavier, mechanized cultivation. Initially progress was greatest in the open-field areas, particularly the Paris Basin, where there were few physical obstacles to the process. Subsequent extension to bocage areas had more severe consequences for landscape values and ecology, as hedges, sunken lanes, and ponds disappeared in favour of a new open landscape. At the same time, the vast numbers of people abandoning agricultural pursuits enormously changed the nature of rural settlement. Particularly in the more attractive areas, abandoned farms were purchased as second homes or for retirement. Where alternative employment was available, rural people stayed and became commuters, transforming barns and stables for other uses, such as garages. On the fringes of the expanding city regions, new houses and housing subdivisions for urban commuters were built in the villages, markedly changing their character.

URBAN SETTLEMENT

The primacy of Paris as the predominant urban centre of France is well known. After World War II the French government had an ambivalent attitude toward the development of the urban structure. On the one hand there was the desire to see Paris emerge as the effective capital of Europe, and on the other there was the policy of creating “métropoles d’equilibre,” through which cities such as Lille, Bordeaux, and Marseille would become growth poles of regional development. Even more evident was the unplanned urbanization of small and medium-size towns related to spontaneous industrial decentralization from Paris, such as that along the Loire valley, or to retirement migration, such as that along the coastlands of southern France.

  • Demographic trends
POPULATION HISTORY

In 1801 France was the most populous nation in Europe, containing about one-sixth of the continent’s inhabitants. By 1936 the French population had increased by 50 percent, but in the same period the number of people in Italy and Germany had nearly trebled, and in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands the population had nearly quadrupled. The marked difference in population growth between France and some of its neighbours up to the 1940s was attributed to a falling birth rate. At the same time, the mortality rate in France began its decline somewhat later than in other advanced European countries, not falling until the close of the 19th century. The birth rate was particularly affected by the practice of French peasants who deliberately limited their families in order to reduce the effect of a Napoleonic law that required the splitting of the family holdings among all heirs. Other factors may have included the rise of bourgeois individualism following the French Revolution of 1789, the decline of Roman Catholic observance (especially among the political left), and the lack of economic opportunity in the interwar years. Population growth was, of course, adversely affected by wars, including the wars of the Revolution; the wars of the First Empire; the Franco-German War (1870–71); World War I (1914–18), which cost France more than 1,500,000 lives; and World War II (1939–45), which reduced the population by 600,000.

The deficit in national growth was so drastic by 1938 that France began to give monetary and other material benefits to families with children. The policy appears to have been effective, because a rise in the birth rate occurred even during the difficult years of Nazi occupation and Vichy France, culminating in the postwar baby boom years, when soldiers and prisoners returned to a climate of economic optimism. The relative youth and high fertility of immigrants also contributed to the upsurge in the birth rate, which was coupled with a decline in mortality rates, attributable to improved public health facilities and social welfare programs.

In the second half of the 20th century, the high birth rate slowed, and about 1974 it fell into a sharp decline, eventually reaching a point insufficient for the long-term maintenance of the population. Since midcentury, because of a corresponding decline in the death rate, the rate of natural increase (balance of births against deaths) has remained positive, though in decline. By the early 21st century, France had an average population increase of roughly 300,000 people each year. These changes were not exceptional to France; the same postwar pattern was largely paralleled in neighbouring countries. A number of factors combined to reduce the birth rate, among them the introduction of the contraceptive pill and the new preference for smaller families.

EMIGRATION

Unlike many of its neighbours, France has never been a major source of international migrants. In the 17th century, because of religious persecution, France lost more than 400,000 Huguenot refugees—often highly skilled—mainly to Prussia, England, Holland, and America. The same century saw the beginning of emigration; relatively small numbers of emigrants settled at first in North America, notably in eastern Canada (Quebec) and in Louisiana, in certain parts of Latin America that are still départements of France (Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana), and later in various countries of Africa and Asia that were parts of France’s colonial domain. Since decolonialization, whether forced or voluntary, many have returned to France, but others have remained overseas, either in business or in programs of technical and cultural cooperation in most of the former French territories, notably in Africa. Small numbers of French, especially from Brittany and Normandy, continue to relocate to Canada, and a number of Basques go to Argentina.

IMMIGRATION

Intermittently, at least since about 1830 and rather steadily from 1850, there has been a substantial flow of immigrant population into France. France had the reputation into the early 20th century of being the European country most open to immigrants, including political refugees, but this reputation changed in the late 20th century, when opposition rose to continued immigration from Africa. At this time also the countries of the European Union became generally more resistant to the admission of persons claiming political asylum. Most immigration conforms to the economic needs of the host country and tends to be particularly concentrated either in periods of economic growth or after devastating wars. Between 1850 and 1914 about 4.3 million foreigners entered France, and between World Wars I and II nearly 3 million, or 6 percent of the population, came as immigrants. Up to the end of World War I, immigration was free and spontaneous; most of the immigrants came from neighbouring countries, such as Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland, and they were quickly assimilated into the national population. The slaughter of young men and the devastation of World War I stimulated the government to draw more widely from the reservoirs of foreign manpower. The Italians came in greatest numbers (35 percent), followed by the Poles (20 percent), the Spanish (15 percent), the Belgians (10 percent), and a smaller number of people from central or eastern European countries.

In the years of economic expansion after World War II, when there was an acute labour shortage, immigration again reached a high level. In the first two postwar decades, immigration contributed about 40 percent to the growth of the French population. Although immigration flattened out after 1974, natural increase dropped, so that immigration continued to contribute significantly to population growth. In the early 21st century, there were almost four million foreigners residing in France, amounting to some 6 percent of the population, a proportion that had remained constant since 1975. Neighbouring countries such as Portugal, Italy, and Spain continued to be significant contributors, but recent immigrant streams came from North Africa, notably Algeria (an integral part of France until 1962) and the former protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia. Peoples from French or former French territories in Central Africa, Asia, and the Americas provided an additional source of immigrants.

As the numbers of immigrants grew, so did incidents of racial discrimination in housing and employment, as well as social activism among immigrant groups. Initially, immigrants from Africa and the Americas were predominantly males, living in low-standard housing and working in undesirable, low-skilled occupations. As families were progressively reconstituted, immigrants continued to work in jobs that Frenchmen were reluctant to accept. With the beginning of an economic downturn in 1974, though, French workers began to reclaim some of the jobs held by immigrants, and the government began to restrict immigration. Adding to the job competition were approximately one million persons with French citizenship, the so-called pieds-noirs (literally “black feet”), who were repatriated from territories in North Africa decolonized in 1962–64. The policy of restricting immigration remains in force, with the result that in the early 21st century the net annual increase of population from legal immigration averaged little more than 50,000 people. With the enactment in 1999 of the Amsterdam Treaty in France, many issues of immigration became shared by participating members of the European Union.

POPULATION STRUCTURE

The aging of the population is common to western Europe, but because of low birth rates it has been observable in France since the beginning of the 19th century. In the early 21st century, more than one-fifth of French citizens were at least 60 years old. The tendency for the proportion of the elderly population to increase also reflects medical advances, which have produced a longer expectation of life. The age structure of the population is of considerable social and economic importance. The steady increase in the proportion of the aged puts an increasing strain on the working population to provide pensions, medical and social services, and retirement housing. The increase in births between 1944 and the mid-1970s, however, brought its own problems, notably the need to rush through a school-building program, followed by the creation of new universities. But this demographically young population also stimulated the economy by creating a greater demand for consumer goods and housing.

Another important aspect of population structure is the proportion of men to women, in society as a whole and in the various age groups. As in most western European countries, women outnumber men in French society and particularly in the older age groups, which is the result of two factors: the wars, which caused the death of a large number of men, and the natural inequality of life expectancy for men and women. A French woman at birth has one of the highest life expectancies in the world (85 years), while a man’s is much lower (78 years), although still relatively high when compared with the world in general. The ratio of men to women in employment is another measure of population structure, and in the late 20th century women steadily increased their share of the job market.

POPULATION DISTRIBUTION

Particularly low population densities are characteristic of the mountain regions, such as the Massif Central, the southern Alps, the Pyrenees, and Corsica, but are also reflected in some lowland rural areas, such as the eastern and southern Paris Basin and large parts of Aquitaine. The régions of Limousin, Franche-Comté, and Auvergne and the collectivité territoriale of Corsica have one-sixteenth of the national population in about one-eighth of the area. By contrast, the four most populated French régions—Île-de-France (Paris region), Rhône-Alpes, Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur, and Nord–Pas-de-Calais—have more than two-fifths of the French population in less than one-fifth of the area. Other high-density areas are the industrial cities of Lorraine; isolated large cities, such as Toulouse; and certain small-farm areas, such as coastal Brittany, Flanders, Alsace, and the Limagne basin of Auvergne.

Until about the mid-19th century, rural and urban populations both increased; thereafter there was a marked depopulation of the more remote, mostly mountainous, rural areas and a swing to urban growth. In the space of a century, from the 1860s to the 1960s, rural population decreased by more than one-third, though since that time the decline has slowed, and the rural population in the early 21st century numbered roughly 10 million. There were still as many rural as urban inhabitants even up to the period between the two World Wars, but by 2010 almost 85 percent of the population was urban. Postwar rural depopulation was associated with the exodus of labour following the modernization of French agriculture. At the time, rural areas were left with an aging population and low birth rates as the young departed to the cities, especially to the growing industrial régions of Nord–Pas-de-Calais, Lorraine, and Île-de-France.

The massive postwar movement from rural areas to the cities was supplemented by immigration, which also focused on urban areas where employment was available. Because immigrants to the cities tended to be young adults of childbearing age, city dwellers multiplied. Urban population growth in the 30 years after World War II was estimated to be at least 16 million persons. Subsequent urban growth was due in part to expanding city limits and was characterized by urban sprawl, accelerated redistribution from city centres to suburban outskirts, though some rebalancing toward the centre has occurred in recent years.

