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What France is Known For & Famous For
The land of fresh pastries, the Eiffel Tower, and fashion-forward berets has been a significant world power for centuries. As a travel destination for tourists around the world, France is famous for many things.
Some of France’s most well-known entities include landmarks like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, cultural elements such as its unique and high-end fashion brands, historical figures like Marie Antionette, and of course, its culinary impact on the world of wine and food.
Located on the western coast of Europe, France has a lot to offer no matter your interests. In this article, we will more closely examine why France is so well known by people around the world!
History of France
When you think of French history, you may think of the famous French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the renowned “Let them eat cake!” claimed to be spoken by Louis XVI’s wife and socialite Marie Antoinette.
France has a rich and long history that has impacted how it is viewed today in the modern world. France was originally a Celtic territory known as Gaul. It was then part of the Carolingian Empire and later became its own nation when West Francia expanded its territory under King Hugh Capet in 987 AD.
The Hundred Years War
One of the first notable conflicts in France’s history was the Hundred Years War between the French and the English. The war was over land in France being occupied by England and the French throne and lasted from 1337-1453. France ended up victorious, taking back the land minus the Pale of Calais which was later seized by the French in 1558.
The nation experienced minor religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in the coming years but still continued to grow in power.
The peak of French power over Europe came under the rule of Louis XVI in the mid-1700s. Louis XVI is one of the most significant figures in French history. Despite his power, he was not notably liked by his citizens due to his love of luxury and divisive policies for social classes, which consequently led to the French Revolution in 1789. As a result, Louis was overthrown, and a republic was established.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution was essentially a war of classes. The elite bourgeoisie held all the power politically while commoners struggled to get their basic needs met. Rising prices on land and food were causing a serious issue across the country, causing people to riot. In addition, France’s role in America’s revolution against the British had nearly bankrupted the country.
Following the French Revolution was the rise in popularity of Napoleon Bonaparte. A series of Napoleonic Wars ensued, and France changed from one of the highest military powers in Europe to becoming a defeated nation. A monarchy was once again established as well as two other republics leading into the 19th century.
Today, France is in its fifth republic, which was established in 1959. It continues to be one of the most powerful nations in Europe and the world.
France is the number 1 most visited country in the world with over 89 million people visiting per year. Being such an old country with such a rich culture and history, France is a great place to visit with many things to do and see. The country has many museums, cathedrals, amazing food and wine, beautiful landscapes, and so much more for tourists. There truly is something for everyone in this country.
As the capital of France, Paris is the most populated and the most visited city in the country. Paris is home to over 2 million people and sees over 30 million tourists each year. Paris has many famous museums and sites to see and is considered the fashion capital of the world.
Normandy is a region in northern France. Normandy is famous for the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, during World War II when the Allies attacked Germany on the coast of Normandy. More commonly referred to as D-Day.
The French Riviera
The French Riviera makes up the southeastern portion of France that stretches along the Mediterranean coast. It includes many cities and is a popular tourist destination for those looking for a beautiful sun filled beach getaway.
Nice, France is another top tourist destination in France and well known around the world for it’s beautiful Mediterranean climate and stunning beaches. Nice is a part of the French Riviera and is among one of the most popular spots for tourists to come and experience French culture.
French culture is internationally known for its high class cuisine, fashion, and arts. Though these things may be true of the capital, Paris, in reality the cultures vary widely between regions. Equality and unity are two key values in French culture, Catholicism also plays a huge role in how their culture was developed.
To this day, religion still plays a huge role in daily French life with over 60% of the population calling Catholicism their faith. Though only a small percentage, approximately 5%, attend mass regularly.
France is also very well known for its landmarks. Some of these famous landmarks include the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and Notre Dame in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is likely the most recognizable landmark in the world and is a significant symbol for both Paris and France as a whole. The tower’s history and significance are part of what makes it so well-known.
Construction of the Eiffel Tower began on January 26th, 1887. It was intended to be built for the World’s Fair of 1889. Standing at 300 meters (984.25 feet) tall, the tower was finished rather quickly in just over two years.
For the construction, a contest was held for architects to submit ideas for Paris’ contribution to the World’s Fair. Entrepreneur Gustave Eiffel was chosen as the winner, which gave the tower its namesake. Eiffel worked alongside engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier and architect Stephen Sauvestre for the design.
