Clermont-Ferrand in Central France

How Caesar Lost a Battle in the Deep Heart of France

The Plateau of Gergovia lies behind the skyline of Clermont-Ferrand The plateau at Gergovia isn’t necessarily the first thing you’d notice when you come to this area.  The great volcanoes of the Massif Central rise in the background and they’re more rugged, more beautiful than this lump of basalt.  Clermont-Ferrand lies at the plateau’s base, its brooding black lava cathedral dominating the city’s skyline.  But go to Google and search for images of “Vercingetorix” and you’ll get an idea why this unassuming mesa holds such mythic power in the history of France. This is the site of the only defeat Julius Caesar ever suffered as he and the armies of Rome swept through ancient Gaul.  Vercingetorix and his Arverni tribesmen […]

That One Day Clermont-Ferrand Was The Capital of France

For one remarkable day, Clermont-Ferrand was the capital of France…and it wasn’t even necessarily the strangest day of a very strange month month for the people who lived there. Things had fallen apart for France at an incredible speed in those earliest days of World War II. As the German armies approached, the French government abandoned Paris in early June, 1940. Président du Conseil Paul Reynaud and his ministers landed first in Tours before ending up in Bordeaux.  This was a government in chaos, shocked by how easy it was for Hitler’s armies to blast past the Maginot Line of defense, and paralyzed by the conflict between ministers who wanted to continue the fight and those who were ready to […]

What Happened In This Medieval Church Echoes in Our Headlines Today

Note to all my readers:  I’ve wrestled with whether or not to publish this post.  It was written just BEFORE the horrible attack of July 26th in which Father Jacques Hamel was murdered and one of his parishioners gravely injured by two terrorists acting  “in the name of ISIL” during services in the church at  Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.  Then an extraordinary thing happened:  On Sunday July 31st, in churches all across France — including the Cathedral of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand, just up the hill from the subject of this post — Muslims joined with Christian congregations to demonstrate solidarity and to express their rejection of terrorists.  As one imam of a mosque in Vichy explained, “By our presence, we […]

Want to feel a chill in August in a secret corner of France?

One of the things I love most about exploring the “deep heart of France” is finding events and experiences that translate the region’s rich history into something I can taste, touch, see or hear for myself.  Today’s post is about one of the most extraordinary experiences you can have in central France, one which lets you go very far off the beaten path and be absorbed into one of the country’s hidden artistic delights. I’m talking about the great abbey church of La Chaise Dieu, where this August you can go for the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary classical music festival.   Photo  © 2016 Richard Alexander But…the town is synonymous with its great medieval abbey — the ancient Abbey […]