From about 1975, migratory flows were greatly modified, the most immediate cause being economic. The older industrial régions, such as Nord–Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine, were in decline and had become regions of out-migration. The most dynamic migratory flow was experienced in the deindustrialized Île-de-France région; students and young workers flocked to the greater Paris area, while pensioners retired to the coasts. Growth subsequently switched to the south, to the coastlands of Languedoc and of Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur; to the west, in the Atlantic régions of Poitou-Charentes and Pays de la Loire; and to the southwest, in the Midi-Pyrénées and Aquitaine régions. These shifts reflect a combination of economic decentralization, retirement migration, sunbelt industrialization, changing residential preferences, and expanding tourism. Population increase has also been strong on the southern and western fringes of the Paris Basin, favoured for industrial decentralization from the Île-de-France région.

Since World War II, urban growth in France has been accompanied by marked suburbanization. This trend was initiated much earlier in Paris, a densely built-up city that leveled off at a maximum population of about 2.8 million in the period 1911–54 and declined thereafter. Proportionately the decline set in much earlier: in 1876 the city of Paris had 60 percent of the population of what was to become the Île-de-France région; in 1921, 51 percent; in 1954, 39 percent; and in 2008, 19 percent. The century after 1850 witnessed the rise of the industrialized inner suburbs (the petite couronne) outside the walls of the city. There maximum population was reached in the 1970s, followed by a decline associated with a marked degree of deindustrialization. Since the 1980s, population growth has been concentrated in the outer Paris suburbs (grande couronne), which by 2008 accounted for 44 percent of the total population of the Île-de-France région, compared with 37 percent in the declining inner suburbs.

In the first half of the 20th century, suburban growth, where it did occur, was not the result of middle-class suburbanization, as it was in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was the working class and the lower middle classes that moved out, while higher-income groups endeavoured to maintain a foothold in central Paris. In the postwar period, however, suburbanization took increasingly middle-class forms, with the building up of satellite low-density subdivisions known as “new villages.” Similar postwar suburbanization occurred in cities such as Marseille, Lyon, Lille, and Bordeaux.

Increasingly, the most rapid population growth is relegated to small towns and nominally rural communes on the expanding fringes of the city regions. This dispersal of population is associated with an increasing length of daily commuter movements, with all their human disadvantages, as well as other problems of urban sprawl. Vacation travel, very popular among the French, involves the movement of crowds of people during the peak seasons, particularly during school vacations and in August, when many people take their paid holiday and leave the city. Transport facilities and popular vacation spots become saturated, especially the coastal areas and mountains.

Economy of France

France is one of the major economic powers of the world, ranking along with such countries as the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Its financial position reflects an extended period of unprecedented growth that lasted for much of the postwar period until the mid-1970s; frequently this period was referred to as the trente glorieuses (“thirty years of glory”). Between 1960 and 1973 alone, the increase in gross domestic product (GDP) averaged nearly 6 percent each year. In the aftermath of the oil crises of the 1970s, growth rates were moderated considerably and unemployment rose substantially. By the end of the 1980s, however, strong expansion was again evident. This trend continued, although at a more modest rate, into the 21st century. During the same postwar period, the structure of the economy was altered significantly. While in the 1950s agriculture and industry were the dominant sectors, tertiary (largely service and administrative) activities have since become the principal employer and generator of national wealth. Similarly, while it was once the heavily urbanized and industrialized regions of northern and northeastern France that were developing most rapidly, in the 1980s these areas began losing jobs and population. Contemporary growth has switched to regions that lie in the south and, to a lesser degree, the west of France.

Despite the dominance of the private sector, the tradition of a mixed economy in France is well established. Successive governments have intervened to protect or promote different types of economic activity, as has been clearly reflected in the country’s national plans and nationalized industries. In the decades following World War II, the French economy was guided by a succession of national plans, each covering a span of approximately four to five years and designed to indicate rather than impose growth targets and development strategies.

The public sector in France first assumed importance in the post-World War II transition period of 1944–46 with a series of nationalizations that included major banks such as the National Bank of Paris (Banque Nationale de Paris; BNP) and Crédit Lyonnais, large industrial companies such as Renault, and public services such as gas and electricity. Little change took place after that until 1982, when the then Socialist government introduced an extensive program of nationalization. As a result, the enlarged public sector contained more than one-fifth of industrial employment, and more than four-fifths of credit facilities were controlled by state-owned banking or financial institutions. Since that period successive right-wing and, more recently, left-of-centre governments have returned most enterprises to the private sector; state ownership is primarily concentrated in transport, defense, and broadcasting.

Postwar economic growth has been accompanied by a substantial rise in living standards, reflected in the increasing number of families that own their home (about half), a reduction in the workweek (fixed at 35 hours), and the increase of vacation days taken each year by the French people. Another indicator of improved living standards is the growth of ownership of various household and consumer goods, particularly such items as automobiles and computers. Over time, however, consumption patterns have altered significantly. As incomes have risen, proportionately less has been spent on food and clothing and more on items such as housing, transportation, health, and leisure. Workers’ incomes are taxed at a high to moderate rate, and indirect taxation in the form of a value-added tax (VAT) is relatively high. Overall, taxes and social security contributions levied on employers and employees in France are higher than in many other European countries.

  • Agriculture, forestry, and fishing

France’s extensive land area—of which more than half is arable or pastoral land and another quarter is wooded—presents broad opportunities for agriculture and forestry. The country’s varied relief and soils and contrasting climatic zones further enhance this potential. Rainfall is plentiful throughout most of France, so water supply is not generally a problem. An ample fish supply in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea provides an additional resource.

Agriculture employs relatively few people—about 3 percent of the labour force—and makes only a small contribution to GDP—about 2 percent. Yet France is the EU’s leading agricultural nation, accounting for more than one-fifth of the total value of output, and alone is responsible for more than one-third of the EU’s production of oilseeds, cereals, and wine. France also is a major world exporter of agricultural commodities, and approximately one-eighth of the total value of the country’s visible exports is related to agriculture and associated food and drink products.

France has a usable agricultural area of nearly 74 million acres (30 million hectares), more than three-fifths of which is used for arable farming (requiring plowing or tillage), followed by permanent grassland (about one-third) and permanent crops such as vines and orchards (about one-twentieth). Areas in which arable farming is dominant lie mostly in the northern and western regions of the country, centred on the Paris Basin. Permanent grassland is common in upland and mountainous areas such as the Massif Central, the Alps, and the Vosges, although it is also a notable feature of the western région of Basse-Normandie. Conversely, the major areas devoted to permanent cultivation lie in Mediterranean regions.


GRAINS

More than half of the country’s arable land is used for cereals, which together provide about one-sixth of the total value of agricultural output. Wheat and corn (maize) are the main grains, with other cereals, such as barley and oats, becoming progressively less important. There are few areas of the country where cereals are not grown, although the bulk of production originates in the Paris Basin and southwestern France, where both natural conditions and (in the former case) proximity to markets favour such activity. A considerable area (about one-seventh of the agricultural area), predominantly in western France, is also given over to forage crops, although the acreage has been shrinking since the early 1980s as dairy herds have been reduced in accordance with EU guidelines. In contrast, there has been a substantial increase in oilseed output; the area under cultivation has quadrupled since the early 1980s and now approaches one-tenth of agricultural land.


FRUITS AND WINE MAKING

Vines, fruits, and vegetables cover only a limited area but represent more than one-fourth of the total value of agricultural output. France is probably more famous for its wines than any other country in the world. Viticulture and wine making are concentrated principally in Languedoc-Roussillon and in the Bordeaux area, but production also occurs in Provence, Alsace, the Rhône and Loire valleys, Poitou-Charentes, and the Champagne region. There has been a marked fall in the production of vin ordinaire, a trend related to EU policy, which favours an increase in the output of quality wines. Fruit production (mainly of apples, pears, and peaches) is largely concentrated in the Rhône and Garonne valleys and in the Mediterranean region. Vegetables are also grown in the lower Rhône and Mediterranean areas, but a large part of output comes from western France (Brittany) and the southwest and the northern régions of Nord–Pas-de-Calais and Picardy, where sugar beets and potatoes are produced.


DAIRYING AND LIVESTOCK

Cattle raising occurs in most areas of the country (except in Mediterranean regions), especially in the more humid regions of western France. Animal-related production accounts for more than one-third of the total value of agricultural output. In general, herds remain small, although concentration into larger units is increasing. Overall, however, the number of cattle has been falling since the early 1980s, largely as a result of EU milk quotas. These have adversely affected major production areas such as Auvergne, Brittany, Basse-Normandie, Pays de la Loire, Rhône-Alpes, Lorraine, Nord–Pas-de-Calais, and Franche-Comté. One result has been an increasing orientation toward beef rather than dairy breeds, notably in the area of the Massif Central. The raising of pigs and poultry, frequently by intensive methods, makes up more than one-tenth of the value of agricultural output. Production is concentrated in the régions of Brittany and Pays de la Loire, encouraged originally by the availability of by-products from the dairy industry for use as feed. Sheep raising is less important. Flocks graze principally in southern France on the western and southern fringes of the Massif Central, in the western Pyrenees, and in the southern Alps.


