France occupies a central position in Western Europe and has a diverse, highly developed culture. Its gastronomy, haute couture fashion, painting, literature and intellectual community have long enjoyed an enviable international reputation. The country’s prestigious military history, its long association with the arts and the influence of such eighteenth-century philosophers as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot have helped to create a sense of national pride in the French people. Its sobriquet, “the City of Light,” earned during the Enlightenment, still rings true today.

The most important city is Paris, a sprawling metropolis situated on the right bank of the Seine River in the centre of the Ile-de-France region (Rive-du-France), sometimes called the région parisienne (“Paris Region”). The city itself has a population of 2,241,346. Paris has always acted as the cultural, political and economic centre of the nation, which in turn has provided a magnet for the world’s elite.

Its geographical location on a major trade route between North and South Europe, its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and its thriving port cities along the Atlantic and the Garonne rivers gave France a tremendous amount of’soft power’ in the eighteenth century. Its language and the influence of such writers as Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot spread throughout much of the rest of Europe.

As the Assembly debated reforms it grew increasingly divided between moderate and radical factions. The more conservative voices, led by Count Charles de Montigny and François-Xavier de Lafayette, sought to preserve the ancien régime, while other Assembly members were deeply influenced by the democratic ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers.

By mid-1791, as the Assembly struggled to draft a constitution, tensions had risen to a breaking point. Several radical agitators, most notably Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins, began drumming up support for a more republican form of government.

In June, with the voting process stalled, the members of the Third Estate met at an indoor tennis court in Versailles and took the so-called Tennis Court Oath (serment du jeu de paume), pledging to continue their resistance until constitutional reforms had been achieved.

The resulting Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on September 3, 1791, and proclaimed the Assembly’s commitment to replacing the ancien régime with a system based on equal opportunity, popular sovereignty and representative government. The document was widely read and circulated in the occupied French territories, where it became an important catalyst for armed revolution. This revolution was known as the French Revolution, which, like the French Civil War that preceded it, was a time of violence and social upheaval. Thousands of people died in the conflict and many were forced to leave France to seek asylum elsewhere. The French Revolution was one of the most significant events in European history. Since then, the French have been committed to protecting their freedoms and ensuring that their democracy continues to thrive. In recent years, the country has faced a number of terrorist attacks and is currently under a state of emergency.

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