A Book of the Cevennes/The Volcanoes of the Vivarais


CHAPTER VII


THE VOLCANOES OF THE VIVARAIS


Attraction of cohesion—Vals—Aubenas—Factory girls—Anomalies in the department—View from the terrace—When the volcanoes ceased to erupt—The castle—The Ornano family—The poisoning of the Marshal—Attractions of Vals—Intermittent spring—Castle of Boulogne—The Lestranges—Antraigues—The Count—Cascades—The Marquesses—Fête of S. Roch—The Coupe d'Aizac—Castle of Ventadour—Pretended Jewish origin of the family of Levis—Valley of the Lignon—Jaujac—The Coupe—The Gravenne—Castle of Pourcheirolles—The Flandrins—Bourzet—Good Friday there—Prismatic basalt—Montpezat—Le Pal—Huge crater—Suc de Bauzon—Thueyts—Pavé des Géants—The royal ladder—Mayres—The great eagle—What medieval men thought about basalt—First discovery of the Vivarais mountains being volcanoes.


THE attraction of cohesion is one of the mightiest and most active forces in nature. It went towards the formation out of molecules of the terrestrial globe, it acts in the accumulation of large fortunes in the hands of millionaires, and it draws together great masses of human beings to one spot. Even when the heat of summer and the dispersion of schools scatter them to the north and south, east and west, out of cities, they draw together and coagulate in knots. But why one of these centres of concentration should be Vals and not Aubenas is to me a puzzle. Why when engaging a lodging should one select the cellar instead of an upper suite of apartments?

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The vivarais chain

Vals-les-Bains lies in a hole shut in between steep hills, it commands no view, it trails like an ugly worm along the bank of a petty stream; whereas Aubenas, hard by, accessible by electric tram, is throned on a height, sits as a queen on a platform of rock, and commands such a prospect as is worth going thither from England to see if that were its only attraction.

Are there good hotels in Vals? So there are in Aubenas. Shops? As good in both. Electric illumination, telegraph and telephone? Each is similarly supplied. That which draws a crowd in the season to Vals is the baths. But the baths are a mere excuse. The fashion has set in and the crowd follow the fashion.

The river Ardèche, after having ploughed its way through beds of basaltic lava, runs between the prismatic columns as though sweeping through a forest of petrified bulrushes. It emerges above Aubenas into a broad, luxuriant, and well-peopled valley, where white walls smile and glass windows wink in the sun as far down as the eye can reach, and as far up the sides of the hills as folk choose to climb to their homes.

Moreover, factories stretch their long roofs below the rock of Aubenas and throw up their smoke, but without disfigurement to the scene or vitiation of the limpid air.

Come to Aubenas from the junction at Vogué on a Sunday evening, and you will see something of merry girl-life. The factory-hands from the lower country are returning from their homes to resume their work on Monday morning. They swarm into every carriage, crowding in at every station, each with a basket in one hand and a sack over the shoulder or under the arm. All are chattering, laughing; one wiping away a tear either because she is suffering from toothache or heartache at parting with her intended. But neither ache is very enduring. Before the train has gone a thousand metres, she is laughing and chirping like the rest. When settled into their seats they open their baskets to show each other the posies of flowers they are taking to Aubenas to brighten the poor little attic bedrooms and diffuse through them a fragrance and memory of home. But the sacks—what do they contain? As I helped some of the girls to heave these into the carriage and stow them under the seats or into the shelf above, I could guess from the feel, and see when the sack mouth gaped and discharged some of its contents. It holds their factory clothing washed by their mothers—aprons, bibs, and among them huge loaves of bread and greasy sausages, these latter wrapped round with a newspaper that has transferred its information reversed on to the skin of the saucisson.

These mill-hands do not wear the pretty scarlet or blue handkerchief over the head that adorns the Lancashire and Yorkshire factory girl, the theme of one of our most charming folk-songs.

 
"Why wear you that kerchief tied over your head?
 'Tis the country girls' fashion, kind sir, then she said;
 And the fashion young maidens will always be in,
 So I wear a blue kerchief tied under the chin.

 Why wear a blue kerchief, sweet maiden? I said.
 Because the blue colour is not one to fade.
 As a sailor's blue jacket who fights for the king,
 So's my bonny blue kerchief tied under the chin."

