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French departments


This article is part of the series on
Administrative divisions of France

(incl. overseas regions)


(incl. overseas departments)

Urban communities
Agglomeration communities
Commune communities
Syndicates of New Agglomeration

Associated communes
Municipal arrondissements

Others in Overseas France

Overseas collectivities
Sui generis collectivity
Overseas country
Overseas territory
Clipperton Island

In the administrative division of France, the department (French: département, pronounced: [depaʁtəmɑ̃]) is one of the three levels of government below the national level (“territorial collectivities”), between the region and the commune. There are 96 departments in metropolitan France and 5 overseas departments, which also are classified as regions. Departments are further subdivided into 342 arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons; the latter two have no autonomy and are used for the organisation of public services and sometimes elections.

France's departments are administered by elected general councils (conseil général) and their presidents, whose main areas of responsibility include the management of a number of social and welfare allowances, of junior high school (collège) buildings and technical staff, of local roads and school and rural buses, and a contribution to municipal infrastructures. Local services of the State administration are traditionally organised at departmental level, where the prefect represents the government; however, regions have gained importance in this regard since the 2000s, with some department-level services merged into region-level services.

The departments were created in 1791 as a rational replacement of Ancien Régime provinces in view of strengthening national unity; almost all of them are therefore named after rivers, mountains or coasts rather than after historical or cultural territories, unlike regions, and some of them are commonly referred to by their two-digit postal code number, which was until recently used for all vehicle registration plates. They have inspired similar divisions in many of France’s former colonies.


Main article: Territorial formation of France

The first French territorial departments were proposed in 1665 by Marc-René d'Argenson to serve as administrative areas purely for the Ponts et Chaussées (Bridges and Highways) infrastructure administration.

Before the French Revolution, France gained territory gradually through the annexation of a mosaic of independent entities. By the close of the Ancien Régime, it was organised into provinces. During the period of the Revolution, these were dissolved, partly in order to weaken old loyalties.

The modern departments, as all-purpose units of the government, were created on 4 March 1790 by the National Constituent Assembly to replace the provinces with what the Assembly deemed a more rational structure. Their boundaries served two purposes:

  • Boundaries were deliberately chosen to break up France's historical regions in an attempt to erase cultural differences and build a more homogeneous nation.
  • Boundaries were set so that any settlement in the country was within a day's ride of the capital of the department. This was a security measure, intended to keep the entire national territory under close control. This measure was directly inspired by the Great Terror, during which the government had lost control of many rural areas far from any centre of government.

The old nomenclature was carefully avoided in naming the new departments. Most were named after an area's principal river or other physical features. Even Paris was in the department of Seine.

The number of departments, initially 83, was increased to 130 by 1809 with the territorial gains of the Republic and of the First French Empire (see Provinces of the Netherlands for the annexed Dutch departments). Following Napoleon's defeats in 1814-1815, the Congress of Vienna returned France to its pre-war size; the number of departments was reduced to 86, as three of the original departments had been split. In 1860, France acquired the County of Nice and Savoy, which led to the creation of three new departments. Two were added from the new Savoyard territory, while the department of Alpes-Maritimes was created from Nice and a portion of the Var department. The 89 departments were given numbers based on their alphabetical order.

The departments of Moselle, Bas-Rhin, and most of Haut-Rhin were ceded to the German Empire in 1871, following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. A small part of Haut-Rhin remained French, however, and became known as the Territoire de Belfort. When France regained the ceded departments after World War I, the Territoire de Belfort was not reintegrated into Haut-Rhin. In 1922, it became France's 90th department.

The reorganisation of Île-de-France (1968) and the division of Corsica (1975) added six more departments, raising the total to 96. Counting the five overseas departments (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and Mayotte) the total comes to 101 departments. In 2011, the overseas collectivity of Mayotte became the 101st department.

