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France :: Vive la Difference

France has always been chic, but lately it's the country du jour! As if playing host to the Cannes Film Festival and the French Open aren't enough, France now looks set to be the birth country of the Brangelina twins! We have the 411 on the "it" country of the moment.

Geography

France is located in Western Europe to the south-east of the United Kingdom, west of Italy and Germany, and north-east of Spain. The country covers 211,209 square miles (547,030 square kilometers) and approximately 64 million people call the nation home. The capital (and largest city) is Paris, which is home to more than two million people. And, in case you couldn't guess, the national language is French.

A (Very) Brief History

The earliest humans in France date back way before the croissant was invented - about 50, 000 years. Before it was known as France, a country called Gaul occupied approximately the same place. Gaul was conquered by Rome in the first century BCE, which led to the Gauls adopting the Roman language and culture. Around 400 AD, Germanic tribes known as Franks began entering Gaul, which is where France derived its modern name.

In the year 843, the Treaty of Verdun created a territory called Western Francia, which was the precursor to modern France. Several noble families ruled France until the monarchy was overthrown during the French Revolution in 1798 (a war that was the basis for the film Marie Antoinette). About 10 years after the revolution, a guy named Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France, declaring himself the Emperor of France. He waged several wars and conquered a good portion of Europe before being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.

France suffered huge losses in the First World War, despite being on the winning side, and was seized by the Nazis during World War II. The country was eventually liberated in a joint effort of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada in 1944. In more modern times, France has been one of the leading countries pushing the EU monetary union. It has both a president (Nicolas Sarkozy) and a prime minister (François Fillon).

Did You Know?

  • The Statue of Liberty is French. It was made in France and given to the United States as a gift.
  • The bikini was invented in France in 1946.
  • Jeans were invented in France in a place called Nîmes. The word "denim" comes from "de Nîmes".
  • The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 for the 1888 World Fair. It was intended to only stand in Paris for 20 years, but it has been there for more than 120.
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