These Vivarais girls wear no costume. There is not much beauty among them; but their honest faces are good to look on. The glorious southern sun has penetrated to their hearts and shines back on you from their merry eyes.

They do not leave the train at the Aubenas station, but go on to the next, the group of factories at the foot of the hill at the head of the basin, between the town and the opening of the Valley of Vals.

From the station is a long ascent to the town; there is a gradual inclined road for carriages, and a short, steep climb for foot travellers.

Aubenas is, next to Annonay, the most important town in the Vivarais; neither is the seat of the préfet, nor of the bishop, nor of a university.

The department of Ardèche has been treated somewhat perversely in this respect. Its capital is Privas, of difficult access at the extremity of a branch line served by trains that run forward and back, advance and retreat again to pick up or to discharge luggage trucks, and that is ignorant of any other train than an omnibus.

The cathedral city is at one end of the department at its extreme verge, at Viviers, one of the deadest of dead cities, with a population of three thousand. The {{wikt: lycée|lycée}} is near the other end of the department, also at its eastern limit, with only a streak of water between it and Drôme. That is Tournon, which has indeed a population of a little over five thousand, whereas in Annonay it is seventeen thousand, and in Aubenas above eight thousand. Moreover, Aubenas is not even a chef-lieu d’arrondissement, which Largentière is, numbering 2,780.

Aubenas stands 930 feet above the sea. You can breathe there; you stifle at Vals. And what a prospect it commands! To the west the wild heights of the mountains of the Vivarais, volcanoes that have burst through the rocks, and flung them aloft in rents that reveal to this day the agony through which the earth passed when fire and fury broke forth. To the north the Coiron, a chain of huge lava beds overlying other rocks, that have given way and left the chain a mighty hacked and battered saw standing up against the sky. A look at a geological map of the Vivarais shows the Plutonic deposits extended like the fingers of a hand or the nerves of a vine-leaf over the mountain tops.

When did these explosions cease? Some of the deposits are of great age, others are comparatively recent. As we have seen, the bones of men have been found under the lavas of Mont Denise, near Le Puy. Nothing of this kind has been so far discovered in the Vivarais, only the skeletons of the mastodon. But there is historic evidence that leads us to suspect that the last expiring throe was in A.D. 468. S. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne, instituted Rogation processions, and drew up a litany for use there, because the people were panic-stricken by the earthquakes, by a glare of light in the sky and the falling of ashes, and by loud explosions that were heard. The stags, the wolves even, fled from the Cevennes and took refuge in the towns, laying aside their instinctive fear of men.

Aubenas was erected about a large castle that was begun in the twelfth century and completed in the sixteenth by the Ornano family. It afterwards passed into the possession of the Count of Vogué, who held it till the Revolution. It has happily not been destroyed, and now serves as mairie, tribunal of commerce, etc. The façade is imposing, flanked by round towers and commanded by a square keep. The whole was roofed with glazed brown and yellow tiles. A portion was ripped by a storm and has been repaired with green tiles, and the effect is singular, as if a huge pot of green paint had been spilled over the roof.

The church, with a vulgar modern west-front, is wholly modernised within, but without, where not built into houses, shows that the original church was of the fourteenth century. The buttresses were round turrets that have been deprived of their tops. In a chapel of the church is the monument in black marble of the Marshal Ornano, raised by his wife the Duchess. It was mutilated at the Revolution.

The Ornano family was that of the Sovereign Counts of Corsica, descended from Ugo Colonna whom Leo III. charged with the expulsion of the Saracens from that isle. He was invested with the title of Count by Charlemagne, and he obtained at the same time sovereign rights.