The unique shape of the tower offers wind resistance. In the summer of 1887, a crew of up to 300 workers in a factory solely dedicated to the construction of the monument began work on the large supports.
The tower itself is held together by metal rivets. Initially, builders used bolts until they discovered rivets expanded after cooling down, guaranteeing a secure fit. Overall, the foundation of the tower took five months to build, and assembly took 22 months. It was officially finished on March 31, 1889.
While today the tower is beloved by the world and Paris locals, it was once a site of ongoing debate by both citizens and artists. In the year leading up to construction, protest pamphlets circulated widely. “Protest Against the Tower of Monsieur Eiffel” was one of the many works published against the cause.
The idea of the tower was so hated at first by respected leaders of the arts and literary world. They thought it was an eyesore in the city. Many publicly reviled the blueprints of the tower and hurled insults at the designers.
Fortunately, once completed, original critics, along with the rest of the world, were in awe of the tower. Today, it is still one of the most prominent, well-known things in France!
France contains countless museums and historical sites. Another Paris landmark that puts France on the map is the Louvre.
The world’s largest museum was actually built as a fortress all the way back in the year 1190. Later, in the 16th century, French royalty reconstructed it as a palace. As monarchies grew and changed, the palace gradually expanded into the size it is now. Today, the building covers 652,300 square feet (60,600.65 square meters).
The Louvre was initially the main housing for royalty until Louis XIV moved his residence to the Palace of Versailles, which we will discuss later. Once the royal quarters moved, France used the Louvre as an art gallery and a place to display exhibitions, which started its reputation as a museum.
In 1793, The Louvre officially reopened as a museum and contained over 500 famous paintings. It closed soon after in 1796 for structural issues. Napoleon Bonaparte reopened it under the name Musee Napoleon in 1801.
The Louvre is home to the world-famous painting, Mona Lisa, which is stored behind bullet-proof glass. The museum is also home to other famous works of art such as Venus de Milo and Nike of Samothrace.
One of the most notable parts of the Louvre is its giant glass pyramid structure outside. The pyramid was actually part of a renovation done in 1983. It serves as a large skylight dipping into the hidden underground lobby, which was also part of the renovation!
The Louvre is open every day to tourists except for Tuesdays, and people can purchase tickets on the website.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Once again located in Paris, the Notre Dame Cathedral dates back to the Middle Ages. It is known for its size and gorgeous architecture.
The church was actually built on top of the remains of two earlier churches, as well as a temple for the Roman god Jupiter. In the year 1160, the bishop of Paris Maurice de Sully decided to combine the original two churches into a single large structure. Pope Alexander III laid the first stone of the structure in 1163.
During the French Revolution, the church was almost destroyed but was rescued by Napoleon Bonaparte, who declared himself emperor of France in the cathedral in 1804.
You may recall Notre Dame Cathedral being featured in the news during 2019 in response to a fire that started in the attic during a restoration. While nearly the whole roof was destroyed as well as much of the spire and vaulting, many people around the world came together to raise money to repair it.
The Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is located just outside of Paris and is the former home of many French royals. During his reign, Louis XVI moved the royal quarters to the palace, making it the official building of government in France.
Later on, Napoleon Bonaparte used the destination as his summer residence. Napoleon did not make any repairs to the palace although it was in desperate need due to age and natural ware. Restorations were finally made once the French monarchy was restored and the palace was converted into a series of museums of French history.
Cathedral de Bourges
Located in Bourges, France, this cathedral is a UNESCO heritage site and was first opened in 1230 AD. The cathedral represents gothic style and is considered to be an absolute masterpiece. Along with being a beautiful work of art, it is a display of the strength of religion in that time.
A famous cabaret in Paris, France, known as the place where the can-can got it’s start. The venue was loved by many artists and was home to many famous dancers. The venue was seen as a place to let loose, to dance and mingle and enjoy a great show inspired by the circus.
The building burnt down in 1915, but was rebuilt and reopened in 1921.
Moulin Rouge was also the inspiration for a Broadway play and the show has a movie as well, starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.
