France Geography and Population

By | January 8, 2023

France – geography

France is administratively divided into 13 regions, 96 departments and almost 35,756 municipalities, which are far smaller than the Danish ones. France also has five departments outside Europe, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion and Mayotte, in addition to the looser territories, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, some islands off Antarctica, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. This article deals with the European France, France métropolitaine.

Natural conditions

The highly varied French landscape can be divided into ancient Hercynian-folded bedrock areas, the Armoric Massif, the Central Massif, the Vosges and Corsica mountains, the young Alpine fold chains, the Alps, the Jura Mountains and the Pyrenees, as well as large sedimentary basins, the Paris Basin and the Aquitaine Basin.. The wide Saône Plain with its continuation in the Rhône Valley separates the Jura Mountains and the French Alps, which have the country and some of Europe’s highest mountain peaks (Mont Blanc 4807 m, Barre des Écrins 4102 m), from the worn-out plateau of the Central Massif, which is pushed up along the east coast. the alpine folding. The east coast forms the Cevennes, the highest parts of Hercynus France.

The great rivers, the Seine, Loire, and Garonne, which flow into the Atlantic, and the Saône-Rhône river system, which flows into the Mediterranean, together drain 70 per cent of the country; Northeast France is drained by the Rhine. The Seine, Loire and Garonne have long, funnel-shaped estuaries to the tidal shores of the Atlantic Ocean, while the Rhône empties into a delta. With its 1012 km, the Loire is the country’s longest river, while the Rhône with a water flow of 1800 m 3/ s at the outlet is by far the most watery. Garonne originates in the Pyrenees and can cause major flooding in the spring when snowmelt and heavy rainfall coincide. From ancient times to the beginning of the 20th century, the rivers have been important means of communication and transport and are connected by several canals, which were especially expanded during industrialization in the latter half of the 19th century. Today, the canals are predominantly of tourist importance.

Climate. Most of France has temperate climates with average temperatures in January of 1-6 °C and 17-22 °C in July. The Mediterranean coast and the southern part of the Rhône Valley to Montélimar have subtropical climates with 6-9 °C in January and 22-23 °C in July. The precipitation, which mainly falls in connection with front passages from the Atlantic Ocean, is abundant in the north-western parts of France and on the west-facing sides of the mountain areas. The Mediterranean climate is characterized by many hours of sunshine, hot, dry summers – up to three months without rain – and mild, short winters with precipitation, with the front passages moving south. Low pressures formed off the Mediterranean coast often cause winds from the north, such as the tramontane in the Languedoc and the mistral, there is a strong, dry wind, which sweeps south through the Rhône Valley and blows surface water away, so that cold bottom water overflows along the Mediterranean coast. The Atlantic coast has mild winters, which require a long growing season, and cool summers. The Parisian basin has hot and rather dry summers, which is favorable for the area’s agriculture. Further east, the climate is more continental.

Vegetation. Up to a quarter of France is forested. In the temperate zone, oak dominates, in the coastal and mountain areas, where the precipitation is more abundant, beech, and in the mountains themselves coniferous forest. Forests are affected by human intervention, but only a few areas have rational forestry. France’s largest pine forest, was planted in the 19th century on meager land in Les Landes in the Aquitaine Basin. In the Mediterranean, predation, overgrazing and erosion have transformed the original forest into evergreen shrub vegetation, maki, or the leaner garrigue, which has no economic value but contains many plant species.


The population of France in 2006 is about one tenth of the total population of Europe (excluding Russia). In the early 14th century, every third European Frenchman, Russia, was excluded, but from the end of the 18th century to 1940, the country’s population development, with few exceptions, was extremely low. Only after 1940 has the growth largely followed the rest of Europe, and after an increase in fertility to almost two children per. woman, France now belongs to the small group of rich, Western European states that have a birth surplus of 3-5 per mille (2006). According to a forecast, the country will be the EU’s most populous by the year 2050. In addition to the Paris area, the country’s periphery is most densely populated, especially close to the northwesternmost regions and the Mediterranean coast. A very sparsely populated belt stretches from Champagne in the north across central France to the Pyrenees. In contrast, the whole country was densely populated in the Middle Ages, from which the dense network of municipalities originates. Since 1945, immigrants have mainly come from Algeria, Morocco and Tunis (Maghreb countries) and from Portugal; previously, the largest immigrant groups came from Belgium, Italy, Spain and Poland. Immigrants have mainly settled in the big cities, only 40 percent live in Paris, in the northern industrial areas and on the Mediterranean coast. Unemployment is widespread among immigrants and racism has become a growing problem. Since an immigration ban was introduced in 1974, many have come illegally, especially from North Africa.

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The cities

Three quarters of the population live in cities with over 2000 residents. In addition to its capital functions, Paris has service functions for a catchment area within a radius of 250-300 km. Other major cities of importance in a larger area are all located peripherally in the country. Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes and Nancy gained the status of “equilibrium capitals ” in the 1960’s (métropoles d’équilibre) and thereby obtained special state subsidies and privileges as part of a decentralization policy. A large part of the French cities already existed in Roman times, where they were laid out at river crossings and coasts. In the Middle Ages, several cities were founded mainly for defense purposes; only a few of them matter today. From the period 1500 to 1800 a few port towns originated, and in the 1800’s several mining towns emerged. In the 20th century, nine “new cities” were built, five of which are located as relief centers around Paris. The size ratios of cities were stable until the middle of the 19th century with the exception of Paris, which grew faster than the other major cities. From the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, industrialization led to increasing urbanization, especially in Paris and in the north and northeast of France. 1950-1975, the big cities grew by over 50,000 residents the most. Since then, growth in the small towns has been relatively greatest, particularly in the south and south-east of France, while growth in Paris has been stagnant.


Half of France is self-sufficient in energy, importing almost all oil and natural gas. Of the country’s total energy consumption (2005), oil accounts for 33 percent, natural gas 15 percent, coal 5 percent and primary electricity production (especially nuclear power and hydropower) 43 percent. Most of the country’s regions are equipped with nuclear power plants, and this sector has been greatly expanded since 1973. 75 percent of the country’s electricity production comes from nuclear power; it is the largest share in the world, and the quantity is surpassed only by the United States. Uranium fuel is extracted from French uranium deposits in the Vendée and the Central Massif and is also imported from Gabon and Niger. Spent nuclear fueltreated at the world’s largest reprocessing plant, La Hague, on the English Channel. Hydropower comes from plants along the Rhine, in the Alps and in the Pyrenees.



France is the EU’s largest agricultural country in terms of production and export value. As in other countries, employment in the primary sector (agriculture, etc.) is still declining (4 per cent of those in employment in 2005) despite great political attention to the profession. However, in connection with the major enlargement of the EU in 2004, the costly subsidies to France’s farmers have been cut somewhat. This process has once again shown the risk appetite of the French peasants in the form of dramatic demonstrations. Agricultural problems are exacerbated by the BSE epidemic (see mad cow disease)), which has questioned the forms of production in the livestock sector. France’s agricultural production is roughly evenly distributed between animal and vegetable products. The country has Europe’s largest meat production as well as a large herd of cattle, pigs and poultry and is after the USA and Australia the world’s third largest exporter of wheat (2001). Cattle farming dominates the Central Massif (especially beef cattle), Lower Normandy, Brittany, the Jura Mountains and the Alps. Especially to the south there are significant flocks of sheep. Large farms with extensive wheat fields are dominant in the Paris Basin, where half of France’s wheat is grown in turn with other cereals, beets and sunflowers. Maize is grown all over France and sugar beet, especially on the fertile soils between the Seine and the Belgian border. Vegetable cultivation takes place along the coasts of Brittany, in the Loire Valley and especially in the Mediterranean, where it is grown under glass all year round. The northern border for viticulture runs southwest-northeast through Paris. 70 percent of the quality wines are exported, primarily from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Everyday wines are produced especially in the Languedoc. France is the world’s largest producer of sugar beet and wine (2001).