General characteristics

The departmental seat of government is known as the prefecture (préfecture) or chef-lieu de département and is generally a city of some importance roughly at the geographical centre of the department. This was determined according to the time taken to travel on horseback from the periphery of the department. The goal was for the prefecture to be accessible by horseback from any town in the department within 24 hours. The prefecture is not necessarily the largest city in the department; for instance, in Saône-et-Loire department the capital is Mâcon, but the largest city is Chalon-sur-Saône. Departments are divided into one or more arrondissements. The capital of an arrondissement is called a subprefecture (sous-préfecture) or chef-lieu d'arrondissement.

Each department is administered by a general council (conseil général), an assembly elected for six years by universal suffrage, with the president of the council as executive of the department. Before 1982, the executive of a department was the prefect (préfet) who represents the Government of France in each department and is appointed by the President of France. The prefect is assisted by one or more sub-prefects (sous-préfet) based in the subprefectures of the department.

The departments are further divided into communes, governed by municipal councils. As of 1999, there were 36,779 communes in France. In the overseas territories, some communes play a role at departmental level. Paris, the country’s capital city, is a commune as well as a department.

In continental France (metropolitan France, excluding Corsica), the median land area of a department is 5,965 km2 (2,303 sq mi), which is two-and-a-half times the median land area of a ceremonial county of England & Wales and slightly more than three-and-half times the median land area of a county of the United States. At the 2001 census, the median population of a department in continental France was 511,012 inhabitants, which is 21 times the median population of a U.S. county, but less than two-thirds of the median population of a ceremonial county of England & Wales. Most of the departments have an area of between 4,000 and 8,000 km², and a population between 320,000 and 1 million. The largest in area is Gironde (10,000 km²), while the smallest is the city of Paris (105 km²). The most populous is Nord (2,550,000) and the least populous is Lozère (74,000).

The departments are numbered: their two-digit numbers appear in postal codes, in INSEE codes (including "social security numbers") and on vehicle number-plates. Initially, the numbers corresponded to the alphabetical order of the names of the departments, but several changed their names, so the correspondence became less exact. There is no number 20, but 2A and 2B instead, for Corsica. Corsican postal codes or addresses in both departments do still start with 20, though. The two-digit code "98" is used by Monaco. Together with the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code FR, the numbers form the ISO 3166-2 country subdivision codes for the metropolitan departments. The overseas departments get three digits, e.g. 971 for Guadeloupe (see table below).

Party-political preferences

These maps cannot be used as a useful resource of voter preferences, because General Councils are elected on a two-round system, which drastically limits the chances of fringe parties, for as long as they are not supported on one of the two rounds by a moderate party. After the 1992 election, the left had a majority in only 21 of the 100 departments; after the 2011 election, the left dominated 61 of the 100 departments (Mayotte only became a department after the election).

Key to the parties:


The removal of one or more levels of local government has been discussed for some years; in particular, the option of removing the departmental level. Frédéric Lefebvre, spokesman for the UMP, said in December 2008 that the fusion of the departments with the regions was a matter to be dealt with soon. This was soon refuted by Édouard Balladur and Gérard Longuet, members of the Committee for the reform of local authorities, known as the Balladur Committee.[1]

In January 2008, the Commission for freeing French development, known as the Attali Commission, recommended that the departmental level of government should be eliminated within ten years.[2]

Nevertheless, the Balladur Committee has not retained this proposition and does not advocate the disappearance of the departments, but simply "favors the voluntary grouping of departments," which it suggests also for the regions, with the aim of bringing the number of the latter down to fifteen.[3] This committee advocates, on the contrary, the suppression of the cantons.[3]

Maps and tables

Current departments

All departments have an escutcheon with which they are commonly associated, but not all are officially recognized or used. In some departments they are used, but in others a more modern emblem is used. The national government itself has no heraldic coat of arms, as a rejection of the aristocratic origins of heraldry, and this is followed by many governments in the departments.

