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Départements: a 100 piece jigsaw

Carte de France des départements - Illustration : B. TolluAfter the 1789 revolution the National Assembly divided France up into a jigsaw puzzle of equal size pieces.

Today there are 96 départements in mainland France and 4 overseas (called "départements d’outre-mer" or "DOM"). Paris is unique: it is both a city and a département.

Borne départementale - Photo : G. BrameMost of the départements are named after a river that runs through them, or a local mountain (for example : la Dordogne, le Jura, l'Orne, la Somme, etc...).

They are all organised the same way. They are run by a préfet (prefect) who represents the state and by the Conseil général (council) which is elected by those who live in the département.

Map of France  - "Departements"

The départements are generally numbered in alphabetical order: Ain 1, Aisne 2, Allier 3, etc., but there are a few exceptions, for example the 7 départements that surround Paris like a garland and form the region of Ile-de-France.

Ain = 1 The Ain département is the first alphabetically.

Calvados = 14 is also a strong alcoholic drink made from apples in Normandy.

Cantal = 15 is a cheese from Auvergne.

Panneau le Loir - Photo : G. Brame Loire (42) is a river as well as a "département", but le Loir is a smaller river, in the Pays de Loire region.

nummerplate from Pas-de-Calais (62) It is easy to tell where a car comes from by looking at the last two figures on the number plate. They are the same as the number of the département (example: 62 = Pas de Calais).

Similarly, when you address a letter, the first two figures of the postcode show which département it is going to.


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