France was founded in the turmoil following the collapse of the Roman Empire in Gaul. Initially the kingdom comprised little more than the Ile de Paris. Under the Emperor Charlemagne the territory expanded but mostly to the East and his domains formed the loci for the Holy Roman Empire. The King of the Franks still ruled his North-East enclave but much of what is today France, were Duchies, which after 1066 came under English rule or domination. By the 16th century France was emerging in her present form; under good guidance by Richelieu and Mazarin she became the dominant power in Europe in the reign of the Sun King. Financial speculation and gross fiscal mismanagement led to famine and then the Revolution with the rise of Napoleon who returned France to her glory days for a while. A succession of political upheavals and the Franco-Prussian war meant stuttering industrial growth in the 19th century. A proud land of artists, writers, philosophers and cultural achievements, France has a long and exceedingly rich history. Enjoy a smattering of the people, places and events!that constitute the French heritage.
The collapse of the Roman Empire left Italian Peninsula fragmented, vulnerable and in disarray. The fertile lands in the north became settled by Germanic tribes while much of the rest squabbled as city states vying for ascendancy. Sicily, a jewel in the Mediterranean saw wave after wave of invaders. By the medieval period Venice and Genoa had become powerful mercantile states; Florence, Sienna, Pisa and Milan were major banking and merchant hubs while Rome, with the Papacy and Naples, with poor governance, stagnated. The flight of learned men from Constantinople spawned the Renaissance and Italian thought and creativity dominated European culture. The 17th century saw the rise of the Northern powers and the concomitant erosion of Italian influence saw a gradual erosion of the city-states position so that by the 19th century Italy became a stop on the Grand Tour, a tourist haven. The unification later in the century has led to a revival of Italian fortunes. See and read about many of the Italians who influenced the world.