INSEE code Arms 1 Department Prefecture Region
01 Ain Bourg-en-Bresse  Rhône-Alpes
02 Aisne Laon
03 Allier Moulins  Auvergne
04 Alpes-de-Haute-Provence 2 Digne-les-Bains  Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
05 Hautes-Alpes Gap  Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
06 Alpes-Maritimes Nice  Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
07 Ardèche Privas  Rhône-Alpes
08 Ardennes Charleville-Mézières  Champagne-Ardenne
09 Ariège Foix  Midi-Pyrénées
10 Aube Troyes  Champagne-Ardenne
11 Aude Carcassonne  Languedoc-Roussillon
12 Aveyron Rodez  Midi-Pyrénées
13 Bouches-du-Rhône Marseille  Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
14 Calvados Caen
15 Cantal Aurillac  Auvergne
16 Charente Angoulême  Poitou-Charentes
17 Charente-Maritime 3 La Rochelle  Poitou-Charentes
18 Cher Bourges  Centre
19 Corrèze Tulle  Limousin
2A Corse-du-Sud Ajaccio  Corse
2B Haute-Corse Bastia  Corse
21 Côte-d'Or Dijon
22 Côtes-d'Armor 4 Saint-Brieuc  Bretagne
23 Creuse Guéret  Limousin
24 Dordogne Périgueux  Aquitaine
25 Doubs Besançon  Franche-Comté
26 Drôme Valence  Rhône-Alpes
27 Eure Évreux
28 Eure-et-Loir Chartres  Centre
29 Finistère Quimper  Bretagne
30 Gard Nîmes  Languedoc-Roussillon
31 Haute-Garonne Toulouse  Midi-Pyrénées
32 Gers Auch  Midi-Pyrénées
33 Gironde 5 Bordeaux  Aquitaine
34 Hérault Montpellier  Languedoc-Roussillon
35 Ille-et-Vilaine Rennes  Bretagne
36 Indre Châteauroux  Centre
37 Indre-et-Loire Tours  Centre
38 Isère Grenoble  Rhône-Alpes
39 Jura Lons-le-Saunier  Franche-Comté
40 Landes Mont-de-Marsan  Aquitaine
41 Loir-et-Cher Blois  Centre
42 Loire Saint-Étienne  Rhône-Alpes
43 Haute-Loire Le Puy-en-Velay  Auvergne
44 Loire-Atlantique 6 Nantes  Pays de la Loire
45 Loiret Orléans  Centre
46 Lot Cahors  Midi-Pyrénées
47 Lot-et-Garonne Agen  Aquitaine
48 Lozère Mende  Languedoc-Roussillon
49 Maine-et-Loire 7 Angers  Pays de la Loire
50 Manche Saint-Lô
51 Marne Châlons-en-Champagne  Champagne-Ardenne
52 Haute-Marne Chaumont  Champagne-Ardenne
53 Mayenne Laval  Pays de la Loire
54 Meurthe-et-Moselle Nancy  Lorraine
55 Meuse Bar-le-Duc  Lorraine
56 Morbihan Vannes  Bretagne
57 Moselle Metz  Lorraine
58 Nièvre Nevers
59 Nord Lille  Nord-Pas-de-Calais
60 Oise Beauvais
61 Orne Alençon
62 Pas-de-Calais Arras  Nord-Pas-de-Calais
63 Puy-de-Dôme Clermont-Ferrand  Auvergne
64 Pyrénées-Atlantiques 8 Pau  Aquitaine
65 Hautes-Pyrénées Tarbes  Midi-Pyrénées
66 Pyrénées-Orientales Perpignan  Languedoc-Roussillon
67 Bas-Rhin Strasbourg  Alsace
68 Haut-Rhin Colmar  Alsace
69 Rhône Lyon  Rhône-Alpes
70 Haute-Saône Vesoul  Franche-Comté
71 Saône-et-Loire Mâcon
72 Sarthe Le Mans  Pays de la Loire
73 Savoie Chambéry  Rhône-Alpes
74 Haute-Savoie Annecy  Rhône-Alpes
75 Paris 9 Paris  Île-de-France
76 Seine-Maritime 10 Rouen
77 Seine-et-Marne Melun  Île-de-France
78 Yvelines 11 Versailles  Île-de-France
79 Deux-Sèvres Niort  Poitou-Charentes
80 Somme Amiens
81 Tarn Albi  Midi-Pyrénées
82 Tarn-et-Garonne Montauban  Midi-Pyrénées
83 Var Toulon  Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
84 Vaucluse Avignon  Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
85 Vendée La Roche-sur-Yon  Pays de la Loire
86 Vienne Poitiers  Poitou-Charentes
87 Haute-Vienne Limoges  Limousin
88 Vosges Épinal  Lorraine
89 Yonne Auxerre
90 Territoire de Belfort Belfort  Franche-Comté
91 Essonne 12 Évry  Île-de-France
92 Hauts-de-Seine 13 Nanterre  Île-de-France
93 Seine-Saint-Denis 14 Bobigny  Île-de-France
94 Val-de-Marne Créteil  Île-de-France
95 Val-d'Oise Pontoise 15  Île-de-France
971 Guadeloupe 16 Basse-Terre  Guadeloupe
972 Martinique 16 Fort-de-France  Martinique
973 Guyane 16 Cayenne  French Guiana
974 La Réunion 16 Saint-Denis  Réunion
976 Mayotte 17 Mamoudzou  Mayotte


