France is the third largest country in Europe (after Russia and Ukraine). France is located in Western Europe and shares borders with Andorra, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. It is connected to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel. Some parts of France are located overseas (mostly islands in the Caribbean and Pacific). Because of French Guiana, a French overseas department, France also borders Brazil and Suriname in South America; and because of St Martin, an island in the Caribbean, it also borders the Netherlands, as half the island is in each of these countries (the island is called St Maarten in Dutch). The capital city of France is Paris. Other large cities are Lyon and Marseille. France uses the Euro as its currency along with other countries in Europe. France is a member of the European Union and was a founding member of the organization.
During Roman times, France was known as Gallia, with the Gauls living there. The Gauls were the largest Celtic tribe in Gallia and the area was conquered by Julius Caesar. Later, France gained its independence.
Until 1789, France was a monarchy but the French people became unhappy with this kind of government and overthrew Louis the Sixteenth in the French Revolution. Soon after Napoleon ruled France and started a massive military campaign across most of Europe. Napoleon was eventually defeated by the British at Waterloo (Austerlitz) and removed from power.
France fought in both World Wars alongside the British. Since World War II France has had friendly relations with most other European countries and was a founding member of the European Union alongside Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy.
Monarchy — Countries which are ruled by a king or queen are known as monarchies. In some countries the monarch has enormous powers but in most European monarchies the power of the monarch is very limited.
While metropolitan France (the main part of the country) is located in western Europe, France also has a number of territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the southern Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica. Some of these areas are completely part of France while others have types of self-government.
Metropolitan France covers 547,030 square kilometers (211,209 sq mi), and is the largest country in the European Union. France has a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the south-east, the Massif Central in the south-central and Pyrenees in the south-west. At 4,807 metres (15,770 ft) above sea-level, the highest point in western Europe, Mont Blanc, is in the Alps on the border between France and Italy. Metropolitan France also has extensive river systems such as the Loire, the Garonne, the Seine, the Rhine and the Rhône, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean sea in the Camargue, the lowest point in France (2 m / 6.5 ft below sea level).
In the west, the climate is mainly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool to warm summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions is mainly alpine, with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snow cover lasting for up to six months.
With over 67 million people, France is the 21st most populous country in the world, the second most populous in the EU, and the third most populous in Europe (behind Russia and Germany). France's largest cities are Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Toulouse, Nice, and Nantes. Many people live to be 80 years old and almost everyone older than 15 can read. The average family has 2 children. The majority of people speak French. There are other native language spoken by small groups of people in France including Breton and Basque.
The French education system is highly developed. Most of the primary and secondary schools are public although there are some private ones. School in France is required at the age of 6 but a lot of children start school at an early age. 3 year old's go to nursery classes and children under the age of three go to what is called pré-maternelle classes which is like daycare.
The majority of French people are Roman Catholic Christians. France has Europe's biggest Jewish population and the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe.
With 83 million foreign tourists in 2012, France is the most popular tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain and the United States. France features cities of high cultural interest like Paris, beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquility. Aside of casual tourism France attracts a lot of religious pilgrims to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées département, that hosts a few million tourists a year. Popular tourist sites include: : the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Palace of Versailles, the Musée d'Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle, the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Puy de Dôme, and the Musée Picasso. There are 38 Wikijunior:World Heritage Sites in France which is fewer sites than only Italy, China and Spain.
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