Every city has its own personality, and in my two visits to Paris (1962 and 1995), I have been overwhelmed with the feeling that just being in Paris was its own reward. And then add the sights: Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Left Bank, the museums and the people themselves, somewhat like Texans in their independence but warm and helpful
when addressed with a few faltering words of French.
The territory of France was settled as early as 10, 000 B.C. , passing through the Paleolithic, Megalithic and early Bronze Age periods until the arrival of early Greek traders about 600 B.C. and Celts a century later. Then, came the Romans for about four centuries, the Visigoths in
southern Gaul, and finally the Germanic Frankish kingdom. Much of this parallel Spanish history, except the Frankish king Charles Martel defeated the Moors (Arabians/Berbers) at Poitiers in 732 A.D., driving them out of Gaul. Charlemagne enlarged the Frankish empire, and in 800 his authority was confirmed by his coronation an Emperor in Rome. For the next 800 years, France rose to the age of absolutism with the French kingdom, supported by the Church and towns, steadily consolidating its position and establishing itself as a hereditary monarchy.
The Frankish Empire of Charlemagne was divided, and Charles II received the western part, with boundaries that remained until the late medieval period.
Long before Napoleon called England “that nation of shopkeepers”, France was fighting England, as well as the Germans, Dutch and Spanish. As the lifestyle of the French court became more lavish and expensive, less and less attention was paid to the feelings of the people of France. But the 1789 Revolution was triggered by “Le deficit”, for government debt had tripled between 1774 and 1789, much of it from supporting the American Revolution. The Church and nobility who represented less than two percent of the population but owned a third of France, where taxed heavily. The third estate: the commoners forced their way into the alliance, and Louis XVI reluctantly accepted idea of
constitutional monarchy. It was too late. With 30, 000 muskets and five cannon from des Invalides and powder from the Bastille, la Revolution had started.
Place de la Concorde, Paris’ largest and most infamous public square became the Place of Revolution. The guillotine replace Louis XV’S statue.
During another of France’s famous wars, the Revolution, from June 1793 to July 1794, the Reign of Terror, 2, 500 people were taken in open carts to the “Nation’s Razor”, s the guillotine was called. Before that, on 21 January 1793, King Louis XVI was guillotined as 20, 000 jeering spectators crowded into Place de la Concorde square. Nine months later, on 16 October 1793, his queen, Marie Antoinette, met the same fate. In all, the Terror claimed some 50, 000 victims, 85% of them commoners. Taking advantage of the anarchy, Napoleon seized control of the government in 1799, at the age of thirty. He engaged France in the Napoleonic Wars with the major European powers from 1803 to 1815. He led two million Frenchmen and one million troops from allied or satellite states into 60 battles that claimed
between 450,00 and 1, 750, 000 casualties. After Napoleon, France swapped republic and monarchies several times. The revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the industrial revolution were major upheavals to French political and economical life.
France fought Germany twice in a 25 year period in two World Wars (1914 and 1939) in the first half of the 20th century, the second time occupied for more than four years.
France is a big country with 543, 965 square miles, about twice the size of Texas. The estimated 1998 population was 58, 804, 944, with 94% French and 81% Roman Catholic. It’s a Presidential Republic, and has had two Republics since World War II, the Fourth and the Fifth. France has been plagued in the second half of the 20th century with many problems: demands by North Africa Algeria for independence (granted in 1962), unrest of students leading to riots, immigration with expulsion in the 90s of illegal immigrants, terrorism in the mid-90s, riots in French Polynesia (Tahiti) about underground nuclear testing, bombs
exploding in the middle 90s, criticism about continued military presence in Africa, giving impression of continued colonial government, when it was a time of liberation for most African nations, economic troubles and protests about politicians receiving support from far-right groups. I remember when I was in Paris in 1995, I never could find a garbage can I wasn’t sealed; finally I was told that it was to prevent terrorist groups from planting bombs or other explosive devices in them. But
through it all, Paris and France carry on, eating their baguettes and drinking their wine.