- France’s formal name is La République Française (French Republic).j
- The name “France” comes from the Latin Francia, which means “land or kingdom of the Franks.”h
- France is the largest country by size in Europe at 248,573 m2 (643,801 km2), and that figure includes the islands of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion Island.j
- France’s highest point, also the highest point in Europe, is Mont Blanc at 15,771 feet (4,807 m) high.j
- France is divided into 22 metropolitan regions, and its five overseas regions calledDom-Toms.j
- With at least 75 million foreign tourists per year, France is the most visited country in the world and maintains the third-largest income in the world from tourism.i
- France celebrates July 14th as its Fête Nationale(Independence Day), which is the founding of its current Constitutional Monarchy, or the First Republic. The celebration actually commemorates the storming of the Bastille Prison on July 14, 1789, which sparked the French Revolutionary War.j
- France’s flag has three equal vertical bands of blue (hoist side), white, and red. Known as Le Drapeau Tricolore (French Tricolors), the origin of the flag dates to 1790 and the French Revolution when the “ancient French color” of white was combined with the blue and red colors of the Paris militia.j
- The French government gives medals, La Médaille de La Famille Française (Medal of the French Family), to citizens who have successfully raised several children with dignity.a
- There is only one stop sign in the entire French city of Paris.l
- In the Savoie region of France, there is a small town named Pussy.k
- One in five French people have reportedly suffered from depression, making it the most depressed country in the world.r
- Louis XIX was king of France for just 20 minutes.c
- French toast was originally called pain perdu (lost bread), and the first written mention of the dish comes from the court of Henry V of England. The Oxford English Dictionary mentions the first use of the name “French toast” was in 1660 in a book called the Accomplisht Cook.o
- The 2003 Durex Global Sex Study showed that the French are the people who have the most sex in a year.f
- France was the first modern country to legalize same-sex sexual activity in 1791.d
- In France, you can legally marry a deceased person.e
- Crayola is a French word that means “oily chalk.” Alice Binney, wife of Crayola founder Edward Binney, combined the worldcraie (chalk) with ola (a shortened form of the French oléagineux, meaning oily).m
- The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace ship sent to disrupt French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and it was blown up while in harbor in New Zealand in 1985, killing one worker. A scandal ensued when it emerged that French secret services were involved in the attack.n
- Jean Dujardin is the first and only French actor to have ever won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his role in “The Artist” in 2011 .q
- Since the end of World War II, France has been one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.u
- French (along with Spanish) women have the highest life expectancy in the whole of the European Union.u
- France’s greatest sporting moment came at the 1998 Soccer World Cup when the country hosted and won.u
- France’s most traditional ball games are pétanque and the similar, though more formal, boules, which has a 70-page rule book. Both are played by village men on a gravel or sandy pitch known as boulodrome, scratched out wherever a bit of flat or shady ground can be found. World championships are held for both sports.u
- France’s national anthem, “La Marsellaise,” was officially adopted in 1795. Originally known as “Le chant de guerre pour L’Armée du Rhin” (“War Song for the Army of the Rhine”), the National Guard of Marseille made the song famous by singing it while marching into Paris in 1792 during the French Revolutionary War.j
- French President Charles de Gaulle is included in theGuinness Book of World Records as surviving more assassination attempts—32—than anyone in the world.u
- France is the largest consumer of electricity from nuclear fuelsin the world.j
- The Bayeux Tapestry, created in the 1070s, shows the story of how William the Conqueror and his Norman forces conquered England in 1066. The Bayeux Tapestry is considered one of France’s national treasures.u
- In 1309, Pope Clement V moved the papal headquarters fromRome to Avignon, France, with Avignon’s third pope, Benoit XII, starting work on the resplendent Palais des Papes. The Holy See remained in the Provençal city until 1377.u
- In 1431, 17-year-old virginal French warrior Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was burned at the stake in Rouen, France. Seven films have immortalized her life on the silver screen, including Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928); Victor Fleming’sJoan of Arc (1948), starring Ingrid Bergman; and Jeanne d’Arc (1999) by Luc Besson.u
- Leonardo da Vinci made Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise, France, his home from 1516 until his death in 1519.g
- Called Le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King), Louis XIV is credited for creating the first, nationalized French state. He also built the Palace of Versailles, 14 miles (23 km) south of Paris.u
