The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The départements (or departments) are administrative units of France, roughly analogous to British counties and are now grouped into 22 metropolitan and four overseas régions. They are subdivided into 342 arrondissements. Départements are also found in Côte d'Ivoire.


Administrative role

Each department is administered by a Conseil Général elected for six years, and its executive is, since 1982 headed by the president of that council (formerly it was headed by the préfet).

The French national government is represented in the département by a préfet appointed by the national executive. The préfet is assisted by one or more sous-préfets based in district centres outside the departmental capital.

The capital city of a département bears the title of préfecture. Départements are divided into one to seven arrondissements. The capital city of an arrondissement is called the sous-préfecture. The civil servant in charge is the sous-préfet.

The départements sub-divide into communes, governed by municipal councils. France (as of 1999) had 36,779 communes.

Most of the départements have an area of around 4,000-8,000 km² and a population between 250,000 and a million. The largest in terms of area is Gironde (10,000 km²) and the smallest the city of Paris (105 km² excluding the suburbs, now organised in adjacent départements). The most populous is Nord (2,550,000) and the least populous Lozère (74,000).

See also: List of French départements by population

The départements are numbered: their two-digit numbers appear in postal codes and on car number-plates. Note that there is no number 20, but 2A and 2B instead. Note also that the two-digit code "98" is used by Monaco. Together with the ISO 3166-1 country code FR the numbers form the ISO 3166-2 country subdivision codes for the metropolitan departments. The overseas departments get two letters for the ISO 3166-2 code.


Départements were created on January 4, 1790 by the Constituent Assembly to replace the country's former provinces with a more rational structure. They were also designed to deliberately break up France's historical regions in an attempt to erase cultural differences and build a more homogeneous nation. Most départements are named after the area's principal river(s) or other physical features.

The number of départements rose from an initial 83 to 130 by 1810 with the territorial gains of the Republic and of the Empire (see Provinces of the Netherlands for the annexed Dutch departements), but they were reduced again to 86 with Napoleon I's defeat in 1814-1815. Three more were added with the acquisition of Nice and Savoy in 1860. The numbering was estabished on the alphabetical order of those 89 départements.

Three départements in Alsace-Lorraine which had been ceded to Germany in 1871 (Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and Moselle) were returned to France in 1919. When Alsace-Lorraine was ceded in 1871, a small part of the département of Haut-Rhin was detached from the rest of Alsace-Lorraine and remained French. This territory, called Territoire de Belfort, was not reintegrated into the recovered département of Haut-Rhin in 1919 and was instead made a full-status département in 1922, becoming the 90th département of France.

Reorganisations of the Paris region (1968) and the division of Corsica (1975) have added a further six départements, raising the total to one hundred - including the four overseas départements d'outre-mer (DOM) of Guyane (French Guiana) in South America, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, and Réunion in the Indian Ocean.