The Genoese, by making themselves masters of Corsica, drove out the Ornanos, and Sanpietro, who went into the service of France, was engaged all his life in fighting the Genoese; and he succeeded in gaining the whole island for France, but Henry II. basely restored it to the Genoese. His son, Alphonso d'Ornano, born in 1548, died in 1610. He fought the Genoese like his father, and with equal success, and was created Marshal of France. His son, Jean Baptiste, was born in 1583, and died in 1626. He was brought up at the Court and was appointed governor of Pont-Esprit, and he was there when tidings reached him of the assassination of Henry IV. He married the Countess of Montlaure, an heiress. Under De Luynes he was appointed tutor to the Duke of Orléans, the King's brother, and governor for the King in Normandy. The favour in which he was held raised him many enemies, and they persuaded Louis XIII. to withdraw his offices from him, and bid him retire to his estates. Ornano at once demanded admittance to the young King, and placed his person at his disposal. Let him be sent to prison, he urged, for he was resolved not to go back into Languedoc with the stigma of disgrace upon him. This bold conduct confounded his foes, and satisfied the King as to his innocence. His former offices were restored to him, and he was named Marshal of France. But Ornano was a bad courtier. He refused to go cap in hand and thank Richelieu for his restoration to honour, and he was so imprudent as to advise the King that he was old enough no longer to be held in leading-strings. The Cardinal, in alarm, had him arrested and thrown into the Castle of Vincennes and summarily poisoned, before any steps could be taken to obtain his release under the King's hand and seal. The Marshal died at the age of forty-three without issue, and his sorrowing widow had the magnificent mausoleum erected to him in the church of Aubenas.

From Aubenas an electric tram conveys one in ten minutes to Vals on the Volane, a lively spot during the season, dead out of it when the hotels are shut and the shops containing wares to attract visitors are closed. The only object of interest in Vals itself is the intermittent spring on the left bank of the stream. This rises in a paved basin with no outlet; and springs forth five times during the day. The hours are not certain, but almost invariably it jets at eleven o'clock or a few minutes later, sometimes leaping to the height of fifteen feet, sometimes rising no more than three, and emitting
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The Volane Valley, by Vals

sulphuretted hydrogen, which phthisic patients inhale eagerly. When the water falls it is sucked back into the bore.

"For the inhabitants of the plains of Card and the Bouches-du-Rhone," says Ardouin-Dumazet, "lands roasted by the sun, without shade or water, the valley of the Volane, with its growling torrents, its green chestnuts, the freshness of its slopes, is a little Switzerland. Vals has become to these exuberant populations what Dieppe and Trouville are to the Parisian. But it must not be concluded that folk come here only to be intoxicated with the gas from the springs that rise at every step under cupolas or from amidst rockwork. I have met here with many and genuine bathers, who have come to cure their livers and other internal vessels, by drinking the waters of the spring La Prècieuse or that of Saint Jean. Those of the former are not only agreeable to the palate, they have also their clientelle which finds health in this mineralised draught. On tasting this light, sparkling, pleasant water one has some wish to be a patient so as to linger at the taps under the shade of the great trees, and to listen to the murmur of the Volane."

The splendid ruins of the Castle of Boulogne attract a host of visitors from Vals annually during the season. It is reached by carriage, quitting the high road from Aubenas to Privas by a branch road from Auriolles to S. Etienne. The castle was built by a Count of Valentinois in the eleventh century. It remained in the hands of the Grimaldi, Counts of Valentinois, to 1344. In 1384 it became the property of the Lestranges, and they retained it to 1579; when it passed to the de Hautefort de Lestranges till 1632. After that it shifted proprietors rapidly. At the Revolution it belonged to Fay-Gerlande till 1794, when it was sold. The Count, seeing what was coming, disposed of most of his land to one Blaise Comte on condition that he should every year present a violet at the castle on the 15th of March. Nevertheless it was disposed of to a man of S. Etienne, who pulled much of it down and sold the materials. It was then purchased by the Abbé Volle, curé of Asperjoc, to rescue it from complete demolition, and he retained it for thirty years and then disposed of it to the Marquess Theodore de Lestrange. The magnificent gateway with twisted columns and the arms of Montlaun was erected by Claude René d'Hautefort de Lestrange, who brought to him the barony of Privas; he it was who transformed a feudal stronghold into a sumptuous palace. The façade is sustained on a structural terrace.

