France history and society

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Early history of France
Archaeological excavations show that France has been continuously settled since 950,000 BC. The Celts migrated from the Rhine valley into what is now France in 2500 BC and in about 600 BC Greeks and Phoenicians established settlements along the Mediterranean, Marseille in particular. Julius Caesar conquered part of Gaul (present-day France) in 57–52 BC, and it remained Roman until Franks invaded in the 5th century AD.

The Treaty of Verdun
The year 843 AD saw the emergence of the Treaty of Verdun, which roughly divided the region into France, Germany and Italy.  Charles the Bald inherited the French region, which became increasingly feudal.  By 987, the crown passed to Hugh Capet, who controlled only the Ile-de-France, the region surrounding Paris. For 350 years the region became more powerful, and more land was added.  In 1328 Philip VI, first of the Valois line, inherited the crown and by this stage France was the most powerful nation in Europe, with a population of 15 million.

Hundred Years War
Philip Valois was missing the French provinces still held by the English, but the Hundred Years’ War beginning in 1338 saw the return of these.  Protestantism spread throughout France in the 16th century and led to civil wars. Henry IV, of the Bourbon dynasty, issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which granted religious tolerance to the French Protestants. Absolute monarchy was reached during the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715), the Sun King, whose court was the center of the Western world.

French Revolution and Napoleon’s rule
After a series of costly foreign wars that weakened the government, the French Revolution plunged France into a bloodbath beginning in 1789 (with the establishment of the First Republic) and ending with a new authority under Napoléon Bonaparte, who had successfully defended the republic from foreign attack.  He made himself first consul in 1799 and emperor in 1804.  The Congress of Vienna attempted to restore order in the form of Louis XVIII in 1815, but failed and a revolution in 1848 drove Louis Philippe, last of the Bourbons, into exile. Prince Louis Napoléon, a nephew of Napoléon I, declared the Second Empire in 1852 and took the throne as Napoléon III. His opposition to the rising power of Prussia ignited the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), which ended in his defeat, his abdication, and the creation of the Third Republic.

It was during the Universal Exhibition of 1889 that the Eiffel Tower was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution.  Its construction was very controversial at the time but is now one of the most well-known and frequently visited monuments in France.

French history post WWI
France emerged from World War I as a dominant power but four years of hostile occupation had reduced northeast France to ruins.  In 1940, after failing to halt the rise of Adolf Hilter, Nazi troops attacked Paris and as a result France was split into an occupied north and an unoccupied south.  Allied armies liberated France in 1944, and a provisional government in Paris headed by General Charles de Gaulle was established.

The Fourth Republic
The Fourth Republic was born in 1946. The empire became the French Union and the presidency weakened.  In the 1950's and 60's, France's African and Asian colonies were claiming their independence, which led to wars in Algeria and Indochina, as well as general strikes and the student revolts of 1968.

Culture and society of France

France is known for its rich cultural heritage in art, architecture, music, language, cuisine, and of course fashion. The population has diverse origins and is home to people with various ethnic backgrounds including Celts, Romans, Germans, Russians, Asians, Africans, North Americans and recent immigrations.

France’s cultural heritage dates back thousands of years and is as old as the country itself.  French people are known worldwide for their sophisticated approach towards life, combined with great concern for style, fashion and appearances.  France has been an important cultural center of the world for many centuries, with Paris being the hub. Even today, France contributes greatly to the fashion culture of the world.

There are 5 major religions in France: Catholicism, which is the traditional religion of France, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.

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