The ruins of Château Gaillard sit high up on chalk cliffs above the riverside town of Les Andelys in the Haute-Normandie region of France. Built on the orders of Richard I, the 12th century fortress was rapidly constructed inside just two years. It was one of the earliest fortifications to feature concentric defences and the use of machicolations, making it one of the strongest castles of its age.
The Crusader King of England, known as Richard the Lionheart, was also the Duke of Normandy and had it built at a strategic location next to the River Seine to guard his Duchy against the advances of King Philip II of France.
Philip laid siege and captured the castle in 1204, five years after the death of Richard. It later served as a royal prison and residence and changed hands several times during the Hundred Years' war between England and France, At the end of the 16th century it was abandoned and partially demolished to provide a source of building materials. The ruins become a French historical monument in 1862.
France is affectionately referred to as "the Hexagon" for its overall shape.French history goes back to the Gauls, a Celtic tribe which inhabited the area circa 300BC until being conquered by Julius Caesar.The Franks were the first tribe to adopt Catholic Christianity after the Roman Empire collapsed. France became an independent location in the Treaty of Verdun in (843 AD), which divided up Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire into several portions.The French monarchy reached its zenith during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who stood for seventy-two years as the Monarch of all Monarchs. His palace of Versailles and its Hall of Mirrors are a splendid treasure-trove of Baroque art.The French Revolution ended the rule of the monarchy with the motto "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!" On July 14th, 1789 angry mobs stormed La Bastille prison and began the Revolution in which Louis XVI, his wife Marie-Antoinette and thousands of others met the guillotine.One decade after the revolution, Napolean Bonaparte seized control of the Republic and named himself Emperor. His armies conquered most of Europe and his Napoleonic Code became a lasting legal foundation for concepts of personal status and property.During the period of colonization France controlled the largest empire in the world, second only to Britain.France is one of the founding members of the European Union and the United Nations, as well as one of the nuclear armed nations of the world.Text by Steve Smith.