According to trackaah, the proportion of the urban population in France is very low (40%), if compared to that of the countries where in recent times the industry has occupied the first place in national activity (Germany 64%, Great Britain 68%), or that of newly emerged countries, such as the United States (75%) and Australia (80%). But the number of cities is very large, as it must be in a country of ancient civilization. Referring to the articles dedicated to them for the most important cities, the general principles governing their distribution are indicated here: it depends on the geographical conditions, but it cannot be denied that the more or less rapid development of certain centers was determined above all by the historical circumstances.
Relief also plays an important part in the distribution of cities. There are no large centers on the mountains: the only city in the Alps that reaches 100,000 residents is Grenoble, located at a crossroads of deep valleys, widely open to the town in front; as for Chambéry and Annecy, they are already plain towns. In the Massif Central, the cities are located on the edge of the mountain block in contact with the internal basins (Clermont-Ferrand, Aurillac), or at the foot of the Cévennes (Le Vigan, Alais, Largentière, etc.). A succession of cities, Pau, Tarbes, Foise, etc., marks the contact of the Pyrenees with the plain of Aquitaine: it is a confirmation of the law of the frequency of cities at the contact points of different regions, of which there are numerous examples in the regions that are both plains and hills (market towns).
The great valleys, which are natural communication routes, and the ancient roads of the Roman era, are the seats of cities, the most important of which occupy crossroads due to the work of man or nature. A point of easy passage on a large stream can be a favorable location; the city-bridges are also city-crossroads, and the Rhone valley has many examples. The river that flows between sandy banks is crossed more easily where it narrows, opening its way between some protrusions of the Massif Central; and each narrowing corresponds to a city: Montélimar, Valenza, Tournon, Vienna, Lyon. The passage of a river through a relief line can also give rise to a crossing of roads: thus the côtesof the central Parisian Basin are lined with roads, while others cross them at the points where a breach opens. The location of Nancy and Toul is precisely due to these circumstances; and Dijon owes its importance to the open passage from the Ouche valley through the Gold Coast. Alongside these cases, in which nature has determined the crossroads, there are others in which man’s initiative is greater. Reims is an ancient crossroads, not determined, like that of Épernay, by the passage of a river through the Champagne coast. An example of the alignment of ancient cities along great valleys is offered by the series of cities of the Garonne: Toulouse, Agen, Moissac, Marmande, La Réole, etc.
Port cities are a special case. Their importance depends on the character of the coast and that of the country behind it. On the Atlantic coast, each of the large estuaries has its two ports, one at the mouth, the other at the last point where the tide reaches (Le Havre and Rouen on the Seine, Saint-Nazaire and Nantes on the Loire, Pauillac and Bordeaux on the Gironde); but not always both ports have given rise to a city: for the most part the historical events have favored the oldest port and farthest from the sea. The coasts in riasBrittany abound in natural ports, of which not a few have led to the birth of cities (Saint-Malo, Saint-Brieuc, Brest, Quimper, Vannes, Lorient). We have already mentioned the large number of natural ports and ancient cities along the rocky coast of Provence and their small number on the low coast of Languedoc.
In short, the choice of location depends on commercial considerations. However, many of the ancient cities were strong cities, built on easy-to-defend hills. And locations of this kind are found, not only in the mountains, but also in the regions of hills and plains. In the Alps, Briançon is located on a glacial barrage; in the Jura, old Besançon occupied the isthmus of a recessed meander of the Doubs. The strong position of Semur in Morvan is also due to a recessed meander. Likewise the hillocks, marks of the plateaus and the côteslimestone of the Parisian Basin, were occupied by strong cities: such is the position of Laon in the Aisne and that of Sancerre on the banks of the Loire. In times of peace, these strong cities are subject to sadden, except that they do not extend into the plain, towards the communication routes that pass at their feet.
It can be said that the present importance of cities depends on the place they occupy in industry and on their position in relation to the great modern traffic routes, especially in relation to railway lines. Alençon was a more important city than Le Mans, before the great Paris-Brest line passed through this small market, which has since become a crossroads, where several industries have developed. Among the numerous ancient cities, in the century. XIX those situated in the midst of or near coalfields had a considerable increase; which explains the large renting of cities in northern France. The northern coalfield alone has given rise to many of them very close to each other: Lilla, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Armentieres, Lens, and, not far away, Douai, Arras, Cambrai. The development of Lorraine metallurgy has given new life to old towns, such as Nancy, and has given rise to others near the Briey Iron Basin. On the contrary, numerous ancient market towns, which arose at the point of contact of different natural regions, saw themselves in danger, especially in the mountains (Alps, Massif Central).
The breakdown of large French cities with over 100,000 residents is in itself quite significant: more than two thirds of them are located in the north of France; only one third is below the Paris parallel. Except for the ports (Bordeaux, Marseille, Nice), the whole southern part of France, which is poor in hard coal, has only two large cities with a population exceeding 100,000 residents: Lyon and Saint-Étienne.
The administrative function played a notable part in the growth of French cities: during the century. XIX most of the provincial capitals have doubled their population, but there are nevertheless some that lead a hard life (Pontivy, La Roche-sur-Yon). Economic conditions have the upper hand in any case.