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Interesting Facts About France

Part 3   Facts 41 - 60

41.  Le Moulin Rouge (meaning- The Red Mill) is a very famous cabaret club in Paris.  It is situated in the Montmartre area of Paris on a road called le boulevard de Clichy.    It was opened in 1889 - the same year as the opening of the Eiffel Tower!  It is recognised by an imitation, red windmill on its roof.

Image by Lola Delabays

42 Le cancan is a very energetic and acrobatic dance that first appeared in Parisian ballrooms in the 1830s.  It is performed by dancers who have to kick their legs high, perform cartwheels and the splits.  They squeal and screech whilst they dance.

The word cancan means 'scandalous gossip'.  The original name for the dance was le chahut - meaning: the uproar / the racket.

Painting below by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: La Troupe de Mlle. Eglantine, 1896. 



43 The two most famous cancan dancers were Jane Avril and La Goulue.  They were regular performers at Le Moulin Rouge.

Below (left) is a photo of La Goulue.  Her real name was Louise Weber and she lived from 1866 to 1929.
Below (right) is a photo of Jane Avril.  Her real name was Jeanne Louise Beaudon and she lived from 1868 till 1943. 


The most famous piece of music that is used to accompany the dancing of the cancan was composed by Jacques Offenbach in 1858.

It is called le Galop Infernal and it is from his operetta Orphée aux Enfers - Orpheus in the Underworld.

Click to listen.

Jane Avril.jpg

44 The famous artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted the two famous dancers. In fact, he painted many pictures of life at Le Moulin Rouge.  His paintings are printed as posters that everyone recognises!

45 A very famous singer from Paris was Edith Piaf.   She was very small and usually performed wearing a black dress.  It was said that she looked like a little sparrow, so she was given the nickname la Môme Piaf which means 'little sparrow' in Parisian slang. 

Her real name was Edith Gassion and she was born in 1915.  She died in 1963.  She sang in Parisian nightclubs, including Le Moulin Rouge. 
Go to the Vintage French Music Zone.


Image from Wikipedia, source  
Copyright holder United Press International/Bettman Newsphotos.

46  Le Tour de France is the most famous cycling race in the world.  It is held every year over a three-week period and began in 1903.  At first, the race was planned to last for five weeks, but this was considered too demanding for the cyclists.

The race takes place in stages and is for teams.  Every day, a member of each team rides for a stage.  The speed and performance of each cyclist's stage is recorded.  At the end of the three-week period, all of the individual results are calculated to decide which team is the winner.  The stages take place in France and neighbouring countries. 

47  Le Tournoi de Roland-Garros is a famous French tennis championship known as The French Open.  It takes place each year on a clay court - un court sur terre battue - in the stadium called le Stade de Roland-Garros.  The current champion is Novak Djokovic.     


The stadium and tournament are named in honour of the great French pilot called Roland Garros who was killed in combat during the First World War in 1918.  He also has an airport named after him on the French island of La Réunion!  It is called l'Aéroport de La Réunion Roland-Garros.

48  Le Réveillon de Noël is Christmas Eve dinner.  On the night of 24 December, French families eat a big, special meal to celebrate the very beginning of Christmas Day. 

The Christmas stocking is called the Christmas shoe in French - le soulier de Noël.  French children place their shoes by the fireplace in readiness for le Père Noël (Father Christmas).  

The French way to say Christmas tree is actually the Christmas fir treele sapin de Noël.

Many French children (especially in north-east France) also celebrate the arrival of Saint Nicholas on 6 December.  The saint leaves gifts for children on the morning of 6 December but he is accompanied by a scary companion who carries a whip.  He is called le Père Fouettard.  There are street processions where both Saint Nicolas and le Père Fouettard participate.



Photos:-  1. Saint Nicolas and his scary companion

2.  The traditional gingerbread that is eaten on 6 December.  The biscuits are in the shape of the saint.



49  On 6 January, a special cake is eaten.  It is called la galette des Rois (the Kings' Cake) and it is to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings (les Rois Mages) at the stable in Bethlehem after they followed the star to find the Baby Jesus (l'Enfant Jésus).  This occasion is called  l'Épiphanie.

Inside the cake, a trinket (une fève) is hidden.  On the 6 January parties take place in France and the cake is served.  The lucky person who receives the trinket becomes the 'king' or 'queen' of the party.

Read more about Christmas in France.

50  Every May, there is a famous film festival in the southern seaside city of Cannes.  It is called le Festival de Cannes and it began in 1946.  Lots of films are watched by panels of judges who decide which films and which actors should receive an award.  The most prestigious award is la Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) for the best film. 

Some famous French actors are - Brigitte Bardot, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Marceau, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Jacques Tati, Gerard Depardieu and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

The city of Cannes is situated in the région called Provence-Alpes-Cô
te d'Azur.   It is the twin city - la ville jumelle - of the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea!  It has been so since 1970.


51  The most famous mountain in France is Mont Blanc, meaning White Mountain.  It is also known as La Dame Blanche, meaning 'The White Lady.' 

It has a summit over 4,800 metres high and is the highest mountain of the Alps and of Western Europe. 

The mountain stands between Italy and France and its summit officially marks the border between the two countries.  Inside the mountain there is a tunnel running between France and Italy.  The tunnel is very busy with traffic.  It is 11.6 km long and was opened in 1965. 