A favourite walk of but an hour above Vals and through the valley of the Volane leads to Antraigues. The river has worked its laborious course through masses of basalt and beds of scoria overlying granite and porphyry. At every step some fresh picture opens or some fresh object of interest arrests the eye. Here is a precipice over which leaps a stream in a beautiful fall; there colonnades of prismatic form; further on masses of scoriæ brought down by the rains from the mountain side, whose flanks have been bared. The road plunges even deeper into the ravine that narrows. Then a stream bounds in a double fall over a basaltic face of rock, the second leap being formed by a ledge entitled the Devil's Chair, on which His Majesty is said to cool himself in the water on leaving his heated realms below. Next the Cheese Rock is reached, a mass of basalt standing by itself, and Antraigues appears as an eagle's nest perched on a peninsula of crag between
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VALÉE DE LA VOLANE (LE FAUTEUIL DU DIABLE)

three valleys, those of the Mas, the Bise, and the Volane. The tower of the church is all that remains of the old fortress of the Marquesses of Antraigues. The site is savage, amidst green chestnuts, black lava rocks, and red volcanic cinders. The Marquesses of Antraigues bore an evil name as robbers, lawless and violent in the extreme, for which several were executed at Toulouse. The story of the last of those who owned and for a while occupied the castle forms the theme of

Jules Claretie's Les Muscadins.

Emmanuel-Louis-Henri de Launez, Comte d'Antraigues, was born at Villeneuve de Berg, in the Vivarais, in 1755. In 1788 he published a Mémoire sur les états généraux, which attracted attention, as in it he denounced the hereditary nobility as the greatest scourge with which heaven could chastise a free people. It is an ill bird that befouls its own nest, and that the Count was sincere in his attack on the prerogatives of the aristocracy in France is doubtful judging by his subsequent conduct. This pamphlet caused him to be elected to the States-General convoked for the following year. But no sooner had he taken his seat in the Assembly than he changed his note, and spoke for the retention of the privileges of his class. This sudden conversion caused great offence, and he did not long retain his seat. In consequence of the events of the 5th and 6th October he quitted the Assembly, and left France in 1790 and went first to Switzerland, then to Russia, and after that to Vienna. The coalition of princes forgot his early encouragement of the Revolution and charged him with divers secret missions, and granted him a pension of 36,000 francs. He became the chief organiser of various plots to effect a counter-revolution in France, that "guerre de pots de chambre," as Napoleon called it in his highly coloured language; and he was at the bottom of the intrigue that provoked the treason of Pichegru. In 1797 he was in Venice, but when he saw that the capital of the Adriatic was about to succumb he fled, but fell into the hands of an outpost of the French army in Italy, and was arrested with all his papers that contained full evidence of the conspiracy of Pichegru. However, he managed to escape by the contrivance of Mme. Sainte-Huberti, who, after having been his mistress, later became his wife. Then he fled to Russia, where he joined the Greek Church, was accorded a pension by the Emperor, and was sent to Dresden as attaché to the Russian Legation. There he published a pamphlet against Bonaparte so violent and scurrilous, that the Saxon Government was constrained to expel him so as to avoid a conflict with France. He departed for London, carrying with him certain documents containing secret articles of the Treaty of Tilsit, of which he had obtained a copy. He communicated these to the English ministry, and in return was granted a liberal pension.

He still maintained relations with Paris, and was mixed up in every plot for the restoration of the Bourbons.

However, it was not given to him to see the realisation of his schemes. The imperial police had sent two emissaries to London, who managed to seduce Lorenzo, the Italian valet of the Count, and through him to obtain notes and despatches which his master was preparing for transmission to the Cabinet of the Prime Minister. On July 22nd, 1812, the Count d'Antraigues having expressed his intention to visit the Prime Minister to
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FALL AT ANTRAIGUES

obtain his opinion on a certain memoir, Lorenzo, who had purloined it and committed it to the spies of Napoleon that they might make a transcript of it, saw that his faithlessness was at the point of being discovered. Then he resolved on killing his master and mistress and on blowing out his own brains.

This he did. Such was the version of the story as given in the English newspapers. The only witness to the murder was the Count's coachman. The circumstances of the assassination and suicide were never sifted; the whole matter was hushed up; and it became a matter of mutual recrimination between the French and English Governments, each casting on the other the blame of the murder of this miserable man—a man without a respectable quality.

The name of Antraigues is taken from its position, Inter Aquæ, between the three streams—the Volane, the Bise, and the Mas.

