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France, a large European nation with a diverse population, has a rich and fascinating history, including figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, and epic events like the French Revolution. With a past so rich that began with the first appearance of man, France is home to thousands of historical sites.
France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. It plays an influential global role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the G-7, the G-20, the European Union, and other multilateral organizations.
France enjoys four distinct seasons and an incredible variety of landscapes – from snow-capped mountains to sunny coasts, and from shady forests to mineral-rich flatlands. Stretching 1,000km (600 miles) from north to south and the same from east to west, it is the third largest country in Europe, covering an area of 551,500km² (213,000 square miles). It has four coastlines: the North Sea, the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Outside metropolitan France, the national territory extends to the ‘départements d’outre-mer’ and ‘territoires d’outre-mer’, collectively referred to as ‘DOM-TOMs’. These are French Guiana in South America; the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy and Saint-Martin in the Caribbean; the islands of Réunion and Mayotte off the coast of Africa; Saint-Pierre and Miquelon south-east of Canada; and French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna in the South Pacific.
French is an official or a main second language in 55 countries worldwide, and almost 300 million people speak French as their native language or as a second language. Until the early twentieth century, French was the language of diplomacy, and one of the two main languages of international negotiation. Today it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, one of the two official languages, with English, of the International Postal Union, of the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross and other organizations.