- The French are the inventors of the first digital calculator, the hot air balloon, the parachute, Braille, margarine, Grand Prix racing, and the first public interactive computer.u
- French physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin invented what came to be known as the guillotine as a more humane method of execution. Highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was the first Frenchman to have his head sliced off on April 25, 1792, in Place de Grève on Paris’ Right Bank. During the Reign of Terror, at least 17,000 met their death by the guillotine. Convicted murderer Hamida Djandoubi in Marseille was the last person to be executed by guillotine in 1977—behind doors, because the last public French execution was in 1939. France abolished capital punishment in 1981.u
- Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the ruling French Directoire (Directory) in 1799 and, by referendum, declared himself First Consul for life. His birthday became a national holiday, and in 1804, Pope Pius VII crowned him emperor in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral. Napoleon died in exile on the South Atlantic Island of St. Helena in 1821, but his remains were moved to Paris’ L’Èglise du Dôme—part of L’Hôtel national des Invalides, or Les Invalides—in 1840.u
- Despite the myth of the French Resistance during World War II, the underground movement never actually included more than 5% of the population; the other 95% either collaborated with the Nazis or did nothing.u
- With the exception of two world-war induced intervals, the Tour de France has never missed a year. The 1998 Tour de France was known as the “tour of shame,” fewer than 100 riders crossed the finish line after several teams were disqualified for doping.u
- French journalist and cyclist Henri Desgranges came up with the Tour de France in 1903 as a means of promoting his sports newspaper, L’Auto, today called L’Équipe.u
- Brittany-born biking legend Bernard Hinault, known as Le Blaireau (The Badger), won the Tour de France five times before retiring in 1986.u
- 17th-century French monk Dom Pierre Pérignon’s technique for making sparkling wine was more successful than his predecessors, in part because he put his product in strong, English-made bottles and capped them with corks brought from Spain.u
- The average person in France consumes 11.5 quarts (10.9 liters) of pure alcohol per year, compared to 8.7 quarts (8.2 liters) in the UK and 6.7 quarts (6.3 liters) in the U.S.u
- Originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under France’s Philip II, the Louvre Museum contains one of the world’s most important art collections and is one of the most important historic monuments in the world.i
- Paris was first settled in the 3rd century BC by a tribe of Celtic Gauls known as the Parisii on the Île de la Cité. The Romans later renamed the city Lutèce (Latin: Lutetia) before it became known as Paris.u
- Paris’ L’Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) was used from the Middle Ages to the 19th century as a place to stage celebrations, rebellions, public executions, and book burnings. Known as the Place de Grève (Strand Square) until 1830, it was, in centuries past, a favorite gathering place for the unemployed, which is why a strike is called une grèvein France to this day.u
- A bronze star set in the pavement across from the main entrance of Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris marks the exact location of Point Zero of all French roads.u
- Paris’ oldest bridge, ironically named Pont Neuf (New Bridge), has linked the western end of the Île de la Cité with both banks of the Seine River since 1607, when King Henri IV inaugurated it by crossing the bridge on a white stallion.u
- Named after its designer, Gustave Eiffel, France’s Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World Exposition. It was almost torn down in 1909 but was spared because it proved an ideal transmitter needed for the new science of radiotelegraphy. The Eiffel Tower is 1,063 feet (324 m) high, including the antenna at the top.i
- The bronze flame of liberty, a replica of the torch carried by the Statue of Liberty, is located at the Place d’Alma to commemorate the spot where, in August 1997, Princess Diana of Wales was killed in an automobile accident in the Paris underpass running along the Seine along with her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul.u
- Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery is the resting place of, among many others, Frédéric Chopin; Honoré de Balzac; Marcel Proust; actress Sarah Bernhardt; painters Pissarro, Seuret, Modigliani; 12th century lovers Peter Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil; Oscar Wilde; and 1960s Doors front man Jim Morrison. It is the most visited graveyard in the world.u
- Outside of Stonehenge, France’s Carnac (in Brittany) has the world’s greatest concentration of megalithic sites. Predating Stonehenge by around 100 years, there are over 3,000 upright stones, most about thigh-high, dating from 5000–3500 B.C.u
- Louis XVI’s attempt to escape from Paris in 1791 ended at Sainte-Menehould, on the northwestern coast of France, when the soon-to-be beheaded monarch and Marie Antoinette were recognized by the postmaster, thanks to the king’s portrait painted on a bank note.u
