The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Commune in France

The commune (in French: commune, word appeared in the 12th century, from Medieval Latin communia, gathering of people sharing a common life, from Latin communis, things held in common) is the lowest level of administrative division in the French Republic. French communes are roughly equivalent to US incorporated municipalities/cities. French communes have no equivalent in the United Kingdom.

A French commune can be a 2,000,000 inhabitants city like Paris, a 10,000 inhabitants town, or just a 10 inhabitants village.


General Characteristics

Total number of communes

As of 1.1.2004 there were 36,782 communes in the French Republic, 36,568 of them in metropolitan France and 214 of them overseas. This is a staggering number, much higher than in any other European country. This peculiarity is explained in detail in the history section below.

It should also be noted that contrary to the United States, the whole of the territory of the French Republic is divided into communes. On the territory of the French Republic there exists no such thing as unincorporated areas directly depending from a higher authority. Any piece of land in the French Republic depends from a commune, both in metropolitan (i.e. European) France and in its overseas extensions, with only the exceptions of:

  • COM (collectivité d'outre-mer, i.e. overseas collectivity) of Wallis and Futuna (14,944 inhabitants), which is still divided according to the three traditional chiefdoms (the only permanently inhabited territory in the French Republic which is not divided in communes)
  • TOM (territoire d'outre-mer, i.e. overseas territory) of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (no permanent population, about 170 resident scientists)
  • Îles Éparses ("Scattered Islands"), a grouping of five islands in the Indian Ocean (no permanent population, 55 soldiers and meteorologists)
  • Clipperton Island in the Pacific Ocean (uninhabited)

Surface area of a typical commune

In metropolitan France, the average area of a commune in 2004 is 14.88 km² (5.75 sq. miles, or 3,676 acres). The median area of metropolitan France's communes (as of 1999 census) is even smaller, at 10.73 km² (4.14 sq. miles, or 2,651 acres). The median area is a better measure of the area of a typical French commune.

This median area is smaller than in most of the European countries, such as Italy where the median area of communes is 22 km² (8.5 sq. miles), Belgium where it is 40 km² (15.5 sq. miles), Spain where it is 35 km² (13.5 sq. miles), or Germany where the majority of Länder have communes with a median area above 15 km² (5.8 sq. miles)

This very small size of the French communes is due to the extremely high number of communes, mentioned above, in a medium-sized territory such as France. In 2000, Switzerland and the Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia in Germany were the only places in Europe where the communes had a smaller median area than in France.

Population of a typical commune

The median population of metropolitan France's communes at the 1999 census was 380 inhabitants. Again this is a very small number, and here France stands absolutely apart in Europe, with the lowest communes' median population of all the European countries (communes in Switzerland or Rhineland-Palatinate may have a smaller surface area, as mentioned above, but they are more populated). This small median population of French communes can be compared with Italy where the median population of communes in 2001 was 2,343 inhabitants, Belgium where it was 11,265 inhabitants, or even Spain where it was 564 inhabitants.

The median population given here should not hide the fact that differences in size are abysmal among French communes. As mentioned in the introduction, a commune can be a 2,000,000 inhabitants city like Paris, a 10,000 inhabitants town, or just a 10 inhabitants village. What the median population tells us is that the vast majority of the French communes only have a couple hundred inhabitants; but there also exists a small number of communes that are highly populated.

In metropolitan France, there are 20,982 communes with less than 500 inhabitants, which is 57.4% of the total of communes. On these 20,982 communes there live only 4,638,000 inhabitants, or 7.7% of the total population of metropolitan France. In other words, only 7.7% of the French population live in 57.4% of the communes, while 92.3% of the population live in just 42.6% of the French communes.

Status of the communes

Despite enormous differences in population, each of the communes of the French Republic possesses a mayor (maire) and a municipal council (conseil municipal) which manage the commune from the mairie (city hall), with exactly the same powers no matter the size of the commune (with the city of Paris as the only exception, where city police is in the hands of the central state, not in the hands of the mayor of Paris). This uniformity of status is a clear legacy of the French Revolution which wanted to do away with the local idiosyncrasies and tremendous differences of status that existed in the kingdom of France.

