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.
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.
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.
Three main geologic regions are distinguishable: the skeletal remains of ancient mountains that make up the Hercynian massifs; the northern and western plains; and the higher young fold mountains in the south and southeast, including the Alps and the Pyrenees, with their attendant narrow plains. Much of the detailed relief can be attributed geologically to the varying differences in the resistance of rocks to erosion. A great deal of the present landscape detail is due to glaciation during the Pleistocene Epoch (about 2,600,000 to 11,700 years ago). France lay outside the range of the great ice sheets that descended upon the northern part of Europe, so the direct sculpting of the land by ice was restricted to the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Vosges, Corsica, and the highest summits of the Massif Central. Just outside these glacial areas, in what are known as periglacial lands, repeated freezing and thawing of unprotected surfaces modified slopes by the movement of waste sheets (formed of shattered bedrock), producing very much the landscape that exists today. Pleistocene periglacial action generated the sheets of the fine windblown limon, or loess, that is the basis of the most fertile lowland soils, and it possibly also created the Landes, a sandy plain in southwestern France. The development of river terraces (flat, raised surfaces alongside valleys) was another characteristic of periglacial action.
These highlands are composed of resistant metamorphic, crystalline, and sedimentary rocks from the Paleozoic Era (about 540 to 250 million years ago), the last including coal deposits. They share the common characteristic of repeated planation, or flattening. Some variety is provided by subsequent deformation and faulting, such as in the ridge-and-valley areas of the Massif Armoricain, where upland surfaces are deeply carved by valleys in dramatic fashion.
The Massif Central
The vast plateau of the Massif Central covers about 33,000 square miles (86,000 square km), or some one-sixth of the area of the country. The Massif Central borders the Rhône-Saône valley on the east, the Languedoc lowlands on the south, the Aquitaine Basin on the southwest, and the Paris Basin on the north. The planation that occurred following the creation of the Hercynian belt removed the ancient mountain chains, but the block was uplifted under the impact of the Alpine mountain-building movements, with a steep descent on the east and southeast, nearest the Alps, and a gentle decline under the later sediments of the Aquitaine Basin to the west and the Paris Basin to the north. Much of the western massif, notably Limousin, consists of monotonous erosion surfaces. The centre and eastern parts of the massif were much fractured in the course of the Alpine movements, leaving behind upthrust blocks, of which the most conspicuous is the Morvan, the forested bastion of the northeastern corner of the massif. Downfaulted basins filled with sediments from Paleogene and Neogene times (i.e., about 65 to 2.6 million years ago), such as the Limagne near the city of Clermont-Ferrand in south-central France, were also formed. Faulting was associated with volcanic activity, which in the central part of the region formed the vast and complex structures of the massifs of Cantal and Monts Dore, where the Sancy Hill (Puy de Sancy), at 6,184 feet (1,885 metres), is the highest summit of the Massif Central. Farther west, on the fringe of the Limagne, is the extraordinary Chaîne des Puys, whose numerous cinder cones were formed only about 10,000 years ago and still retain the newness of their craters, lava flows, and other volcanic features. Numerous mineral springs, such as those at Vichy in the central Auvergne region, are a relic of volcanic activity.
The Ardennes massif is an extension, from Belgium into France, of the great Rhine Uplands, characterized by rocks of slate and quartz from the Paleozoic Era. Differential erosion of Paleozoic rocks has produced long ridges alternating with open valleys crossed by the Sambre and Meuse rivers.
The Massif Armoricain is contained mostly within the région of Brittany (Bretagne), a peninsula washed by the Bay of Biscay on the south and the English Channel on the north. The massif continues beyond Brittany eastward and across the Loire to the south. It is much lower than the other Hercynian massif; its highest point, the Mont des Avaloirs, on the eastern edge of the massif, attains an elevation of 1,368 feet (417 metres). Alternating bands of Paleozoic sediments and granitic rocks give the massif a generally east-west grain, particularly expressed in the headlands and bays of its rugged coast
The great lowlands
The Paris Basin
The Flanders Plain
In the extreme north the French boundary includes a small part of the Anglo-Belgian basin. Coastal sand dunes protect the reclaimed marshes of French Flanders from invasion by the sea.