Map and list of départements

Départements and Regions of France
French régions and départements

Number Département Préfecture
01 Ain Bourg-en-Bresse
02 Aisne Laon
03 Allier Moulins
04 Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Digne
05 Hautes-Alpes Gap
06 Alpes-Maritimes Nice
07 Ardèche Privas
08 Ardennes Charleville-Mézières
09 Ariège Foix
10 Aube Troyes
11 Aude Carcassonne
12 Aveyron Rodez
13 Bouches-du-Rhône Marseille
14 Calvados Caen
15 Cantal Aurillac
16 Charente Angoulême
17 Charente-Maritime La Rochelle
18 Cher Bourges
19 Corrèze Tulle
2A Corse-du-Sud Ajaccio
2B Haute-Corse Bastia
21 Côte-d'Or Dijon
22 Côtes-d'Armor Saint-Brieuc
23 Creuse Guéret
24 Dordogne Périgueux
25 Doubs Besançon
26 Drôme Valence
27 Eure Evreux
28 Eure-et-Loir Chartres
29 Finistère Quimper
30 Gard Nîmes
31 Haute-Garonne Toulouse
32 Gers Auch
33 Gironde Bordeaux
34 Hérault Montpellier
35 Ille-et-Vilaine Rennes
36 Indre Châteauroux
37 Indre-et-Loire Tours
38 Isère Grenoble
39 Jura Lons-le-Saunier
40 Landes Mont-de-Marsan
41 Loir-et-Cher Blois
42 Loire Saint-Etienne
43 Haute-Loire Le Puy
44 Loire-Atlantique Nantes
45 Loiret Orléans
46 Lot Cahors
47 Lot-et-Garonne Agen
48 Lozère Mende
49 Maine-et-Loire Angers
50 Manche Saint-Lô
51 Marne Châlons-en-Champagne
52 Haute-Marne Chaumont
53 Mayenne Laval
54 Meurthe-et-Moselle Nancy
55 Meuse Bar-le-Duc
56 Morbihan Vannes
57 Moselle Metz
58 Nièvre Nevers
59 Nord Lille
60 Oise Beauvais
61 Orne Alençon
62 Pas-de-Calais Arras
63 Puy-de-Dôme Clermont-Ferrand
64 Pyrénées-Atlantiques Pau
65 Hautes-Pyrénées Tarbes
66 Pyrénées-Orientales Perpignan
67 Bas-Rhin Strasbourg
68 Haut-Rhin Colmar
69 Rhône Lyon
70 Haute-Saône Vesoul
71 Saône-et-Loire Mâcon
72 Sarthe Le Mans
73 Savoie Chambéry
74 Haute-Savoie Annecy
75 Paris
(number assigned formerly to Seine)
76 Seine-Maritime Rouen
77 Seine-et-Marne Melun
78 Yvelines
(number assigned formerly to Seine-et-Oise)
79 Deux-Sèvres Niort
80 Somme Amiens
81 Tarn Albi
82 Tarn-et-Garonne Montauban
83 Var Toulon
84 Vaucluse Avignon
85 Vendée La Roche-sur-Yon
86 Vienne Poitiers
87 Haute-Vienne Limoges
88 Vosges Epinal
89 Yonne Auxerre
90 Territoire-de-Belfort Belfort
91 Essonne Evry
92 Hauts-de-Seine Nanterre
93 Seine-Saint-Denis Bobigny
94 Val-de-Marne Créteil
95 Val-d'Oise Cergy/Pontoise1
971 Guadeloupe 2 Basse-Terre
972 Martinique 2 Fort-de-France
973 Guyane 2 Cayenne
974 La Réunion 2 Saint-Denis


  1. The préfecture of Val-d'Oise has been established in Pontoise when the department was created, but moved de facto to the neighbouring commune of Cergy.
  2. The overseas departments are former colonies outside France that now enjoy a status similar to European or metropolitan France. They are part of France and of the EU. Each of them constitutes a région at the same time.

Former départements

  • Former départements on the current territory of France:
Département Préfecture Dates in existence
Rhône-et-Loire Lyon (1790-1793)
Corse Bastia (1790-1793)
Golo Bastia (1793-1811)
Liamone Ajaccio (1793-1811)
Mont-Blanc Chambéry (1792-1815)
Léman Geneva (1798-1814)
Meurthe Nancy (1790-1871)
Seine Paris (1790-1967)
Seine-et-Oise Versailles (1790-1967)
Corse Ajaccio (1811-1975)
Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon Saint-Pierre (1976-1985)

  • Départements whose names have been changed (in most cases, to lose the terms "lower" and "inferior"):
Ancient name Modern name Date of change
Mayenne-et-Loire Maine-et-Loire 1791
Bec-d'Ambès Gironde 1795
Charente-Inférieure Charente-Maritime 1941
Seine-Inférieure Seine-Maritime 1955
Loire-Inférieure Loire-Atlantique 1957
Basses-Pyrénées Pyrénées-Atlantiques 1969
Basses-Alpes Alpes-de-Haute-Provence 1970
Côtes-du-Nord Côtes-d'Armor 1990

