It is said that Viviers is a real architectural open-air museum. Former capital of the Vivarais area, the town has not only been the bishopric of the Ardèche since the 5th century but is also one of the French “patrimonial remarkable sites”. Its strategic situation along the Rhône and at the crossroads of several communication roads enabled Viviers to become a rich and thriving city during the Middle Ages and then during the Renaissance period. Step back in time and go for a walk in those narrow streets.
Lower city and trading town
This medieval city fortified with two surrounding walls, has a lot architectural treasures. Here the stones recount history and bear the witness of a glorious past of over 2000 years history.
The successive generations have left their mark in the old streets of the town. When you walk around, discover the picturesque and shaded streets, the vaulted passages, the basic houses with their Romanesque or gothic doors and windows, the Renaissance façades and private mansions from the 18th century.
Be surprise face to the imposing façade of the Maison des Chevaliers which used to be the first property of Noël Albert, salt merchant on the Rhône river who got rich. He was also an art lover too. This façade in the antique style has been renovated in the 16th century. The different floors are decorated by mullioned windows framed by pilasters, Ionic, Doric columns and composites and busts in medaillion.
Don’t miss the former Bishop’s palace. In this prestigious monument you can find a room in the Italian style, this is the reception room of the bishop covered with mural paintings. This building has been built on the model of private mansions (18th century) and became in 1986 the town Hall.
Upper city and religious town
At the foot of the rock, surrounded by a quasi-intact second wall, the canonial area. This religious area overlooks the Rhone river and on the other side dominates the secular town.
You can enter the city through the “Porte de la Gâche”, the only passage to communicate between the lower city (trading) and the upper city (Episcopal area), till 1660.
Former canons’ houses surround the Saint-Vincent’s Cathedral. It is the smallest active cathedral in France. It mixes Romanesque styles, (basement of the nave), flamboyant gothic (choir) and the 18th century. The nave vault is made of dressed stone, it has been built by the architect Franque, a specialist of stereotomy. Inside, you can contemplate five tapestries of the Royal Manufacture of the Gobelins.
Reach for the sky
In the upper city before going down, stop at the Belvedere of Chateauvieux with its wonderful view 360°on the Viviers roofs and the Rhône.
A small path begins near the RN 86 and the Town Hall (crossroads south) leads to the Joannade statue (30 mn quiet walking). After several turns, you will discover a wonderful view over Viviers, the river and the Pré-Alps.
The St Michel archangel statue in the south of the town overlooks the Rhone faced to the Donzère cliffs. It has been erected by the municipality because the town has been saved from bombings in 1944. It is a wonderful point of view for anybody who would like to go up the hill among garrigue and copses. (park at the new St Michel cementery)