believe that when you travel to Europe you should have a basic knowledge of the
history of the country or area you are visiting. Here is our brief
history of France refresher course.
Evidence of prehistoric man is
found in caves in the Dordogne Region. In the caves are paintings
dating back to 12000 BC. Several caves can be toured, most popular are
those at Lascaux.
10,000 stone megaliths dating back to 2800 BC are found in France. The
majority of these Stonehenge type tombs ( Dolmens) are found in Brittany,
1500 BC to 500 BC the Celts (from
northern Europe) came south to establish trade with Greeks (from Southern
Europe). This Celtic influence is still felt throughout northeastern
France. One Celtic tribe named Parii inhabited an island in the Seine
River. This island is now called Ile de la Cité, in the heart of
By 145 BC the Roman
Empire was dominating much of Europe including what is now southern France.
By 29 BC the Roman Empire had
cities throughout most of France, leaving behind the best Roman ruins
outside Italy. The very best of these are found in the Provence region.
Roman rule was overthrown about
500 AD by several smaller united tribes called the Franks.
The Franks continued to rule
from the 5th to10th century. During this period France was made up of several small feudal states.
A very popular emperor during
this time was Charlemagne, crowned in 800 AD.
The Vikings invade northern
France in the 900s, making their Duchy in Normandy.
In 1066 William the Conqueror
of Normandy invades England. This event turns parts of England over to
French rule. This story is recounted on the famous Bayeux tapestry.
1152, Eleanor of Aquitane marries Henry II of England. This wedding
transfers about 1/3 of France to English power.
A struggle to regain land from
England continued from the 12th to the 14th century. The climax was
the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453).
In 1429 a young woman named
Joan of Arc persuaded the French King to continuing fighting the
English. This took place in Orléans, where today you can visit sites
about her life.
During this period the Crusades
(religious wars) also took place and the Gothic Cathedrals that are found
throughout France were built.
Kings & the Revolution
16th century brought a shift from an Empire to Monarchy.
Renaissance was happening in Italy! This period was a re-birth of
culture and advancement in art, architecture and music.
French Kings brought artists from Italy to help design and decorate their
royal palaces and châteaux in Paris and the Loire Valley. One of the
most famous was Leonardo da Vinci, whose home can be toured in Amboise.
XIV ruled from 1643-1715. He had more money than you can imagine at
a time when most citizens are poor. He built the palace at Versailles.
XV ruled from1715-1774, and during his reign ideas of opposing the monarchy
began to surface.
XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette came to power in 1774. They were
unable to handle the country’s economic troubles and the poor became very
end of the monarchy was started by the storming of the Bastille in Paris on
July 14th, 1789. The French Revolution began and shortly thereafter
the royals lost their heads to the guillotine. July 14th remains a National Holiday.
period known as the “Reign of Terror” was to follow. Over
17,000 people lost their heads and religious freedoms were revoked.
happy with the status quo, Napoleon Bonaparte, a general from Corsica, put
himself in power in 1799 and he was crowned emperor in 1803.
expanded his empire with wars across Europe until his defeat at Waterloo in
had grand ideas of large boulevards (Champs Elysées) for military marches
and arches (Arc de Triomphe) to enter the city of Paris. Most of these
ideas did not become reality until after his death.
Wars I and II
half of all French men were killed or maimed near Verdun during WW I, which
was waged partly over the regions of Alsace and Lorraine. Today you
can visit the battlefields, cemeteries, and the place where the
Germans surrendered. The war ended with the Treaty of Versailles
20 years later France was occupied by
Germany from 1940 to 1944 during WW II. The occupation ended in 1944
with invasion of the Allies in Normandy on June 6th.
The EEC and the EU
World War II and some major rebuilding, France was strong enough to be a
founding member of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957.
1958 Charles de Gaulle started the current form of government, including an
elected President, Senate and an appointed Council.
1993 the EEC became the European Union (EU) with it's headquarters in
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