On August 16th, the fête of S. Roch, a great pilgrimage is made to Antraigues, attended by many thousand persons. The neighbouring villages send their processions with clergy, crosses, and banners waving. The bells of Antraigues clash merrily. The whole bourg is in gala costume. At nine o'clock a.m. all the processions unite and form one long, many-coloured, winding line that creeps up the hill towards the chapel of S. Roch, hid among chestnut trees. The path is rough, stony, sun-scorched. At intervals are little shrines constructed of boughs and adorned with flowers, roses, broom, lavender. In each of these is a little girl dressed in white with a chaplet on her head, holding a scroll that bears an inscription in honour of the patron saint, lavishing on him every possible expression of love and respect. The procession advances, now murmuring a litany, now breaking into hymn, and in the rear come the clergy in white, with the blue smoke of incense rising and spreading in the clear summer air.

On reaching the chapel the pilgrims separate their files to allow the ecclesiastics to pass. The priest ascends to the altar for Mass, and the crowd falls into a living stair along the slope of the mountain, kneeling in ranges, some among the chestnut trees, athwart whose leaves the sun shoots arrows of fire that make the white caps and the gold chains of the women flash. The Mass ended, the procession descends in the same order as that in which it mounted, and disperses. The second scene is less edifying—it is changed to the cabaret, where the pilgrims refresh themselves, and the men, in too many cases, carouse.

S. Roch was a native of Montpellier. His story is an ecclesiastical romance. The earliest biographer states candidly that he found "nothing trustworthy about him" in record, and so compiled his life from popular legend. In or about 1350 a squalid-looking man, a beggar, was taken up by the authorities of Montpellier and cast into gaol, where he died. On the removal of the body for burial, it was discovered that the vagabond was Roch, a nephew of the governor of the town, who had embraced a life of dirt and poverty out of "sheer cussedness." There always have been and always will be men who, like Falstaff, "have a kind of alacrity in sinking"; who revolt against the restraints and refinements of social life, and find their pleasure in living like swine. S. Roch had his parallel in Bampfylde Moore Carew.

There is nothing edifying in the story, nothing in his career to justify canonisation. Nevertheless he is in vast repute as a patron against plague and fever and sores, and he has been given a place in the Roman martyrology, accepted and held up to be invoked, although absolutely nothing trustworthy is known of him. Can slackness and carelessness go further? In fact, the Roman martyrology, possessing the sanction of the self-entitled Vicar of Christ, is a veritable Noah's Ark containing clean and unclean beasts.

From Antraigues, a climb of an hour leads to the Coupe d'Aizac, the best-preserved crater in the Vivarais. M. Paulett Scrope thus describes it:—

"The Coupe d'Aizac rises on the ridge of one of the granitic abutments that project from the steep escarpment of the Haut Vivarais. It has a beautiful crater slightly broken down towards the north-west, and from the breach a stream of basalt may be seen to descend the flank of the hill, and turning to the north-east enter the valley of the river Volane, which has subsequently cut it entirely across, and discloses three distinct storied ranges; the lowermost very regularly columnar, that in the middle less so, and the upper nearly amorphous, cellular, and with a ragged scoriform surface. This current, which appears originally to have occupied the bottom of the gorge in an extent of four miles, from the village of Antraigues nearly to Vals, has been worn away and carried off on many points by the violence of the torrent. Its relics adhere in vast masses to the granite rocks on both sides, sometimes reaching the height of 160 feet above it. The lower portion of this bed is very beautifully columnar, the upper obscurely so; this latter has been in parts destroyed, and a pavement or causeway left, formed by an assemblage of upright and almost geometrically regular columns fitted together with the utmost symmetry."

One interesting lesson one learns from the overflow of this crater, and that is that the prismatic structure of basalt is due to pressure from above. Except under great superincumbent weight it has not crystallised regularly.

A beautiful fall in four dives under the bridge of the road to Genestelle, on the road to Antraigues, irresistibly obliges one with a camera to take views. But indeed the whole neighbourhood is weeping these beautiful tears—tears of joy that the fire floods are over.

The valley of the Ardèche above where it falls into the basin of Aubenas is finer still; it leads into the heart of the noblest volcanic heights.

At Pont de la Beaume one has the stately tower of the castle of Ventadour rising from the summit of a rock that commands the road up to Thueyts (pronounced Two-ets) and that to Jaujac, where the Lignon flows into the Ardèche.