However, the size of a commune still matters in two domains: French law determines the size of the municipal council according to the population of the commune; and the size of the population also determines which voting process is used for the election of the municipal council.

Since the PML Law of 1982, three French communes also have a special status in that they are further divided into municipal arrondissements: these are Paris, Marseilles, and Lyon. Municipal arrondissement is the only administrative unit below the commune in the French Republic, but they exist only in these three communes. These municipal arrondissements are not to be confused with the arrondissements that are subdivisions of French départements.

French communes have legal "personality" since 1837: they are considered legal entities and have legal capacity. Municipal arrondissements have no legal personality, and no budget of their own.

The rights and obligations of communes are governed by the Code général des collectivités territoriales (CGCT) which replaced the Code des communes (except for personnel matters) with the passage of the law of 21 February 1996 for legislation and decree number 2000-318 of 7 April 2000 for regulations.

  • [1] ( Legislation
  • [2] ( Decree

History of the French Communes

French communes were created at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789-1790.

Kingdom of France

Before the French Revolution, there existed no such thing as what we know today as communes. The lowest level of administrative division was the parish (paroisse), and there were up to 60,000 of them in the kingdom of France. A parish was essentially a church, the houses around it (known as the village), and the agricultural land around the village. It should be remembered that France was the most populous country of Europe until the 19th century, more so even than Russia, with a population of approximately 25 million inhabitants before the Industrial Revolution (England had only 6 million inhabitants before the Industrial Revolution), which accounts for the stunningly high number of parishes in the kingdom of France. French kings often prided themselves for ruling over a "realm of 100,000 steeples".

However, these parishes lacked the municipal structures of post-Revolution communes. Usually there was only a fabric committee (conseil de fabrique), made up of villagers, which managed the buildings of the parish church, the churchyard, the other numerous church estates and properties, and sometimes also provided help for the poor, or even administered parish hospitals or schools. The priest in charge of the parish was also required to record baptisms, marriages, and burials since the Council of Trent and several royal edicts under kings Louis XIV and Louis XV. Except for these tasks, villages were left to handle other matters as they pleased. Typically, villagers would gather to decide over a special issue regarding the community, such as agricultural land usage, but there existed no permanent municipal body. In many places, the local feudal lord (seigneur) in his castle was still intervening in the village’s affairs, still collecting taxes from tenant-villagers and ordering them to the corvée, still determining which agricultural land was to be used and when, and how much of the harvest should be given to him.

On the other hand, there existed chartered cities that had received charters during the Middle Ages, either from the king himself, or from local counts or dukes (such as the city of Toulouse chartered by the counts of Toulouse). These cities were made up of several parishes (up to several hundreds in the case of Paris), and they were usually enclosed by a wall. These cities had emancipated from the power of feudal lords in the 12th and 13th centuries, they had municipal bodies which administered the city, and bore quite a resemblance with the communes that the French Revolution would establish, except for two key points: 1- these municipal bodies were not democratic, they were usually in the hands of some rich bourgeois families upon whom, in time, nobility had been conferred, so they can be better labeled as oligarchies rather than municipal democracies; 2- there was no uniform status for these chartered cities, each one having its own status and specific organization.

In the north of France, cities tended to be administered by échevins (from an old Germanic word meaning judge), while in the south of France cities tended to be administered by consuls (in a clear reference to Roman antiquity), but Bordeaux was administered by jurats (etymologically meaning "sworn men") and Toulouse by capitouls ("men of the chapter"). Usually, there was no mayor in the modern sense; all the échevins or consuls were on the same footing, and rendered decisions in collegiality; but for certain purposes there was one échevin or consul ranking above the others, being a sort of mayor, although not with the same authority and executive powers as a modern mayor. This "mayor" was called: provost of the merchants (prévôt des marchands) in Paris and Lyon; maire in Marseille, Bordeaux, Rouen, Orléans, Bayonne and many other cities and towns; mayeur in Lille; premier capitoul in Toulouse; viguier in Montpellier; premier consul in many towns of southern France; prêteur royal in Strasbourg; maître échevin in Metz; maire royal in Nancy; or prévôt in Valenciennes.