AGRIBUSINESS

Agriculture has changed in other ways. Farm structures have been modified substantially, and the number of holdings have been greatly reduced since 1955, numerous small farms disappearing. By the late 1990s there were fewer than 700,000 holdings, compared with more than 2,000,000 in the mid-1950s and more than 1,000,000 in the late 1980s. The average size of farms has risen considerably, to close to 100 acres (40 hectares). Large holdings are located primarily in the cereal-producing regions of the Paris Basin, while small holdings are most common in Mediterranean regions, the lower Rhône valley, Alsace, and Brittany. Important technical changes have also occurred, ranging from the increased use of intermediate products such as fertilizers and pesticides to the widespread use of irrigation (nearly one-tenth of agricultural land is now irrigated) and the growth of crops within controlled environments, such as under glass or plastic canopies. Marketing systems have also been modified, as an increasing proportion of output is grown under contract. Together such changes have led to a remarkable increase in output of major agricultural products, but they have also resulted in a large reduction in the number of agricultural workers and the increased indebtedness of many farmers, and the related negative effects on the environment have given rise to the organic farming movement.


FORESTRY

With more than 57,000 square miles (148,000 square km) of woodland, France possesses one of the largest afforested areas in western Europe, offering direct employment to more than 80,000 people. Forested areas are unevenly distributed, with the majority lying to the east of a line from Bordeaux to the Luxembourg border. Aquitaine and Franche-Comté have a particularly dense forest cover. This vast resource is, however, generally underexploited, partly because of the multitude of private owners, many of whom are uninterested in the commercial management of their estates. Less than one-fourth of the afforested area is controlled by the National Office of Forests.


FISHING

Despite the extent of France’s coastlines and its numerous ports, the French fishing industry remains relatively small. Annual catches have averaged about 700,000 tons since the mid-1970s, and by the 21st century there were fewer than 16,500 fishermen. The industry’s problems are related to its fragmented character and to inadequate modernization of boats and port facilities, as well as to overfishing and pollution. Activity is now concentrated in the port of Boulogne in Nord–Pas-de-Calais and to a lesser degree in ports in Brittany such as Concarneau, Lorient, and Le Guilvinic. France is also known for its aquaculture, with activity increasing over recent years along the coastal waters of western France. Oyster beds are found particularly in the southwest, centred on Marennes-Oléron.

  • Resources and power

Compared with its agricultural resources, the country is far less well-endowed with energy resources. Coal reserves are estimated at about 140 million tons, but French coal suffered from being difficult and expensive to mine and from its mediocre quality. In 1958 annual production amounted to some 60 million tons; 40 years later this total had dropped to less than 6 million tons; and in 2004 the last coal mine was shuttered. Imported coal had long supplemented indigenous production. Imports originate mainly from Australia, the United States, South Africa, and Germany.

Other energy resources are in short supply. Natural gas was first exploited in southwestern France (near Lacq) in 1957. Production then increased substantially, only to decline after 1978 as reserves became exhausted. By the late 1990s, production was negligible, requiring a high level of imports, principally from the North Sea (Norway and the Netherlands), Algeria, and Russia. France has few oil reserves, and production from wells in Aquitaine and the Paris Basin is extremely limited. Uranium is mined in the Massif Central, and, although recoverable reserves are estimated at approximately 50,000 tons, more than half of the annual consumption has to be imported. France, however, does possess fast-moving rivers flowing out of highland areas that provide it with an ample hydroelectric resource.


MINERALS

The metal industry is poorly supplied by indigenous raw materials, although traditionally France was an important producer of iron ore and bauxite. Iron ore output exceeded 60 million tons in the early 1960s, originating principally in Lorraine; but production has now ceased, despite the continued existence of reserves. Low in metal content and difficult to agglomerate, Lorraine ores were thus long supplemented and have now been replaced by richer overseas supplies from such countries as Brazil, Sweden, and Australia. Bauxite production is negligible, though other mineralized ores, such as those containing lead, zinc, and silver, are mined in very small quantities. Greater amounts of potash (mined in Alsace), sodium chloride (from mines in Lorraine and Franche-Comté and from salt marshes in western and southern France), and sulfur (derived from natural gas in Aquitaine) are produced, but again the trend is toward declining output as reserves are depleted. The supply of stone, sand, and gravel is relatively ubiquitous.


ENERGY

Through the post-World War II years, the increase in the demand for energy has closely followed the rate of economic growth. Thus, for much of the period until 1973, consumption increased rapidly. Then, in the wake of the two oil price rises of 1973 and 1979, demand stabilized, followed by a fall in the early 1980s until growth rates recovered after the mid-1980s.

The demand for different types of energy has changed considerably over time. In the early postwar years, coal provided the larger part of energy needs. By the 1960s, however, oil, as its price fell in real terms, was being used in ever-greater quantities, so that by 1973 about two-thirds of energy consumption was accounted for by crude oil. Since then a more diversified pattern of use has emerged. Coal now plays only a minor role, while the use of oil has also fallen, replaced partly by natural gas and notably by nuclear energy, which now accounts for more than one-third of primary energy consumption. One of the main consequences of these changes has been a reduction in the country’s previously high dependence on external sources of supply.

Oil has long been France’s principal energy import, which has led to the growth of a major refining industry, with plants concentrated in two areas of the lower Seine valley (Le Havre and Rouen) and in the region around Fos-sur-Mer and the Étang de Berre. Many markets are supplied with oil products by pipeline, which is also the distribution method for natural gas. Algerian imports arrive in the form of liquefied natural gas (primarily methane) and are unloaded at French ports where regasification plants operate.

Since the early 1980s one of the most significant changes in energy supply has been the greatly increased role of nuclear power, at the expense of fuel oil and coal; even the production of hydroelectric power has stabilized, as most suitable sites have already been exploited, particularly those of the Rhine and Rhône valleys, the Massif Central, and the Alps. In contrast, nuclear production, benefiting from major government investment from the early 1970s, expanded enormously in the 1980s, notably with the construction of sites in the Rhône and Loire valleys, a reflection of the need for large quantities of cooling water. By the 21st century more than three-fourths of electricity in France was produced in nuclear plants, the highest proportion in the world, which enabled the country to become a large exporter of such energy. More recently development has slowed substantially, as demand has eased and environmental groups have campaigned against further investment. France’s nuclear industry also includes a large uranium-enrichment factory at Pierrelatte in the lower Rhône valley and a waste-reprocessing plant at La Hague, near Cherbourg.

In the early 21st century renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, gained new prominence. Although wind power generated less than 3 percent of the electricity consumed in France in 2010, the country’s “wind potential” was the second largest in Europe, and new facilities were planned in accordance with EU renewable energy directives. In addition, France’s installed solar capacity increased by almost 700 percent between 2009 and 2011, and its 2.5 gigawatts of production represented almost 4 percent of the world’s total.

  • Manufacturing

INDUSTRIAL TRENDS

French industry was long the powerhouse of the country’s postwar economic recovery. Yet, after a period of substantial restructuring and adjustment, particularly during successive periods of recession since the late 1970s, this sector (including construction and civil engineering) now employs only about one-fourth of the country’s workforce and contributes the same proportion of GDP.

Both production and employment grew rapidly during the 1950s and ’60s as industrial development was stimulated by the opening of new markets and by rising incomes. Industrial production went into decline in the mid-1970s, however, and a period of major deindustrialization followed as manufacturers responded to reduced domestic demand and to more intense foreign competition. Investment fell, delaying modernization and further compromising French competitiveness. In recent years investment and output have again increased, although at a lower rate and in a more erratic fashion than in the earlier postwar period. Nevertheless, industrial employment is still declining. There is an ever-increasing concentration of ownership as a result of the expansion of large multinational groups, which also allows foreign markets to have a greater impact on French industry.

Changes in industrial location have also occurred. Industrial expansion in the 1960s and ’70s was accompanied by large-scale decentralization, favouring many areas of the Paris Basin (where there was an abundant and relatively cheap supply of labour) at the expense of the capital. Few company headquarters followed the dispersion of manufacturing plants, however, so that the centre of industrial operations remained rooted in the Paris region. The decline of industrial employment since the mid-1970s has had the greatest impact in traditional manufacturing regions, such as Nord–Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine. Nevertheless, the broad arc of régions stretching through northern and eastern France, from Haute-Normandie to Rhône-Alpes, remains the most heavily industrialized part of the country.


BRANCHES OF MANUFACTURING

On the basis of employment and turnover, seven branches of manufacturing stand out as particularly important: vehicles, chemicals, metallurgy, mechanical engineering, electronics, food, and textiles. The vehicle industry is dominated by the activities of the two automobile manufacturers, Peugeot SA (including Citroën) and Renault, which together produce nearly four million cars annually. Automobile production generates a substantial number of direct jobs as well as employment in subsidiary industries, such as the major tire manufacturer Michelin. France also possesses an important industry for the manufacture of railway locomotives and rolling stock, for which the expanding high-speed train (train à grande vitesse; TGV) network represents a major market.

Within the chemical industry, manufacturing ranges from basic organic and inorganic products to fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other parachemical items, including perfumes. Because of the capital-intensive nature of these activities, a dominant role is played by large manufacturers such as Rhône-Poulenc. Extensive research is carried out in this field. Basic chemical production is concentrated in areas offering access to raw materials, such as Nord–Pas-de-Calais, Étang-de-Berre, and Rhône-Alpes, whereas pharmaceutical production is more closely related to major market areas and research centres, notably Île-de-France.

The metallurgical industry, dominated by the production of steel, experienced major restructuring in the late 1970s and the ’80s as demand fell and competition from other international producers increased. Originally concentrated in Lorraine because of the presence of iron ore, steel production shifted to the coastal sites of Dunkirk and Fos-sur-Mer, which relied on imported ore and coal. France is also an important producer of aluminum, notably through the Pechiney group. Such basic metal industries support a diverse range of engineering activities, spread widely throughout France but with important concentrations in the highly urbanized and industrialized régions of Île-de-France and Rhône-Alpes. Similar features characterize the electrical engineering and electronics industries. France is a major manufacturer of professional electronics, such as radar equipment, but is weakly represented in the field of consumer electronics, which has led to a high level of imports. The country also has a number of high-tech aerospace industries, which manufacture aircraft, missiles, satellites, and related launch systems. These industries are concentrated in the Paris region and in the southwest around Toulouse and Bordeaux.

