Interesting Facts About France
Facts 1 - 20
1. The official name of France is la République française (The French Republic) and its motto is Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité. It means 'Liberty. Equality. Brotherhood.'
La devise de la République française.
The motto of the French Republic.
The capital city of France is Paris. The motto of Paris is:- Il est battu par les flots mais ne sombre pas. It means:- It is beaten by the waves but does not flounder.
The motto of Paris (la devise de Paris) is written in Latin on the city's coat of arms:- Fluctuat nec mergitur.
The French word for 'the coat of arms' is le blason.
2. The head of the French Republic is elected by the people. He is called le président de la République française. His official residence is at le Palais de l'Élysée and the address is:- 55, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Paris.
The current president is called Emmanuel Macron and he is the youngest French president ever: - just 39 years old when he was first elected on 7 May 2017.
He was re-elected for the second time on 24 April 2022.
3. The emblem of The French Republic is in gold and consists of the letters R and F entwined in the centre. The emblem can be seen on the front cover of le passeport français.
4. The name 'France' means 'Land of the Franks.' The Franks were a Germanic tribe who lived in Northern Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.
5. Apart from France, French is the official language of the following countries -
Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Congo, French Caledonia, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Gabon, Guadaloupe, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Luxembourg, Mali, Martinique, Monaco, Niger, Senegal, Togo, the Canadian province of Quebec and the Swiss districts of Vaud, Neuchatel, Geneva and Jura.
French is one of the official languages in the following countries -
Belgium, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Channel Islands (Guernsey and Jersey), Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles and Vanuatu.
French is widely spoken in the following countries -
Algeria, Andorra, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Dominica, Egypt, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Lebanon, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, United States (Louisiana, New England) and Vietnam.
6. A person who speaks French as their first language is called un Francophone. The French language is called la langue française. The people of France are called les Français.
7. The flag of France is bleu, blanc, rouge. It is known as le drapeau tricolore (or the tricolour flag). It has existed since 1794. The three colours are represented in equal proportions. According to the French government's website, the colours are a joining together of: blue and red - these colours traditionally represent Paris, and white - this colour traditionally represents royalty.
8. The French national anthem is called la Marseillaise. It was composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792. It is called la Marseillaise because it was first sung by soldiers from the city of Marseille as they marched into Paris.
9. Here are some important emblems of France:
a. Le coq (the rooster) is used on the sportswear of national French teams. It is a courageous animal, willing to strive to win victory.
b. The lily (la fleur de lys) and the iris (l'iris) are two flowers used as emblems for France.
c. The French symbol of freedom and of the Republic is the figure known as Marianne. It is seen on coins, stamps and paintings. Marianne wears a 'cap of liberty' - un bonnet phrygien.
10. The country of France is the largest territory in the European Union and it is divided into areas called régions. The régions are further divided into smaller areas called départements.
There are thirteen régions. They are -
1. Grand Est 2. Nouvelle-Aquitaine 3. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
4. Bretagne 5. Bourgogne-Franche-Comté 6. Centre-Val de Loire
7. Corse 8. Occitanie 9. Normandie 10. Hauts-de-France
11. Île-de-France 12. Pays de la Loire 13. Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.
IN ADDITION -There are five overseas régions. They are: Martinique, Réunion, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Mayotte. Each one is also classed as un département. Each overseas territory is known as a: département et région d'outre-mer or abbreviated to DROM.
The current arrangement of régions (as seen above) is quite new. Until the end of 2015, France was divided into twenty-two régions (+ five overseas territories). The government decided to merge areas, creating fewer but larger régions. This new arrangement took place on 1 January 2016.
Paris belongs to the région called Île-de-France.
There are ninety-six départements in France. Each one has a name and an associated number which is used in post codes and car number plates. The number 75 belongs to the département of Paris.
An interesting fact: there is a French town with a tiny name! In fact, its name contains just one letter: Y. The town of Y is situated in the région of Hauts-de-France and in the département of Somme. The residents of Y are called les Ypsiloniens.
11. One of the most important dates in France is le 14 juillet - 14 July. This is known as Bastille Day and it is a national holiday. In France it is called la Fête Nationale. It is a celebration of the storming of the prison in Paris called Bastille Saint-Antoine on 14 July 1789. The storming of the Bastille is called la prise de la Bastille in French.
On that day, unhappy protesters invaded the prison, released the prisoners and seized the weapons stored inside. This was the beginning of the French Revolution. The ordinary people hated the Bastille because they believed that many individuals had been imprisoned there without a fair trial. In their opinion, the Bastille was the symbol of an unfair society ruled by uncaring, wealthy people.
Nowadays, on 14 July, there is a big parade in Paris, the French flag flies from l'Arc de Triomphe and there are celebrations and fireworks all over France.
12. The French Revolution- la Révolution française - began in 1789 and lasted for ten years. It happened because the people of France were not treated equally. At the time, there were three classes in French society known as les trois ordres:
1. Le premier ordre.
The clergy belonged to this class. Their purpose was to pray for everyone.
2. Le deuxième ordre.
Royalty and nobility belonged to this class. Their purpose was to defend and protect the country (and the church) in battles and decision-making and to rule over the peasants and labourers on their land. They did not pay taxes, so they were rich.
3. Le troisième ordre, also known as le Tiers-État.
Most people belonged to this class - in fact around 80% of the population. These were the commoners, the labourers and the peasants. The people of the third class had to work hard, pay taxes, suffer from food shortages and they had to obey the other two classes. Their opinions didn't count. If you were born into this class it was almost impossible ever to move out of it. You were there for life!
