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France facts: Six mayors are responsible for towns with no residents

The mayor in France plays a crucial role, whether its in a tiny rural village or running a big city like Paris. But there are six towns in France that have a mayor but no residents.

France facts: Six mayors are responsible for towns with no residents
Photo: AFP

This isn't an administrative oversight, but rather a deliberate decision to create a memorial to villages destroyed in World War I.

All six towns are in north east France along the Verdun river and were all destroyed in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918, although most civilians had fled the area long before as fighting raged.

After the war it was judged too difficult to rebuild as the land was still littered with high explosives, not to mention the hastily buried bodies of the soldiers who had died during the fighting.

So the townspeople never returned, but the places themselves –  Beaumont-en-Verdunois, Bezonvaux, Cumières-le-Mort-Homme, Fleury-devant-Douaumont, Haumont-près-Samogneux and Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre – were preserved in their ruins as memorials and can still be visited.

Rather than being voted in, the six mayors are appointed by the préfecture and their role involves preserving the site, upkeep and maintenance of the grounds and the identification and reburial of the bodies of any soldiers – from either side – that are discovered.

France's other 'memorial village' is Oradour-sur-Glane down in south west France.

This thriving community was home to around 600 people until in 1944 a squadron of SS soldiers massacred all the inhabitants and set the place on fire.

After the war, President Charles de Gaulle ordered the village to be left as it was to serve as a permanent memorial and today you can go and visit the ruined houses and find out what happened in the nearby visitor's centre.

It does not have a mayor, but a new village was built close by for anyone from the local area who survived and who wanted to return.

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France Facts: Paris once had a ‘strike square’

The French have something of an international reputation for being fond of a strike - but did you know that Paris once had a Place de Grève (strike square)?

France Facts: Paris once had a 'strike square'

But in this case the French did not name the square after one of their favourite activities, in fact it was the other way round.

The Place de Grève, in central Paris next to the Seine, was the place where unemployed workers gathered, seeking casual labour.

Over time grève came to signify a group of people who were not working.

After the French won the right to strike in 1864 – 20 years before they won the right to form a union – the word attached itself to workers who were choosing to without their labour, rather than people who were unable to find work.

These days the French are quite fond of une grève, and between 2010 and 2017, the number of French strike days was 125 per 1,000 employees, according to a study by the European Trade Union Institute.

As a comparison, the UK, Germany and Sweden had 20, 17 and 3 respectively. 

The Place de Grève still exists, but in 1802 it was renamed the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville and houses the very impressive city hall of Paris.

The square's other claim to fame is that it used to be where public executions took place, and saw the first public use of the guillotine when robber Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was executed on April 25th, 1792.

And France has seen one or two strikes since 1864.