French Revolution

On July 14, 1789, in the end of the afternoon, following the storming of the Bastille, the provost of the merchants of Paris, Jacques de Flesselles , was shot by the crowd on the steps of Paris city hall. Although in the Middle Ages the provosts of the merchants symbolized the independence of Paris and had even openly rebelled against King Charles V, their office had been suppressed by the king, then reinstated but with strict control from the king, and so they had ended up being viewed by the people as yet another local represent of the king, and no more as the embodiment of a free municipality.

Following that tragic event, a "commune" of Paris was immediately set up to replace the old medieval chartered city of Paris, and a municipal guard was established to protect Paris against any attempt made by King Louis XVI to quell the ongoing revolution. Several other cities of France quickly followed suit, and communes sprang everywhere, with each their municipal guard. On December 14, 1789, the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) passed a law creating the commune, designed to be the lowest level of administrative division in France, thus endorsing these independently created communes, but also creating communes of its own. In this area as in many others, the work of the National Assembly was, properly speaking, revolutionary: not content with transforming all the chartered cities and towns into communes, the National Assembly also decided to turn all the village parishes into full status communes. Cartesian ideas as well as the philosophy of the Enlightenment (les Lumières) were inspiring the revolutionaries. They wanted to do away with all the peculiarities of the past and establish a perfect society in which all and everything should be equal and set up according to reason rather than tradition or conservatism.

Thus, they set to establish administrative divisions that would be uniform all across the country: the whole of France would be divided into départements, themselves divided into arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons, themselves divided into communes, no exceptions. All these communes would have equal status, they would all have a mayor (maire) at their head, and a municipal council (conseil municipal) elected by the inhabitants of the commune. This was a real revolution for the tens of thousands of villages that had never experienced organized municipal life before. A communal house (mairie) had to be built in each of these villages, which would house the meetings of the municipal council as well as the administration of the commune. Some in the National Assembly were opposed to such a fragmentation of France into tens of thousands of communes, but eventually Mirabeau and his ideas of one commune for each parish prevailed.

On September 20, 1792, the recording of births, marriages, and deaths was also withdrawn from the priests of the parishes and put in the charge of the mayors. Civil marriages were established and started to be performed in the mairie with a ceremony not unlike the traditional church ceremony, with the mayor replacing the priest, and the name of the law replacing the name of God ("Au nom de la loi, je vous déclare unis par les liens du mariage." – "In the name of the law, I now pronounce you husband and wife."). Priests were forced to surrender their centuries-old baptism, marriage, and burial books, which were deposited in the mairies. These abrupt changes profoundly alienated devout Catholics, and France was soon plunged into the throes of civil war, with the fervently religious regions of western France at its epicenter. It would take Napoleon I to re-establish peace in France, stabilize the new administrative system, and make it generally accepted by the population. Napoleon also abolished the election of the municipal councils, which were now chosen by the prefect, representative of the central government.

Trends after the French Revolution

Today, in their general principles, French communes are still very much the same as those that were established at the beginning of the French Revolution. The biggest changes intervened in 1831 when the French Parliament re-established the principle of the election of the municipal councils, and in 1837 when French communes were given legal "personality", being now considered legal entities with legal capacity. The Jacobin revolutionaries were afraid of independent local powers, which they saw as conservative and opposed to the revolution, and so they favored a powerful central state. Therefore, when they created the communes, they deprived them of any legal "personality" (the départements alike), only the central state having legal "personality". By 1837 that situation was judged impractical, as mayors and municipal councils could not be parties in courts. The consequence of the change, however, was that tens of thousands of villages which had never had legal "personality" (contrary to the chartered cities) suddenly became legal entities for the first time in their history. This is still the case today.