52  The Statue of Liberty - la Statue de la Liberté - was a gift from France to America in 1886 as a sign of friendship between the two nations.  It was constructed in separate pieces in Paris.

The internal part of the statue was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel - the designer of the Eiffel Tower!   Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was the sculptor.

Below are some amazing old photos showing parts of the statue under construction in Paris.



53  In the south of France, there is a town called Grasse and it is very famous for growing flowers.  Every year there are two important flower festivals there - la Fête du Jasmin and l'Exporose - The International Rose Festival.

Until the sixteenth century, Grasse was a manufacturer of leather gloves but when a fashion for 'perfumed gloves' began in the 1600s, the town began to produce perfume too.  The flowers that grow abundantly in the area were put to good use and the town became the most important perfume-producer in the world.  Nowadays, the flowers of Grasse are grown for some of the famous perfume companies.

Grasse is considered the world's capital city of perfume - la capitale mondiale du parfum.

54  In Avignon, a town in the south of France, there are the ruins of a very famous bridge. 

The bridge is known as le Pont d'Avignon or le Pont Saint-Bénézet.   It was built across the River Rhône between the years 1177 and 1185.  Originally, it was a very long bridge standing on many arches. 
It was about 900 metres in length.  Eventually, the construction fell into a very poor condition and now only four arches remain.

Saint Benezet bridge in Avignon in a bea

The story of the bridge:-  

A shepherd boy called Bénézet saw angels who told him to build a bridge across the dangerous river where many people had drowned.   Nobody believed him until he lifted a very large and heavy stone all by himself and declared that it was the first stone of the bridge that he was going to build.   

The local people were very impressed and decided to help with the construction.  They believed that the boy's strength had come from God.

The shepherd-boy is now known as Saint Bénézet and many Christian pilgrims visit his bridge. 

Bénézet died from exhaustion, at the age of 18 years.  He did not live to see the completed work.

Saint Bénézet's feast day is 14 April.  He is the patron saint of architects and is often seen in images as a shepherd boy carrying a heavy stone.

Bénézet's tomb is in the Church of Saint-Didier, Avignon.


There is a famous French song about people dancing on the bridge.  It is called Sur le pont d'Avignon.

55. The tallest bridge in the world is situated in the région called Occitanie in the south of France.  It is called le Viaduc de Millau and it was opened in December, 2004.  It crosses over the valley of the river Tarn and it belongs to the motorway called Autoroute A75.  It has four lanes. 

At one part, it is 343 metres tall (1,125 ft.) and slightly higher than the Eiffel Tower! 
It was designed by the French engineer Michel Virlogeux and the British architect Norman Foster.


Image by Luca Onniboni

56. Underneath Paris, there is a very famous and vast network of secret tunnels and passageways called les carrières souterraines de Paris. 

There are plaques on the walls indicating the roads directly above.

Image by Jean-François Gornet

under Paris.jpg

The only part where the public is permitted to visit is called les Catacombes de Paris.  Otherwise, it is forbidden to enter the tunnels because they are considered too dangerous.

 There are some adventurous people who go exploring the tunnels in secret.  The name for these secret explorers is les Cataphiles.
The underground tunnels were originally used as mines and quarries  because, for centuries, the Paris ground was mined for its stone. 
The earliest known Paris mines are mentioned in a piece of text from the year 1292!

There is a special group of inspectors who check the safety of the underground tunnels and spaces, so that the buildings on the streets above will not collapse.  This group of inspectors was formed in 1777 and their work is still very important today! They are officially called l'Inspection Générale des Carrières.

Photo of a secret tunnel by Jérôme Bon

Les Carrieres de Paris.jpg

57.   A very famous structure is le Pont du Gard in the Occitanie region of Southern France.  It is a small part of a very long aqueduct (about 50km long) that crosses the river called le Gard (or le Gardon).   It looks like a three-tiered bridge crossing the river. 

It was built by the ancient Romans around two thousand years ago.  Its purpose was to transport water along a 50 km journey from the area of springs called la Fontaine d'Eure to the Roman town of Nîmes where the water was deposited in a well called the castellum.    



 Nowadays, the springs of la Fontaine d'Eure provide water for the nearby town of Uzès.

An interesting fact:  the town of Uzès is not only famous for being situated beside la Fontaine d'Eure.  It is also famous for cultivating liquorice and has a Haribo museum of sweets called le Musée du Bonbon.

58.   Some of the most well-known French newspapers are:  Le Monde (The World),  Le Figaro Paris-Match,   Le Parisien,  Libération. 

A national, daily sports newspaper is L'Équipe (The Team).

France-Soir is a well-known newspaper that is now available only online.

le journal = the newspaper

59.    The national network of the French railway is called SNCF.  This stands for Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français.  In French, 'the railway' is le chemin de fer and it literally means the road of iron.

Un TGV is a high-speed train.  The letters stand for train à grande vitesse.

One of the busiest train stations in the world is known as la gare du Nord (meaning- the station of the North).  It is in situated in la rue de Maubeuge, Paris and its official name is la gare de Paris-Nord. 
It opened in 1846.

Image by Paul Fleury

60.   The largest airport in France is situated to the north-east of Paris.  It is called Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle.  In English it is known as Charles de Gaulle Airport. 

The airport is named after a past president of the French Republic - Charles de Gaulle - who was president of France for over ten years from 1959 to 1969.

Image by Miguel Ángel Sanz

The national airline of France is called Air France.  

Charles de Gaulle

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