  • ^1 Most of the coats of arms are not official
  • ^2 This department was known as Basses-Alpes until 1970
  • ^3 This department was known as Charente-Inférieure until 1941
  • ^4 This department was known as Côtes-du-Nord until 1990
  • ^5 This department was known as Bec-d'Ambès until 1795
  • ^6 This department was known as Loire-Inférieure until 1957
  • ^7 This department was known as Mayenne-et-Loire until 1791
  • ^8 This department was known as Basses-Pyrénées until 1969
  • ^9 Number 75 was formerly assigned to Seine
  • ^10 This department was known as Seine-Inférieure until 1955
  • ^11 Number 78 was formerly assigned to Seine-et-Oise
  • ^12 Number 91 was formerly assigned to Alger, in French Algeria
  • ^13 Number 92 was formerly assigned to Oran, in French Algeria
  • ^14 Number 93 was formerly assigned to Constantine, in French Algeria
  • ^15 The prefecture of Val-d'Oise was established in Pontoise when the department was created, but moved de facto to the neighbouring commune of Cergy; currently, both part of the ville nouvelle of Cergy-Pontoise
  • ^16 The overseas departments each constitute a region and enjoy a status identical to metropolitan France. They are part of France and the European Union, though special EU rules apply to them.
  • ^17 Mayotte became the 101st department of France on 31 March 2011. The INSEE code of Mayotte is 976 (975 is already assigned to the French overseas collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon)

Former departments

Former departments of the current territory of France

Department Prefecture Dates in existence
Rhône-et-Loire Lyon 1790–1793 Split into Loire on 12 August 1793.
Corse Bastia 1790–1793 Split into Golo and Liamone.
Golo Bastia 1793–1811 Reunited with Corse.
Liamone Ajaccio 1793–1811 Reunited with Corse.
Mont-Blanc Chambéry 1792–1815 Formed from part of the Haute-Savoie.
Léman Geneva 1798–1814 Formed when the Haute-Savoie.
Meurthe Nancy 1790–1871 Meurthe ceased to exist following the annexation of Treaty of Versailles.
Seine Paris 1790–1967 On 1 January 1968, Seine was divided into four new departments: Seine-et-Oise as well).
Seine-et-Oise Versailles 1790–1967 On 1 January 1968, Seine-et-Oise was divided into four new departments: Seine).
Corse Ajaccio 1811–1975 On 15 September 1975, Corse was divided in two, to form Haute-Corse.
Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon Saint-Pierre 1976–1985 overseas collectivity on 11 June 1985.

Departments of French Algeria

Unlike the rest of French-controlled Africa, Algeria was officially incorporated into France from 1848 until its independence in 1962.

