France is located on the northern European coast. The country is separated from the UK by the English Channel, and borders Spain to the south, and Belgium, Luxemborg, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to the east. France’s climate is highly variable, but mostly enjoys mild winters and warm summers. The Mediterranean coast typically has warmer temperatures, while the Alpine regions are much cooler, with plenty of snowfall. In Paris, for example, temperatures range in the 20s during the summer months, and can dip to 5-10 degrees Celsius in the winter. In the French Alps, winter temperatures average -2 degrees Celsius in the winter and can reach the high teens in the middle of summer.
Of all the many things France is known for—fine art, architecture, food and wine—the most famous of its cultural icons is the Eiffel Tower, located in Paris. The tower was named for the engineer who designed and built it, Gustave Eiffel, and was built in 1889 to serve as the entrance point for that year’s World’s Fair. The Eiffel Tower is the world’s most popular paid monument, with nearly 7 million visitors in 2015.
France’s known history begins early in the Common Era, when the country was known as Gaul, and was part of the Roman Empire. After the Roman decline Northern France came to be ruled by the Frankish Kings, including Carolingian King Charlemagne.
France’s history has often been tumultuous: the Hundred Years’ War, a series of conflicts between France and England, began in 1337 and continued until 1453. By the end of the 18th century, French citizens had tired of the country’s monarchy. The reign of Louis XVI was widely considered corrupt, and matters came to a head in Paris in 1789 with the French Revolution.
In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France, and waged the Napoleonic Wars, ultimately suffering defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Trouble continued as France’s reigning monarchs clashed with new governments through two world wars. The country was devastated after four years of occupation by Nazi Germany, but prevailed under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who became led the provisional government after France’s liberation, and later served as President from 1958 to 1969.
France’s geography is highly varied, and as a result its natural flora and fauna are similarly varied. Great forests of beech and oak in central France, pine-covered forests in the alpine area; olive and fig trees in the Mediterranean region, lend the country an eclectic air. Native species include flowers such as iris, jonquil, and gentian, and the tall European chestnut tree, which can grow to over 100 feet.
France has many native animal species, including species of ibex, chamois, lynx, martens, and deer, but only a few are unique to the country. The sole native bird is the Corsican nuthatch, a small brown-beige-and grey bird that feeds on pine seeds. Its most distinctive-looking native is the Corsican fire salamander, a black-and-yellow amphibian which, like the nuthatch, is found only on the French island of Corsica.
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