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Time line

BC Prehistory

7500–2800 Neolithic Era: Stone Age. Volcanoes in the Puys range cease to erupt. Farmer-stock breeders settle in the Rhône Valley and the Massif Central, leaving some 50 dolmens and 20 or more menhirs.

c 180–700 Bronze Age. Human settlements become denser and the Rhône valley is the major amber and tin route.

The Celts settle in Gaul. The Helvians settle on the right bank of the Rhône, the Allobroges on the left and the Arverni in the Auvergne.

Arverni domination of the Auvergne – The main expansion of the Celtic people occurred during the 5C BC, probably as a result of the push southwards by Germanic tribes fleeing the rigorous climate of Northern Europe. Little is known about them; they had no written literature and were divided into different peoples in accordance with criteria that have remained mysterious. What is known is that the Celts in Gaul, like the Allobroges in Lugdunum (Lyon), were subject to the authority of the Arverni in the Massif Central. They traded with their own coinage. In order to ensure the submission of other peoples, their sovereigns acted as demagogues. King Luern, who reigned in the 2C, was famous for his gifts of gold. Rome, worried by his power, launched a campaign against his son, Bituit, who died in battle with Roman forces near Bollène in 121 BC. The Roman legions settled in Vienne, the capital of the Allobroges. The Arverni monarchy was no more. The great Celtic families took power and, thereafter, were forced to share it with the Aedui of Burgundy who were allied to Rome.

43 Lyon founded soon after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul by one of his lieutenants, Munatius Plancus. Roman settlers arrive and build houses on the hillsides above the banks of the Saône.

27 Lyon, capital of the Gauls (Aquitaine, Lyon area, Belgium); the Rome and Augustus Altar is built on the hill at La Croix-Rousse.


1C Preachers come to spread the gospel in the Auvergne and the Rhône valley.

177 Marcus Aurelius instigates persecution. Christians are martyred in Lyon.

280 Emperor Probus removes the monopoly on sales of wine in Gaul previously enjoyed by the people of Lyon. This marks the start of Lyon’s decline and, during the reign of Diocletian (284–305), the city is nothing more than the capital of the Lyon province.

406 After the invasion of the Vandals, the emperor introduces a federation of barbarian states in Gaul with the Visigoths in the Auvergne and the Burgundians on the left bank of the Rhône.

Sidonius Apollinaris stands up to the Visigoths – Sidonius Apollinaris was born in Lyon in AD 432 to a wealthy family of senators; later, his father-in-law, Avitus, was one of the last emperors of the Western world. Sidonius remained in Rome after the death of Avitus in AD 456 and wrote tributes to the emperors. His poetry pleased them and when he returned to the Auvergne, he was elected Bishop of Clermont.

Euric, King of the Visigoths, who already owned a large part of Aquitaine, threatened the Auvergne. Sidonius headed the resistance and withstood a siege lasting several years in the walled town of Clermont. Eventually the province was transferred to the barbarians in exchange for Provence, and Sidonius went into exile. Twenty years later, the province passed into the hands of the Franks after the Battle of Vouillé.

5C–9C Founding of the first abbeys – in Lyon, Vienne, Romans, in the Vivarais, the Lyonnais and the Velay.

761–767 Pepin the Short attempts to gain power over the noblemen of the Auvergne by means of military expeditions.

800 Charlemagne is crowned.

843 Treaty of Verdun. Charlemagne’s empire is divided into three kingdoms (West, Central, and East). The Auvergne is ruled by Charles the Bald (West Francia); the Rhône Valley by Lothair I (Lotharingia).

9C–10C Power is actually held by the many castle owners, all of them difficult to control. Safe on their feudal mottes, they war against their neighbours, devastate the countryside, attack churches and pillage monasteries.

951 The first pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela starts from Le Puy-en-Velay.

999 Gerbert, a former monk from Aurillac, is elected to the papacy as Sylvester II. He is the first French Pope and he occupies the papal throne at the end of the first millennium.

1095 Pope Urban II preaches the First Crusade in Clermont. The wave of popular faith aroused by his call arrives just at the right time to channel the warring energies of the turbulent feudal lords.

The Pope has a chance to gauge the vitality of the Church in the Auvergne. The Gregorian Reform purges the parishes by removing the power of the layman. The influence of a few of the great monasteries begins to spread. The counts of Albon, who come from Vienne, extend their territory; their lands, stretching from the Rhône to the Alps, become known as Dauphiné.

11C–12C Founding of new abbeys in the Vivarais area.