The Ventadour family were Levis by origin, and claimed to be descendants of the tribe of Levi of the seed of Aaron, and therefore justified in meddling to any extent in ecclesiastical matters. It is really wonful what changes can be rung on the name of Levi. It becomes in England Lewis and Levison, Lowe and Lyons, and Lawson.

But there was absolutely no justification in the Ventadour family asserting to themselves a Hebraic origin. It is strange how eager these Levis were to assert a fabulous descent, and how desirous the modern sons of Levi are to obscure the traces of what is undoubtedly theirs.

The Levis first appear in history in the eleventh century, and derive their name not from Levi, but from
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Castle of Ventadour

IN THE ARDÈCHE - A book of the Cevennes.jpg


IN THE ARDÈCHE

their castle of Levis near Chevreuse; they became Seigneurs of Mirepoix. Philippe IV. de Levis, who died in 1440, was the father of Bermond, the ancestor of the Ventadour branch. He became Baron of La Voute, and was father of Louis, who married the heiress of the Count of Ventadour. Gilbert III. de Levis was created Duke of Ventadour and peer of France, the former in 1578, the latter in 1589. The castle was blown up by that determined wrecker of feudal strongholds, Richelieu, in 1626.

At Pont-de-la-Beaume a steep ascent leads to a level road, over a terrace of lava through which the Lignon has cleft a way from Jaujac, clean cut as by a knife, with basaltic ranges on both sides. The mountain forms here are very fine; to the right is the Gravenne de Soulhiol, rent by a ravine down which flows a thread of silver. On the left La Tanargue, 4,330 feet, and the rock of Abraham, 4,630 feet, closing up the scene. The whole when powdered with snow, as I saw it, of Alpine grandeur.

The Coupe de Jaujac, that sent a flood of lava down the valley of the Lignon, rises to an insignificant height above the village, and is easily visited. At the foot of the cone of scoria rises a spring where picnickers from Vals settle to lunch, and amuse themselves with smashing there the bottles of wine they have brought with them, and raising a pile of the fragments. The side of the cone of Jaujac is indeed so strewn with broken pots of foie gras and battered sardine-tins, that the volcanic vent conveys the impression of having been the eruption of a great establishment of grocery and preserves.

The sides of the bowl of the crater are dotted with chestnut trees, so as somewhat to disguise its character. Volcanic dust and cinder seem to be peculiarly favourable to the vegetation of the Spanish chestnut.

The village of Jaujac stands on the bed of lava that issued from this cone, on the edge of a mural precipice, 150 feet high, and is connected with old Jaujac on the further side by a stone bridge. There are the scanty remains of a castle in this latter. The chateau, in close proximity to the village or town, is now converted into a school.

The Gravenne de Soulhiol also disgorged its lava into the valley of the Lignon, about three hundred yards above the junction of this river with the Ardèche.

"A wide and massive plateau of basalt thus formed, after entering the valley of La Beaume, prolongs itself to some distance below Neigles, bordering the Ardèche on the south with a bold and precipitous wall which may be seen to rest on a layer of pebbles, the ancient bed of the river."

At Pont-de-la-Beaume a road to the right leads up the valley of Fontollière to the fertile basin of Champagne, at the head of which stands Montpezat, the foot of the mountain, as its name implies, and it lies, in fact, under the Gravenne, that has poured its flood of molten lava into the valley and filled it to a depth of 150 feet. The Gravenne de Montpezat has a very regular crater dipping slightly to the north, and it was on this side that the stream of basalt flowed for a width of half a mile. It reached the point where the Bourges entered the Fontollière and there stopped, the volcano having exhausted its efforts. Before reaching Montpezat, the ruins of the Castle of Pourcheirolles appear in a site truly marvellous, perched on a tongue of land between the rivers Fontollière and Pourseilles.