Food and beverage industries represent a large branch of French manufacturing, reflecting the considerable volume and diversity of agricultural production. Although present in most regions, food manufacturers are particularly concentrated in major urban market areas and in western agricultural regions such as Brittany, Pays de la Loire, and Basse-Normandie. The beverage sector is dominant in the main wine-growing areas of northern and northeastern France; it represents an important source of exports.

Textile and clothing industries have experienced a long period of decline in the face of strong foreign competition, with substantial job losses and plant closures affecting the major production areas of northern France and Rhône-Alpes (textiles), as well as Île-de-France (clothing). Unlike other major industrial branches, these activities remain characterized by small firms.

A varied group of construction and civil engineering industries employs about one-fourth of the labour in the industrial sector. Activity and employment have fluctuated considerably in relation to changing government and private investment programs and the varying demand for new homes. This sector is characterized by the coexistence of a large number of small firms with a limited number of large companies, many of which work on civil engineering contracts outside France.

  • Finance

Although the French financial sector employed less than 13 percent of the labour force in the early 21st century, it accounted for roughly one-third of the country’s total GDP. Home to some of Europe’s largest banks and its second largest stock exchange, France is a key player in the continent’s financial markets.


BANKING AND INSURANCE

France possesses one of the largest banking sectors in western Europe, and its three major institutions, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, and Société Générale, rank among the top banks on the continent. Traditionally, banking activities were tightly controlled by the government through the Banque de France. However, deregulation beginning in the 1960s led to a substantial increase in branch banking and bank account holders, and legislation in 1984 further reduced controls over banks’ activities, which thereby enabled them to offer a wider range of services and led to greater competition. Since then, encouraged by the lifting of restrictions on the free movement of capital within the EU in 1990, banks have broadly internationalized their activities. In 1993 the Banque de France was granted independent status, which freed it from state control. In general, employment in the banking sector has declined, largely because of the widespread computerization of transactions and this restructuring. At the turn of the 21st century, the franc gave way to the euro as the legal currency in France.

France has a large insurance industry dominated by major companies such as Axa, CNP, and AGF but also including a number of important mutual benefit societies, which administer pension plans. The deregulation of this sector has led to vast reorganization, with activity still concentrated in Paris though a number of provincial towns have developed as specialist centres through the location of various mutual societies.


THE STOCK EXCHANGE

Share transactions in France were historically centred on the Bourse de Paris (Paris Stock Exchange), a national system that in the late 20th century incorporated much smaller exchanges at Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille, Marseille, Nancy, and Nantes. Share dealings and stock market activity increased greatly beginning in the early 1980s, corresponding with a period of deregulation and modernization: official brokers lost their monopoly on conducting share transactions; a second market opened in 1983 to encourage the quotation of medium-size firms; and in 1996 the “new market” was launched to help finance young, dynamic companies in search of venture capital. Also in 1996 the Bourse was restructured, reinforcing the powers of its controlling body, Commission des Opérations de Bourse. In 2000 the Bourse merged with the Amsterdam and Brussels stock exchanges to form the Euronext equities market, which in 2006 merged with the New York Stock Exchange.


FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Financial deregulation, the movement toward a single European market, and the general freeing of world trade are among the influences that have encouraged investment by French firms outside France and increased the reverse flow of foreign investment funds into the country. In the industrial field French companies have shown a growing interest in investing in other advanced economies, especially the United States. Over recent years investments have also multiplied in the developing economies of Asia and eastern Europe. Foreign firms investing in France have been principally from the EU (notably the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany) and the United States. Most investment is related to the fields of engineering, electronics, and chemicals and generally is directed at the more highly urbanized centres of the country. The sources and nature of foreign investment in France are becoming more diverse, however. Japanese interests have increased substantially, for instance, and investment in property and the service industry has been growing, particularly in and around Paris.

  • Trade

France, a leading trading nation, has grown into one of the world’s foremost exporting countries, with the value of exports representing more than one-fifth of GDP. France is also a major importer, especially of machinery, chemicals and chemical products, tropical agricultural products, and traditional industrial goods such as clothes and textiles. The high level of imports led to a trade deficit for much of the period between the early 1970s and early 1990s. However, from 1992 France experienced a trade surplus, combined with a positive balance from invisible (nonmerchandise) transactions, especially tourism.

Most foreign trade is based on the exchange of goods. In the case of agricultural commodities, France has become an increasingly important net exporter of raw agricultural products (such as grains) as well as agro-industrial products, such as foods and beverages, including wines, tinned fruits and vegetables, and dairy products. The need to import large quantities of oil (and to a lesser extent gas and coal), however, has resulted in a sizable deficit for those exchanges. Although France imports a great deal of industrial goods, the country has long been a major exporter of vehicles and transport equipment, as well as armaments and professional electronics. More recently exports of pharmaceuticals and parachemical products have risen.

The greater part of foreign trade is carried out with other developed countries, and some four-fifths of transactions take place with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Among these the EU plays a major role, reflecting the growing exchange of goods and services between its member countries. More than three-fifths of French exports and imports are destined for or originate in EU countries, of which Germany is easily the most important. Outside the EU the United States is France’s other major trading partner, although Russia and China claimed a growing percentage of French trade in the 21st century. EU countries are an important source of industrial imports, whereas fuel products and raw materials tend to originate from more distant sources. Conversely, agricultural and food exports are oriented predominantly toward European markets, whereas industrial goods are exported to a more global marketplace.

  • Services

The various service, or tertiary, industries in France account for about two-thirds of the country’s employment and of GDP. These levels were reached following an extended period of sustained growth, notably since the 1960s. This sector covers a highly diverse range of activities, including social and administrative services, such as local government, health, and education; wholesaling, distribution, and transport and communication services; consumer services, such as retailing and the hotel and catering trades; and producer or business services, including banking, financial, legal, advertising, computing, and data-handling services.

Not all tertiary activities have developed in the same way. For example, rationalization in the banking and financial services sector has limited the creation of jobs. Conversely, the continuously strong growth, since the early 1970s, of hypermarkets and other large freestanding retail outlets that allow for purchasing in bulk and in greater variety has led to a significant rise in related employment. In particular the large group of producer services has expanded rapidly. In part this trend is the inevitable consequence of the increasingly complex and highly competitive nature of the modern economy. It also results from companies’ strategies of externalizing (outsourcing) such service requirements for reasons of efficiency and cost savings.

Tertiary activities are located predominantly in urban areas, especially the larger cities. Such concentration is most evident in relation to the capital. The Île-de-France région (Paris region) alone accounts for nearly one-fourth of all tertiary employment while containing less than one-fifth of the population. In Paris the sector’s importance is qualitative as well as quantitative. Paris houses more than two-thirds of the headquarters of the country’s major companies and a disproportionately large share of senior management and research staff. This attraction to the capital is influenced by a number of factors, including the size and diversity of the labour market, the high level of accessibility to other French and international business centres, prestige, and the presence of numerous specialized services.


CIVIL SERVICE

The largest groups of employees are those in national education and the postal system. As in the judicial system, French administration has been strongly marked by a strict hierarchy since the time of Napoleon. Civil servants are grouped into different corps and different ranks and are classified according to their recruitment level into four different categories. Entry is by a competitive examination. At the highest level, category A civil servants are recruited through a national school of administration, created in 1945, which gives access to the grands corps de l’État, including the Court of Accounts, the Inspection of Finance, the prefectural corps, the diplomatic service, and the civil administrators’ corps. The duties and rights of civil servants are defined by a general statute of 1946, which was partly modified in 1959. The career guarantees and disciplinary code are extensive and are protected by the Conseil d’État (Council of State). In return, civil servants are duty-bound to be discreet in expressing any personal opinions, and the right to strike, which is recognized by the constitution for all French citizens, is severely limited for them, although this varies according to the corps. Most civil servants belong to labour unions.


TOURISM

With France’s variety of landscapes and climatic conditions, its cultural diversity, and its renowned cuisine, it is of little surprise that tourism should have become a major industry. Directly and indirectly this activity employs about 10 percent of the workforce and contributes approximately 9 percent of GDP, earning French businesses a substantial income from foreign visitors and more than compensating for the amount spent by French tourists abroad. France is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, visited by up to 70 million foreign tourists each year at the end of the 20th century.

The tourist industry has grown rapidly since the 1960s, with an increasingly large number of French families taking a holiday each year, encouraged by greater affluence, more leisure time, and, since 1982, five weeks’ statutory paid holiday. In response to this increase in demand, the industry itself has changed. An activity traditionally distinguished by small businesses has been transformed by the growth of increasingly large hotel and holiday firms; new resorts have been built, notably along the Languedoc and Aquitaine coasts and in the French Alps, and new tourist products have been developed, including spectacular theme parks. The Disneyland complex on the eastern fringe of Paris, which opened in 1992, epitomized this trend.

Comparatively few French people take their holidays abroad. Conversely, France receives a large influx of foreign visitors, mainly from European countries, especially Germany. On average such tourists remain for only a short period, and their stays are more evenly spread over the course of the year and between the various regions of the country than those of their French counterparts. Nevertheless, Paris and the Mediterranean areas remain preferred destinations.

The unequal impact of tourism on different regions is a key feature of this activity. In summer a restricted number of coastal areas, notably in the Midi and in Brittany, receive the heaviest influx of holidaymakers; in winter mountainous regions become the preferred destination, particularly the northern Alps, with such major ski resorts as Chamonix, Tignes, La Plagne, and Les Arcs. Paris itself is an enormous tourist attraction, especially for foreign visitors and for events such as exhibitions and conferences; indeed, the capital is perhaps the world’s leading centre for international conferences. The uneven geographic pattern of tourism is matched by an unbalanced seasonal pattern. Despite attempts to spread holidays more evenly throughout the year, the months of July and August overwhelmingly dominate as the period chosen for travel by a large majority of the French. Another problem is the environmental stress caused by mass tourism, which has led to official efforts to promote more sustainable forms of tourism in mountainous and coastal regions.