The French landscape is characterized by cultivation systems that largely originated in the Middle Ages: the Bocage system, where the farms are scattered and the fields are bounded by hedges, is particularly characteristic of small farms and cattle farming and characterizes Northwest France and the Central Massif. The openfield system is particularly characteristic of the fertile soils of the Paris Basin, where the peasants formerly shared the cultivation of the fields that surrounded surrounding villages.


The fishery is dominated by coastal fishing for tuna and sardines. In addition, there is a lot of shellfish fishing along the coasts of Brittany, where oysters are also farmed. Most land in the ports on the south coast of Brittany and in Boulogne-sur-Mer on the English Channel. Sète is the most important fishing port on the Mediterranean coast. France’s fish production is 13 kg per population and covers far from the need.


In the 19th century, France was industrialized at a slower pace and to a lesser extent than the other northwestern European countries. The industry developed especially northeast of a line between the Seine and Rhône outlets, connected to the coal mines in Lorraine and the Central Massif and to the now closed mines with iron ore in Lorraine. 75 percent of the country’s industrial employment is still found in northeastern France. All the major industries, electrical and electronic industry, chemical industry, machinery and textile industry, have their center of gravity there. The industry in western France is particularly linked to the cities of Nantes, Saint-Nazaire, Bordeaux and Toulouse. The food industry is evenly distributed throughout the country. France has a significant car, aircraft and military industry. For example, the aircraft type Airbus is producedin Toulouse in cooperation with several European countries. The French car industry produces approximately 3.3 million passenger cars and nearly 1/2 million. trucks and is concentrated in the companies Renault as well as Peugeot-Citroën in collaboration with Chrysler France. The most important industrial centers are Paris, with a particularly high-tech industry with great added value and a close connection to research, and Lyon, which has a chemical industry in addition to the textile and metal industry. As in the primary sector (agriculture, etc.), employment in the secondary sector (industry, crafts, construction, etc.) is declining; in 2005, it accounted for 23 percent of the active population.


The service sector has grown strongly since the beginning of the 1980’s and includes large export of technical know-how. The most specialized services are concentrated in Paris, which together with the Mediterranean coast, especially the Riviera (Côte d’Azur), is France’s main tourist destination. France is visited by 75 million. tourists per year (2005), more than any other country. The public service is well developed. A large part of the country’s research takes place outside the universities. The renewal of companies is sought to be promoted through the creation of research parks (technopôles) in most major cities; here are universities, research centers and advanced industry combined. Examples are Sophia-Antipolisnear Nice and ZIRST near Grenoble. The transport system has been expanded with a dense network of motorways and railways as well as air traffic. Since the 1980’s, major investments have been made in high-speed trains (TGV, Trains à Grande Vitesse), which connect Paris with south-eastern and eastern France, the Atlantic regions, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, with transport speeds of 270-300 km/h. Italy and the United Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel. At approximately three hours from Paris you can reach Marseille, Bordeaux, Amsterdam and London. In addition, new metros have been developed in Paris and the largest provincial cities.

Overview of the regions

France is a diverse country, and geology, climate, history, culture, business and population conditions contribute to each region having its own distinctive character. If the main emphasis is on economic development, in the late 1800’s to mid-1900’s it was common to distinguish between the industrialized Northeastern France and the backward Southwestern France. Since then, regional development has become more complicated, and from around 1970 one can summarize five parts of the country.