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Crater of La Gravenne

When the Gravenne had turned the former valley into a lake of molten stone, and when that lake had chilled, then the watery elements began their work. The two rivers laboured to fray themselves a course. The Pourseilles has cut through an upper and amorphous bed of lava, then it leaps over a lower and very regular bed of prismatic basalt that rests on softer material, which has been worn away by weather and water so that the basalt forms a cornice and canopy overhead. Pourcheirolles is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque points in Ardèche. The castle, perched as a vultures' lair in the midst of the valley of Montpezat, suspended between precipices, seems calculated to evade and defy assault. The castle was, however, erected not by a man of war, but a man of peace, Cardinal Pierre Flandrin, born on the flanks of the Mézenc in 1312. He was created Cardinal by Gregory XI., who employed him in various delicate negotiations. He died in 1378. His tomb was at Viviers, but was destroyed by the Huguenots. His nephew, Jean Flandrin, after having been Archbishop of Auch, was created Cardinal by Clement VII. The choice of the valley of Montpezat for their residence in summer heats was due to proximity to Avignon, at that time the seat of the papacy. The castle was never very large, and its importance was due to its position, not to its walls and towers.

The river Burzet flows into the Fontollière, and a road leads up the valley to the little town of the same name as the stream. The church, with nave and side aisles, dates from 1400. When the three bells in the tower are rung, the tower sways eight inches out of the perpendicular. A walk of from three to four hours from Burzet leads to the very fine cascade of Ray-Pic, where the river leaps over a basaltic escarpment that had been vomited by the volcano of the same name, which filled the valley of the Burzet to the distance of ten miles. "He who has not seen Ray-Pic has seen nothing" is a saying among the peasantry.

At Burzet, on Good Friday, a procession perambulates the little place, bearing representations on cars of the scenes of the Passion, much like that which is famous at Seville, but here on a much smaller scale.

The river of Burzet has not, like other streams, sawn its way through the basalt, only through the upper uncrystallised portion which it has carried away, and it slides on its course over a paved bed of the tops of the prisms, "not unlike the Roman roads in Italy, but arranged with far greater neatness and accuracy of design." The columns in Lower Vivarais, says Mr. Scrope, are usually hexahedral, often five-sided; those of four occur rarely, of seven still more rarely.

But to return to the valley of Montpezat. Of this small town not much need be said. It is a very ancient place, and was the second stage on the high road to Gergovia. It contained a temple to Jupiter Olympus, and a medieval castle of which very little remains. But at Montpezat quarters must be found for the night, if it be desired to ascend so as to explore the Vestide du Pal, the most formidable mouth by which subterranean fires were belched, in all France, and perhaps even in all Europe.

An excellent road following the course of the Roman highway mounts here to the miserable village of Le Pal, 3,600 feet above the sea, where in winter the snow heaps itself up before the raging winds and buries the
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Falls of Ruy Pic

houses so that not infrequently a week passes before the inhabitants see daylight. The Vestide rises above this village to the height from the sea of 4,220 feet. The name Vestide in patois signifies a sheltered place, and is applied to the crater itself, the only sheltered spot thereabouts, and indeed this huge basin is an Eden to the peasants of Le Pal. The bottom is cultivated, but the sides are covered with timber. The volcano is remarkable not only for its enormous proportions, the bottom of the crater being over two miles in circumference, but also for its alternate dejections of lava, mud, and cinders. The depth of the crater is 900 feet, and its diameter 5,500 feet.

In the midst of the crater a slight cone has been raised by the expiring efforts of the volcanic fires. Each eruption has left its traces written in ineffaceable characters on the slopes of the crater. Here was one of sand and mud, there one of lava and scoriæ ejected over the bed of mud. Then again an outpour of lava, and after that another of mud containing great boulders of granite burnt red and rendered friable.

"Imagination is roused," says M. A. Mazon, "at the thought of what must have been the scene when the volcano of la Vestide belched forth tempests of fire which agitated, upset, and shaped the soil of the Vivarais. The huge bowl, incessantly active, threw out showers of cinders into the basins alike of the Rhone and of the Loire. When winter came with its hurricanes of snow, deluges of water were precipitated into the furnace, but quenched the fires for a moment only, and then burst forth in torrents of mud mingled with steam. It was thus that the walls of the crater were built up into veritable mountains."[1]

From the foot of the cone issues the source of the Fontollière, strong enough at ten paces down to turn a mill. Near the Vestide is the little lake Forraud, not situated in a crater, but formed in a depression of the surface. Also, near at hand, is the Suc de Bauzon, another volcanic vent, red-headed, and 4,430 feet high. On the summit is a large stone table, at which, according to tradition, every year the four Seigneurs of Montpezat, Roux, Urclades, and S. Cirgues met, and each sat on a seat in his own territory, as all their lands met in the midst of this table. There is no crater on this suc.

