With a past so rich that began with the first appearance of man, France identifies itself through its thousands of historical sites. Retrace the footsteps of Renaissance painters in the Loire Valley, of soldiers of the two World Wars, or, why not, project yourself into the future!
Prehistoric caves and Gallo-Roman sites
You collect fossils and wish to learn more about the Cro-Magnon man? France's prehistoric sites, archaeological digs since the 19th century, are an unforgettable journey back in time. From Lascaux in Dordogne's Vézère Valley (a UNESCO site) to the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave in Ardèche, rock paintings and engravings take us back to the dawn of civilization, through the footsteps of our ancestors. Maybe you prefer the period of antiquity? France boasts important ruins that recall the grandeur of the Roman Empire. Explore the Pont du Gard, the tallest Roman aqueduct in the world (a UNESCO site), attend a feria in the Arles Amphitheater, or dive back to an heroic period in time with a visit to the Maison Carrée in Nîmes.
From feudalism in the Middle Ages to the absolute monarchy of the Grand Siècle
The fall of the Roman Empire marks the start of the Middle Ages and of the Frankish Empire with the advent of Clovis, whose influence is still visible in the Saint-Denis Basilica. While knights embark on their crusades, pilgrims make their way to Santiago de Compostela, on routes lined today with numerous UNESCO-listed sites. Medieval cities and fortresses are erected and flourish throughout France, such as Plantagenêt City in Le Mans, the Coucy and Pierrefonds chateaux in Picardy, or the castle and city ramparts of Carcassonne (a UNESCO site).
After the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), fortified castles gradually lose their defence systems. It's time for the Renaissance, marked by the invention of writing and the discovery of the Americas. François the First reigns in the Loire Valley, where the chateaux of Chambord, Azay-le-Rideau and Amboise are central to the revival of arts and culture. Absolute monarchy reaches its peak under Louis XIV. From his Palace of Versailles, the Sun King requests architect Vauban to design fortified buildings to ensure his kingdom's protection. These fortifications (the citadels of Besançon and Blaye, new cities of Longwy and Mont-Dauphin…) are now listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
From the First to the Second Empire
The beginning of the 18th century is marked by the victories of Napoleon the First, now symbolised by the Arc de Triomphe above the Champs-Elysées. Also in Paris, the Emperor's tomb is on display at the Hôtel des Invalides. From 1852 to 1870, Napoleon's nephew reigns over France; while Empress Eugenie inaugurates her Chinese Museum at the Fontainebleau Chateau and falls under the spell of Biarritz and the Basque country, Napoleon III asks Baron Haussmann to transform Paris into a modern city.
The World Wars of the 20th century
From 1914 to 1918, and then from 1939 to 1945, the major part of two world wars took place on French soil. From the Caen Memorial to the Somme Circuit of Remembrance, and passing by the Charles de Gaulle Memorial in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, battlefield ruins, military cemeteries and commemorative monuments are part of essential trails that exist so as not to forget these painful years.
Modern times and futurism in the 21st century
The third millennium is resolutely turned towards the future. It is time for technical progress, which can be observed at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris, with the pursuit of space exploration from the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse, and from stargazing with scientists at the Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees. France's most beautiful monuments, such as those in Lyon during the Festival of Lights, can now be highlighted thanks to 3D mapping projection. As for modern architecture, some incredible monuments are being erected throughout France: the Louvre-Lens Museum designed by architects from the Japanese agency, Sanaa; the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM) inaugurated in Marseille in 2013, and the upcoming Cité des Civilisations du Vin in Bordeaux.