Portal:France/Featured Article Archive/2007

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January 2007
The War of the Fifth Coalitionwas a military conflict in 1809 between an alliance of the Austrian Empireand the United Kingdomagainst Napoleon's French Empireand Bavaria. Major engagements between France and Austria, the main participants, unfolded over much of Central Europefrom April to July, producing horrific casualty rates. Britain, already involved on the European continent in the ongoing Peninsular War, sent another expeditionto the Netherlandsto take pressure off the Austrians, although this had little impact on the outcome of the conflict. After much campaigning in Bavaria and across the Danube valley, the war ended favorably for the French after the bloody struggle at the Battle of Wagramin early July. The resulting Treaty of Schönbrunnwas the harshest that France had imposed on Austria in recent memory. Metternichand Archduke Charleshad the preservation of the Habsburg Empire as their fundamental goal, and to this end the former succeeded in making Napoleon seek more modest goals in return for promises of Franco-Austrian peace and friendship. Nevertheless, while most of the hereditary lands remained part of Habsburg territories, France received Carinthia, Carniola, and the Adriaticports, while Galiciawas given to the Poles and the Salzburgarea of the County of Tyrolwent to the Bavarians (Austria lost over three million subjects, about one-fifth of her total population, as a result of these territorial changes). While fighting in the Iberian Peninsulawould continue, the War of the Fifth Coalition was the last major conflict on the European continent until the French invasion of Russiain 1812 sparked the rise of the Sixth Coalition. Read more...

February 2007
Pâté de foie gras (right) with pickled pear.

Foie gras (French for "fat liver") is "the liver of a duck or a goose that has been specially fattened by gavage" (as defined by French law). Foie gras is one of the greatest delicacies in French cuisine and its flavour is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of a regular duck or goose liver. Foie gras can be sold whole, or prepared into pâté, mousse, or parfait, and is typically served as an accompaniment to another comestible, such as toast points or steak.

The technique of gavage dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the ancient Egyptians began keeping birds for food and deliberately fattened the birds through force-feeding. Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed worldwide, particularly in other European nations and the United States.

In modern foie gras production, force feeding takes place from 12−18 days before slaughter. The duck or goose is typically fed a controlled amount of corn mash through a tube placed in the animal's esophagus. Due to this force feeding procedure, and the possible health consequences of an enlarged liver, animal rights and welfare organizations and activists regard foie gras production methods as cruel to animals. Foie gras producers maintain that force feeding ducks and geese is not uncomfortable for the animals nor is it hazardous to their health. Scientific evidence regarding the animal welfare aspects of foie gras production is limited and inconclusive. Foie gras production is illegal in a number of countries and other jurisdictions. Read more...

March 2007
The Louvre at night.

The Louvre Museum (French: Musée du Louvre) in Paris, France, is the most visited and one of the oldest, largest and most famous art galleries and museums in the world. The Louvre has a long history of artistic and historic conservation, from the Capetian dynasty until today. The building was previously a royal palace, and is famous for holding several of the world's most prestigious works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Madonna of the Rocks and Alexandros of Antioch's Venus de Milo. Located in the centre of the city of Paris, between the Rive Droite of the Seine and the rue de Rivoli in the Ier arrondissement, it is accessed by the Palais Royal — Musée du Louvre Metro station. The equestrian statue of Louis XIV constitutes the starting point axe historique, but the palace is not aligned on this axis.

With a record 8.3 million visitors received in 2006, the Louvre is widely seen as the most visited culture and art museum in the world. It's also the most visited monument in Paris.

The first royal "Castle of the Louvre" was founded in the centre of Paris by Philip Augustus in 1190, as a fortified royal palace to defend Paris on its west against Viking attacks. The existing part of the Châteaux du Louvre was begun in 1535. The architect Pierre Lescot introduced to Paris the new design vocabulary of the Renaissance, which had been developed in the châteaux of the Loire. During his reign (1589–1610), King Henry IV added the Grande Galerie. Henry IV, a promoter of the arts, invited hundreds of artists and craftsmen to live and work on the building's lower floors. More than a quarter of a mile long and one hundred feet wide, this huge addition was built along the bank of the River Seine and at the time was the longest edifice of its kind in the world.