During the French Revolution there were created approximately 44,000 communes on a territory corresponding to the limits of modern-day France (the 44,000 figure includes the communes of the departments of Savoie, Haute-Savoie and Alpes-Maritimes which were annexed in 1795, but do not include the departments of modern-day Belgium and Germany west of the Rhine, which were part of France between 1795 and 1815). This was less than the 60,000 parishes that existed before the revolution (in cities and towns, parishes were merged into one single commune; in the countryside, some very small parishes were merged with bigger ones), but 44,000 was still a very big number, without any comparison in the world at the time, except in the empire of China (but there, only county level and above had any permanent administration).

Since then, tremendous changes have affected France, like the rest of Europe: the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, the rural exodus all have depopulated the countryside and increased the size of cities. French administrative divisions, however, have remained extremely rigid and unchanged. Today about 90% of communes and departments are exactly the same as those designed at the time of the French Revolution more than 200 years ago, with the same limits as those drawn 200 years ago. As a consequence, countless rural communes that had hundreds of inhabitants at the time of the French Revolution now only have a hundred inhabitants or less. On the other hand, cities and towns have grown so much that there urbanized area is now extending far beyond the limits of their commune which were set at the time of the revolution. The most extreme example of this is Paris, where the urbanized area sprawls over 396 communes!

Actually, Paris was one of the very few communes of France whose limits were extended to take into account the expansion of the urbanized area. The new, larger commune of Paris was set up under the oversight of Emperor Napoléon III in 1859, but after 1859 the limits of Paris became rigid. Unlike most other European countries which stringently merged their communes to better reflect modern-day density of population (such as Germany and Italy around 1970), dramatically decreasing the number of communes by two-third or more (the communes of West Germany were decreased from 24,400 to 8,400 in just a few years), France only carried out mergers at the margin, and that mostly in the 19th century. From 44,000 communes at the time of the French Revolution, the number decreased to 37,963 in 1921, and 36,568 in 2004 (in metropolitan France).

France is by far the country with the largest number of communes in Europe. For instance, reunited Germany (one-third more inhabitants than France) has only 13,800 communes, and Italy (almost as many inhabitants as France) has only 8100 communes. In Europe, only Switzerland has as high a density of communes as France, and even there an extensive merger movement has started in the last ten years. To better grasp the staggering number of communes in France, two comparisons can be made: 1- the European Union (of 15 members, before May 2004) is made up of approximately 75,000 communes, and metropolitan France alone accounts for 35,568 of these, which means 47.5% of the communes of the European Union are in metropolitan France alone (France represents 16% of the total population of the European Union of 15 members). 2- the United States, with a territory 14 times larger than the French Republic, and 4.7 times the population of the French Republic, has only 35,937 incorporated municipalities and townships (as of 2002 Census of Governments), compared with 36,782 communes in the French Republic.

Current debate

For more than 30 years, there have been calls in France for a massive merger of communes, including such distinguished voices as the president of the Cour des Comptes (the central auditing administrative body in France). However, so far local conservatism has been very strong, and no mandatory merging proposal has ever made it past committee in the French Parliament. In 1971 the Marcellin law offered support and money from the government to entice the communes to freely merge with each other, but the law was a complete failure (only about 1,300 communes accepted to disappear and merge with other communes).

So it is, complain those in favor of the merger, that French cities have a ridiculously light weight compared to their European counterparts, because their limits are still those set more than 200 years ago. For instance, the city of Lyon is a small commune with only 445,500 inhabitants, which compares poorly with other European cities, whereas in fact the metropolitan area of Lyon has 1.65 million inhabitants and ranks as one of the major metropolises of Europe, on par with a metropolitan area like Munich. As a matter of fact, the population and economy of the metropolitan area of Munich is approximately on the same footing as the population and economy of the metropolitan area of Lyon, but the population of the commune (city) of Munich is about 1,265,000 inhabitants, compared with only 445,500 in the case of Lyon.

Mayors of French cities often complain that their weight is undervalued when they travel outside of France, due to the fact that they rule only a small territory at the center of wider metropolitan areas. Another absurd example is Paris: although the metropolitan area of Paris is one of the very few in the world to have more than 10 million inhabitants, the population of the city of Paris itself is only 2,125,000 inhabitants, which is even less than the population of the city of Rome (2,650,000 inhabitants), whose metropolitan area of 3 million inhabitants is not in the same league as the metropolitan area of Paris.

