Throughout its long history, France has been a leading global centre of culture, making significant contributions to art, science, and philosophy. It hosts Europe’s third-largest number of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites (after Italy and Spain) and receives around 83 million foreign tourists annually, the most of any country in the world.
France reached its territorial height during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it ultimately possessed the second-largest colonial empire in the world. In World War I, France was one of the main winners as part of the Triple Entente alliance fighting against the Central Powers. France was also one of the Allied Powers in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis Powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains to this day. Following World War II, most of the French colonial empire became decolonized.
This collection of photos was taken in 1937 from all over France by Berit Wallenberg, a Swedish archaeologist, art historian, photographer, and donor.
France became Europe’s dominant cultural, political, and military power under Louis XIV. French philosophers played a key role in the Age of Enlightenment during the 18th century. In the late 18th century, the absolute monarchy was overthrown in the French Revolution. Among its legacies was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, one of the earliest documents onhuman rights, which expresses the nation’s ideals to this day. France became one of modern history’s earliest republics until Napoleon took power and launched the First French Empire in 1804. Fighting against a complex set of coalitions during the Napoleonic Wars, he dominated European affairs for over a decade and had a long-lasting impact on Western culture. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments: the monarchy was restored, it was replaced in 1830 by a constitutional monarchy, then briefly by a Second Republic, and then by a Second Empire, until a more lasting French Third Republic was established in 1870. The French republic had tumultuous relationships with the Catholic Church from thedechristianization of France during the French Revolution to the 1905 law establishing laïcité. Laïcité is a strict but consensual form of secularism, which is nowadays an important federative principle in the modern French society.
France remains a great power with significant cultural, economic, military, and political influence. It is a developed country with the world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and ninth largest by purchasing power parity. According to Credit Suisse, France is the fourth wealthiest nation in the world in terms of aggregate household wealth.
All photos credit: Swedish National Heritage Board