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France

Land

Although France's old historic provinces were abolished by the Revolution, they remain the country's basic geographic, cultural, and economic divisions. These provinces mirror France's natural geographic regions and, despite modern administrative centralization, retain their striking diversity. The heart of France N of the Loire River is the province of Île-de-France, which occupies the greater part of the Paris basin, a fertile depression drained by the Seine and Marne rivers. The basin is surrounded by the provinces of Champagne and Lorraine in the east; Artois, Picardy, French Flanders (see Nord dept.), and Normandy in the northeast and north; Brittany, Maine, and Anjou in the west; and Touraine, Orléanais, Nivernais, and Burgundy in the south. Further south are Berry and Bourbonnais. Further east, between the Vosges Mts. and the Rhine, is Alsace; S of Alsace, along the Jura, is Franche-Comté.

South-central France is occupied by the rugged mountains of the Massif Central, one of the country's major natural features. It comprises the provinces of Marche, Limousin, Auvergne, and Lyonnais. To the E of the Rhône River, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps, are Savoy, Dauphiné, and Provence. The French Alps have some of the highest peaks in Europe, including Mont Blanc. The Rhône valley widens into a plain near its delta on the Mediterranean; part of the coast of Provence forms the celebrated French Riviera. Languedoc extends from the Cevennes Mts. to the Mediterranean coast W of the Rhône. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast. The southwestern part of France comprises the small Pyrenean provinces of Roussillon, Foix, Béarn, and French Navarre and the vast provinces of Gascony and Guienne. The last two constitute the great Aquitanian plain, drained by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, which flow into the Bay of Biscay. The central section of the west coast, between the Gironde estuary and the Loire, is occupied by the provinces of Saintonge, Angoumois, Aunis, and Poitou.

Since 1972 France has been administratively divided into 22 regions, many of which correspond to the nation's historical provinces. These regions are: Alsace, Aquitane, Auvergne, Basse-Normandie, Bourgogne (Burgundy), Bretagne (Brittany), Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Corse (Corsica), Franche-Comté, Haute-Normandie, Île-de-France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Lorraine, Midi-Pyrenees, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pays de la Loire, Picardie (Picardy), Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, and Rhone-Alpes.

France also has a number of overseas departments, territories, and countries which, legally, are part of the French Republic. The overseas departments are Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion, and French Guiana. The overseas countries and territories are New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories. Mayotte is a departmental collectivity, and St. Pierre and Miquelon is a territorial collectivity.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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