  • Labour and taxation

Structural changes in the economy have helped transform the French labour force. Since the 1960s there has been a growing transfer from blue- to white-collar occupations, particularly as jobs in management, the professions, and administration have greatly increased. This change has been accompanied by a marked rise in female employment, so that almost half of all jobs are now held by women. A significant increase in part-time work and employment on fixed-term contracts has also taken place for both sexes. Firms have favoured this development because of the greater flexibility it offers, as have employees themselves, seeking freer, less-formalized working arrangements. The trend has also been encouraged by short-term government measures to reduce unemployment.

Such changes away from standard jobs have also contributed to the weakened position of trade unions in France: as little as a tenth of French workers belong to a union. Traditional support from blue-collar workers has also been eroded by heavy job losses in industries such as steel, shipbuilding, and vehicles. The main trade unions are the General Confederation of Labour, Force Ouvrière (literally “workforce”), and French Democratic Confederation of Labour. With the exception of those in 1968, major nationwide strikes have been relatively infrequent in France. Employers, for their own part, are grouped together within the Movement for French Enterprises (Mouvement des Entreprises de France), which in 1998 replaced the National Council of French Employers (Conseil National du Patronat Français). This organization represents all firms in negotiations with the government, state administrative services, and unions.

  • Transportation and telecommunications

The transportation sector includes such dynamic companies as the National Society of French Railways (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), the state-owned railways operator, and Air France, the national airline. Closely allied are manufacturers of transport equipment and the civil engineering concerns responsible for constructing new infrastructure. Generally, France benefits from a dense and diversified transport network, limited only by its still excessive focus upon the capital city. For land-based movements the road network has become increasingly important. For example, a vast majority of all freight traffic, in terms of the volume and distance of goods moved, goes by road. This dominance has been achieved at the expense of railways and inland waterways.


ROADS

Traffic on the highways has more than doubled since 1970, and about one-fifth of vehicles are commercial. An extensive road system totaling about 600,000 miles (965,000 km) has been developed to deal with increasingly heavy traffic conditions. However, only a small proportion of this network consists of main trunk roads (the routes nationales) and motorways. Construction on the latter began much later than in neighbouring countries, and it was not until the mid-1960s that a major development program was under way. To speed progress, building concessions were granted to private and semiprivate companies, which, in return for their investment, were authorized to levy tolls. Since that period the major radial routes from the capital have been completed, as well as embryonic regional networks focusing on large urban centres, such as Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Lille. Traffic is heavily concentrated on the main north-south axis between these cities. In extending the system, emphasis has been placed on improving international links and developing national routes that avoid Paris, as between Calais and Dijon, as well as Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand. Numerous rural roads and lanes supplement the main system, as do new bridges, such as the Millau Bridge in the Tarn valley, which opened in 2004 as the world’s highest road bridge (343 metres [1,125 feet]).


RAILROADS

By the end of the 19th century, the present rail network was largely in place, dominated by the main lines radiating from Paris. Since World War II many little-used rural sections have been closed. In contrast, since the early 1980s certain new lines have been opened in conjunction with the introduction of high-speed passenger trains (trains à grande vitesse; TGV) between Paris and a number of provincial cities. Southeastern France was the first area to be provided with such services, reflecting the already high density of traffic between Paris, Lyon, and the Mediterranean coast. New lines are also in operation to western and northern France, with longer-term plans to serve eastern regions. International service also exists to Geneva, Lausanne, and Brussels, as well as to London, by means of the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994 after six years of construction. It is used for passenger and freight trains as well as for transporting cars and commercial vehicles. By the end of the 20th century, the Eurostar passenger trains linked Paris to London in three hours and carried more than nine million travelers annually. In France the TGV network alone accounts for more than one-half of passenger miles and has attracted many new customers to the railways. Generally, however, fewer than one-fifth of passenger movements in France were accounted for by rail services, with traffic heavily concentrated along the main, electrified radial routes from the capital, particularly in the direction of southeastern France. Freight traffic has declined, partly because of fallen demand for products such as coal, iron, and oil, traditionally carried by rail, and partly because of intense competition from road haulers. Like passenger traffic, freight movements are concentrated along the main radial routes, as well as along the lines linking the industrial centres of northern and northeastern France.

Within an increasing number of urban areas, investment has been made in new underground rail and tram systems in an effort to reduce congestion on the roads and related problems of pollution. Provincial cities such as Lyon, Marseille, Lille, and Toulouse now boast metro networks, while a growing number of other cities (such as Lille, Nantes, Strasbourg, and Grenoble) are served by tramways, a solution increasingly favoured because of its comparatively lower cost. However, this has not stopped further substantial investment in the Paris Métro or the high-speed regional system (Réseau Express Régional; RER). Lines have been extended farther into the suburbs, and major new capacity has been added in central Paris.


WATERWAYS

Despite the presence of major rivers such as the Seine, Rhine, and Rhône, inland waterways carry little freight. Although they are still used to transport goods such as construction materials and agricultural and oil products, their role has progressively declined in the face of cheaper and faster alternatives. Traffic has also been lost because of the reduced inland movement of heavy raw materials and fuel products and an inefficiently organized industry with too many small-barge operators. The uneven and disjointed pattern of the waterways further restricts use. Less than a third of the commercial waterway system is of European standard gauge; moreover, the principal river and canal systems remain unconnected for the passage of large barges, so that no truly national or international network exists.

France is served by a large number of maritime ports, which reflects not only its extensive coastline but also its importance as a trading nation. As in other Western countries, however, France’s merchant fleet has steadily shrunk, largely because of the difficulty of competing with lower-cost carriers. Freight traffic, consisting mostly of imports, is concentrated in a limited number of ports, principally Marseille and Le Havre, followed by Dunkerque, Calais, Nantes-Saint-Nazaire, and Rouen. This imbalance is partly explained by the still-sizable quantities of crude oil that are unloaded. Passenger traffic is less important but is dominated by cross-channel movements from the port of Calais and the nearby Channel Tunnel.


AIR TRANSPORT

Air freight and passenger traffic have expanded rapidly and, like other forms of transport, are centred around Paris. The capital’s two major airports (Roissy [Charles de Gaulle] and Orly) represent the second largest airport complex in western Europe (after London), handling roughly two-thirds of all French passenger traffic. Other French airports are far less important, though the country has a comprehensive network of local and regional airports. The majority of routes, however, are between provincial towns and cities and the capital rather than between regional centres, which reemphasizes the persistent centralization of economic activity and decision making in France. Nice and Marseille are the busiest regional air centres and, along with Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Strasbourg, are the only provincial airports to have significant international traffic.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS

At the beginning of the 21st century, France had some 35 million main telephone lines, almost all with digital capacity. Over 62 million cellular telephones were in use in 2010, creating a ratio of almost one phone per person. The country had over 40 million personal computers, and roughly 70 percent of French people were Internet users. The comparatively low Internet use statistics were due in part to restrictive government controls on e-commerce and the presence of an existing network called Minitel (founded 1983 and owned by France Telecom)—obstacles that began to fall away in the first years of the 21st century. Indeed, although Minitel had achieved widespread usage among groups that were otherwise averse to new technology, it was shuttered in 2012 because of its rising costs.

Government and Society of France

Culture Life of France

For much of its history, France has played a central role in European culture. With the advent of colonialism and global trade, France reached a worldwide market, and French artistic, culinary, and sartorial styles influenced the high and popular cultures of nations around the globe. Today French customs, styles, and theories remain an influential export, as well as a point of great national pride, even as French intellectuals worry that the rise of globalism has prompted, in the words of the historian Pierre Nora, “the rapid disappearance of our national memory.”

Cultural milieu

French culture is derived from an ancient civilization composed of a complex mix of Celtic, Greco-Roman, and Germanic elements. Monuments, especially from the period of Roman occupation, are numerous and include the amphitheatre at Arles, the arènes (“arenas”) in Paris, and the aqueduct at Pont du Gard.

During the Middle Ages a rich culture developed, fostered in particular by monks and scholars in monasteries and universities and encouraged well into the 18th century by a system of royal and aristocratic patronage. Important trade fairs in growing cities such as Paris, Nancy, Strasbourg, and Lyon enabled the spread of artistic ideas and cultural trends to and from other regions, placing France at the centre of a nascent European high culture that would reach its greatest expression in the Renaissance. From the early 1700s and with the development of a middle class, the bourgeoisie, culture became more generally accessible. This was the age of the Enlightenment, of inquiry and question. Cultural activity remained largely centred in Paris, but smaller cities such as Aix-les-Bains, Grenoble, and Lyon were vital in their own right. The culture of the Enlightenment was built on reason and analytic argumentation, mirrored, as political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville remarked, in the French Revolution’s

attraction for general theories, for general systems of
legislation, the exact symmetry of laws…the same desire to
remake the entire constitution at once following the rules of
logic and in accordance with a single plan, instead of seeking ways to amend its parts.

Among its tenets was the idea of meritocracy, or an aristocracy of ability and intelligence, which accorded a central place to intellectuals unknown in most other societies and opened France’s schools to students from the provinces without regard for social class.

With free primary education compulsory by the late 19th century, basic literacy ensured that the general cultural level was raised. This was further aided by the increase in the number of newspapers and, later, by the development of radio, cinema, television, and the Internet. After World War II the intellectual and social development of lower-income groups benefited from the decision to make free secondary education compulsory up to age 16. Cultural literacy expanded as newspaper circulations rose, lending libraries proliferated, and in 1954 a revolution began in paperback books (livre de poche). This last development met with enormous success, providing people of all ages and classes with much greater access to literature and other forms of specialized knowledge.