Before 1957
Department Prefecture Dates of existence
91 Alger Algiers (1848–1957)
92 Oran Oran (1848–1957)
93 Constantine Constantine (1848–1957)
Bône Annaba (1955–1957)
Department Prefecture Dates of 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 Saïda (1958–1962)

Departments in former French colonies

Department Modern-day location Dates in existence
Département du Sud Hispaniola
( Dominican Republic and  Haiti)
Département de l'Inganne (Mostly in Dominican Republic with eastern part of Haiti) 1795–1800
Département du Nord 1795–1800
Département de l'Ouest 1795–1800
Département de Samana (In Dominican Republic) 1795–1800
Sainte-Lucie  Saint Lucia,  Tobago 1795–1800
Île de France  Seychelles 1795–1800
Indes-Orientales Pondichéry, Karikal, Yanaon, Mahé and Chandernagore 1795–1800

Departments of the Napoleonic Empire in Europe

There are a number of former departments in territories conquered by France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire that are now not part of France:

Department Prefecture
(French name)
(English name)
Current location1 Contemporary location2 Dates in existence
Mont-Terrible Porrentruy   Switzerland Holy Roman Empire:
  • Prince-Bishopric of Basel3
Corcyre Corfou Corfu  Greece  Republic of Venice4 1797–1799
Ithaque Argostoli 1797–1798
Mer-Égée Zante Zakynthos 1797–1798
Dyle Bruxelles Brussels  Belgium Austrian Netherlands: 1795–1814
Escaut Gand Ghent  Belgium
Austrian Netherlands:
  • County of Flanders

Dutch Republic:

  • United States of the Zeelandic Flanders
Forêts Luxembourg  Luxembourg
Austrian Netherlands:
  • Duchy of Bouillon
  • Duchy of Luxembourg
Jemmape Mons  Belgium Austrian Netherlands:
  • County of Hainaut
  • Lordship of Tournai
  • County of Namur

Holy Roman Empire:

  • Bishopric of Liège
Lys Bruges Austrian Netherlands:
  • County of Flanders
Meuse-Inférieure Maëstricht Maastricht  Belgium
Austrian Netherlands:
  • Austrian Upper Guelders
  • Duchy of Limburg

Dutch Republic:

  • Dutch Upper Guelders
  • Limburg of the States

Holy Roman Empire:

  • Bishopric of Liège:
    • County of Horne
    • County of Loon
  • Imperial Abbey of Thorn


Deux-Nèthes Anvers Antwerp  Belgium Austrian Netherlands:

Dutch Republic:

Ourthe Liège  Belgium
Austrian Netherlands:

Holy Roman Empire:

Sambre-et-Meuse Namur  Belgium Austrian Netherlands:

Holy Roman Empire:

  • Bishopric of Liège
Mont-Tonnerre Mayence Mainz  Germany Holy Roman Empire:
  • Archbishopric of Mainz
  • Electorate of the Palatinate
  • Bishopric of Speyer
Rhin-et-Moselle Coblence Koblenz Holy Roman Empire:
  • Archbishopric of Cologne
  • Electorate of the Palatinate
  • Archbishopric of Trier
Roer Aix-la-Chapelle Aachen  Germany
Holy Roman Empire:
  • Free Imperial City of Aachen
  • Archbishopric of Cologne
  • Electorate of the Palatinate:
    • Grand Duchy of Berg
    • Duchy of Jülich
  • Kingdom of Prussia Kingdom of Prussia:
    • Prussian Guelders
  • Wesel (after 1805)
Sarre Trèves Trier  Belgium
Holy Roman Empire:
  • Electorate of the Palatinate:
    • County of Veldenz
    • Duchy of Zweibrücken
  • Archbishopric of Trier
Doire Ivrée Ivrea  Italy Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia
  • Duchy of Savoy
Marengo Alexandrie Alessandria 1802–1814
Turin 1802–1814
Sésia Verceil Vercelli 1802–1814
Stura Coni Cuneo 1802–1814
Tanaro6 Asti 1802–1805
Apennins Chiavari Republic of Genoa7 1805–1814
Gênes Gênes Genoa 1805–1814
Montenotte Savone Savona 1805–1814
Arno Florence Grand Duchy of Tuscany8 1808–1814
Méditerranée Livourne Livorno 1808–1814
Ombrone Sienne Siena 1808–1814
Taro Parme Parma Holy Roman Empire:
  • Duchy of Parma & Piacenza
Rome10 Rome Papal States 1809–1814
Trasimène Spolète Spoleto 1809–1814
Bouches-du-Rhin Bois-le-Duc 's-Hertogenbosch  Netherlands Dutch Republic:11 1810–1814
Bouches-de-l'Escaut Middelbourg Middelburg Dutch Republic:11
  • County of Zeeland
Simplon Sion   Switzerland République des Sept Dizains12 1810–1814
Bouches-de-la-Meuse La Haye The Hague  Netherlands Dutch Republic:11
  • County of Holland
Bouches-de-l'Yssel Zwolle Dutch Republic:11
  • Overijssel
Ems-Occidental Groningue Groningen  Netherlands
Dutch Republic:11
  • Dutch Upper Guelders
Ems-Oriental Aurich  Germany Holy Roman Empire: 1811–1814
Frise Leuwarden Leeuwarden  Netherlands Dutch Republic:11
  • Friesland
Yssel-Supérieur Arnhem Dutch Republic:11
  • Dutch Upper Guelders
Zuyderzée Amsterdam Dutch Republic:11
  • County of Holland
  • Lordship of Utrecht
Bouches-de-l'Elbe Hamburg Hamburg  Germany Holy Roman Empire:
  • Hamburg
  • Electorate of Hanover
  • Lübeck
Bouches-du-Weser Brême Bremen Holy Roman Empire:
  • Bremen
  • Electorate of Hanover
  • Duchy of Oldenburg
Ems-Supérieur Osnabrück Holy Roman Empire:
  • Electorate of Hanover
  • Bishopric of Osnabrück
  • Kingdom of Prussia Kingdom of Prussia:
    • Town and County of Lingen
    • Principality of Minden
    • County of Ravensberg
Lippe12 Munster Münster Holy Roman Empire:
  • Bishopric of Münster
  • Electorate of the Palatinate:
    • Grand Duchy of Berg
Bouches-de-l'Èbre Lérida Lleida  Spain Spain Kingdom of Spain:
  • Catalonia
Montserrat Barcelone Barcelona 1812–1813
Sègre Puigcerda Puigcerdà 1812–1813
Ter Gérone Girona 1812–1813
Bouches-de-l'Èbre-Montserrat Barcelone Barcelona Previously the departments of Bouches-de-l'Èbre and Montserrat 1813–1814
Sègre-Ter Gérone Girona Previously the departments of Sègre and Ter 1813–1814

Notes for Table 7:

  1. Where a Napoleonic department was composed of parts from more than one country, the nation-state containing the prefecture is listed. Please expand this table to list all countries containing significant parts of the department.
  2. Territories that were a part of Holy Roman Empire.
  3. The Canton of Basel.
  4. The territories of the  United States of the Ionian Islands
  5. Bishopric of Liège.
  6. On 6 June 1805, as a result of the annexation of the Stura.
  7. Before becoming the department of Ligurian Republic.
  8. Before becoming the department of Kingdom of Etruria.
  9. Rome was known as the department du Tibre until 1810.
  10. Before becoming the departments of Kingdom of Holland.
  11. Before becoming the department of Helvetic Republic until 1802 when it became the independent Rhodanic Republic.
  12. In the months before Lippe was formed, the arrondissements of Rees and Münster were part of Yssel-Supérieur, the arrondissement of Steinfurt was part of Bouches-de-l'Yssel and the arrondissement of Neuenhaus was part of Ems-Occidental.

See also


External links

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