  • Former départements of French Algeria:
Number Département Préfecture Dates in existence
91 Alger Algiers (1848-1957)
92 Oran Oran (1848-1957)
93 Constantine Constantine (1848-1957)
-- Bône Annaba (1955-1957)
Number Département Préfecture Dates in existence
8A Oasis Ouargla (1957-1962)
8B Saoura Bechar (1957-1962)
9A Alger Algiers (1957-1962)
9B Batna Batna (1957-1962)
9C Bône Annaba (1955-1962)
9D Constantine Constantine (1957-1962)
9E Médéa Medea (1957-1962)
9F Mostaganem Mostaganem (1957-1962)
9G Oran Oran (1957-1962)
9H Orléansville Chlef (1957-1962)
9J Sétif Setif (1957-1962)
9K Tiaret Tiaret (1957-1962)
9L Tizi-Ouzou Tizi Ouzou (1957-1962)
9M Tlemcen Tlemcen (1957-1962)
9N Aumale Sour el Ghozlane (1958-1959)
9P Bougie Bejaia (1958-1962)
9R Saïda Saida (1958-1962)

  • Former départements in the former colonies of France:
Département Modern-day location Dates in existence
Département du Sud Dominican Republic/Haiti (1795-1800)
Département de l'Inganne Dominican Republic/Haiti (1795-1800)
Département du Nord Dominican Republic/Haiti (1795-1800)
Département de l'Ouest Dominican Republic/Haiti (1795-1800)
Département de Samana Dominican Republic/Haiti (1795-1800)
Sainte-Lucie Saint Lucia, Tobago (1795-1800)
Île de France Mauritius, Rodrigues, Seychelles (1795-1800)
Indes-Orientales Pondichery, Karikal, Yanaon,
Mahe, and Chandernagore

Département Préfecture Dates in existence
Mont-Terrible Porrentruy (1793-1800)
Corcyre Corfu (1797-1799)
Ithaque Argostoli (1797-1798)
Mer-Égée Zante (1797-1798)
Dyle Bruxelles (1795-1814)
Escaut Gand (1795-1814)
Forêts Luxembourg (1795-1814)
Jemmape Mons (1795-1814)
Lys Bruges (1795-1814)
Meuse-Inférieure Maëstricht (1795-1814)
Deux-Nèthes Anvers (1795-1814)
Ourte Liège (1795-1814)
Sambre-et-Meuse Namur (1795-1814)
Mont-Tonnerre Mayence (1801-1814)
Rhin-et-Moselle Coblence (1801-1814)
Roer Aix-la-Chapelle (1801-1814)
Sarre Treves (1801-1814)
Doire Ivrea (1802-1814)
Marengo Alessandria (1802-1814)
Turin (1802-1814)
Sésia Vercelli (1802-1814)
Stura Cuneo (1802-1814)
Tanaro Asti (1802-1805)
Apennins Chiavari (1805-1814)
Gênes Gênes (1805-1814)
Montenotte Savona (1805-1814)
Arno Florence (1808-1814)
Méditerranée Livorno (1808-1814)
Ombrone Sienne (1808-1814)
Taro Parme (1808-1814)
Rome Rome (1809-1814)
Trasimène Spolète (1809-1814)
Bouches-du-Rhin Bois-le-Duc (1810-1814)
Bouches-de-l'Escaut Middelbourg (1810-1814)
Simplon Sion (1810-1814)
Bouches-de-la-Meuse La Haye (1811-1814)
Bouches-de-l'Yssel Zwolle (1811-1814)
Ems-Occidental Groningen (1811-1814)
Ems-Oriental Aurich (1811-1814)
Frise Leeuwarden (1811-1814)
Yssel-Supérieur Arnhem (1811-1814)
Zuyderzée Amsterdam (1811-1814)
Bouches-de-l'Elbe Hamburg (1811-1814)
Bouches-du-Weser Bremen (1811-1814)
Ems-Supérieur Osnabrück (1811-1814)
Lippe Münster (1811-1814)
Bouches-de-l'Èbre Lleida (1812-1813)
Montserrat Barcelona (1812-1813)
Sègre Puigcerdà (1812-1813)
Ter Girona (1812-1813)
Bouches-de-l'Èbre-Montserrat Barcelona (1813-1814)
Sègre-Ter Girona (1813-1814)

See also: The 130 départements of the Napoleonic Empire

Last updated: 06-02-2005 02:12:47
The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy