As early as 1000 BC much of this fertile land now called France was occupied by the Celtic Gauls. The powerful Romans arrived, defeated the Gauls by 52 BC, and subsequently Rome ruled for almost 500 years.
As the Roman Empire faded, France was overrun by a series of barbarian invaders and shattered into varied factions. The name France is from the Latin word 'Francia' meaning (country of the Franks
), a Germanic people who conquered the area during the 5th century.
Political fragmentation, wars and countless self-serving rulers followed, and by the end of the 8th century the population of Gaul diminished as its countryside was in ruins and commerce was almost non-existent.
In 987, Hugh Capet was chosen by the remaining nobles as king, and the Capetian Dynasty began its 800 year rule from Paris. This marked the birth of France as a separate kingdom, and a long list of kings would soon assume the throne; some good, some not so good.
As the influence of the 'King du Jour' expanded outward from Paris, rural towns grew in population, cultural activities returned, and the prestige of France reached across Europe. This brought the inevitable conflicts with others, and especially with England.
The Hundred Years' War (actually 116 years
) between England and France was a bloody affair, and at its end the English were finally vanquished from the land, and the heroic feats of Joan of Arc (and others
) memorialized in the history of France for all time.
Religious conflicts and civil wars continued, and then in 1643, Louis XIV assumed the throne. Although he instigated many wars, France grew in stature, strength and wealth during his reign, and became a real cultural and economic power across the continent.
By the late 1700's, the monarchy had lost respect, and revolution was in the air. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille prison was stormed, and the so-called 'Reign of Terror' began; execution by guillotine was the order-of-the-day, even for the reigning King, Louis XVI.
Fresh from unrelated military victories the ambitious general, Napoleon Bonaparte, seized the moment and took control of France in 1799. His armies quickly conquered much of Europe but he was later defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and banished to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.
Assorted kings, emperors and unproductive wars would follow. In 1875 the monarchy was finally ended, and a republican constitution was adopted. In 1905, church and state were separated by law and France would never again bow to an autocratic king.
Although on the victorious side in World Wars I and II, France ultimately suffered extensive losses to its empire, manpower, wealth and status as a dominant nation-state. World War I was especially brutal as over one million French troops were killed.
Over the last half-century, the French have aggressively and tenaciously recovered, and although recently rocked by the violent protests of youth, modern France is a strong economic force and a consequential leader among European nations. Its presidential democracy is stable and it proudly stood at the forefront in the development of the European Union (EU).
France today is a sophisticated powerhouse of architecture, art, cinema, cuisine, fashion, literature, music and wine. Its countless attractions, enchanting culture and pastoral countryside attract more visitors than any other country on the planet.
As always, the celebration of life continues here, non-stop, so pop the cork and fill your glass to the brim with the sparkling champagne that is France.
Viva La France!