Administrative Regions of France
Metropolitan France - the European part of France, including Corsica - is divided in 22 régions, which again are subdivided in 96 départements. The département number is the first two digits in a post code and the last two digits of a car registration number in the old car registration system that is being faded out. With a few exceptions, the départements are numbered alphabetically.
The départements are divided in 337 arrondissements, each encompassing a number of cantons, which are finally divided in more than 36,000 communes. The département Ville de Paris is an exception, as it has only one arrondissement, which is not subdivided as mentioned.
The cities Paris, Marseille and Lyon and subdivided into another type of arrondissement. Paris has 20 of them.
The régions are administered by an elected conseil régional. Each région also has a préfet de région.
The central government is represented in each département by a préfet appointed by the conseil de ministres. The democratic part of the département is the elected conseil général.
The concept of an arrondissement, except for those in Paris, Marseille and Lyon, is quite obscure and almost never heard of.
The cantons are almost as obscure as the arrondissements and seem mainly to serve as a way to group voters for the elections to the conseil général and the conseil régional.
Pays origins in Latin pagus that means a territorial subdivision. A pays refers to a country in daily speech, but in administrative France it can also refer to a smaller geographical area, typically an area with shared cultural, social, economic or geographic cohesion around a town or city, for example Pays d'Arles. Contrary to the other territorial subdivisions, only some parts of France belong to one or another pays.
The commune, administered by an elected conseil municipal and a maire, is where local democracy takes place. The Parisian conseil municipal is called conseil de Paris. Each Parisian arrondissement has a conseil d'arrondissement presided by a maire.
Some communes have decided to work
together in an établissement public de coopération
intercommunale (EPCI). As this is France, it cannot be allowed to be
too simple, so there are four current types of EPCI:
Confused? Don't worry. Ask any Frenchman in the street, and the chance that he can tell you about the arrondissements (not the city ones) is less than 1 to 100.
In the table below, the régions are marked in bold, followed by the numbers and names of their départements.
L'Hexagone is Metropolitan France excluding Corsica and is so named because it can look a bit like a hexagon - a six-sided figure.
Parisii is the name of the Celtic tribe that had settled down on the Ile de la cité, the largest of the islands in the Seine in the centre of Paris. After the Roman conquest in 52 BC, it was named Lutèce. After Germanic invasions starting in the 3rd century, it was reduced back to its original size of the Ile de la cité and it took the name Paris.
Marseille is also commonly referred to as la cité phocéenne or la ville phocéenne, referring to its founding in the 6th century as a Phocæan colony, originally under the name of Massilia.
Provence is the départements 04, 13, 83 and parts of 06 and 84.
Le Midi is commonly used to designate the south of France. In ancient French, midi meant south, designating the moment when the sun is at zenith. Thus, midi also means "noon".
La Côte d'Azur is the coast of south-east France between Menton (06) and Cassis (13), according to the formal definition. Some would say that the real Côte d'Azur is only the part between Saint-Tropez and the Italian border.
The French Riviera is roughly the same as what the French call la Côte d'Azur, but definitions of the French Riviera vary between the coast between Italy and Toulon and the coast between Italy and Hyères (not far from Toulon).
The name of the Mediterranean Sea (Mer Méditerranée) stems from Latin mediterraneus that means "in the middle of the lands". The Mediterranean Sea is almost entirely enclosed by Europe, Asia and Africa. In ancient times, the Mediterranean Sea was indeed in the middle of the lands known by Europeans, Europe, Africa and Asia.
PACA is an acronym for the région Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur.
La petite couronne - meaning "the small crown" - is the three départements bordering Paris - 92, 93 and 94 - and is so named because of its shape.
La grande couronne - meaning "the large crown" - is the départements of the région Île-de-France further from Paris - 77, 78, 91 and 95 - and is so named because of its shape.
The département 22 Côtes-d'Armor was formerly known as Côtes-du-Nord.
The Corsican départements 2A and 2B were formerly one département with the number 20.
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