The Alsace Plain
East of the Paris Basin is the Alsace Plain, bordered by the Vosges on the west, the Saône basin on the southwest, the Jura Mountains on the south, the Rhine River on the east, and Germany on the north. The terrace and foothills bordering the Rhine are covered with soil-enriching Limon. Alluvial fans, which are laid down by tributaries emerging from the Vosges, and much of the floodplain of the Rhine and its major tributary, the Ill River, are forested. The Sundgau region of the Alsace Plain, which lies between the Jura and the Ill River above Mulhouse, is another great alluvial fan overlaying impermeable clays, which hold up numerous lakes. The Rhine River and its tributaries continue to deposit thick sediments on the floodplain. The river is canalized, to the considerable detriment of the water table on both sides.
he Loire plains
Toward the southwest the Paris Basin opens on a group of plains that follow the Loire valley. The hills of this area, such as the limestone plateaus of the Touraine region and the crystalline plateaus of the Anjou and Vendée areas, are cut by the broad valleys of the Loire and its tributaries. The middle Loire valley, which varies in width from about 3 to 6 miles (about 5 to 10 km), is famous for its châteaus and its scenic beauty.
The Aquitaine Basin
The Loire countryside links with the Aquitaine Basin of southwestern France through the gap known as the Gate of Poitou. The Aquitaine Basin is much smaller than the Paris Basin, and, while it is bounded in the south by the Pyrenees, in the northeast it runs into the low foothills of the Massif Central. The slopes of both the Pyrenees and the Massif Central decline toward the central valley of the Garonne River. The Aquitaine Basin lacks the clearly marked concentric relief of the Paris Basin. In the north, it has limestone and marl plateaus cut by the fertile river valleys emerging from the Massif Central. The southern low plateaus were mostly filled by a mass of rather ill-defined Paleogene and Neogene sands and gravel called the molasse, stripped off the rising Pyrenees. The foot of the central Pyrenees is marked by a remarkable series of confluent alluvial fans forming the Lannemezan Plateau. The Landes, an area lying between the Garonne and Adour rivers to the west, has a surface that consists of fine sand underlain by impermeable iron pan, or bedrock. The area, once covered by heath and marshes, is now reclaimed and planted with maritime pine. South of the wide, deep Gironde estuary, the Bay of Biscay coast is lined by enormous sand dunes, behind which are shallow lagoons.
Fashion in France is an important subject in the culture and country’s social life, as well, being an important part of its economy.
Fashion design and production became prominent in France since the 15th century. During the 17th century, fashion exploded into a rich industry, for exportation and local consumption, the Royal Minister of Finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, says “Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain…“. In the 19th century, fashion made a transition into specialization for modern term haute couture, originated in the 1860s, bringing good taste to fashion argot. The term prêt-à-porter was born in the 1960s, reacting against the traditional notions of fashion and garment-making process, satisfying the needs of pop culture and mass media.
Paris acts as the center of the fashion industry and holds the name of the global fashion capital. The city is home to many prime designers, including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Balmain, Louboutin, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Roger Vivier, Thierry Mugler, Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Hermès, Lanvin, Chloé, Rochas, and Céline
With the decentralization of the fashion industry, many cities including Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lille, and Strasbourg have their own luxury districts and avenues. In recent times, these have become important customers and significant producers. Île-de-France, Manosque, La Gacilly (near Rennes), and Vichy lead the cosmetic industry, and house well-known international beauty houses such as L’Oreal, Lancôme, Guerlain, Clarins, Yves Rocher, L’Occitane, Vichy, etc. The cities of Nice, Cannes, and St. Tropez among others in the french Riviera are well known as places of pleasure, annually hosting many media celebrities and personalities, potentates, and billionaires. The clothing of France is famous throughout the world.