We return again to the valley of the Ardèche and mount to Thueyts, leaving on the left the pretty little bathing establishment of Neyrac.

The road ascends along the flank of the Petit Gravenne on the left bank of the river and crosses a bridge thrown over the stream of the Mordaric, whose waters form the cascade of the Gueule d'Enfer. The huge basaltic wall now comes into sight that sustains the plateau of Thueyts, on which the town is built. The river has carved for itself a channel through this mass of lava and the granite below, and exhibits a majestic colonnade of basalt 150 feet high, and extending with few breaks for a mile and a half along the valley. But one of these breaks forms the Echelle du Roy, a rift due to dislocation of the flow. To visit the Pavé des Géants, the finest basaltic causeway in the Vivarais, it is well to descend to the river at the Gueule d'Enfer, sometimes on basaltic prisms, then on masses of granite. The columnar basalt now becomes regular; some prisms 60 feet long, others shorter jointed. The black walls rise like those of a fortress, and the path follows the base till the Royal Ladder is reached, a staircase in a natural chimney, where every step is a basaltic prism that has been broken. The view of the valley from the top of the ladder is of striking beauty. The ascent is 240 feet.

In Thueyts itself there is not much to be seen of architectural interest.

Still further up the valley of the Ardèche, by the fine road constructed by the Estates of Languedoc for communication with Le Puy as easier than that followed by the Romans by Montpezat, is Mayres in the bottom of a valley and in a delightful situation surrounded by mountains. It is the last station before ascending the pass over the backbone of the Cevennes.

Here flutters and soars a great black eagle, that carries off lambs to the nest in the rocks of Astel rising over 900 feet from the valley. It is believed to come from the Alps to spend its breeding season in the Vivarais, both in these rocks and in those of Abraham, and that it returns to the Alps in winter. This is not the Aquila fulva, which is common enough, but the Aquila imperials. It soars so high and keeps so well at a distance from men that the hunters very rarely are able to kill one.

How greatly one would like to know what the men in medieval days thought of the volcanic phenomena of Auvergne and the Velay and the Vivarais. Possibly enough they did not give a thought to them, any more than does the peasant of to-day. But the baron who built his castle on the top of a rock compiled of basaltic prisms thick-set as reeds by a river side, the builders of churches who exploited these naturally faced columns—did they never ask how these came into existence, what their origin was? One can understand how they explained the existence of fossil shells on the mountains—they were relics of the universal deluge. But these marvellous prisms, as neatly made and put together as the cells of wax in a honeycomb—did they look at them and not exercise their minds over them? There is not a particle of evidence that they did, although there were men of inquiring and eager minds in all ages. No suspicion that volcanoes had raged and spluttered on French soil occurred to any man till the year 1751, when Guettard and Malesherbes arrived at Montélimar on their way to Paris from Italy, when they halted in amazement at the pavement of the streets composed of polygonal cubes of basalt "Why!" exclaimed Guettard, "these are precisely the same sort of stones we have seen paving the Roman roads of Rome and Naples—and those came from volcanoes." The two men asked to be shown the quarries whence these blocks came, and they were taken to Rochemaure. They turned aside from their direct course, visited the mountains of Vivarais, but not till they reached Auvergne were their minds thoroughly convinced. In 1751, that same year, Guettard published his Mémoire sur quelques Montagnes de la France qui ont été des Volcans. It roused a storm of jeers and objections. A savant of Clermont even wrote to controvert his thesis, and argued that the cinders were the remains of forges established by the Romans. But at Montélimar Guettard and Malesherbes had dined with an Abbé Faujas de S. Fond, living on the spot. His eyes were unsealed, his interest was kindled, and he went through the Vivarais and explored the basaltic beds and the craters. Finally, the works of this man in 1778, and of de Soulaire in 1870, placed the further existence of volcanoes beyond possibility of dispute.

The Gorges of the Ardèche - A book of the Cevennes.jpg


The Gorges of the Ardèche

  1. Voyage aux Pays Volcaniques du Vivavais, Privas, 1878.