France, or the French Republic, a country of western Europe. It is adjoined on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, including such arms as the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay, and on the south by the Mediterranean Sea. France shares land boundaries with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain, and Andorra. Across the English Channel and the Strait of Dover lies Great Britain.
France is the largest country in western Europe and the third largest on the continent, after Russia and Ukraine. Its area, including the island of Corsica, is 212,935 square miles (551,500 sq km). Maximum mainland dimensions are about 605 miles (975 km) north-south and 565 miles (910 km) east-west.
In addition to the mainland and Corsica, which make up Metropolitan France, the nation has a number of overseas departments and territories, most of which are small islands. A number of former French colonies, now independent, maintain close cultural and financial ties with France.
Few nations have contributed more to western civilization than France. Since the eighth century, when Charlemagne established his great empire, the area that is now France has played a major role in European political, cultural, and economic affairs. Through the centuries French statesmen, military leaders, philosophers, scientists, writers, artists, and musicians have left indelible marks. Paris, the French capital, was long recognized as the world center of art and learning and remains of outstanding significance today.