Cantons of France
The cantons of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

are territorial subdivisions of the French Republic's 342 arrondissements
Arrondissements of France
The 101 French departments are divided into 342 arrondissements, which may be translated into English as districts.The capital of an arrondissement/district is called a subprefecture...

 and 101 departments.

Apart from their role as organizational units in certain aspects of the administration of public services and justice, the chief purpose of the cantons today is to serve as constituencies for the election of the members of the representative assembly (General Council) in each department. For this reason, such elections are known in France as "cantonal elections".

There are currently 4,032 cantons in France. Most of them group together a number of communes
Communes of France
The commune is the lowest level of administrative division in the French Republic. French communes are roughly equivalent to incorporated municipalities or villages in the United States or Gemeinden in Germany...

 (the lowest administrative division of the French Republic), although larger communes may comprise a number of cantons, since the cantons are intended to be roughly equal in size of population – unlike the communes which range in size from more than two million inhabitants (Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

) to just one person (Rochefourchat
Rochefourchat is a commune in the Drôme department in the Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. In the commune there is a single house, a converted barn, and the ruins of an old castle...


Role and administration

The role of the canton is, essentially, to provide a framework for departmental elections. Each canton elects a person to represent it at the conseil général du département — or general council for the department, which is the principal administrative division of the French Republic.

In urban area
Urban area
An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.Urban areas are created and further...

s, a single commune generally includes several cantons. Conversely, in rural
Rural areas or the country or countryside are areas that are not urbanized, though when large areas are described, country towns and smaller cities will be included. They have a low population density, and typically much of the land is devoted to agriculture...

 areas, a canton may comprise several smaller communes. In which case, administrative services, the gendarmerie
A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. Members of such a force are typically called "gendarmes". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a gendarme as "a soldier who is employed on police duties" and a "gendarmery, -erie" as...

headquarters for example, are often situated in the principal town (chef-lieu
A chef-lieu is a town or city that is pre-eminent, from an administrative perspective, in any given sub-division of territory in France and some French-speaking countries.-In Algeria:...

) of the canton, although exceptions, such as cantons Gaillon-Campagne and Sarreguemines-Campagne, which have in common a "chief-town" which does not belong to either canton, occur.

For statistical (INSEE
INSEE is the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies. It collects and publishes information on the French economy and society, carrying out the periodic national census. Located in Paris, it is the French branch of Eurostat, European Statistical System...

) purposes, the twenty arrondissements
Arrondissements of Paris
The city of Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements municipaux administrative districts, more simply referred to as arrondissements . These are not to be confused with departmental arrondissements, which subdivide the 101 French départements...

 of Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

  — the administrative subdivision of that city — are sometimes considered cantons, but they serve no greater electoral function.

Cantons also form legal districts, as seats of Tribunaux d'instance
Tribunal d'instance
In France, the Tribunal d'instance , is a judicial inferior court of record of first instance for general civil suits and includes a criminal division, the Police Court , which hears cases of misdemeanors or summary offences...

or "Courts of First Instance" (also, "TI"...). Historically, the cantons are called justices de paix or "district courts".


The cantons were created in 1790 at the same time as the départements by the Revolutionary
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 Committee for the Division of Territory (Comité de division). They were more numerous than today (between 40 and 60 to each département).
Cantons were, at first, grouped into what were called districts. After the abolition of the district in 1800, they were reorganized by the Consulate
French Consulate
The Consulate was the government of France between the fall of the Directory in the coup of 18 Brumaire in 1799 until the start of the Napoleonic Empire in 1804...

 into arrondissements. The number of cantons was then drastically reduced (between 30 and 50 units) by the Loi du 8 pluviôse an IX (January 28, 1801), or the "Law for the Reduction of the Number of District Courts", or Loi portant réduction du nombre de justices de paix in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

. The département prefects were told by the government to group the communes within newly established cantons. The département lists, once approved by the government, were published in the Bulletin des lois
Bulletin des lois
The Bulletin des lois was a publication created during the French Revolution, as an "official anthology of the laws, orders and regulations that govern" the people...

in 1801 and 1802; these lists are still the basis of the administrative divisions of France in place today, although cantons with small populations have been eliminated and new cantons created in areas of strong demographic growth. On the whole, their number has increased appreciably.


The number of cantons varies from one département to another; the Territoire de Belfort
Territoire de Belfort
The Territoire de Belfort is a department in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France.-Administration:Its departmental code is 90, and its prefecture is Belfort...

, for example, has 15, while Nord has 79. The island of Mayotte
Mayotte is an overseas department and region of France consisting of a main island, Grande-Terre , a smaller island, Petite-Terre , and several islets around these two. The archipelago is located in the northern Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, namely between northwestern Madagascar and...

, which has an administrative form similar to that of a département, is divided into 19 cantons.

See also

  • Administrative divisions of France
    Administrative divisions of France
    The administrative divisions of France are concerned with the institutional and territorial organization of French territory. There are many administrative divisions, which may have political , electoral , or administrative objectives.- Metropolitan France :As of January 1, 2008, metropolitan...

  • Canton (subnational entity)
    Canton (subnational entity)
    A canton is a type of administrative division of a country. In general, cantons are relatively small in terms of area and population when compared to other administrative divisions such as counties, departments or provinces. Internationally the best-known cantons, and the most politically...

  • List of cantons of France
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