The Ministry of Culture and Communications oversees the major cultural institutions of the nation. The department, first led by novelist André Malraux, seeks to redouble arts awareness among ordinary people, support the creation of new art, and protect existing French forms and properties as wide-ranging as monuments and language. The cultural map of France remains firmly centred on Paris, despite increased expenditure by local authorities on cultural activities following the decentralization legislation of the early 1980s. Yet, while serving, often self-consciously, the interests of the whole nation, the capital is aware of its own internal differences. Most of the city’s arrondissements (municipal districts) have groups actively researching their history and traditions, and local art exhibitions and concerts are encouraged. In the rest of the country, provincial culture is strong and often fiercely defended—for example, in Brittany, parts of the south, and Alsace.

French culture has felt the impact made by immigrants, especially those from North Africa beginning in the 1960s. The Muslim communities that have formed, notably in Paris and Marseille, have not escaped discrimination, but there is a widespread acknowledgment of their contributions to cuisine, music, dance, painting, and literature. Verlan, a slang of standard French that reverses and reshuffles French syllables and spellings, traces its roots to the 19th century but was revived by postwar immigrant communities and in recent decades has made inroads into mainstream society. Beginning in the 1980s, second- and third-generation North Africans were often referred to as les beurs, and beur cinema, beur comics, and beur radio, among other forms of expression, have found a large audience. The label beur is itself a Verlan term for arabe, the French word for Arab. In addition, Asian and sub-Saharan African immigrants have attained prominence as artists, writers, and musicians in France’s increasingly multicultural society.

  • Daily life and social customs

In comparison with the immediate postwar era, the French now devote far more time to leisure and cultural pursuits, largely as a result of a shorter workweek, more years spent in education, and greater affluence. The increasing emphasis on home entertainment provided by television, stereo, and personal computers has not reduced cinema or theatre attendance. On the contrary, the number of moviegoers grew significantly in the 1990s, and though it varied somewhat during the first decade of the 21st century, it reached its highest level in 45 years in 2011, with more than 215 million tickets sold.

The popularity of cultural activities is also evident, with increasing visits to historic monuments, art galleries, and museums. Especially attractive are interactive exhibitions at museums, such as the Cité de Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and of Industry) at Le Parc de la Villette in Paris or the Futuroscope theme park near Poitiers. Interest also has been revived in local and regional cultures, often as part of new initiatives to develop tourism, and annual national festivals, such as the Fête de la Musique, are extremely successful.

Although French cuisine has a reputation as a grand national feature, regional differences are marked. Some local dishes have achieved international fame, even if they are often poorly imitated. Among these are the seafood soup, bouillabaisse, from Marseille; andouillette, a form of sausage from Lyon; choucroute, pickled cabbage from Alsace; and magret de canard, slices of breast of duck from Bordeaux. France is also renowned for the range and quality of its cheeses. More than 300 varieties are recognized. The majority are produced from cow’s milk, including Camembert (Normandy), Brie (Île-de-France), Comté (Franche-Comté), Saint-Nectaire (Auvergne), and Reblochon (Savoy). Cheese is also made from ewe’s milk, as in the case of Roquefort (Aveyron), as well as from goat’s milk. Perhaps the best-known exports of France are the wines from some of the world’s great vineyards in Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Rhône valley. However, the reputation of French cuisine has not prevented the proliferation of fast-food outlets in France, especially over the past few decades. French consumption of wine and tobacco has dropped steadily since the mid-20th century, a mark of the nation’s increased attention to health.

Paris is internationally known for its haute couture, exemplified by such houses of high fashion as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Christian Lacroix. Traditional dress is occasionally seen in many regions, although it is largely reserved for official ceremonies and festivals. Regional differences often reflect local customs of dressmaking and embroidery, the availability of fabrics, and adaptations to local climatic conditions. Headdresses vary greatly, ranging from elaborate lace wimples found in Normandy and Brittany to the more sober beret of southwestern France or the straw hat, worn typically in and around the area of Nice.

In addition to the Roman Catholic holy days, the French celebrate Bastille Day on June 14, commemorating the rise of the French Republic via the fall of the prison fortress of the Bastille in Paris in 1789 at the start of the French Revolution. “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem and one of the world’s most recognizable national anthems, also memorializes the Revolution.


  • The arts

LITERATURE

France [Credit: Courtesy of the Musée Condé, Chantilly, Fr.; photograph, Giraudon/Art Resource, New York]French literature has a long and rich history. Traditionally it is held to have begun in 842 with the Oath of Strasbourg, a political pact between Louis the German and Charles the Bald, the text of which survives in Old French. The Middle Ages are noted in particular for epic poems such as La Chanson de Roland (c. 1100; The Song of Roland), the Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes, and lyric poetry expressing romantic love. In the 16th century the Renaissance flourished, and figures such as the poet Pierre de Ronsard, the satirist and humorist François Rabelais, and the quintessential essayist Michel de Montaigne, were to become internationally acknowledged. French Neoclassical drama reached its apotheosis during the next hundred years in the tragedies of Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine. During the same period, Molière displayed his vast and varied talents in the theatre, particularly as a writer of comedies; Jean de La Fontaine produced moralistic verse in his Fables; and Madame de La Fayette created the classic La Princesse de Clèves (1678), generally considered the first French psychological novel.

Flaubert, Gustave [Credit: Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Municipale, Rouen; photograph, Ellebe]Voltaire, Denis Diderot, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau dominated the 18th century, especially with their philosophical writings, though they made major contributions to all genres, and Voltaire’s novel Candide (1759) is notable for its literary quality and distillation of Enlightenment ideals. Other authors of the period include playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, best known for works such as Le Mariage de Figaro (1784; The Marriage of Figaro), and Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, remembered for his epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782; Dangerous Acquaintances). The 19th century witnessed the emergence of a series of writers who substantially influenced the development of literature worldwide, including the novelists Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola along with the poets Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Arthur Rimbaud. Added to these was the Romantic writer Victor Hugo, whose creative energy expressed itself in all literary forms, as well as in painting.

French literature in the 20th century both carried on the earlier traditions and transformed them, and French authors have won a number of Nobel Prizes for Literature. While the complexity of French poetry continued in the work of Paul Valéry, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Claudel (also a major dramatist), Saint-John Perse, Paul Éluard, Louis Aragon, René Char, and Yves Bonnefoy, the art of the novel was given new direction by Marcel Proust, in À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; Remembrance of Things Past). The first half of the century also produced such notable writers as André Gide, François Mauriac, André Malraux, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, the last arguably the chief exponent of existentialist philosophy. Their work was followed in the 1950s by the nouveau roman (“new novel”) and by the emergence of writers such as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, Claude Mauriac, Marguerite Duras, and Claude Simon, whose works have entered the canon of literature. Since the 1970s Michel Tournier, Patrick Modiano, Erik Orsenna, and Georges Perec have become leading novelists; feminist writers, including Hélène Cixous, Annie Leclerc, Jeanne Champion, and Marie Cardinal, have also made significant contributions.

The literature of the 20th century was notable for its openness to nonnative writers: the Irish writer Samuel Beckett, for instance, the Czech expatriate Milan Kundera, the Russian emigrant Andreï Makine, and Chinese exile Gao Xingjian have all produced major works in French. Georges Simenon and Marguerite Yourcenar, both born in Belgium in 1903, were considered French writers, though they often lived outside France. The postcolonial literature of the late 20th and early 21st centuries offered insights into the tensions of cross-cultural identity by Francophone writers from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean.

The works of French playwrights have enjoyed international acclaim for centuries, from the 17th-century comic theatre of Molière to the 19th-century cabaret productions known as Grand Guignol. In theatre in the 20th and 21st centuries three important currents can be discerned. Traditional playwriting was carried on largely by Jean Anouilh, Claudel, Jean Giraudoux, Henry de Montherlant, and Camus, but experimentation with both form and content also developed. Before World War II, Jean Cocteau in particular made his mark (as did to a lesser degree Claudel), but innovation came with Fernando Arrabal, Arthur Adamov, Beckett, Jean Genet, and the Romanian exile Eugène Ionesco. Since the 1950s producers have also made an important contribution to theatre; Roger Planchon, Jean-Louis Barrault, Peter Brook, Marcel Maréchal, and Ariane Mnouchkine in particular have shared in both creating new works and revitalizing traditional ones.

Philosophy and criticism have always played a central part in French intellectual and cultural life. The Surrealist movement, led by André Breton, among others, flourished in the 1920s and ’30s. Existentialism in both Christian and atheist forms was a powerful force in the mid-20th century and was championed by Sartre, Étienne Gilson, Gabriel Marcel, and Camus (though he rejected the label). More broadly, Roman Catholicism and Marxism in orthodox or revised forms have influenced a large number of creative writers, including the Roman Catholic Georges Bernanos and Sartre, who was a Marxist of a sort. Since the 1950s, new criticism, which began with structuralism—itself largely inspired by the anthropological work of Claude Lévi-Strauss in Mythologiques, 4 vol. (1964–71), and Tristes Tropiques (1955)—has challenged the monopoly of the historical approach to works of art and especially literature. Not limited to literary criticism, structuralism was an important component of philosophy among proponents such as Louis Althusser. The most popular expression of this approach was perhaps the work of Roland Barthes, including Mythologies (1957), but his work fragmented into various branches—linguistic, genetic, psychobiographical, sociocultural—each with its exponents and disciples increasingly embroiled in academic, and often abstruse, debate. Following on the heels of structuralism, poststructuralism was associated with such figures as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Giles Deleuze, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Jean-François Lyotard. Other philosophers of recent note include André Glucksmann, Bernard Henri-Lévy, and Michel Serres. (For further discussion, see French literature.)


THE FINE ARTS

French traditions in the fine arts are deep and rich, and painting, sculpture, music, dance, architecture, photography, and film all flourish under state support.


