France, with its long and tumultuous history, has an understandably wide-ranging and interesting repertoire of symbols. With a history grounded in revolution, France's symbols still show a strong devotion to freedom and republicanism.
The flag of France, known commonly as the French tricolor, has a history that comes in many pieces. The association of white with France seems to stretch back to Joan of Arc, who used a white banner with lilies on it as her flag. For a long time the white field was used as the background for most French flags, and white became identified as a French color. The red and the blue came from the colors of Paris - during the French Revolution, the Paris regiment was instrumental to its progress, and their red and blue cockades became a symbol of the revolutionary zeal. White was added to the cockades to make them a truly national symbol, and when the tricolor flag was designed it used these same colors. The colors have been assigned other meanings since, ranging from the three classes of pre-revolution society (nobility, clergy, and bourgeoisie) to various saints and other religious connotations.
France is interesting in that it has two national representations, the Gallic Rooster and Marianne - one representing the cultural history and the national consciousness of France, the other the values of France as a state and a republic. The Gallic Rooster actually originated as insult against France, using the linguistic similarity between Gaul and the Latin word for rooster, gallus. However, given the bird's strong Christian symbolism - it was connected to the triumph over good over evil, the dawn over the night, and the like - eventually the French people themselves adopted the symbol. It now serves as a symbol of France's culture, people, and personal history. Marianne, in contrast, personifies France as a state, standing for the values of freedom and for the French republic. She first appeared as a 'goddess of freedom', and was used throughout France's republican periods as a symbol of the freedom inherent in a republic. Nowadays she appears frequently in state imagery, still representing the values that France holds dearest.
Interestingly, unlike most Western nations, France lacks a coat of arms, deliberately avoiding taking one on due to their connections to nobility and royalty. In the place of a coat of arms, France uses a national emblem that is generally depicted in shades of gold. It bears a shield with the initials of France on it, a laurel branch for victory, an oak branch for wisdom, and a symbol known as the 'fasces' to represent justice. Other symbols are used for official purposes, including the silhouette of Marianne against the French flag. This deliberate refusal of a coat of arms is highly unusual and a clear representation of France's dedication to true republicanism.
France's symbolic language, with its focus on freedom, revolution, and the republic, is unique and fascinating.