5 Million years ago to 3500 before J.C.
We are in the immediate vicinity of the Pont d’Arc Cavern, facsimile of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Grotte Chauvet – Pont d’Arc”. 36 000 years ago our Aurignacian ancestors created a masterpiece featuring many predatory animals. The extraordinary collection of paintings, drawings and engravings is artistically reproduced in the largest replica ever built worldwide.
In our area the presence of mankind is attested during all periods of prehistory. Other caves exhibit painted and engraved artwork. Thanks to the local school teacher, Leopold Chiron, the Chabot Cave located in Aiguèze was listed in 1878 as Europe’s first ornate cave.
Dolmens are contemporary to Egyptian pyramids and still visible today. They were built by a population who already cultivated cereals and raised small livestock. The megalithic tombs were used as collective burial places during a whole millennium.
In the heart of Laoul Forest near the town of Bourg-Saint-Andéol six dolmens feature different architectural styles. They are listed monuments like Dolmen Champ Vermeil in Bidon.
3500 BC to 476
In the early 1st century BC the southern Ardèche region, territory of the “Helviens”, is part of the Roman province Gallia Transalpina. Under the reign of Emperor Augustus the province is reorganized and named Gallia Narbonensis. Alba, the capital of the Helvien tribe benefits from Rome in exchange of the tribe’s support of Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars. In the first and second century the town is able to build its own theater, temple and forum, all in Roman style. Our region starts wine growing and ever since vineyards model our landscapes. At the same time Christianity and Mithraism spread throughout the Rhône Valley.
From this Gallo-Roman past remain only a few monuments: Escoutay Bridge near Viviers, Mithras relief in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, a sarcophagus reused in the 12th century to bury the relics of Saint-Andéol and the altar of the Mother Goddesses in Bourg-Saint-Andéol. Tradition names Saint-Andéol as the evangelizer of the Helvien people. In April 208 he was preaching in the port town of Bergoiata-le-Haut, opposite the actual Bourg-Saint-Andéol, and word got to Emperor Septimus Severus. As Andéol refused to abjure his faith, the Emperor ordered his decapitation. In 392 Christianity becomes the Roman Empire’s official religion. Around 475 the bishop moved his residence from Alba-La-Romaine to Viviers.
476 to around 1492
Viviers is the seat of the Bishop and Lord of the Vivarais region. It’s location on the Rhône River banks favors flourishing trade and artistic exchanges. In 1308 Viviers becomes part of the kingdom of France.
The religious expansion left its mark on the local landscape with numerous Romanesque buildings: the cathedral of Viviers, the churches of Bourg-Saint-Andéol, the small churches and chapels of Larnas, Saint-Vincent de Gras, Saint Just, Saint-Sulpice de Trignan, Saint-André de Mitroys in Saint-Montan, Cousignac, Chalon …).
The feudal castle and village of Saint-Montan represent the typical military architecture of the Middle Ages, the cathedral quarter of Viviers has still most of its fortifications. Overlooking the Ardèche, the fortress of Aiguèze is ranked among the most beautiful villages in France. The remains of fortifications and medieval houses are also visible in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, Viviers and Gras.
Around 1460 to the French Revolution
In spite of the destructions during the wars of religion some remarkable Renaissance buildings can be admired in our towns. In Viviers, the facade of the Knights’ House is
considered one of the masterpieces of the French Renaissance. Bourg-Saint-Andéol benefits from the bishop’s presence in town and royal protection. The architecture of the Bishop’s House, much transformed in the sixteenth century, is still Gothic in its structure and decoration. The Nicolaÿ Hotel, partially destroyed by the bombing of August 15, 1944, marks the transition from Gothic to Renaissance style. The transition between the Middle Ages and Modern Times is also visible at the Bosquet Castle in Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche.
After the difficult times of the early seventeenth century (wars of religion, plague of 1629) follows an economic boom that promotes the development of river navigation and trade. In Bourg Saint-Andéol the Rhône embankments are built, numerous mansions bear witness to prosperity and urban renewal (water adduction to large and small fountains). The following mansions are among the many protected monuments in the historic down town: Doize, Gabriac, Pontal Megret, Bonnot de Villevrain,de Digoine. From the Counter-Reformation remain the convents of the “Récollets”
(local nursing home), the “Ursulines” (now City Hall), the“Visitation” (today Presentation of Mary).
The reestablishment of the episcopal seat in Viviers favors intense architectural activity. In the 18th century the architects Franque from Avignon build the Bishop’s House (now Town Hall), “Hôtel de Roqueplane” (nowadays the bishop’s residence), the Notre- Dame-du-Rhône church, the “Tourville”, “Beaulieu” and “Surville” mansions.
1789 - Present
Dry stone walls and shepherds’ shelters from the 19th century remind us of prosperous agriculture on the lime stone plateau. Bourg-Saint-Andéol extends beyond its fortifications. A monumental wash-house and tanneries are located close to the Tourne River. Nearby, “La Cascade”, the national centre for circus arts is housed in an old Catholic school with its cloister. Several statues and fountains adorn the town, including the majestic Dona Vierna statue.
We are in the century of the industrial revolution. Suspension bridges are invented – “Pont du Robinet”, remains of the Bourg-Saint-Andéol Bridge destroyed at the bombing of August 15, 1944. The Pavin de Lafarge family starts to exploit the limestone quarry near Viviers and launches cement fabrication. They pay close attention to the living conditions of their workers and build “Cité Blanche” (White Housing Estate) ranging from housing, gardens and a hospital to schools.
Surrealism, an art movement focusing on the unconscious, begins in the early twentieth century. One of its major figures, Max Ernst stayed for some time in Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. After the Second World War the Donzère – Mondragon Dam and Rhône canal, the opening of the scenic route along the Ardèche Gorge, the nuclear power plants of Tricastin and Cruas, boost the economic growth and living conditions of our area. .
The crocodile farm near Bourg-Saint-Andéol and the Ardeche Gorge attract thousands of visitors every year.