The central courtyard, on the axis of the Champs-Élysées, is occupied by the Louvre Pyramid, built in 1989, and serves as the main entrance to the museum. The Louvre Pyramid is a large glass pyramid commissioned by then French president François Mitterrand, designed by Ieoh Ming Pei and was inaugurated in 1989. This was the first renovation of the Grand Louvre Project. The Carre Gallery, where the Mona Lisa was exhibited, was also renovated. The pyramid covers the Louvre entresol and forms part of the new entrance into the museum. Read more...

April 2007
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu (Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Điện Biên Phủ) was the climactic battle of the First Indochina War between the military forces of France and Vietnamese revolutionary forces called the Viet Minh. The battle occurred between March and May 1954, and culminated in a massive French defeat that effectively ended the war. Dien Bien Phu was "the first time that a non-European colonial independence movement had evolved through all the stages from guerrilla bands to a conventionally organized and equipped army able to defeat a modern Western occupier in pitched battle."

As a result of blunders in the French decision making process, the French undertook to create an air-supplied base, at Dien Bien Phu, deep in the hills of Vietnam. Its purpose was to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into the neighboring French colony of Laos, at the same time drawing the Viet Minh into a battle that would be their doom. Instead, the Viet Minh, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, surrounded and besieged the French, who were ignorant of the Viet Minh's possession of heavy artillery (including anti-aircraft guns) and their ability to move such weapons to the mountain crests overlooking the French encampment. The Viet Minh occupied the highlands around Dien Bien Phu, and were able to fire down accurately onto French positions. Tenacious fighting on the ground ensued, reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War I. The French repeatedly repulsed Viet Minh assaults on their positions. Supplies and reinforcements were supplied by air, although as the French positions were overrun and the anti-aircraft fire took its toll, fewer and fewer of those supplies reached them. After a two month siege, the garrison was overrun and most French surrendered. Despite the loss of most of their best soldiers, the Viet Minh marshalled their remaining forces and pursued those French who did flee into the wilderness, routing them and ending the battle.

Following the battle, the war ended with the 1954 Geneva accords. The accords partitioned the country in two; fighting later resumed in 1957 with the Vietnam War (Second Indochina War). Read more...

May 2007
TGV trains departing from the Gare Montparnasse in Paris.

The TGV (train à grande vitesse, French for "high-speed train") is France's high-speed rail service developed by GEC-Alsthom (now Alstom) and SNCF, the French national rail operator, and operated primarily by SNCF. Following the inaugural TGV service between Paris and Lyon in 1981, the TGV network, centred on Paris, has expanded to connect cities across France and in adjacent countries. It holds the record for the fastest wheeled train having reached 574.8 km/h (357 mph) on 3 April 2007, and achieved the highest average speed for a regular passenger service in the world. TGV is a registered trademark of SNCF.

The success of the first line led to an expansion of the network, with new lines built in the south, west and northeast of the country. Eager to emulate the success of the French network, neighbouring countries such as Belgium, Italy, Spain and Germany built their own high-speed lines. TGVs link with Switzerland through the French network, with Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands through the Thalys network, and the Eurostar network links France and Belgium with the United Kingdom. Several lines are planned, including extensions within France and to surrounding countries. Towns such as Tours have become a part of a "TGV commuter belt".

TGV trainsets travel at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) in commercial use. A specially modified trainset reached 574.8 km/h (357 mph) on test runs. Its high speed, almost equal to that of prototype maglev trains, is made possible through the use of specially-designed LGVs (lignes à grande vitesse, high-speed lines) without sharp curves, high-powered electric motors, low axle weight, articulated carriages and in-cab signalling (eliminating the need for drivers to view lineside signals at high speed).

TGV trainsets are manufactured primarily by Alstom, now often with the involvement of a subcontractor, such as Bombardier. Except for a small series of TGVs used for postal freight between Paris, Lyon and the Provence, the TGV is primarily a passenger service. Trains derived from TGV designs operate in South Korea (KTX) and Spain (AVE).

Travel by TGV has largely replaced air travel between connected cities, due to shorter travel times (especially for trips taking less than three hours), reduced check-in, security and boarding formalities, and the convenient location of stations in the hearts of cities. The TGV is a very safe mode of transport; whilst there have been accidents, there have been no fatalities at speeds over 161km/h (100mph). Read more...

June 2007
Carménère grapes

The Carménère grape is a wine grape variety originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, where it was used to produce deep red wines and occasionally used for blending purposes in the same manner as Petit Verdot.

A member of the Cabernet family of grapes, the name "Carménère" originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) after the hue of the grape in fall. The grape is also known as Grand Vidure, a historic Bordeaux synonym, although current European Union regulations prohibit Chilean imports under this name into the EU. Along with Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit verdot, Carménère is considered part of original six noble grapes of Bordeaux, France.

Now rarely found in France, the world's largest area planted with this variety is in Chile in South America, with more than 4,000 Hectares (2006) cultivated in the Central Valley. As such, Chile produces the vast majority of Carménère wines available today and as the Chilean wine industry grows, more experimentation is being carried out on Carménère's potential as a blending grape, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Carménère is also grown in Italy's Eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions and in smaller quantities in the California and Walla Walla regions of the United States. Read more...

July 2007
Polynesia Tahiti Tautira.JPG

French Polynesia (French: Polynésie française, Tahitian: Pōrīnetia Farāni) is a French overseas collectivity with the particular designation of "overseas country" (French: pays d'outre-mer, or POM) in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahiti in the Society Islands group, which is also the most populous island, and the seat of the capital of the territory (Papeete). Although not an integral part of its territory, Clipperton Island was administered from French Polynesia until 2007.

The islands of French Polynesia have a total land area of 4,167 square kilometres (1,622 sq. mi) scattered over 2,500,000 square kilometres (965,255 sq. mi) of ocean.

It is made up of several groups of islands, the largest and most populated of which is Tahiti.

The island groups are:

Aside from Tahiti, some other important atolls, islands, and island groups in French Polynesia are: Ahe, Bora Bora, Hiva `Oa, Huahine, Maiao, Maupiti, Mehetia, Moorea, Nuku Hiva, Raiatea, Tahaa, Tetiaroa, Tubuai, and Tupai.

French is the official language of French Polynesia. An organic law of April 12, 1996 states that "French is the official language, Tahitian and other Polynesian languages can be used." At the 2002 census, among the population whose age was 14 and older, 65.0% of people reported that the language they speak the most at home is French, 33.4% reported that the language they speak the most at home is any of the Polynesian languages, 1.2% reported an East Asian language, and 0.4% another language. At the same census, 92.9% of people whose age was 14 or older reported that they could speak, read and write French, whereas only 4.8% reported that they had no knowledge of French. Read more...

August 2007
The jersey of the French rugby team, with the traditional rooster symbol.

The France national rugby union team is a national sporting side that represents France in rugby union. They compete annually against England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in the Six Nations Championship. They have won the championship outright on fourteen occasions, shared in another eight titles and completing eight grand slams. They are currently the third ranked team in the world—behind New Zealand ("The All Blacks") and Australia. Six former French players have been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.

Rugby was introduced to France in 1872 by the British, and on New Year's Day, 1906 the national side played its first Test match—against New Zealand in Paris. France played sporadically against the British Home Nations until they joined them to form a Five Nations tournament (today, the Six Nations Championship) in 1910. France also competed in early Summer Olympics when rugby was included—winning one gold and two silver medals. France came of age during the 1950s and 1960s, winning their first of many Five Nations titles. They won their first Grand Slam in 1968, and won numerous titles in the following years. Since the inaugural World Cup in 1987, France have qualified for the knock-out stage of every tournament and reached the final twice. They were runners-up to the All Blacks in 1987 and to Australia in 1999. France are the host nation for the upcoming 2007 Rugby World Cup.

France traditionally play in white-trimmed blue shirts with blue shorts and red socks, and are commonly referred to as les tricolores or les bleus. The French emblem is a red badge with a rooster. Their alternative strip is mainly white. French internationals are played at a variety of venues throughout the country, but it is Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis that is used for their games during the Six Nations. Read more...

September 2007
The Talbot Tagorawas an executive cardeveloped by Chrysler Europeand produced by Peugeot Société Anonyme(PSA). The Tagora was marketed under the Talbotmarqueafter PSA took over Chrysler's European operations in 1979. PSA presented the first production vehicle in 1980 and launched it commercially in 1981. The Tagora fell far short of sales expectations, and PSA cancelled the model only two years later. Fewer than 20,000 Tagoras were ever built, all of them at the former Simcafactory in the Poissycommunenear Paris, France. Chrysler Europe began the development of the Tagora in 1976, under the code nameC9, with the goal of replacing the unsuccessful Chrysler 180series. Following the same development pattern as with the Horizonand Alpinemodels, the responsibility for the Tagora's technical development remained in France, while the styling was devised at Chrysler's design centre in the United Kingdom. The original C9prototype was a modern-styled saloonwith a low beltline, ample glazing and a generous interior made possible by the rather large wheelbase. The Britishdesign team initially proposed some stylistic features inspired by the Citroën SM, including a front glass panel between the headlights to accommodate the license plate, round front wheelarches and rear fender skirts. However, Chrysler management in the United States deemed these features too extravagant, so the design of the C9became more conventional: front and rear wheelarches were squared off and the skirts lost, and the license plate was placed on the front bumper as on most cars. To better balance the rather tall silhouette, the beltline was raised. Over the course of development, the C9also lost its vertical taillights in favour of more "fashionable" horizontal ones. Following the renaming of Chrysler Europe's models to the Talbotmarque, the C9was christened the Talbot Tagora, and the first batch of cars rolled out of the former Simca plant in Poissy in 1980. The same year, PSA presented the Tagora at the Salon de l'Automobilein Paris. Following a hands-on demonstration of the model to the press in Moroccoin March 1981, the car went on sale in France in April and in the United Kingdom in May. Read more...

October 2007
Cubismwas a 20th century artmovement that revolutionized Europeanpaintingand sculpture, and inspired related movements in musicand literature. It initially developed as a short but highly significant art movement after 1907 until 1914 in France. During the late 19th century and into the early 20th century the European cultural elite was discovering the art of Africa, Micronesia, and Native Americansfor the first time. Europeans were fascinated, intrigued and educated by the newness, wildness and the stark power embodied in the art of those faraway places. During the 1890s Paul Gauguin led the way, and younger artists like Henri Matisseand Pablo Picassoin the early days of the 20th century were inspired and motivated by the raw power and simplicity of the so-called Primitiveart of those foreign cultures. Around 1904, Picasso met Henri Matisse through Gertrude Stein, at a time when both artists had recently acquired an interest in African sculpture. Picasso and Matisse became friendly rivals and competed with each other throughout their careers. Possibly because of this rivalry and friendship, Picasso's work entered a new period by 1907 marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian and African art, and masks in particular. His paintings of 1907 have been characterized as Protocubism, the antecedent of Cubism. In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form — instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles presenting no coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the ambiguous shallow space characteristic of cubism. Some believe that the roots of cubism are to be found in the two distinct tendencies of Paul Cézanne's later work: firstly to break the painted surface into small multifaceted areas of paint, thereby emphasising the plural viewpoint given by binocular vision, and secondly his interest in the simplification of natural forms into cylinders, spheres, and cones. The cubists went farther than Cézanne; they represented all the surfaces of depicted objects in a single picture plane as if the objects had had all their faces visible at the same time, in the same plane. This new kind of depiction revolutionised the way in which objects could be visualised in painting and art. The invention of Cubism was a joint effort between Picassoand Braque, then residents of Montmartre, Paris. These artists were the movement's main innovators. A later active participant was the Spaniard Juan Gris. After meeting in 1907 Braque and Picasso in particular began working on the development of Cubism. Picasso was initially the force and influence that persuaded Braque by 1908 to move away from Fauvism. The two artists began working closely together in late 1908 - early 1909 until the outbreak of World War Iin 1914. The movement spread quickly throughout Paris and Europe. Read more...

November 2007
The Thinker original sculpture at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

The Thinker (French: Le Penseur) is a bronze and marble sculpture by Auguste Rodin, held in the Musée Rodin, in Paris. It depicts a man in sober meditation battling with a powerful internal struggle. It is sometimes used to represent philosophy.

Originally named The Poet, the piece was part of a commission by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, to create a monumental portal -- the Gates of Hell -- to act as the door of the museum. Rodin based his theme on The Divine Comedy of Dante. Each of the statues in the piece represented one of the main characters in the epic poem. The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. (In the final sculpture, a miniature of the statue sits atop the gates, pondering the hellish fate of those beneath him.) The sculpture is nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.

Rodin made a first small plaster version around 1880. The first large-scale bronze cast was finished in 1902, but was not presented to the public until 1904. It became the property of the city of Paris, thanks to a subscription organized by Rodin admirers, and was put in front of the Panthéon in 1906. In 1922, however, it was moved to the Hôtel Biron, transformed into a Rodin Museum.

More than any other Rodin sculpture, The Thinker moved into the popular imagination, as an immediately recognizable icon of intellectual activity; consequently it has been subject to endless satirical use. This began already in Rodin's lifetime. Armand Hammer records that, on meeting Lenin face to face in 1912, he gave the Bolshevik leader a small sculpture of a chimpanzee in Thinker pose, meditating on a human skull, in recognition of the Darwinist slant of Lenin's thinking.

Until September 2006, the original cast was on display at Sakip Sabancı Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Prior to that, the original cast was displayed in Hartford, Connecticut, at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, in March and April 2006. Since the beginning of 2007, it is back in Paris. Read more...

December 2007
Valérian and Laureline as drawn by Jean-Claude Mézières.

Valérian and Laureline (French: Valérian et Laureline), also known as Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent (French: Valérian: Agent Spatio-Temporel) or just Valérian, is a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. First published in the magazine Pilote in 1967, its latest installment was published in 2007. All of the Valérian stories have been collected in graphic novel album format, comprising some twenty-one volumes plus a short story collection and an encyclopaedia. Valérian is one of the top five biggest selling Franco-Belgian comics titles of its publisher, Dargaud.

The series centres around the adventures of the spatio-temporal agent, Valérian, and his redheaded female companion, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time. Valérian is a classical anti-hero, strong and brave but with a tendency to follow the orders of his superiors even if he feels, deep down, that it is the wrong thing to do. On the other hand, his companion Laureline manages to combine sex-appeal with intelligence and independence making her one of science fiction's most notable heroines. Influenced by classic literary science fiction, the series combines elements of space opera and time travel. Christin's scripts are noted for their humour and strongly liberal political slant while Mézières' art is noted for its vivid depictions of the alien worlds and species Valérian and Laureline encounter on their adventures.

Many of the stories have been translated into several languages, including English. The series has received recognition through a number of prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême. An animated television adaptation, titled Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline, has been made and is currently airing on Canal+ Family in France. Read more...