Pronounced As: frans, Fr. fräNs , officially French Republic,
republic (1999 pop. 58,416,500), 211,207 sq mi (547,026 sq km),
W Europe. France is bordered by the English Channel (N), the Atlantic
Ocean and the Bay of Biscay (W), Spain and Andorra (SW), the Mediterranean
Sea (S), Switzerland and Italy (SE), and Germany, Luxembourg, and
Belgium (NE). The natural land frontiers are the Pyrenees, along
the border with Spain; the Jura Mts. and the Alps, along the border
with Switzerland and Italy; and the Rhine River, which is part of
the border with Germany. France's capital and largest city is Paris.
Although France's old historic provinces were abolished by the Revolution,
they remain the country's basic geographic, cultural, and economic
divisions. These provinces mirror France's natural geographic regions
and, despite modern administrative centralization, retain their
striking diversity. The heart of France N of the Loire River is
the province of Île-de-France, which occupies the greater
part of the Paris basin, a fertile depression drained by the Seine
and Marne rivers. The basin is surrounded by the provinces of Champagne
and Lorraine in the east; Artois, Picardy, French Flanders (see
Nord dept.), and Normandy in the northeast and north; Brittany,
Maine, and Anjou in the west; and Touraine, Orléanais, Nivernais,
and Burgundy in the south. Further south are Berry and Bourbonnais.
Further east, between the Vosges Mts. and the Rhine, is Alsace;
S of Alsace, along the Jura, is Franche-Comté.
South-central France is occupied by the rugged mountains of the
Massif Central, one of the country's major natural features. It
comprises the provinces of Marche, Limousin, Auvergne, and Lyonnais.
To the E of the Rhône River, which divides the Massif Central
from the Alps, are Savoy, Dauphiné, and Provence. The French
Alps have some of the highest peaks in Europe, including Mont Blanc.
The Rhône valley widens into a plain near its delta on the
Mediterranean; part of the coast of Provence forms the celebrated
French Riviera. Languedoc extends from the Cevennes Mts. to the
Mediterranean coast W of the Rhône. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean
coast. The southwestern part of France comprises the small Pyrenean
provinces of Roussillon, Foix, Béarn, and French Navarre
and the vast provinces of Gascony and Guienne. The last two constitute
the great Aquitanian plain, drained by the Garonne and Dordogne
rivers, which flow into the Bay of Biscay. The central section of
the west coast, between the Gironde estuary and the Loire, is occupied
by the provinces of Saintonge, Angoumois, Aunis, and Poitou.
Since 1972 France has been administratively divided into 22 regions,
many of which correspond to the nation's historical provinces. These
regions are: Alsace, Aquitane, Auvergne, Basse-Normandie, Bourgogne
(Burgundy), Bretagne (Brittany), Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Corse
(Corsica), Franche-Comté, Haute-Normandie, Île-de-France,
Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Lorraine, Midi-Pyrenees, Nord-Pas-de-Calais,
Pays de la Loire, Picardie (Picardy), Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Côte
d'Azur, and Rhone-Alpes.
France also has a number of overseas departments and territories
which, legally, are part of the French Republic. The overseas departments
are Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion, and French Guiana. The
overseas territories are New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis
and Futuna Islands, and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories.
France's territorial collectivities include Mayotte and St. Pierre