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Interesting facts about France: History

1. "France" comes from "Frank"

The name "France" comes from "Frank", a Germanic tribe that invaded the Western Roman Empire in the 6th century and founded the first independent kingdom covering most of today's France.

2. One of the oldest states in Europe

The French state is one of the oldest in Europe; it was founded in 843, splitting from the Carolingian Empire based in Aachen (Belgo-German border).

3. "Paris" got its name in the 5th century

The region of Paris was settled since around 4200 BCE. The city itself was founded by the Parisii, a Celtic tribe, around 250 BCE. The Roman renamed it Luteca from 52 BCE, and it only became known as "Paris" after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.

4. Foie gras has its origins in Ancient Egypt

Foie gras may be part and parcel of French cuisine, but its origins go back to 4,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt, from where it spread to Greece (500 B.C.E.), then to the Romans, ancestors of the modern French.

5. "Gothic" only used to describe "barbaric" art

Gothic art has its origins in the middle of the 12th century in the North of France. The world's first Gothic building is said to be the Abbey of St. Denis, just north of Paris, which is the burial place of many Frankish kings since Clovis, as well as most Kings of France. Gothic architecture then spread to Picardy, notably with the cathedrals of Noyon, Laon and Senlis, followed by the Île-de-France. The term "Gothic" was only used from the 16th century Renaissance as a pejorative term to describe complicated and "barbaric" art, as opposed to the simplicity of the Greco-Roman revival. Nowadays more people may value more highly Gothic than Renaissance architecture.

6. Nicotine named after Jean Nicot, a Frenchman

Nicotine was named after Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French diplomat and scholar who introduced the tobacco plant to France in 1559 (from Portugal).

7. "La Marseillaise" was not composed in Marseilles

"La Marseillaise", France's national anthem, was composed in Strasbourg in 1792, not in Marseilles as its name might induce us to think.

8. World's first international scientific conference

The world's first international scientific conference was held in Paris on 2 February 1799.

9. First modern fire-resistant safe deposit box

The first modern fire-resistant safe deposit box was invented by Alexandre Fichet 1799-1862) around 1840.

10. First department store was Le Bon Marché

The world's first true department store was Le Bon Marché in Paris, founded by Aristide Boucicaut in 1838.

11. Tradition of decorating Chritmas trees started in Eastern France 

The tradition of decorating Chritmas trees started in Eastern France in the 16th century (then part of Germany). Trees were then ornated with flowers and fruits (notably apples). A drought in 1858 destroyed the apple harvest, prompting a glass blower from Goetzenbruck, a Lorraine village on the Moselle, to create apple-shaped glass baubles. The practice spread quickly around Europe, and by the late 1800's the local glass factory at Goetzenbruck was manufacturing tens of thousands of baubles.

12. French colonial empire once occupied 8.6% of the world's land area

At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km² (4,767,000 sq. miles) of land, or 8.6% of the world's land area. This is over 22 times the size of modern Metropolitan France.

13. Host of Summer & Winter Olympics and FIFA World Cup

France has hosted five times the Summer Olympic Games (2nd most after the USA), three times the Winter Olympic Games (2nd most after the USA), and twice the FIFA World Cup (most with Italy and Germany).

14. Winner of most of the noble prizes for Literature

France has won the most Nobel Prizes for Literature of any country (13 so far) and the second highest number of Field Medals (mathematics) after the USA.

15. Most expensive antique weapon ever sold

On 10 June 2007, a sabre having belonged to Napoleon I was sold at an auction for € 4.8 million - the most expensive weapon ever sold. 

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