France (French: [fs] ), officially the French Republic (French: République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consisting of metropolitan France and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. France borders Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland, Monaco and Italy to the east, Andorra and Spain to the south, as well as the Netherlands, Suriname and Brazil in the Americas. The country's eighteen integral regions (five of which are situated overseas) span a combined area of 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.4 million . France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice. France, including its overseas territories, has the most time zones of any country, with a total of twelve.
During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls. The area was annexed by Rome in 51 BC, developing a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French language. The Germanic Franks arrived in 476 and formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia becoming the Kingdom of France in 987.
In the High Middle Ages, France was a highly decentralized feudal kingdom in which the authority of the king was barely felt. King Philip Augustus achieved remarkable success in the strengthening of royal power and the expansion of his realm, doubling its size and defeating his rivals. By the end of his reign, France had emerged as the most powerful state in Europe. In the mid-14th century, French monarchs were victorious in the Hundred Years' War with England. The Italian Wars with Spain followed during the Renaissance. French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was started, which by 1900 would become the second largest in the world. The second half of the 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars with Catholics expelling Protestant (Huguenots), which severely weakened the country. But France once again emerged as Europe's dominant cultural, political, and military power in the 17th century under Louis XIV following the Thirty Years' War. Despite the wealth of the nation the government had inadequate financial and taxation systems that could not fund endless and costly wars. Especially costly were the Seven Years' War and the American War of Independence. The French Revolution in 1789 saw the fall of the absolute monarchy that characterized the Ancien Régime. The French First Republic drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The declaration expresses the nation's ideals to this day.
In 1799-1814 France reached its political and military zenith under Napoléon Bonaparte, subjugating much of continental Europe and establishing the First French Empire. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of European and world history. After the collapse of the empire and a relative decline, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating in the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870 in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War. France was one of the prominent participants of World War I, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allied powers in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains to this day. Algeria and nearly all other French colonies became independent in the 1960s, with most retaining close economic and military connections with France. (Full article...)