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France Information - Page 2
France has been a trading crossroad since early times. By the seventh century BC the Greeks had started a trading colony in Marseille. Many years later the Romans settled in Marseille and the surrounding areas. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul between 58 and 51 BC.

In the late fifth century, the Roman Western Empire began to disintegrate and Clovis, the Frankish King, established a large kingdom. Charlemagne, (King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire) continued to expand the Empire in the eighth century. After Charlemagne's death, the Empire was divided - two of the territories eventually emerged as France and Germany.

Vikings (or men from the north) raided settlements on ports and rivers and in 911, under the leadership of Rollo, Vikings colonised the area that became known as Normandy. By 1066 the Normans had turned their attention to England and William Duke of Normandy became King of England (William the Conqueror).

The links between England and France were strong. Henry II, King of England (1154-89) and Duke of the Normandy, married Eleanor of Acquitaine and ruled much of France.

Disputes between England and France led to The Hundred Years' War (1337 to 1453) beginning with the English victory at the Battle of Crecy. Henry VI, King of England, was crowned King of France in 1431. However with the help of the young Joan of Arc, the Dauphin (the heir to the French throne) drove the English from France.

During the war bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, entered France through the port of Marseille (1348) leading to the death of around one third of the French population.

In the 1540s and 1550s the French Protestant John Calvin preached the French form of Protestantism. Similar to other European countries, tensions between Catholics and Protestants caused civil unrest.

Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), wife of Henri II, was a great influence in the reigns of her sons: Francois II, Charles IX and Henri III. During this time religious tensions and the St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre led to a mass migration of Huguenots (Protestants) to England, Holland and Switzerland.

Throughout the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643) Cardinal de Richelieu was an important power in France; Richelieu fought against the Habsburgs and expanded French territory. Richelieu's successor Cardinal Jules Mazarin ruled the country for the young King Louis XIV (1643-1715). When Mazarin died Louis, known as the Sun King, ruled France as absolute monarch. He built the Palace at Versailles, a celebration of French architecture and art.

During Louis XIV's reign France established overseas colonies in North America. However, between 1756 and 1763 France was engaged in a costly war, known as the Seven Years War, resulting in great losses of its overseas territories.

By the time Louis XVI succeeded to the throne (1789) France was in need of money; a factor leading to the French Revolution which lasted for ten years. Following "The Reign of Terror", Napoleon Bonaparte established a powerful administration at home and expanded French rule over most of Europe. Eventually Napoleon was defeated by the Prussian Marshall Blucher and the English Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815. France suffered another defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 losing the Alsace and Lorraine regions.

Over the years French overseas colonisation was extensive. Administration extended to Canada, parts of America ( Louisiana), much of North Africa, (Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia), parts of West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Togo), regions in Central Africa (Chad, Central African Republic) and East Africa (Djibouti), the Comoros Islands (including Mayotte) and Madagascar, Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam), French Guiana in South America, the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique), Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, and New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia in Oceania.

In the first half of the twentieth century the world was engulfed by two major wars: World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). During both wars the French were on the side of the Allies against German aggression although in 1940 German forces occupied France.

Following Germany's defeat in 1945, France faced struggles for independence from its colonies in Indo-China (1945-1954) and Algeria (1954-1962). At the end of the 1960s the French government had to turn its attention to political unrest at home with student riots in Paris and a general strike.

Charles De Gaulle, the Free French leader during the War, was President of France from 1958 to 1969. De Gaulle was followed by Georges Pompidou, Giscard d'Estaing, Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.

France has been engaged in privatization since the end of the twentieth century, partially or fully privatizing many large companies, banks, and insurers. However, in October 2008 President Sarkozy had to promise to inject 360 billion euros into the French banking system when governments in Europe acted quickly to recapitalize their banking systems hit by the global financial crisis.

France is one of the original members of the European Economic Community - now the European Union. The country has benefited from good agricultural land, modern farming techniques and EEC subsidies: it has been one of the main agricultural producers of the EU. Food produced includes wheat, cereals, potatoes, sugar beets, olives, grapes, apples, pears and soft fruits. France is a large producer of wine, mineral water, dairy products, meat and fish.

Among France's leading companies are the oil company Total (which as TotalFina merged with Elf Aquitaine in 2000); the car manufacturers, Renault and Peugeot; the food group, Danone and the new technology company, Thomson. Other industries are metallurgy, aircraft, machinery, electronics, chemicals, textiles and clothing. France is especially well known for its fashion houses such as Christian Dior.

The services sector is the largest contributor to the country's Gross Domestic Product and is the largest employer.

Tourism is a major currency earner. Skiing is available in the winter and in the summer thousands of holidaymakers make their way to camping sites, gites (very basic farmhouses) and hotels. (2008)

Prehistoric art, or rock art, has been preserved in sites such as Lascaux and Grotte De Chauvet (Pont-D'arc), Ardeche.

The Louvre in Paris houses the art of many international artists, for example, Leonardo da Vinci. Collections in the Musee d'Orsay include paintings, sculpture, photography and decorative arts.

In the nineteenth century Paris was the centre of European art. Famous French artists of the time included the sculptor Pierre Auguste Rodin and the painters Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Camille Pisarro. Post-impressionist French painters of the late nineteenth century were Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Georges Seurat. Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard were important twentieth century French painters.

Paris was the focal point for development of Cubism and Surrealism and today the Pompidou Centre in Paris is a centre of modern art. The Centre contains the studio of Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor, left to the Pompidou Centre on his death in 1957.

French composers of the nineteenth century include Hector Berlioz and Claude Debussy. Frederic Francois Chopin, the Polish composer whose father was French, moved to Paris when he was twenty and worked there until he died at the age of thirty-nine.

France has many famous writers such as the philosopher Voltaire. Rousseau, born in Switzerland, wrote The Social Contract, the handbook of the French Revolution. Well known playwrights are Racine and Moliere. Authors include Flaubert, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, Marcel Proust and Emile Zola. Albert Camus, the Algerian-born writer, and Jean-Paul Sartre both won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Over the last fifty or so years, France has hosted the Cannes Film Festival. Famous French film directors are Jean Luc Godard, Alain Renais (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) and Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows).

Popular sports in France are football, rugby, cycling, tennis and skiing. The traditional game of petanque, or boules, is played in towns and villages. Tennis is also a French game, originating in France in the twelfth century.

In 1998 France hosted and won the FIFA World Cup. Famous French football players include Zinedine Zidane who achieved the status of FIFA World Player of the Year a number of times.

The Tour de France, a cycling race which takes place in July, is a major sporting event. Motor-racing is another popular sport, especially the French Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 hour race.

The French celebrate all the Roman Catholic religious holidays as well as New Year, Labour Day (1st May), VE Day (8th May) and Remembrance Day (11th November).

Bastille Day on 14th July is an important national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille (French Revolution).

News from France is available in Newslink.

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