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Metropolitan France has an area of over 200,000 square miles (518,000 square kilometers), making it the largest Western European nation. Paris is the capital and cultural center, long dominating the rest of the nation.The older provinces, now reconfigured in what are officially called regions, have played an important role in the nation's history. The French Republic includes four overseas departments ( départements d' outre-mer DOMs): French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion.The population is divided by social class, political party affiliation, generation, ethnicity, and region.Having had a significant rural population well into the twentieth century, the country continues to be marked by a rural-urban split. The French often refer to their nation as a hexagon to describe its six-sided shape, and this term is also a symbol for the country.
The major mountain ranges are the Alps in the east and the Pyrenees in the southwest. The Massif Central is a large mountainous plateau in the central area, which includes the ancient volcanoes of the Auvergne region.Known as the tricoleur, the flag is blue, white, and red.White is associated with monarchy, red with the republic, and blue with Charlemagne, Clovis, and other early rulers.The winds that sweep across the territory have regional names and are connected to regional identity, the most famous being le Mistral in the Rhône valley. In an attempt to keep the population up, family allowances are given to each family per child, with no income restriction.There is much population mobility from urban to rural areas and from region to region.
The population has more than doubled since the mid-nineteenth century, when it was 28.3 million.