At the other end of the scale, there exist some countryside communes which rural exodus left with few inhabitants and which struggle to maintain and manage such basic services as running water, garbage collection, or properly paved communal roads.

Mergers, however, are not easy to achieve. A first obvious issue is that they reduce the number of available elected positions, and thus are not popular with local politicians. A more serious issue is that citizens from one village may be unwilling to have their local services run by an executive located in another village, which may be unaware or inattentive to their local needs. The Parti des Travailleurs far-left party has seized the issue and campaigns, by several means, against the regrouping of communes.


Aware of the inadequacy of the communal grid, but unable or unwilling to tackle local conservatism, French politicians have pushed forward the so-called "intercommunalilty" (intercommunalité). Resulting from statutes enacted by the French parliament in 1959, 1966, and 1992, independent communes may gather together and form a syndicate in charge of managing some services (such as garbage collection or running water) for all the communes in the syndicate. Indeed, over the years it has become more and more frequent in the countryside to see some large garbage containers parked on the side of communal roads and bearing the name and logo of the local syndicate of communes. In urban areas, communes may team up with the city at the core of the urban area and form a community in charge of managing public transportation or even local taxes together.

The Chevènement law in 1999 completely transformed the structures of intercommunality in France, abolishing some structures and creating new ones, and offering government money to entice communes to join intercommunal structures. Contrary to the failure of the Marcellin law in 1971, or the semi-success of former laws such as the statute enacted in 1966 which enabled urban communes to form urban communities, the Chevènement law has encountered a large success in its first five years, with a majority of French communes now involved in intercommunal structures.

There are two types of intercommunal structures:

  1. Those without fiscal power. This is the loosest form of intercommunality. Mainly, in this category are the traditional syndicates of communes. Communes gather and contribute financially to the syndicate, but the syndicate cannot levy its own taxes. Communes can leave the syndicate anytime. Syndicates can be set up for a particular purpose, or to deal with several matters. These structures without fiscal power have been left untouched by the Chevènement law, and they are on a declining trend.
  2. Structures with fiscal power. This is what the Chevènement law was concerned with. The law distinguishes three structures with fiscal power: the Community of Communes (communauté de communes ), aimed primarily at rural communes; the Community of Agglomeration (communauté d'agglomération), aimed at towns and middle-sized cities and their suburbs; and the Urban Community (communauté urbaine), aimed at larger cities and their suburbs.

These three structures are given varying levels of fiscal power, with the Community of Agglomeration and the Urban Community having most fiscal power, levying the local tax on companies (taxe professionnelle) in their own name instead of the communes making them up, and with the same level of taxation across the communes of the community. The communities must also manage some services previously performed by the communes, such as garbage collection or transport, like the old syndicates, but the law make it mandatory for the communities to manage also other areas such as economic planning and development, housing projects, or environment protection. Communities of Communes are required to manage the least number of areas, leaving the communes more autonomous, while the Urban Communities are required to manage most matters, leaving the communes inside them with less autonomous power.

In exchange for the creation of a community, the government allocates money to them based on their population, thus giving an incentive for the communes to team up and form communities. Communities of Communes are given the least amount of money per inhabitants, whereas Urban Communities are given the most amount of money per inhabitant, thus pushing the communes to form more integrated communities where they have less powers and which they would have been loath to form if it were not for government money.

The Chevènement law has been extremely successful in the sense that a majority of French communes have now joined the new intercommunal structures, quite a feat in such a conservative country as France. As of January 1, 2005, there were 2,510 such communities in metropolitan France (including 6 syndicats d'agglomération nouvelle , soon to disappear), made up of 32,223 communes (88.1% of all the communes of metropolitan France), and 50.9 million inhabitants, i.e. 84.3 % of the population of metropolitan France.

However, these impressive results may hide a murkier reality. In rural areas, many communes have entered a Community of Communes only to benefit from government funds. Often, the local syndicate has been turned officially into a Community of Communes, the new Community of Communes in fact managing only the services previously managed by the syndicate, which is contrary to the spirit of the law, which has established the new intercommunal structures to carry out a much broader range of activities than the old syndicates. Some say, should government money transfers be stopped, many of these Communities of Communes would revert to their former status of syndicate, or simply completely disappear in places where there were no syndicates prior to the law.

In urban areas, the new intercommunal structures are much more a reality, being created by local decision-makers out of genuine belief in the worth of working together in the urban area. However, in many places, local feuds have arisen, and it was not possible to set up an intercommunal structure for the whole of the urban area, some communes refusing to take part in it, or even creating their own structure, so that in some urban areas like Marseilles there exist four distinct intercommunal structures! In many areas, rich communes have joined with other rich communes and have refused to let in poorer communes, for fear that their citizens would be overtaxed at the benefit of poorer suburbs of the urban area. Moreover, intercommunal structures in many urban areas are still new, and fragile: tensions exist between communes; the city at the center of the urban area is often suspected of wishing to dominate the suburban communes; communes from opposite political sides may also be suspicious of each other.

Two famous examples of this are Toulouse and Paris. In Toulouse, on top of there being six intercommunal structures, the main community of Toulouse and its suburbs is only a Community of Agglomeration, although Toulouse is large enough to create an Urban Community according to the law. This is because the suburban communes refused an Urban Community for fear of losing too many powers, and opted for a Community of Agglomeration, despite the fact that a Community of Agglomeration receives less government funds than an Urban Community. As for Paris, no intercommunal structure has emerged, the suburbs of Paris fearing the concept of a "Greater Paris", and so disunity is still the rule in the Paris metropolitan area, with the suburbs of Paris creating many different intercommunal structures, but all without the city of Paris.

One major problem about intercommunality that is often raised is the fact that the intercommunal structures do not have representatives directly elected by the people, so it is the representatives of each individual communes that sit in the new structure. As a consequence, civil servants and bureaucrats are the one setting up the agenda and implementing it, with the elected representatives of the communes only endorsing key decisions. At the local level, this situation is quite like the one existing in Brussels, where power shared by many independent European states has resulted in that power being exercised by a bureaucracy not elected by citizens.


The first five years of the 21st century have seen great changes at the communal level in France, but the situation is still unsettled. The new intercommunal structures, designed to solve the problem of a country with too many small communes, have encountered a clear success, but their powers as well as their relationship with the communes below them and the départements above them still need to be defined in practice.

It is unclear yet where the trend is going. Will the intercommunal structures have representatives directly elected by the citizens in the future, as the Mauroy Report proposed in 2000? But then wouldn't this leave the communes like hollow administrative units? Already, a few well known mayors of large French cities (communes) have abandonned their seats of mayor to become presidents of the Urban Communities, such as is the case with the Urban Community of Lille Métropole. Or after all, will these intercommunal structures break up in the end after the state stop transferring money? Or perhaps, like some believe, the Chevènement law was just a first step toward a massive merger of communes, an attempt to have the communes work together and see the advantages of it, before they are eventually merged. In any case, the debate is sure to rebound in the next years.

Miscellaneous Facts

Most and least populous communes

  • The most populous commune of the French Republic is the commune of Paris: 2,125,246 inhabitants in March 1999.
  • There are six communes in the French Republic with no inhabitants at all. These six communes are on the battlefield of Verdun: Beaumont-en-Verdunois , Bezonvaux , Haumont-près-Samogneux , Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre , Cumières-le-Mort-Homme , and Fleury-devant-Douaumont . These villages were completely destroyed during the gruesome Battle of Verdun in 1916, the land received so many shells that the area had become almost lunar, totally unrecognizable. After the war it was decided that these villages would not be rebuilt. The communes were maintained as a testimony of these villages which "died for France" as they were officially titled. These dead communes are each administered by a municipal council of three members appointed by the prefect of the Meuse département.
  • Apart from these special cases, the communes with the least inhabitants in the French Republic are:
    • commune of Rochefourchat , in the foothills of the French Alps, one inhabitant at 1999 census (a 38-year-old divorced man)
    • commune of Leménil-Mitry , in the woodlands of Lorraine in eastern France, two inhabitants at 1999 census (a 42-year-old man and his 38-year-old wife, him being the owner of all the estates in the commune, descending from the family of the local lords)
    • commune of Rouvroy-Ripont , near the Champagne area, two inhabitants at 1999 census (an unmarried 60-year-old man, and an unmarried 73-year-old man)