PAINTING AND SCULPTURE

In painting there was a long tradition from the Middle Ages and Renaissance that, while perhaps not matching those of Italy or the Low Countries, produced a number of religious subjects and court portraits. By the 17th century, paintings of peasants by Louis Le Nain, of allegories and Classical myths by Nicolas Poussin, and of formally pastoral scenes by Claude Lorrain began to give French art its own characteristics.

Within the next hundred years, styles became even more wide-ranging: mildly erotic works by François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard; enigmatic scenes such as Pierrot, or Gilles (c. 1718–19), by Antoine Watteau; interiors by Jean-Siméon Chardin that were often tinged with violence, as in La Raie (c. 1725–26; “The Ray”); emotive portraits by Jean-Baptiste Greuze; and rigorous Neoclassical works by Jacques-Louis David.

Much as the Académie Franƈaise regulated literature, painting up to this time was subject to rules and conventions established by the Academy of Fine Arts. In the 19th century some artists, notably J.-A.-D. Ingres, followed these rules. Others reacted against academic conventions, making Paris, as the century progressed, a centre of the Western avant-garde. Beginning in the 1820s, the bold eroticism and “Orientalism” of the works of Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix angered the academy, while at midcentury the gritty Realism of the art of Gustave Courbet and Honoré Daumier was viewed as scandalous.

“Moulin de la galette, Le” [Credit: Giraudon/Art Resource, New York]Perhaps the greatest break from academic conventions came about through the Impressionists, who, inspired in part by the daring work of Édouard Manet, brought on a revolution in painting beginning in the late 1860s. Some artists from this movement whose work became internationally celebrated include Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Edgar Degas. Important Post-Impressionists include Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Georges Seurat.

French sculpture progressed from the straight-lined Romanesque style through various periods to reach its height in the work of Auguste Rodin, who was a contemporary of the Impressionists and whose sculpture reflected Impressionist principles. Another from this time, Aristide Maillol, produced figures in a more Classical style.

Matisse, Henri: Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background [Credit: S.P.A.D.E.M., Paris/V.A.G.A., New York City, 1985; photograph, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris]Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential forces in 20th-century art, was born in Spain but spent most of his artistic life in France. His oeuvre encompasses several genres, including sculpture, but he is best known for the Cubist paintings he created together with French artist Georges Braque at the beginning of the century. One of Picasso’s greatest rivals was French painter Henri Matisse, whose lyrical work, like Picasso’s, spanned the first half of the century. In the period between the World Wars, Paris remained a major centre of avant-garde activity, and branches of prominent international movements such as Dada and Surrealism were active there.

By midcentury, however, Paris’s dominance waned, and the focus of contemporary art shifted to New York City. Prominent artists working in France have included Jean Dubuffet, Yves Klein, Swiss-born Jean Tinguely, Hungarian-born Victor Vasarely, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Bulgarian-born Christo, Daniel Buren, and César.

Major art exhibits are held regularly, mainly in Paris, and training for aspiring artists is provided not only at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts (“School of Fine Arts”) in Paris but also at a number of provincial colleges. Courses for art historians and restorators are available at the School of the Louvre. Building on their country’s rich history as a leader in furniture design and cabinetry, French craftsmen of all sorts today study at the National Advanced School of Decorative Arts and other institutions. (For further discussion, see painting, Western; and sculpture, Western.)


MUSIC

Debussy, Claude [Credit: Photos.com/Jupiterimages]The growth of classical music parallels that of painting. Despite work from earlier periods by Louis Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Jean-Baptiste Lully, for example, French music gained a broad international following only in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Such composers as Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and the Polish-born Frédéric Chopin created a distinctively French style, further developed in the 20th century by composers such as Pierre Boulez, Darius Milhaud, and Erik Satie. In the late 20th century much experimentation occurred with electronic music and acoustics. The Institute for Experimentation and Research in Music and Acoustics (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique), in Paris, remains devoted to musical innovation. A new generation of French musicians includes the pianists Hélène Mercier and Brigitte Engerer.

Training for the musical profession remains traditional. Local conservatoires throughout the country provide basic grounding; some provincial schools—at Lyon and Strasbourg, for example—offer more advanced work, but young people with talent aim for the National Conservatory of Music in Paris, where Nadia Boulanger taught. Since World War II, Paris has hosted internationally famous conductors, such as Herbert von Karajan and Daniel Barenboim, who have made contributions in revitalizing an interest in classical music. Major visiting orchestras perform at the Châtelet Theatre or the Pleyel Concert Hall, and concerts are given by smaller groups in many of the churches. There is a network of provincial orchestras.

Although interest in classical music has grown at the amateur level, it is practiced by a relatively small number. The young tend to be preoccupied with popular music, especially that imported from the United States and the United Kingdom. The tradition of the French chanson, the romantic French ballad, has continued, however, following such legendary stylists as Juliette Gréco, Edith Piaf, Belgian-born Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, and Georges Brassens. Moreover, France has produced rock performers such as Johnny Hallyday and the group Téléphone, as well as chanteuses of the 1960s such as Franƈoise Hardy, known for pop music called yé-yé (“yeah-yeah”). Other well-known artists of the late 20th century included Julien Clerc, Jean-Jacques Goldman, and Renaud. However, all were considerably more popular nationally than internationally. Singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg achieved global popularity for his sensual music as well as his romantic links to actresses Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. Later, Gainsbourg’s daughter Charlotte emerged as a force in her own right, garnering acclaim for her acting skills as well as her finely crafted pop songs. Perhaps France’s biggest international music act of the 21st century was the electronic duo Daft Punk, who brought dance-club beats to stadium-sized crowds around the world.

The Paris Opéra, established in 1669, prospered under the efforts of Lully, Rameau, Christoph Gluck, Berlioz, Georges Bizet, and Francis Poulenc. France was known for the traditions of opéra comique and grand opera, among others. (For further discussion, see music, Western.)


DANCE

France is famous for developing ballet. In 1581 the Ballet comique de la reine was performed at the French court of Catherine de Médicis. Because it fused the elements of music, dance, plot, and design into a dramatic whole, it is considered the first ballet. The ballet comique influenced the development of the 17th-century ballet de cour (court ballet), an extravagant form of court entertainment.

In 1661 Louis XIV established the Académie Royale de Danse (now the Paris Opéra Ballet); the company dominated European theatrical dance of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Pierre Beauchamp, the company’s first director, codified the five basic ballet positions. Extending the range of dance steps were virtuosos such as Gaétan Vestris and his son Auguste Vestris and also Marie Camargo, whose rival Marie Sallé was known for her expressive style.

In his revolutionary treatise, Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets (1760), Jean-Georges Noverre brought about major reforms in ballet production, stressing the importance of dramatic motivation, which he called ballet d’action, and decrying overemphasis on technical virtuosity. In 1832 the Paris Opéra Ballet initiated the era of Romantic ballet by presenting Italian Filippo Taglioni’s La Sylphide. Jean Coralli was the Opéra’s ballet master at the time, and the company’s dancers of this period included Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-Léon.

In the 20th century ballet was rejuvenated under the leadership of Russian impresario Sergey Diaghilev, who founded the avant-garde Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909. For the next two decades it was the leading ballet company in the West. The original company was choreographed by Michel Fokine. Elsewhere in Paris, Serge Lifar, the Russian-born ballet master of the Paris Opéra, reestablished its reputation as a premier ballet troupe.

Dance entertainments of a lighter kind also were developed in France. In 19th-century Paris the all-female cancan became the rage. After 1844 it became a feature of music halls, revues, and operetta. (For further discussion, see ballet.)


ARCHITECTURE

With a rich and varied architectural heritage (which helped to spawn, among other styles, Gothic, Beaux Arts, and Art Deco) and an organized and competitive program of study, France has shown itself to be open to a variety of styles and innovations. For example, Le Corbusier, much of whose work can be found in France, was Swiss. The development of architecture has also been sustained by the central government’s penchant for grands projets, or great projects. The country, however, has not produced as many designers of international repute in recent years as have other Western nations. Major achievements such as the Pompidou Centre, the pyramid entrance to the Louvre, and the Grand Arch have resulted from plans submitted in open competition by foreign architects. Recent architects of acclaim, of French origin or working in France, have included Jean Nouvel, Dominique Perrault, Adrien Fainsilber, Paul Andreu, Swiss-born Bernard Tschumi, and Catalonian Ricardo Boffil of Spain. Among important contemporary designers are Andrée Putman and Philippe Starck. (For further discussion, see architecture, Western.)


PHOTOGRAPHY

“Shop Window: Tailor Dummies” [Credit: George Eastman House Collection]Jacques Daguerre, one of the recognized founders of modern photography in the early 19th century, began the evolution of an art form that has flourished in France. In the 20th century the work of such photographers as Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Doisneau ensured that the art had a dimension beyond journalistic and commercial purposes, which was apparent in the installation art of later figures such as Christian Boltanski. In 1969 an annual festival was established at Arles, and in 1976 a national museum was created. The French popularization of photography through posters and postcards was one of the most remarkable cultural events of the late 20th century. (For further discussion, see photography, history of.)


THE CINEMA

“Alphaville”: still with Constantine and Karina from “Alphaville” [Credit: Pathé Contemporary Films; photograph from a private collection]French cinema has occupied an important place in national culture for more than a hundred years. August and Louis Lumière invented a motion-picture technology in the late 19th century, and Alice Guy-Blaché and others were industry pioneers. In the 1920s French film became famous for its poetic realist mode, exemplified by the grand historical epics of Abel Gance and the work in the 1930s and ’40s of Marcel Pagnol and others. A generation later the nouvelle vague, or New Wave, produced directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who “wrote” with the camera as if, in critic André Bazin’s words, it were a caméra-stylo (“camera-pen”). This shift was accompanied by an “intellectualization” of the cinema reflected in the influential review Cahiers du cinéma, in the establishment of several schools in Paris and the provinces where film could be studied, and in the founding of film museums such as the Cinémathèque (“Film Library”) in Paris.