The Paris area, ie. the Île-de-France region with adjoining departments, is characterized by a population working in Parisand by companies involved in Paris’ business. With a population of approximately 13 mio. (2006) is the Parisian population, traffic, political, economic and cultural center of France and has been so since the Middle Ages, favored by its location in the fertile and easily accessible agricultural area of ​​the Paris Basin. Paris is one of Europe’s largest cities and to a large extent France’s connection to the rest of the world. The capital dominates the country within the overall and most specialized service. The industry is concentrated on the most qualified and highly paid functions. Throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th century, Paris was a magnet that attracted a large part of France’s population and economy, and the city was favored by political centralization. After approximately In 1970, growth in Paris and the province has been more even.

name regional capital population in mio. (2013) area (km2)
Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes Bordeaux 5.8 84,060
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon 7.8 69,711
Burgundy-Franche-Comté Dijon 2.8 47,784
Brittany Rennes 3.3 27.208
Center-Val de Loire Orleans 2.6 39,151
Corsica Ajaccio 0.3 8680
Grand Est (Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine) Strasbourg 5.6 57,433
Île-de-France Paris 12 12,012
Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrenees Toulouse 5.7 72,724
Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie Little 6 31,814 th most common
Normandy Rouen 3.3 29,907
Pays de la Loire Nantes 3.7 32,082
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Marseille 5 31,400
DOM Départements d’outre-mer (Departments outside European France)
French Guiana Cayenne 0.2 83534
Guadeloupe Basse-Terre 0.4 1628
Martinique Fort-de-France 0.4 1128
Mayotte Dzaoudzi 0.2 0.4
Reunion Saint-Denis 0.8 2504
Source: INSEE

Southeast France includes the Alps, the Rhône Valley and the Mediterranean coast and is the area in France that has the fastest growing population and business growth. Economically, Toulouse also joins the aviation industry with the South East of France. The strong and stable growth since the 1970’s is due to several factors. Due to its climate, landscapes and cities, the Riviera and the Alps have significant tourism, and many retirees who require a comprehensive service live on the Mediterranean coast. These features have spread from the original centers to almost every village in the area. The same areas attract a large number of research institutions and knowledge-based industrial and service companies; this applies in particular to Grenoble, Nice (Sophia-Antipolis), Aix-en-Provence, Montpellierand Toulouse. Finally, Lyon is France’s second most important center for service industries and at the same time has a significant industry, while other regions have intensive fruit, vegetable and flower growing. Outdated industries are in decline, however, in Marseille, and the Mediterranean coast is also plagued by poorly paid, seasonally fluctuating employment in the tourist industries and by significant unemployment.

Western France, which largely corresponds to the Armorican Massif and the coastal parts of the Aquitaine Basin, was until the middle of the 20th century largely an agricultural area with small service towns and extensive migration. Since then, an economic boom has taken place: agriculture has been modernized and products are marketed throughout the EU; this applies vegetable growing in Brittany, which complements the classic viticulture of Bordeaux and Cognac. Local craft traditions have developed and become an industrial corporate culture, for example in the Vendée. Large groups have invested in industry, for example in the lower Loire Valley and in Bordeaux. Tourism has also increased along the Atlantic coast.

The north and northeast industrial centers. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and the north-eastern part of Lorraine, together with Paris, were the mainstays of France’s business in the mid-20th century. Following a major depression in the heavy industry since 1960, there are signs of renewed business development spread across several industries. In particular, Lille, which with the Channel Tunnel has become a traffic center in the most densely populated part of the EU, has opportunities for development in business services. Previously, the production of iron and steel as well as machinery and steel products in connection with the coal mines was dominant, but just as new heavy industries had been set up at the canal port of the 1960’s, the western European heavy industry ran into stagnant demand and increased competition from more modern industry in other parts of the world. The inertia of the organization and the lack of new initiatives hampered the transition, and production and employment in these sectors fell to a small fraction of the previous level. The extraction of iron ore has stopped.

Central and Eastern Franceis the largest and most heterogeneous region. It stretches from the inner part of the Pyrenees and the Aquitaine Basin over the Central Massif and the Paris Basin, where it surrounds the Paris area, over the Vosges, the Jura Mountains and the Rhine Plain to the old industrial centers located in the north and northeast. While Normandy, Picardy and Alsace are densely populated, there is talk of an “empty diagonal” from the Pyrenees to the Ardennes. It is also in this part of the country that one finds the only one of France’s 22 regions that in 2004 had a direct population decline: Champagne-Ardenne east of Paris. The region is largely an economic stagnation area with the exception of Alsace. The background of the stagnation varies; east of the dividing line from the Seine to the Rhône estuary are older industries of a very different nature, which in some regions were originally linked to local coal and iron deposits, such as around Le Creusot and in Saint-Étienne in the Central Massif, or to hydropower. In other areas, the industry is linked to crafts and know-how, such as the watch manufacturing in the Jura Mountains, the car tire industry in Clermont-Ferrand and the textile industry in Mulhouse. The ports of Le Havre and Rouen have also attracted industry. However, these scattered industries have generally had difficulty renewing themselves in the 20th century, and apart from Strasbourg, there are no major cities in the area. The southwestern part is predominantly agricultural area, characterized by small farms. The lack of larger cities and service development has these regions in common with the East of France. In the medium-sized cities of the Paris Basin, many branches of Parisian companies were set up in the 1960’s with regional development support, but the bulk of this low-tech industry is stagnant. However, agriculture specializes in grain farming, but it does not provide much employment. The most dynamic part of the region is Alsace, where both industry, especially with foreign investment, service in Strasbourg, tourism and viticulture are growing. Viticulture and tourism are also a plus for Burgundy. Local craftsmanship dominates in the southern part of the Jura Mountains, while Montbéliard at the northern end is characterized by the car industry’s alternating ups and downs.

France – language

In geographical France, in addition to French, several other languages ​​are spoken, including Flemish (100,000), Lorraine and Alsatian, which are two Germanic dialects (1.5 million), Breton (500,000), Occitan (8 million) Franco-Provencal (70,000), Basque (75,000), Catalan (100,000) and Corsican(340,000). But developments since the Middle Ages have meant that French has become the dominant common language for all French people, especially due to the traditional French policy of centralization. For the ideologues of the Revolution, the spread of French to all was precisely an instrument of the implementation of equality. In recent times, regional and partly separatist movements have sought to manifest the non-French regional languages, which have been an elective subject in schools since the 1950’s. Of immigrant language, Arabic and Berber dominate. For culture and traditions of France, please check aparentingblog.

France – religion

While the religious situation was previously marked by the opposition between Catholicism and anti-clericalism, France experienced in the late 1900’s. a religious pluralism. The majority still belong to the Catholic Church (60-65%, approximately 35 million), but due to immigration from North Africa in particular, Islam has become the second largest denomination (approximately 6%, approximately 3.5 million).

About 3% of the population (1.7 million) feel affiliated with Protestantism. Just under 1 million are members of a Protestant church, a quarter of which is in Alsace-Lorraine (mainly Lutherans). approximately 1/2 million. Catholics declare themselves attracted to Protestantism, while approximately 200,000 others consider themselves to be Protestants in the sociological sense. Fifteen churches are gathered in La Fédération protestante de France, including L’Église réformée de France with approximately 450,000 members.

The Orthodox Church, with a Greek and Russian background, constitutes a very small minority. The Jewish population, of which only a part has a religious affiliation, is approximately 800,000.

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the sociological dominance of Catholicism has clearly weakened. Among Catholics, only approximately 10% regular churchgoers (1965: approximately 25%). In addition, there is a pronounced shortage of priests, which is only partially offset by the growing role of the laity in the life of the church. In the field of tension between tradition and modernity, the bishops follow a cautious line, and the ecumenical boldness is replaced by greater consideration of traditionalist tendencies.

Intellectually, the questions posed to ecclesiastical authority by the Enlightenment and later by modernism have hardly been definitively worked out; moreover, the memory of the church struggle during the French Revolution and of the forced separation between state and church (1905) is still alive.

For Protestantism, on the other hand, the Revolution marked the end of more than 200 years of persecution, culminating in the revocation in 1685 of the Nantes Edict, and the law of 1905 meant a liberation from state control. Although Protestants suffer from a lack of visibility, they play a greater role in community life than their numbers immediately seem to justify.

France Geography