Royal intervention in the Auvergne – Divided between their position as vassals to the King of France and their allegiance to the Duke of Aquitaine, the great lords of the Auvergne failed to come to an agreement that would enable them to set up their own State. These feuding lords of mixed loyalties governed large estates with no clearly defined borders, which eventually enabled the sovereign to annex sections of the region little by little over the 12C and 13C; first Riom and the Limagne, then Montferrand and the area subsequently known as Dauphiné and finally Lower Auvergne.

13C–14C The development of towns leads to the granting of numerous municipal charters. Royal authority gains a foothold and is strengthened in Auvergne and the Rhône Valley:

1210 Philip Augustus annexes the Auvergne to his kingdom.

1292 Nomination of a royal “guardian” in Lyon.

1307 The so-called “Philippine” conventions strengthen Philip the Fair’s hold on Lyon.

1308 The Bishop of Viviers recognises royal sovereignty.

1349 Dauphiné is annexed to France as the States of Dauphiné.

1229 The Treaty of Paris ends the Albigensian Crusade and the influence of the counts of Toulouse in the Vivarais area.

1241–71 The Auvergne is part of the appanage with which Alphonse of Poitiers, St Louis’ brother, is endowed. He dies childless and the region is returned to the royal estate.

1262 Marriage of St Louis’ son, Philip, to Isabella of Aragon in Clermont.

1337–1453 — Hundred Years War.

1348 The Black Death ravages France.

1360 The Auvergne becomes a duchy and is given to John the Good’s son, Jean, Duc de Berry.

15C The first firearms are made in St-Étienne.

1416–25 The Auvergne and the Bourbonnais region are united for 100 years under the authority of the House of Bourbon.

1419 The first fairs in Lyon, instituted by the heir to the throne, the future Charles VII, make the town one of the largest warehouses in the world.

1450 Charles VII grants Lyon a monopoly on the sale of silk throughout the kingdom.

Auvergne, held in appanage by Jean de Berry – The sovereign’s hold on the Auvergne took it out of the sphere of influence of Southern France. It was divided in two with the creation of a bailiwick in the mountainous region corresponding to Upper Auvergne. The Church proceeded to follow suit, setting up the bishopric of St-Flour.

While the Bourbons continued to increase their power, with a barony that was raised to a duchy in 1327 (the Bourbonnais area), the Auvergne was granted in appanage to Jean, Duc de Berry in 1360.

War and epidemics combined with the heavy fiscal pressures imposed by a spendthrift lord.

In order to circumvent the rules on land held in appanage, Jean de Berry transferred the Duchy of Auvergne to his son-in-law, the Duke of Bourbon, an action which the monarchy, by then in a weakened position, was obliged to accept formally in 1425.

The Bourbons were then at the head of a huge feudal State which continued to exist until the Constable of Bourbon’s treachery in 1527.

1473 The first book is printed in Lyon by Barthélemy Buyer.

1494 The start of the Italian Campaign. Charles VIII brings his court to Lyon. The bank in Lyon enjoys a period of rapid development.

1527 After the Constable of Bourbon’s treachery, the Auvergne and the Bourbonnais region are confiscated by François I.

1528 The Reformation is preached in Annonay.

1536 A silk-making factory is opened in Lyon.

1546 The first Reform Church is opened in the Lyon area.

1562 Protestants led by Baron des Adrets ransack the Rhône Valley and Forez area.

1572 After the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Auvergne enters a period of chaos. Bloody battles are won in turn by the Huguenots, the royal army, and members of the Catholic League.

1598 Promulgation of the Edict of Nantes which grants freedom of conscience to the Protestants along with limited rights to hold church services, and gives them political equality.

The Reformation and the Wars of Religion – In 1525, the Reformation spread right across the Cévennes and the Rhône valley, through the Vivarais area and along the Durance valley. The Auvergne, perhaps partially because of the mountainous lie of the land, was little concerned by the Reformed Religion, except in Issoire and the papermaking areas of Ambert and Aurillac.

The local people were attracted to Calvinist ideas, which allied with their taste for independence. The concepts were spread by craftsmen in the villages, carders and silk merchants travelling to Montpellier via Le Puy-en-Velay and Alès. The ideas were also spread by shoemakers whose shops, like the tanneries, served as centres of propaganda. By 1550–60, the Reformed Religion had conquered the locality. Property belonging to the Catholic Church was sold and, by the end of the century, Mass was no longer being celebrated.

However, Catholics and Protestants were soon to engage in conflict. Eight wars, fought over a period of almost three decades, coincided with a time of political instability. Interspersed with ceasefires and edicts aimed at pacifying both sides, they never totally appeased the people’s passion. In 1562 the murder of a group of Protestants in Champagne led to the Huguenot uprising, and Catholic resistance was led by the Parliament of Toulouse. The conflict was particularly bitter in the Dauphiné and Vivarais regions where the warring factions laid waste to entire towns and committed massacres. The Baron des Adrets captured the main towns in Dauphiné, where he was the leader of the Huguenot movement, before moving on to decimate the Rhône valley with his troops and marching to the Forez area where he took Montbrison. After the tragic St Bartholomew’s Day massacre (24th August 1572), the conflict took on a more political character and, paradoxically, led to forms of cooperation between Huguenots and Catholics in the face of royal authority and power.