Other directors of international stature include Jean Renoir, Jacques Tati, Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Resnais, Eric Rohmer, Robert Bresson, and Louis Malle. They exemplified the auteur theory that a director could so control a film that his or her direction approximated authorship. Filmmakers such as Agnès Varda, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy, Bertrand Tavernier, and Claude Bérri, as well as Polish-born Krzystof Kieslowski, extended these traditions to the end of the century, while directors such as Luc Besson, Patrice Leconte, Laurent Cantet, and Claire Denis carried on with them in the 21st century.

The leading film stars of the 20th century ranged from Fernandel, Maurice Chevalier, and Arletty to Brigitte Bardot, Gérard Depardieu, and Catherine Deneuve. Among those French actors winning accolades in the 21st century were Audrey Tautou, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, and Vincent Cassel. One of the world’s premier film festivals is held annually at Cannes, where the Palme d’Or is awarded to the best motion picture—most, in recent years, have come from outside France, a source of consternation to French film devotees. As in television, the French film industry faces competition from the United States and the United Kingdom. This led the government in the early 1990s to elicit the support of the European Commission to protect its native film industry. (For further discussion, see motion picture, history of.)


  • Cultural institutions

ADMINISTRATIVE BODIES

Despite increasing support from the private sector, various ministries, such as those of National Education and of Culture and Communications, are ultimately responsible for the promotion of cultural activities. Local authorities, particularly those representing the major towns and cities, as well as a variety of associations also fund cultural activities. The importance attached to culture is reflected in the substantial increase in expenditure and personnel working in this field and the growth of related industries (music, publishing, broadcasting technologies). About one-third of the populace belong to some form of cultural association. Abroad, French culture is promoted through the work of counselors and attachés at embassies, visiting speakers, the Alliance Française, and the French lycées in major cities. French institutes provide lectures, language courses, and access to books and newspapers. There are also associations ensuring international links, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the International Association of French Teachers, both headquartered in Paris.


MUSEUMS AND MONUMENTS

Louvre Museum [Credit: John Lawrence—Stone/Getty Images]Support and encouragement for cultural activities of all kinds are provided by a large number of museums, centres, and galleries, many of which are ultimately the responsibility of government ministries. In the provinces many museums traditionally reflecting their region’s activities have been expanded and renovated and, like those at Saint-Étienne and Strasbourg, have achieved national importance. It is in Paris, however, that the nation’s principal museums are to be found. The Louvre Museum, containing one of the world’s great art collections, was extensively remodeled at the end of the 20th century, with a notable addition of a dramatic steel-and-glass pyramid entrance. The Musée d’Orsay, created out of a former railway station, houses a fine, large collection of 19th- and early 20th-century art and artifacts, while the Georges Pompidou National Centre of Art and Culture, with its industrially inspired architecture, concentrates on the 20th century. The centre has an important library and media collection, and the square in front of it provides an open-air stage for jugglers, musicians, fire-eaters, and other street performers. Smaller museums, often containing substantial private collections, are numerous; three of particular interest are the Marmottan, Cognacq-Jay, and Orangerie. In addition to the larger museums, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais regularly provide the setting for important exhibitions, and many of the national institutes offer French people the opportunity to appreciate works from different cultures. Particularly important in this respect are the Museum of the Arab World and the Museum of African and Oceanic Arts.

Since the 1950s there has been a national program for the conservation and renovation of important historic areas. The medieval vieux quartiers of Lyon have been tastefully restored, as has the 18th-century Place du Parlement in Bordeaux, for example. Many significant buildings have been saved by private funding, and government financial assistance is also available, usually on the condition that the property is opened to the public. In Paris the houses in the Marais district and on the Île Saint-Louis have had their original splendour restored, while around Montparnasse, for example, poor areas of 19th-century building have been bulldozed to make room for fashionable modern apartment blocks. Four structures in particular mark the later years of the 20th century: the entrance to the Louvre; the Bastille Opera; the Grand Arch in La Défense, a futuristic business district west of Paris; and the national library, Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, all of which received the strong support of Mitterrand as monuments to his presidency.


  • Sports and recreation

Although the French have recently developed a taste for a new range of sporting activities, such as mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and rock climbing, the most common forms of recreation in France seem to be nonphysical or relatively sedentary—talking, reading, eating, going to the cinema, and so on. This no doubt has something to do with the relative absence of programmed physical education at school. Certainly organized sport has a place in French society, however, with cycling, swimming, football (soccer), skiing, tennis, boules (pétanque), and, increasingly, golf, basketball, and martial arts being the most popular activities. Walking and jogging, too, are important, and a national network of paths (grandes randonnées) is well maintained. Popular seaside vacation resorts include Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Cap d’Agde on the Mediterranean, the Île de Ré and La Baule-Escoublac on the Atlantic coast, and Le Touquet on the English Channel. Inland the French Alps, the Massif Central, and the national and regional parks, such as the Morvan regional nature park in Burgundy, attract campers and hikers. Newer, artificially created attractions include a growing number of theme parks, ranging from Disneyland at Paris to more specialized sites such as the Nausicaä sea-world museum at Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The nation’s showcase sporting event is the Tour de France, an international cycling road race that attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators each year. Established more than a century ago, the annual summer race covers some 3,600 km (2,235 miles) over the course of three weeks, finishing in Paris. Football, especially in the larger towns, is extremely popular. The 1998 World Cup was hosted by France and won by a French team led by Zinedine Zidane. More than five million French people ski, and many children have the opportunity to go on school skiing trips in February; the principal resorts are in the northern Alps, notably in Savoy (Savoie). French bowls, or boules, is played by thousands and is highly organized at both national and local levels. Handball has an avid following, and rugby is mostly played in the southwest. Educator Pierre, baron de Coubertin, revived the Olympic Games in modern form in 1896 and founded the International Olympic Committee. Games in Paris soon followed in 1900 and 1924. Chamonix was the site of the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in 1924, followed by Grenoble in 1960 and Albertville in 1992. Olympic highlights include the successes of skier Jean-Claude Killy in 1968, the national football team in 1984, and runner Marie-José Pérec in the 1990s.


  • Media and publishing

TELEVISION AND RADIO

In 1989 the Socialist government formed the Supreme Audiovisual Council (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel; CSA) to supervise radio and television broadcasting. There are both public and private stations. Programs also have been broadcast and received via satellite since 1984, and cable broadcasting began in 1987.

Television has made a significant contribution to cultural life. There are three state-controlled television channels and more than 100 private ones. More than three-fourths of the population watch television an average of 22 hours per week. Programs are varied, with a number of quality discussions, interviews, and documentary reports, as well as a broad combination of quiz and variety shows and dramas. In the 1980s the literature program Apostrophes enjoyed immense success and had a direct effect on book sales, as did its successor Bouillon de culture. As elsewhere in Europe, however, there has been a tendency to show an increasing number of American films and programs, which is hedged by official efforts to promote French programming; as critics point out, it is less expensive to buy 10 episodes of an American television show than to produce an hour-long documentary. By the 1980s the arrival of the videocassette recorder had created new opportunities for home film viewing, which expanded at the turn of the century with the introduction of digital videodisc (DVD) players.

Although it has been largely eclipsed by television and video, radio still has cultural impact. Two agencies managed by Radio France—France Culture and France Musique—provide the bulk of the cultural programs, but they are often indifferently presented. Major stations such as France-Inter (public) or Europe No. 1 (private) have resorted increasingly to a mix of popular music, news items, quizzes, and talk shows. Smaller private stations cater to specialized interests—for example, Radio Notre Dame (religion) and Radio Classique (classical music). Popular music stations such as Fun Radio and Skyrock have grown rapidly. Since 1994, however, with the aim of protecting French culture, such stations have been obliged to dedicate 40 percent of their playlists to songs in French.


THE PRESS

The newspaper has a long history and a strong tradition in France. The French press, in the form of reviews and news sheets, has its origins in the early 17th century with Théophraste Renaudot’s La Gazette, which began in 1631. It was not for another 250 years, however, with the passage of an act in 1881 allowing greater freedoms, that the press began to expand significantly. At the beginning of World War II, Paris offered some 30 daily papers, many with national followings and most with a clear political affiliation. The number of newspapers (and periodicals as well) declined sharply after the war, in some cases for political reasons but in others as a result of takeovers, collaborative ventures, and competition from television. In 1944 the Paris-based Le Monde was founded, and it became the most informed and influential of modern French newspapers. Other influential and widely circulating Paris dailies include Le Figaro, Libération, and France-Soir. Among the smaller dailies are the Roman Catholic La Croix l’Événement and the communist L’Humanité. In the 1950s illustrated magazines began to proliferate (echoing a trend of the 1930s); some of these were popular magazines of general interest and some were directed at specific markets, such as Elle, Marie-Claire, and Vogue Paris for women and L’Express, Le Point, and Le Nouvel Observateur, which are political. Few, however, have enjoyed the popular success and wide distribution of the news-oriented Paris-Match. By the late 20th century, three specific factors characterized the French press: first, the expansion of the regional daily paper, with Ouest-France enjoying the largest circulation in the country; second, the growth of specialized magazine journalism; and third, the appearance since the early 1960s of free newspapers essentially for advertising purposes, which are distributed weekly in the millions.

History of France

Disclaimer

This is not the official site of this country. Most of the information in this site were taken from the U.S. Department of State, The Central Intelligence Agency, The United Nations, [1],[2], [3], [4], [5],[6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14],[15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24],[25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30],[31], [32], [33], [34], and the [35].

Other sources of information will be mentioned as they are posted.