Région (pop., 2003 est.: 1,869,386), encompassing the northern French départements of Oise, Somme, and Aisne and roughly coextensive with the historical region of Picardy. In the 13th century the historical region included the countships of Amiénois and Vermandois, which were united with the French crown by Philip II from 1185. Picardy was joined to Burgundy in 1435 and attached to France in 1477. The province of Picardy from the 16th century to the end of the ancien régime in 1789 comprised the Somme River basin from Saint-Quentin to the English Channel, the basins of the Serre and upper Oise rivers, and Montreuil on the Canche beyond the Authie River. The region was the scene of heavy fighting in both world wars, especially in the First Battle of the Somme (1916). The capital of the French administrative region of Picardy is Amiens. Picardy has an area of 7,490 sq mi (19,399 sq km).
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Whimsical enough is the origin of the name of Picards, and from thence of Picardie, which does not date earlier than AD 1200. It was an academical joke, an epithet first applied to the quarrelsome humour of those students, in the University of Paris, who came from the frontier of France and Flanders. (Chapter LVIII - Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)
During the Middle Ages, Picardy referred to that part of France north of Paris, and it even included the Dutch speaking Flanders. Thus, the name applied to an area much larger than what we now think of as Picardy. This area corresponds to all the territories from Paris to the Netherlands. In the Latin Quarter of Paris, people identified a "Picardy Nation" (Nation Picarde) of students, most of whom actually came from Flanders, who studied in the prestigious Sorbonne University.
In a narrower sense, Picardy refers to the area covered by the gouvernement (military region) of Picardy as created in the 16th century. This area is the Somme département, the northern half of the Aisne département, and a small fringe in the north of the Oise département. This is what most people think of as Picardy today. The older definition survives in the name of the Picard language, which applies not only to the dialects of Picardy proper, but also to the Romance dialects spoken in the Nord-Pas de Calais région, north of Picardy proper.
Picardy proper now lies inside the Picardie région, making up half of this région. Before the French Revolution, the coastal areas of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais were considered part of Picardy, but are now part of the Nord-Pas de Calais région. However, anciently these areas belonged to the province of Artois, and had been detached from Artois in the 15th century.
Most of Picardy is a vast plain with open fields, famed for the gruesome Battle of the Somme. The main crops of Picardy are wheat, sugar beets, and fodder. Sugar beet was introduced by Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars in order to counter the United Kingdom which had seized the sugar islands possessed by France in the Caribbean. The sugar industry made the fortune of Picardy in the 19th century and contributed to the ruin of the sugar economy in the Caribbean.
Villages of Picardy have a distinct character, with their houses made of dark red bricks, in contrast with the neighbouring provinces.
A minority of people still speak the Picard language, one of the languages of France, which is also spoken in Artois (Nord-Pas de Calais région). "P'tit quinquin", a song in the Picard dialect, is a symbol of the local culture (and of that of Artois).