Peace was not re-established until the Edict of Nantes was signed.

1629 Siege and destruction of Privas by the king’s troops. Richelieu orders the dismantling of fortresses.

17C Counter-Reformation: founding of many convents.

1643 Accession of Louis XIV.

1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The dragoons sweep through the Vivarais area, ill-treating and killing people.

1704 First edition of the Trévoux Dictionary by the Jesuits in reaction against the Age of Enlightenment.

1783 First public ascent by the Montgolfier brothers in a hot-air balloon.

Auvergne’s finest hours – Although the aristocracy in the Auvergne was careful not to become involved in the Fronde Revolt against the monarchy, the king brought the hand of royal justice to bear on the region in order to ensure its submission for all time.

In September 1665, Louis XIV sent commissioners to the Auvergne, to provide a display of royal authority. The return to law and order included the repression of often tyrannical behaviour and excessive violence used by the local nobility to stamp out revolt among the country people. In the Auvergne as elsewhere, rural uprisings had resulted from the constraints imposed by a central authority that had not yet acquired its finality.

The Court heard 1 360 cases and passed 692 sentences, of which 450 were handed down by default for the suspects had fled as soon as the first of the 23 executions was carried out. Thereafter, offenders were sentenced in their absence and effigies were hung in their place.

This simulation of justice “without any spilling of blood” (Esprit Fléchier) nevertheless allowed for the return of a large amount of property and the destruction of castles that had been spared by Richelieu 40 years earlier. The authority of the State and royal justice could be felt by all throughout France. The magistrates tried to remedy abuses of the system by drawing up regulations on statute labour, weights and measures. The Intendants began to check the titles held by the nobility and laid the foundations for a fiscal reform in order to share the burden of taxation more fairly.

1789 Start of the French Revolution. 14th July: capture of the Bastille Prison. France is subdivided into départements.

1790 The first town council is set up in Lyon.

1793 A Resistance movement is set up in Lyon to fight the Convention: the town is subject to vicious reprisals as a result.

In the Auvergne, Georges Couthon, a member of the Committee of Public Salvation, orders the demolition of bell-towers in the Auvergne on grounds of equality. Non-juring priests seek refuge in the mountains.

Early 19C Mining begins in the coalfields around St-Étienne.

1804 The Jacquard loom is invented.

1820 Silk production becomes a boom industry in the Vivarais area.

1825 The Seguin brothers build the first suspension bridge over the Rhône.

1832 The St-Étienne-Lyon railway line is inaugurated.

Barbier and Daubrée open a factory in Clermont and begin working with rubber; this is the pioneer of the future Michelin group.

1831–34 Silk workers revolt in Lyon.

1850 Pebrine, a disease that attacks silkworms, causes a crisis in the silk industry. There is a sudden sharp drop in the number of silkworm farms.

1855 The railway is extended as far as Clermont.

1870–71 The Fall of the Second Empire; the Third Republic is founded.

1880 Phylloxera destroys half of the vineyards in Ardèche.

Orchards are planted in the Rhône and Eyrieux valleys.

1889 Phylloxera devastates the vineyards in the Limagne.

Late 19C The chemical industry is set up in Lyon and metalworking sees a period of expansion.

1895 The cinematograph is invented by the Lumière brothers in Lyon.

The birth of the cinematograph – In 1882 a photographer from Besançon named Antoine Lumière opened a workshop in a shed in Lyon and began to produce dry silver bromine plates to a formula that he had invented himself. Within four years he had sold over one million plates under the brand name Étiquette bleue. The former photographer’s two sons, Louis and Auguste Lumière, worked with their father on a new device; the equipment, invented in 1895 and exhibited in Lyon in June 1896, was to be known as the cinematograph.

The general public, after initial indifference, rushed to see the first 10 films – short farces whose humour has withstood the test of time. The first film, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory was followed by The Arrival of a Train in the Station, The Gardener (including the famous scene of the gardener being doused with water from the garden hose) and Baby Food.

1939–45 Second World War.

1940 Vichy becomes the capital of occupied France.

The Vichy government – The armistice signed in Compiègne on 22 June 1940 marked the defeat of France, which was divided into two zones – the North was occupied by Nazi Germany and the South was declared a free zone. Parliament, tolling the death knell of the Third Republic, vested all power in Maréchal Pétain, the victor of Verdun in 1916. The choice of a seat for the new government fell on the prosperous spa town of Vichy.