Largest and smallest commune territories

  • The largest commune of the French Republic is Maripasoula (3,710 inhabitants) in the département of French Guyana: 18,360 km² (7,089 sq. miles).
  • The smallest commune of the French Republic is Castelmoron-d'Albret (62 inhabitants) near Bordeaux: 0.0376 km² (0.0145 sq. miles or 9.3 acres).

Most elevated commune

The most elevated commune of the French Republic (and of Europe) is Saint-Véran (267 inhabitants), in the French Alps: altitude of the village is between 1,990 meters (6,529 feet) and 2,040 meters (6,693 feet) above sea level.

Communes furthest away from the capital city of France

  • The commune of the French Republic furthest away from Paris is the commune of Île-des-Pins (1,671 inhabitants) in New Caledonia: 16,841 km. (10,465 miles) from the center of Paris.
  • In continental France (i.e. European France excluding Corsica), the communes furthest away from Paris are Coustouges (134 inhabitants) and Lamanère (44 inhabitants) at the Spanish border: both at 721 km. (448 miles) from the center of Paris as the crow flies.

Shortest and longest commune names

  • The commune of the French Republic with the shortest name is the commune of Y (89 inhabitants).
  • There are three communes in the French Republic which have the longest name (38 letters):
    • commune of Saint-Germain-de-Tallevende-la-Lande-Vaumont (1731 inhabitants)
    • commune of Saint-Remy-en-Bouzemont-Saint-Genest-et-Isson (592 inhabitants)
    • commune of Beaujeu-Saint-Vallier-Pierrejux-et-Quitteur (739 inhabitants).

Names of communes other than in French

Names of French communes are normally in French. In areas where other languages than French were spoken, the names have been turned into French, such as Toulouse (formerly Tolosa in Occitan), Strasbourg (formerly Straßburg in German), or Perpignan (formerly Perpinyà in Catalan). However, many smaller communes have retained their native name. Here are examples of retained names in the languages once spoken, or still spoken, on the territory of the French Republic:

  • German : e.g. commune of Mittelhausbergen (1,680 inhabitants)
  • Dutch : e.g. commune of Steenvoorde (4,024 inhabitants)
  • Breton : e.g. commune of Kermoroc’h (324 inhabitants)
  • Occitan : e.g. commune of Belcastel (251 inhabitants)
  • Basque : e.g. commune of Ustaritz (4,984 inhabitants)
  • Catalan : e.g. commune of Banyuls-dels-Aspres (1,007 inhabitants)
  • Corsican : e.g. commune of San-Gavino-di-Carbini (738 inhabitants)
  • Comorian : e.g. commune of M’Tsangamouji (5,382 inhabitants)
  • Polynesian : e.g. commune of Hitiaa O Te Ra (8,286 inhabitants)
  • several Austronesian languages of New Caledonia: e.g. commune of Kouaoua (1,524 inhabitants)
  • several American Indian languages : e.g. commune of Kourou (19,107 inhabitants)


INSEE codes: INSEE gives numerical indexing codes to various entities in France, notably the communes (they do not coincide with postcodes). The 'complete' code has 8 digits and 3 spaces within, but there is a popular 'simplified' code with 5 digits and no space within :

  • 2 digits (département) and 3 digits (commune) for the 96 départements of France 'métropolitaine'
  • 3 digits (département or collectivity) and 2 digits (commune) for the Overseas departments, Overseas Territorial Collectivities and Overseas Countries and Territories . See also : .

See also

Last updated: 05-11-2005 08:33:02
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04