The portion of the Alps that stand within Frances borders, the French Alps are a popular holiday destination for mountain sports such as skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, mountaineering, white water rafting, and even paragliding.
Off the coast of Normandy France is a small island with a beautiful and giant abbey. This is Mont Saint-Michel. A UNESCO heritage site name the Wonder of the West, this gothic-style abbey was built between the 11tha and 16th century and is one of the most visited places in France outside of Paris.
Historical Figures of France
As a long-lasting nation, France has birthed countless historical figures who have played a large part in human history and civilization.
One of the most well-known French historical figures is Napoleon Bonaparte. Commonly referred to as Napoleon, Bonaparte was a French military leader and emperor in the late 1790s and early 1800s.
As emperor, Napoleon conquered much of Europe, putting it under French rule. After seizing France in a military coup in 1799, he crowned himself emperor in 1804. Napoleon remained in power for many years until 1812, when he was banished to the island of Elba after a failed invasion of Russia.
For a brief period during his Hundred Days Campaign, he came back into power in 1815. After losing in the Battle of Waterloo, he was once again banished, this time to the island of Saint Helena, where he passed away at age 51.
Marie Antoinette was the famous wife of the infamous King Louis XVI. Antoinette was born in Austria and married Louis XVI at 15 years old. Very quickly, the wealthy royal couple became a symbol of wealth for the French monarchy, a deciding factor in the French Revolution.
Antoinette spent most of her time as a royal socializing and participating in extravagant affairs. People talked about her throughout Europe for her behaviors, further dividing the social classes.
During the French Revolution, Antoinette and Louis XVI were sentenced to death. After her husband’s execution, Antoinette was arrested for her crimes and guillotined. The lasting legacy lives in her supposed words to peasants who could not afford bread: “So let them eat cake.”
As Husband of Marie Antoinette and king of the French empire, Louis XVI was very much disliked. People blamed his lavish tastes and actions for dividing social classes, eventually leading to the French Revolution.
Louis XVI was the last of the Bourbon kings. He began his rule at age 20 after the death of his grandfather. His policies of not raising taxes and distributing countless dollars towards the American Revolution left France’s economy in shambles. After the French Revolution, he, too, was guillotined for his crimes.
Joan of Arc
A peasant girl turned French heroine believed she was hearing directly from God and led the French to victory in the battle at Orleans during the Hundred Years War in 1429, though she never actually fought in the battles herself. She was later burned at the stake in England, essentially, for being a heretic.
Voltaire was a famous French philosopher, historian, writer and poet from the 1700’s who criticized the catholic church and advocated for free speech. His real name was François-Marie Arouet and he was a key figure in the age of Enlightenment in France. His most famous works are:
Marcel Proust was a French writer and is known for his novel In Search of Lost Time, also known as Remembrance of Things Post. The novel is in seven volumes and is not an easy feat totaling 4,215 pages. (See volume I on Amazon here.)
A founder of impressionist painting, Claude Monet has many paintings in museums across the globe. A few of his most famous paintings are:
- Impression, Sunrise 1872 – currently located at Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, France
- La Grenouillère, 1869 – currently located at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY
- Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Sunset) – currently located at Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Henri Matisse is another famous French artist from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and is commonly seen as the greatest colorist of the 20th century. Matisse was a personal friend of Picasso and founded one of the first modern art movements called Fauvism. Some famous world inclue:
- La Dance 1910 – located at The Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia
- Le Bonheur de Vivre 1906 – located at Barnes Foundation Art Institute in Philadelphia, PA
- L’Atelier Rouge 1911 – located at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Marie Curie was a French-Polish physicist made famous for being awarded two Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry as well as many other awards for her research on radioactivity. Check out this award nominated (and finalist) book about Marie Curie on Amazon here.
Another French icon, Coco Chanel is recognized for her role in women’s fashion and scents. She changed the way women wore clothes, making clothing more comfortable. Thanks to Coco, women could now go about their day to day business with more comfortable attire. Coco Chanel introduced things like trousers for women, jersey material, the little back dress, and suits.
Culinary Significance of France
If you consider yourself a foodie, France is definitely a place you should visit. The country is home to some of the best chefs and restaurants in the world and is famous for its pastries, baguettes, macaroons, and more!