- Natzweiler-Struthof, located 31 miles (50 km) southwest of Strasbourg, was the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on French soil.u
- Verdun, France, had a significant American military presence from the end of World War II until Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO’s integrated military command in 1966. In Cité Kennedy, a neighborhood 1.23 miles (2 km) east of the center that once housed American military families, the streets still bear names such as Av. d’Atlanta, Av. de Florida, Av. de Georgia, and Impasse de Louisiane.u
- In 1971, the astronauts of NASA’s Apollo 15 moon mission named one of the lunar craters they found “St. George,” in honor of the bottle of Nuits St. George consumed in Jules Verne’s science fiction epic From the Earth to the Moon (1865).u
- The moldy blue-green veins running through Roquefort cheese are, in fact, the seeds of microscopic mushrooms picked in the caves at Roquefort, France, then cultivated on leavened bread.u
- Chamonix’s Aiguille du Midi cable car climbs from the valley floor to a terrace beneath the Aiguille at 12,392 feet (3,777 m) in just 20 minutes. Swung into action in 1955, the Aiguille du Midi is known as Europe’s highest and scariest cable car ride.u
- A favorite of King Louis XV, Vacherin Mont d’Or is the only French cheese to be eaten with a spoon. Made only between August 15 and March 15, it derives its unique nutty taste from the spruce bark in which it is wrapped. Only 11 factories in the French Jura region are licensed to produce it.u
- The Viaduc de Millau, designed by British Architect Sir Norman Foster, carried a massive 4.43 million vehicles in 2005, its first year of operation. Rising to 1,125 feet (343 m) above the valley bottom, it ranks among the tallest road bridges in the world.u
- An unknown during his lifetime, Dutch Master Vincent Van Gogh painted most of his masterpieces in France (in the southern city of Arles and in Auvers-sur-Oise outside of Paris). On June 27, 1890, Van Gogh shot himself and died two days later at the age of 33. Less than a decade later, his talent would start to achieve worldwide recognition with paintings such as Starry Night and The Red Vines.u
- Europe’s largest canyon, the plunging Gorges du Verdon—also known as the Grand Canyon of Verdon—slices a 16-mile (25-km) swathe through Provence’s limestone plateau.u
- World War II’s D-Day landings, code named Operation Overlord, were the largest military operation in history. On the morning of June 6, 1944, 135,000 Allied troops, in an armada of over 6,000 boats, stormed ashore along 50 miles (80 km) of beaches north of Bayeux, code named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The landings on D-Day led to the Battle of Normandy, which ultimately led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.u
- Wine has been produced in France since the time of the Romans, and the Clos des Vignes du Maynes, on the outskirts of the Burgundian town of Cruzille, claims to be the oldest wine domaine in France. The word Maynes is dialect for “monk,” and the Maynes labels all bear the cherished crossed-key symbols of the Cluny abbots.u
- France’s national epic, Le Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), was written in England at the dawn of the 12th century and discovered in its most complete form in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. It tells of the Battle of Roncevaux in A.D. 778. It is the oldest surviving work of French literature.b
- Gerbert d’Aurillac, a local shepherd from the Massif Central town of Aurillac, became the first French pope, Sylvester II, in A.D. 999. He introduced Arabic numerals to Western Europe.b
- Almost called the atome (atom), rather than the bikini, the scanty two-piece bathing suit was the 1946 creation of Cannes fashion designer Jacques Heim and French automotive engineer Louis Réard.u
- France was the fourth country to acquire atomic and nuclear weapons, testing its first A-bomb in the Algerian Sahara in 1960.n
- Coco Chanel, née Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, was the most successful female fashion design of the 1920s. She is the only French fashion designer listed in 1999’s TimeMagazine’s Most Influential People of the 20th century and is best known for her invention of the Little Black Dress, her Chanel No. 5 perfume, and her iconic company logo based on her initials.n
- La Comédie-Française (French Comedy) is the oldest professional national theater company in France, based since 1790 in a theatre originally built by Victor Louis, adjacent to the Palais Royal.n
- The oldest and, in theory, the most prestigious monolingual French dictionary is theDictionnaire de l’Academié française, first published in the 17th century, when the academy was founded as the official “guardian of the language.” The 9th edition has been appearing volume by volume since 1986, but it has not yet been completed.n
- The French created their own form of the Internet called the Minitel (or Minitel telematics system) in the 1980s, which made France a world leader in household telematics but ironically slowed France’s eventual acceptance of the Internet.n
- Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is a voluntary association founded by a group of French physicians in 1971 to provide medical assistance in international emergencies. It is now an important international aid agency and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.n
- Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin is considered the Father of the modern Olympic Games. His initiatives led to the creation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the organization of the first modern games in Athens, Greece, in 1896. Paris hosted the summer Olympics in 1900 and 1924. France also hosted the first winter Olympic Games at Chamonix in 1924 and again at Grenoble (1968) and Albertville (1988).n
- Cross-dressing French secret agent Charles Genevieve d’Eon de Beaumont (1728-1810) was born in the town of Tonnerre and spent part of his life in England, where he wore the latest women’s fashions and spied for Louis XV. The local high school, Lycée de Chevalier d’Eon in Tonnerre, is named after him today.t
- Polish-born French physicist Marie Curie (1867-1934) was the first female professor at the Sorbonne. She made major discoveries in radioactivity and won two Nobel Prizes: the first in Physics (1903) with her husband Pierre Curie, the second in Chemistry (1911) after his death. She is the only woman entombed in the domed Panthéon, alongside such French legends as Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, and Jean Moulin.n
- French postage stamps were introduced in 1849 with the first definitive stamp showing Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.n
- Despite his great military conquests, Napoleon Bonaparte—who came from the town of Ajaccio on the French territory of Corsica—is considered Corsica’s second most famous son. The first is Christopher Columbus, who was born in the town of Calvi, which was under Genoese control at the time. France bought the island outright in 1768.h
- Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps is famous for engineering the Suez and Panama Canals.p
- For two weeks every May, the city of Cannes, France, hosts the world’s most important film festival.t
Important Dates b,j,k,s,t,v
||Cave paintings found in the Vézêre Valley (Dordogne) trace back to Cro-Magnon man.
||The Celtic Parisii tribe sets up camp on the Île de la Cité and name the settlement Lutetia (Lutèce).
||Julius Caesar launches his invasion of Britain from the Côte d’Opale in northern France; Gauls defeat the Romans at Gergovia.
||The Franks invade and kick out the Romans; Alsace is overrun by the Allemanii (Germans).
||Clovis coverts to Christianity and is crowned the first French king near Saint Remy at Reims.
||The country is named France after the conquering Franks.
||Charles Martel defeats the Moors in Poitiers and stems the Muslim advance into Europe.
||Charlemagne rebuilds the Roman Empire and is crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor.
||Five centuries of Merovingian and Carolingian rule end with the crowning of Hugh Capet and the Capetian dynasty is born.
||The Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, and his Norman forces invade and occupy England.
||The Holy See moves from Rome to Avignon in southern France; the Popes stay in southern France until 1377.
||Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) is burned at the stake for heresy.
||Louis I moves the royal court to the Loire Valley, where the first châteaux and royal hunting lodges are built.
||The Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts makes French the official language of all legal documents.
||Henri IV gives Protestants (Huguenots) freedom to practice their religion with the Edict of Nantes.
||Louis XIII rules; Cardinal de Richelieu is his chief minister.
||Louis XIV accedes to the throne; Cardinal Mazarin is his chief minister; Louis XIV moves the royal court to Paris and builds Versailles.
||The reign of Louis XIV.
||Construction completed on the Canal du Midi, which joins the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
||Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
||Genoa cedes Corsica to France.
||Public coaches are permitted to use staging posts.
||August 8th marks the first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc.
||The Bastille falls on July 14th; feudal rights and privileges are abolished in August; revolution effects a national sale of Church property in November.
||On January 15th, France is divided into 83 départements. Abbé Henri Grégoire’s “Report on the Necessity and Means of Exterminating Patois and Universalizing the French language” is published.
||Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are arrested in Sainte-Menehould. In August, Jews are granted full citizenship.
||Louis XVI is beheaded on January 21st. Marie Antoinette is executed on October 16th.
||Robespierre is executed on July 28th.
||Reign of the Directoire.
||On November 9, Napoleon achieves his coup d’état and establishes himself as First Consul of France.
||First official census taken of the population of France.
||Napoleon is crowned as Emperor.
||Napoleon abdicates for the first time; monarchy is temporarily restored.
||June 18th, Napoleon is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
||On October 1st, the first railway in France from Saint-Étienne to Andrézieux begins. It opens to passengers in 1832, and horses are replaced by steam in 1844.
||Guizet’s education law enacted, which maintains each commune (settlement) of 500 inhabitants or more must maintain an elementary school for boys (girls from 1836).
