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Alsace and Lorraine (German: Elsass and Lothringen) are two historic provinces in eastern France. Part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648, Alsace was added to France by the Treaty of Rijswijck in 1697. Lorraine was part of the kingdom of LOTHARINGIA, which was divided (959) into the duchies of Lower and Upper Lorraine. The latter, which became modern Lorraine, was an independent but much-fought-over duchy until 1766. Alsace logoBetween 1871 and 1918, Alsace (the departments of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin) and the eastern part of Lorraine (now the department of Moselle) were annexed to Germany as a result of France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. From 1919 to 1940 the area belonged to France. Controversies over state-run versus religious schools and attempts to suppress German newspapers contributed to an ultimately unsuccessful movement for home rule in 1920. From 1940 to 1945 the area was again controlled by Germany; it was returned to France in 1945. Lorraine's departments of Meuse, Meurthe-et-Moselle, and Vosges remained French.

Geologically, western Lorraine is composed of clay vales separated by the north-south-trending limestone ridges of the Cotes de Meuse and Cotes de Moselle. The heavy soils of the vales support mixed farming--dairying, oats, and wheat. Lorraine logo The ridges are barriers to communication and invasion. METZ, NANCY, VERDUN, Thionville, and Toul are route centers and fortress cities defending gaps in the ridges. The battle for Verdun was one of the bloodiest of World War I. Nancy (1990 pop., 102,410), the traditional capital and university center of Lorraine, is located on the Rhine-Marne canal, which follows the routeway from Paris to Strasbourg.

The Lorraine iron ore fields, about 110 km (70 mi) long and 20 km (12 mi) wide, run from Nancy northward to the primary iron and steel district around Longwy, Thionville, and Metz. The French part of the Saar coalfield lies 64 km (40 mi) to the east. It contains substantial French reserves in easily mechanized, thick seams.

Southeastward, Lorraine rises gradually to the summits of the Vosges. This sandstone massif has a granite core exposed in the south, where elevations exceed 1,200 m (3,937 ft). The political and linguistic divide between French-speaking Lorraine and German-speaking Alsace runs along its crest. At the foot of the steep eastern slope of the Vosges is a famous vineyard region. An adjoining belt of fertile loess soils produces cereals, fruit, tobacco, and vegetables. It also produces hops for Alsatian and German breweries.

STRASBOURG (1990 pop., 255,937), a major port on the Rhine, is the traditional capital of Alsace. Its industries include oil refining, brewing, printing, food processing, and metallurgy. Famous for its university and its pate, Strasbourg is headquarters of the Council of Europe. The Rhine-Rhone canal connects Strasbourg with Mulhouse, the Burgundy Gate, and Lyon. Mulhouse, with a chemical industry based on local potash deposits, and Colmar are textile-industry centers of Alsace and eastern Lorraine. Regional temperatures average 0.6 degrees C (33 degrees F) in January and 19 degrees C (66 degrees F) in July. Annual rainfall ranges from 510 to 1,020 mm (20 to 40 in).

Timothy J. Rickard
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #8, ©1996.
Bibliography: Kahn, Bonnie M., My Father Spoke French: Nationalism and Legitimacy in Alsace, 1871-1914 (1990); Laengy, Anne, Alsace: Historical and Picturesque (1989); Silverman, Dan P., Reluctant Union: Alsace-Lorraine and Imperial Germany, 1871-1918 (1972).


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