People often regard French food and cuisine as some of the most prestigious in the world. Despite popular belief, it is not all French fries and French toast. During the Middle Ages, French cooking began to spread throughout Europe.
As empires grew and shrunk over the following centuries, culinary tips and tricks continued to spread. Francois Pierre La Varenne published the very first French cookbook in 1651; it featured many classic dishes still seen today.
One popular French cooking style is haute cuisine, which translates to high cuisine: a cuisine that has modern prestige and class. Another cooking method, nouvelle cuisine, began in the 1900s and featured lighter meals with more high-quality ingredients.
French chefs were experts in both sweet and savory. Next, we’ll examine some of the dishes that put France on the top of the culinary map.
Baguettes and Croissants
Bread is a specialty of the French people, and that skill is definitely displayed through baguettes and croissants.
Baguettes are usually long and thin, with a crispy outside and a soft inside. Many French bakeries sell them individually or as packs. They are commonly used to cut up for sandwiches or just to rip apart and butter. It is not uncommon to see locals walking out of a bakery with a fresh baguette sticking out from their bag every morning.
Croissants are also a famous bread that the French have perfected. Croissants are soft and flaky and have many layers, which are created by folding the dough a particular way before baking. Many people eat croissants for breakfast or as a light snack throughout the day. Since you cook them with butter, you don’t even need to add a topping!
France has over 200 different types of cheeses to choose from with many being very popular worldwide. Some of the most famous cheeses are:
Macarons are a dessert of poise and class. These small and colorful sandwich cookies are light and airy, usually with a thin layer of flavored crème between them.
Macarons are very difficult to cook, as the surrounding air temperature and moisture level have to be just right. Despite these troubles, the French have definitely perfected this sweet treat.
Seeing snails on your dinner plate may make you want to run away and call the health department. However, in France, escargot is a divine meal that can be found in some of the best restaurants in the country.
Escargot became famous in France partially due to the influx of mollusks in the area. Snail-eating in western Europe can be traced back to prehistoric times. In 1892 the word “escargot” was first named, meaning “edible snail.”
Cooking escargot is more than just visiting your garden and frying up the creatures. Not all snails are edible, and even the ones that are may not be tasty. The most commonly used snail for the dish is from the Helix pomatia species. Chefs typically cook the snails with garlic butter and parsley. They may also serve them with white wine broth or garlic mayonnaise instead of butter.
While snails can be eaten all over the country, they are most popular in restaurants in Paris and Burgundy.
The French have been enjoying mustard for over 1500 years. There are many types of mustard and many regions that have their own variety, including Dijon mustard which originated in Normandy. Historically, mustard was often used to cover the taste of food that was no longer fresh. The mustard seed was also known to help with the common cold as well as to ease joint and muscle pain.
France is well known for its many wonderful wine regions. Among the most famous are Bordeaux, Champagne, Bourgogne, Rhone Valley, Provence, and Corsica. France also uses many different types of grapes such as merlot, syrah, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and many others.
In about 600 BC French wine making was started by the Greeks, and later in the 4th century AD the Romans started planting the grapevines in what is now all of the major wine regions in France.
France is also known for its fashion and high-end brands. Many fashion houses and companies, such as Louis Vuitton, Cloe, and Lou Boutin, are Paris-based. In addition, France is known for some fashion-forward styles like micro bangs and beret hats.
Berets are a style commonly associated with French fashion. The small, round hat is a perfect touch to many feminine and artistic outfits. The beret actually has a unique history behind its use, though.
Many French people do not claim originality for the beret but say the hat was inspired from the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Apparently, Noah used sheep wool to create felt and used it as a hat to keep his hair dry amidst all the splashing around.
In the 17th century, the hat style was worn by shepherds who claimed the felt hat kept them warm during the winter. Berets suddenly became popular, and companies began producing them en masse.
Many artists like Picasso and Monet are often pictured in berets. Many artists during this time were fans of the look and used the hat to embody the feeling of the people from the Renaissance age that they were recreating through their art.
The beret also had military uses as well. The infantry of the French army that patrolled the mountains, the Chasseurs Aplins, wore the hats as part of their uniform in 1889. The hat style kept them warm in the mountains and did not fall off as easily as other hat styles.