||First complete geological map of France is completed.
||February revolution occurs. Universal male suffrage is announced.
||On December 2nd, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Emperor Napoleon III) seizes control of France by coup d’état.
||Mediterranean Sea is joined to the Atlantic by the Canal de Garonne.
||The Virgin Mary appears to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes.
||The Ligue du Midi is founded in Marseille. Proclamation of the Third Republic.
||Jules Ferry Law is enacted, which gives free, compulsory, secular education for boys and girls from 6 to 13 years of age.
||Universal Exhibition is held, along with the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower.
||On January 13th, Zola publishes letter “J’accuse!” on the Dreyfus Affair.
||On July 19th, the first Metro line in Paris opens.
||From July 1st through 19th, the First Tour de France bicycle race (six stages, 1,518 miles) takes place.
||Holy See officially orders the beatification of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc).
||On August 1st, France orders general mobilization of troops into World War I.
||Treaty of Versailles signed; Germany officially surrenders.
||Nazi Regime occupies France. Armistice is signed on June 17th.
||The Vichy Regime is established on July 10, 1940, led by Marshal Petain.
||French women are granted the right to vote.
||Germany surrenders to Allied Forces at 2:41 a.m. on May 7th.
||Fourth Republic declared.
||Algerian War is fought.
||Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community.
||Fifth Republic declared.
||Algerian independence proclaimed.
||France leaves NATO’s structure.
||Creation of the European Union.
||France signs Maastricht Treaty on European Union
||France attracts international condemnation by conducting a series of nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean.
||Compulsory military service abolished.
||The Euro replaces the Franc, which was first minted 1360.
||France is selected to host the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor at Cadarache, near Marseille.
||Nicolas Sarkozy is inaugurated as President and fulfills his promise to fill half his cabinet positions with women and brings in people from across the political divide.
||Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Chairman of the International Monetary Fund and a strong candidate for president, is arrested in New York City on sexual assault charges.
||Socialist François Hollande is elected president. France detains the last leader of the Basque military separatist group ETA.
||Anne Hidalgo is elected as first female mayor of Paris.
— Posted June 5, 2014
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b Ardagh, John. 1985. The Penguin Guide to France. New York, NY: Viking Penguin.
c Baycroft, Timothy. 2008. France (Inventing the Nation). London, UK: Hodder Education.
d Crompton, Louis. 2003. Homosexuality and Civilization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
e Davies, Lizzie. “French Woman Marries Dead Partner.” The Guardian. November 17, 2009. Accessed June 10, 2014.
f Durex Corporation. 2003. “Durex Global Sex Survey.” Accessed June 10, 2014.
g Fenwick, Hubert. 1975. Châteaux of France. London, UK: Robert Hale & Co.
h “France.” Online Etmology Dictionary. March 2014. Accessed March 17, 2014.
i France. 2012. Eyewitness Travel. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
j “France” (The World Factbook). Central Intelligence Agency. Updated March 6, 2014. Accessed March 17, 2014.
k “France’s Top Ten X-Rated Place Names.” The Local: France Edition. June 10, 2014. Accessed June 10, 2014.
l Hebden, Nicole. “Paris Has Only One Stop Sign: Police.” The Local: French Edition. October 4, 2012. Accessed June 10, 2014.
m “History.” Crayola.com. Updated 2014. Accessed June 10, 2014.
n Kelly, Michael. 2001. French Culture and Society: The Essentials. London, UK: Arnold Publishers.
o Koerner, Brendan. “Is French Toast Really French?” Slate.com. September 16, 2003. Accessed June 10, 2014.
p Pybus, Victoria. 1998. Live and Work in France. 3rd ed. Oxford, UK: Vacation Work.
q Reid, Tim. “Jean Dujardin wins Best Actor Oscar for ‘The Artist’.” Reuters.com. February 27, 2012.
r Renick, Oliver. “France, U.S. Have Highest Rates of Depression in the World, Study Suggests.” July 25, 2011. Bloomberg News. Accessed June 10, 2014.
s Robb, Graham. 2007. The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.
t Room, Adrian. 2004. Placenames of France. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company.
u Williams, Nicola. 2007. Lonely Planet: France. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications.
v Williams, Vanessa. “Socialist Candidate Is Elected First Female Mayor of Paris.” The Washington Post. March 30, 2014. Accessed April 1, 2014.