Luxembourg became a grand duchy in 1815 and an independent state under the Netherlands. It lost more than half of its territory to Belgium in 1839, but gained a larger measure of autonomy. Full independence was attained in 1867. Overrun by Germany in both World Wars, it ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and when it joined NATO the following year. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) and in 1999 it joined the euro currency area.
The capital is the city of Luxembourg itself. Other important cities are : Vianden, Echternach. The city of Luxembourg is home to some of the institutions of the European Union, like the secretarial building of the European Parliament, the European Investment Bank and Euratom. The country is divided into two clearly defined regions: The “Eisléck” or ‘Oesling’ in the north, which is part of the Ardennes, on the western rim of the Eifel, and covers one-third of the territory.
It is a wooded country of great scenic beauty. Highest point: 555 metres (1823 feet). The ‘Good country’ in the centre and the south, covering the remainder of the territory, is mainly rolling farmland and woods. Average height: 270 metres (900 feet). Culminating point 426 metres (1400 feet). It is bordered in the east by the wine-producing valley of the Moselle, and in the extreme south west by a narrow strip of red earth which forms the Luxembourg iron-ore basin.
The 4 most important rivers are:
- The Moselle, the Sûre, the Our, and the Alzette.
- The Petrusse is a very small river that crosses Luxembourg city, and meets the Alzette.
- The Moselle area is famous for its vineyards.
- The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg enjoys a temperate climate without extremes.
The linguistic situation in Luxembourg is characterized by the fact that several languages are spoken and written at the same time in the same place. Recently, there has been a renaissance of the own vernacular : Lëtzebuergesch, the Luxembourg language, which is a Germanic language, close to German and Dutch. Names of streets, shops, travel tickets, hotel registries and menus are mostly in French (some street and place names are also added in Lëtzebuergesch). Newspapers printed in the Grand Duchy are mostly in German, but some cultural articles, many advertisements and social announcements are in French. In other countries too, several languages are spoken, but they almost always are limited to specific regions, to the exclusion of other tongues. In Luxembourg, the various languages are superimposed in an almost hierarchical manner.