French Micro Bangs
The short bob with short bangs is a hairstyle that has commonly been referred to as the French bob. This style is traditionally shorter in length than a regular bob and is sharply angled inwards like a wedge.
This haircut became popular in France in the 1890s when the French actress and singer Polaire rocked the cut. Since then, it has been a popularly worn style that can be seen around the world. It is a classic look that is still trendy today!
Some of the biggest names in fashion were created in France. While exported all over the world, the headquarters of these brands in France gives the country the reputation of one of the fashion capitals of the world.
One famous French brand is Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton Malletier founded this designer handbag company in Paris all the way back in 1854. Vuitton had a passion for fashion and quality leather goods, which led him to create his empire. Today, you can find Louis Vuitton bags all over the world, but they’re cheaper in their home in Paris!
Similar in name but not in story is the iconic shoe brand Lou Boutin. Louboutin is the creator of the famous red-bottom heel. The shoe brand is quite a newer brand, opening its first store in Paris in 1992.
The red bottoms of the shoes are a sign of luxury and wealth. Designer Christian Louboutin actually got the idea for the red bottom when he was disappointed in the original prototype of one of his designs. At the time, his assistant was painting her nails a distinguishable shade of red, which ended up becoming the company’s signature color.
Another fashion brand originating in France is Chloe. Gaby Aghion created the brand in 1952. They make shoes, handbags, makeup, clothing, and more. With its headquarters in Paris, you can spot Chloe among celebrities and elites all over the world.
One last powerful French fashion house is Chanel. It was founded by Coco Chanel in 1910 and focused primarily on women’s clothing, accessories, and handbags. They are also well-known for their perfume line, specifically the popular Chanel No. 5.
The founding of the Chanel brand is quite scandalous, as Coco just happened to be the young mistress of the socialite and textile businessman Etienne Balsan who helped her create the brand. Today, the brand is still extremely popular in the luxury world.
Cannes Film Festival
Previously known as the International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival is hosted every year in Cannes, France. The festival was founded in 1942 and has been running strong every year since. Films of all genres from all around the world are shown at the film festival.
The festival is also a place for celebrities, directors, producers, and other people in the film industry to network. So you are likely to see some big names in the film industry if you attend the festival.
Tour de France
The Tour de France is a well known, approximately 3,500 km, bike race held annually in France. The prize for first place is a cool €450,000, cash. That’s approximately $500,000 USD.
Naturally, with a prize like that, it is the biggest sporting event in the world and brings in 198 competitors watched by over 3.5 billion people each year.
Paris was introduced to mimes in 1811 by Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau who stayed in Paris to develop the art after touring with his acrobatic family. Marcel Marceau later became one of the most famous mimes in the world in the 1900s and even started his own mime school.
The French kiss was a term brought back by the British and American servicemen after World War I to describe the way the women in France kissed more passionately. The French were (and in many ways still are) much more open with their sexuality and thus their kisses were something to be remembered and talked about.
France is considered to be one of the birthplaces (the other being the United States) of democracy as we know it today. The French Revolution was the incident that started the country in another direction, but it took another 100 years to establish a proper democratic system.
To this day France still have many overseas territories including Reunion off the coast of Madagascar, St Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, French Guiana on the North Eastern part of South America, New Caledonia off the coast of Australia, and French Polynesia located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
- France’s largest national park isn’t in the country! It’s Guiana Amazonian Park in French Guiana.
- France’s longest border is between French Guiana and Brazil.
French Foreign Legion
This subdivision of the French Army allows foreigners to join for a few years in order to gain EU citizenship. It used to be that they would allow any man in, including criminals, no questions asked, however they now have a strict screening process. There has only ever been one woman allowed into the French Foreign Legion.
Does The French Foreign Legion Give You A New Identity?
When you join the French Foreign Legion you are given a new name for the first year, the Legion advertises itself after all as “the school of second chances.” After the first year you can choose to keep it for the next years of training or revert back to your birth name. However, you must go back to your true name in order to be deployed so your identity will remain the same in the end.
France is so much more than a country we learn about in our world history class. Its historical beginnings, influence in world events, and actions of political figures have definitely helped France get to where it is today. However, its modernity mixed with tradition is what makes it still so well-known.