The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the smallest and oldest countries in Europe. The N belongs to an upland region that includes the Ardennes in Belgium and Luxembourg, and the Eiffel Highlands in Germany. This scenic region contains the country's highest point, a hill that reaches 565m [1,854ft] above sea level.
The S two-thirds of Luxembourg, geographically part of French Lorraine, is a hilly or rolling plateau called the Bon Pays or Gut Land ('Good Land'). This region contains rich farmland, especially in the fertile Alzette, Moselle and Sûre (or Sauer) valleys in the S and E.
Forests cover about a fifth of Luxembourg, mainly in the N, where deer and wild boar are found. Farms cover about 25% of the land and pasture another 20%.
Luxembourg has a temperate climate. In the S of the country, summers and autumns are warm. This is when grapes ripen in the sheltered SE valleys. Winters are sometimes severe, particularly in the Ardennes, where snow can cover the land for weeks.
Luxembourg became an independent state in ad 963. By the 11th century, the County of Luxembourg formed one of the largest fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire. It became a duchy in 1354. In the 1440s Luxembourg came under the House of Burgundy then, in 1482, passed to the Habsburg dynasty. In the 16th century it became part of the Spanish Netherlands. From 1684, it came successively under France (1684-97), Spain (1697-1714) and then Austria until 1795, when it reverted to French rule.
In 1815, following the defeat of France in the the Napoleonic Wars, Luxembourg became a Grand Duchy ruled by the king of the Netherlands. Much of it passed to Belgium in the 1830s. It was not until 1867 that Luxembourg's independence was formally ratified, after a turbulent period which even included a brief time of civil unrest against plans to annex Luxembourg to Belgium, Germany or France. The crisis of 1867 almost resulted in war between France and Prussia over the status of Luxembourg. The issue was resolved by the second Treaty of London which guaranteed the perpetual independence and neutrality of the state.
Germany occupied Luxembourg in both World Wars. In 1944-5, northern Luxembourg was the scene of the Battle of the Bulge. Following World War 2, the economy recovered rapidly.
In 1948 Luxembourg joined Belgium and the Netherlands in a union by the name of Benelux, and in the 1950s it was one of the six founders of what is now the European Union. The country's capital, a major financial centre, contains the headquarters of several international agencies including the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Court of Justice.
Luxembourg has iron-ore reserves and is a major steel producer. It also has many high-technology industries, producing electronic goods and computers. Steel and other manufactures, including chemicals, glass and rubber products, are exported. Other activities include tourism and financial services. Half the land area is farmed, but agriculture employs only 3% of workers. Crops include barley, fruits, oats, potatoes and wheat. Cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are reared.
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