Below is a triangular-shaped graph outlining how French society was divided into three parts:
The people of the third class decided that things had to change! So, they protested. They began by storming the Bastille prison. The king and queen and their friends, family and supporters were arrested. They were no longer allowed to be in charge of running the country. This brought an end to l'Ancien Régime - the old society of three unequal classes.
Eventually, many people, including the king and queen, were executed.
The importance of having an equal society is why the word égalité - equality - is part of the motto of France.
13. During the French Revolution, the King of France was Louis XVI and his wife was Marie-Antoinette (she was Austrian). Marie-Antoinette was only fourteen years of age when she married Louis. In the portrait below, painted by Martin Van Meytins, she is just twelve years old!
Read more about the French Revolution and Bastille Day.
14. The guillotine was invented during the French Revolution with the collaboration of a surgeon, Dr. Guillotin, after whom it was named. At the time of the French Revolution, une guillotine was erected in la Place de la Concorde.
La Place de la Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. However, at the time of the revolution it was named la Place de la Révolution. Before this, its name was la Place Louis XV. It was given its current name - la Place de la Concorde - in October 1795.
15. The patron saint of France and of Paris is Saint Denis, also known as Denis de Paris. He was the first bishop of Paris in the third century and his feast day is 9 October. In images and statues, he is portrayed carrying his head.
The martyrdom of Saint Denis took place on a hill top in the year 250 AD. Consequently, the area of that hill in Paris is called Montmartre (meaning - martyr mount).
The shrine of Saint Denis is in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, Paris. The cathedral was built on the saint's resting place. The French name of this cathedral is la Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis. It is the official burial site of the kings and queens of France and it is filled with their magnificent, sculptured tombs.
16. Le Musée du Louvre in Paris is the most visited museum and art gallery in the world. It was first built in 1190 as a castle to defend Paris against enemy attacks. The construction of the existing Louvre began in 1535 after demolition of the old castle.
In 1989, an enormous glass pyramid called la Pyramide du Louvre was completed as part of a new entrance to the building and in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. It was the first major construction to be made from laminated glass.
16a. If you visit the Louvre Museum by travelling on the Paris underground - le Métro de Paris - then you should stop at the station called Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre.
An entrance to the underground station at the Louvre has a beautiful aluminium canopy with coloured glass beads. The structure stands in la place Colette and is known as le Kiosque des Noctambules - the Gazebo of the Night Owls.
It has two parts: one side represents day and the other represents night. It is a work of art, created by Jean-Michel Othoniel in 2000. (Image below)
The opening in the ground that leads to an underground station is called une bouche de métro - an underground station 'mouth'.
17. Some of the most famous and valuable works of art are exhibited in le Musée du Louvre. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is kept there. It is owned by the French government and it is priceless although some people have estimated its value at around 700 million dollars. It was acquired by King Francis I in 1519. In French, the Mona Lisa is called La Joconde.
Leonardo died in France in 1519 and his resting place is in la chapelle Saint-Hubert - within the grounds of le Château d'Amboise.
18. The Eiffel Tower - la Tour Eiffel - was designed by architect Stephen Sauvestre and built by the construction company of Gustave Eiffel between 1887 and 1889. It is an iron tower standing 324 metres high on a park called le Champ-de-Mars beside the River Seine in Paris.
Until 1930, it was the tallest building in the world. Today, it is the tallest building in Paris. Its address is:
5, avenue Anatole-France, Paris. The post code is 75007.
The tower was originally built as a 'temporary gateway' to L'Exposition Universelle de 1889: - a world fair (Expo) which was hosted by Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the French Revolution.
A competition had been held to find the best design for the special event and it was la Tour Eiffel that won!
The tower had permission to remain standing for no longer than twenty years, so it was designed to be easily dismantled. Below is an image of the Eiffel Tower standing as the gateway to the 1889 fair.
At first, many people considered it to be an ugly construction and complained that it ruined Paris. A large group of artists and writers wrote an open letter to the organiser of the fair to protest against it. The letter was entitled Les Artistes Contre La Tour Eiffel - Artists Against The Eiffel Tower.
They really hated it!
When it was discovered that the tower made an excellent radio antenna, the city of Paris decided to keep it! It is still used for radio transmission and has an aerial mast at the very top.
The re-painting of la Tour Eiffel begins around every seven years. It is painted in three different shades of brown.
The darkest shade is at the lowest part and the lightest shade at the top. The colour of paint applied is known as le brun Tour Eiffel and it is similar to bronze.
Go to the Eiffel Tower page.
19. Corsica is a large French island in the Mediterranean Sea - la Mer Méditerranée.
Its French name is la Corse. It is a French région consisting of two départements: la Corse-du-Sud and la Haute-Corse.
Corsica has a nickname - Île de Beauté - meaning Island of Beauty.
The flag of Corsica - le drapeau de la Corse - is very interesting. It is black and white and shows the head of a Moor - la tête de Maure - wearing a white bandana.
The patron saint of Corsica is Sainte Julie, also known as Julie de Corse, and her feast day is 8 April.
20. The sea called the English Channel, separating France and England, is named la Manche in French. This name actually means 'the sleeve' because the shape of the channel is rather like an arm wearing a sleeve.
The town of Calais is the main French port of the English Channel. It belongs to the région called Hauts-de-France and it is twinned with the English town of Dover (Douvres in French).
Calais is positioned at the narrowest part of the English Channel, with a distance of just 21 miles / 34 km between the French and English coasts. It is even possible to see the white cliffs of Dover - les falaises blanches de Douvres - from Calais on a clear day.
The Channel Tunnel is called le tunnel sous la Manche.