The country has been one of the world powers since the end of the 17th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it built a big colonial empire across West Africa and Southeast Asia. Nowadays, this does not exist. It is the most visited country in the world. About 82 million foreign tourists visit it every year. France is a founding member of the European Union. It has the largest land area of any member. France is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the G8 and NATO. It is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. It has nuclear weapons, including active warheads, and also has nuclear power plants.
Some well-known cities in France include Nice, Nancy, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Rennes, Nantes and Paris.
France is in Western Europe. France has borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. France has two mountain ranges near its borders: the Alps in the east and the Pyrenees in the south.There are many rivers in France, including the Seine and the Loire. In the north and the west of France, there are low hills and river valleys.
In France there are many different climates. The Atlantic has a major effect on the weather in the north and west. This means the temperature is about the same most of the year. It is in the marine west coast climate region. In the east, winters are cold and the weather is good. Summers are hot and stormy. In the south, winters are cool and wet. Summers are hot and dry.
France has the second-largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world. It covers 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,637 sq mi). Only the United States have a larger one.
The name "France" comes from the Latin word Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks" or "Frankland".
The borders of modern France are about the same as those of ancient Gaul. Celtic Gauls inhabited Ancient Gaul. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul for Rome in the 1st century BC.Eventually, the Gauls adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity first appeared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. It became firmly established by the fourth and fifth centuries.
France built a large colonial empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. The empire included parts of West Africa and Southeast Asia. The culture and politics of these regions were influenced by France. Many ex-colonies officially speak the French language.
The country was where both the First and Second World Wars took place. During the first world war, millions were killed in the trenches including over a million in the Battle of the Somme. The conditions were very poor. The last surviving veteran was Pierre Picault who died on 20 November 2008 at the age of 109. During the second world war, Nazis occupied France. The Allies landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944. They invaded Normandy and began the Battle of Normandy. German forces lost France in just a few months.