1942–44 Lyon is the centre of the French Resistance Movement.

1944 Battles are fought in the Rhône valley and in the Cantal (Mont Mouchet) as part of the liberation of France. The Germans blow up the bridges over the Rhône.

Lyon, a centre of the Resistance Movement – Lyon, a city in the southern zone, found itself near the demarcation line after the signing of the armistice in 1940. Countless Parisians sought refuge here and initially it became the intellectual and patriotic heart of France. The city was one of the major centres for the printing of literature, posters, and journals, many more popular with readers than the press that supported Vichy.

Important Resistance actions were carried out in Lyon, but they were badly organised until the arrival of Jean Moulin, sent by General de Gaulle; the various groups then joined together in 1943 to form the Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (Unified Resistance Movements). Moulin set up an administrative structure for the Resistance, organising services that were common to all the networks and a secret army operating in the south of France and the Rhône Valley. Georges Bidault, who took over after Moulin’s arrest, created the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI).

1946 Start of the Fourth Republic.

1957 The Treaty of Rome leads to the setting up of the EEC.

1958 Birth of the Fifth Republic.

1969 Georges Pompidou, who was born in Cantal, is elected President of the Republic.

1972 The Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regions are created.

1974 Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Mayor of Chamalières (Puy-de-Dôme), elected President of the Republic.

1981 The first high-speed train service (TGV) runs between Paris and Lyon (journey time: 2hr 40min).

1986 Superphénix, Europe’s first fast-breeder reactor to operate on an industrial scale, is brought into service in Creys-et-Pusignieu (Isère).

1989 Completion of the motorway link (A 71) between Clermont-Ferrand and Paris (Orléans).

1993 The EU introduces the Single Market.

1996 Lyon’s hosting of the G7 summit confirms the city’s international role.

2000 Clermont-Auvergne International Airport is inaugurated.

2002 Opening of VULCANIA, located in the heart of the Puy range, Vulcania, the European Volcano Park, plunges you deep into the world of volcanoes and the earth sciences. www.vulcania.com

2006 The La Chaise Dieu International Festival’s 40th anniversary. Founded by Georges Cziffra in 1966, the Festival is one of France’s leading sacred and classical music festivals. www.chaise-dieu.com.

2008 Olypique Lyonnais become French football ligue 1’s most consecutive winners (2002–2008).

Famous local figures

The Rhône Valley – A land of innovators

Few regions in France have given the country so many scientists and engineers – the engineer Marc Seguin (steam boiler), the physicis André-Marie Ampère (electrodynamics), the physiologist Claude Bernard and cinematographers the Lumière brothers.

The Montgolfier brothers and the first flight – In the years before the French Revolution, the brothers Joseph and Étienne de Montgolfier became famous by achieving the first flights in a hot-air balloon.

Tirelessly continuing research into a gas that was lighter than air, Joseph completed his first experiment with a taffeta envelope filled with hot air. His brother joined him in his research and they launched their first aerostat on place des Cordeliers in Annonay on 4 June 1783. It was so successful that Louis XVI asked them to repeat it in his presence, and so it was that, on 19 September of that same year, the first “manned” flight took place in Versailles, under the control of Étienne and in the presence of the amazed royal family and Court. Attached beneath the balloon was a latticework cage containing the first passengers – a cockerel, a duck and a sheep. In just a few minutes, the Réveillon bearing the king’s cipher on a blue background rose into the air and then came to rest in Vaucresson woods.

One month later, at the Château de la Muette in Paris, Marquis d’Arlandes and Pilâtre de Rozier completed the first human flight in a hot-air balloon.

The trials and tribulations of an inventor: Jacquard and the weaving loom – Jacquard was born in Lyon in 1752. His father, a small-time material manufacturer, employed his son to work the cords that operate the complicated machinery used to form the pattern in silk.

After his father’s death, Jacquard tried to set up a fabric factory, but his lack of commercial experience and the experiments he undertook to try and perfect the weaving of the fabric left him financially ruined. In 1793 he enlisted with a military regiment. On returning to Lyon, he worked for a manufacturer. He spent his nights working on the design of a new loom and on a machine to manufacture fishing nets. He registered his first patent in 1801. The officers of the Republic were looking for inventors and so Jacquard was brought to Paris where he earned a salary of 3 000 francs. At the newly created Conservatoire, he perfected a machine invented by a man from Grenoble named Vaucanson, who had already installed a new type of mill in Aubenas.

In 1804 Jacquard returned to Lyon to complete work on the loom with which his name has remained linked ever since. In place of the ropes and pedals that required the work of six people, Jacquard substituted a simple mechanism based on perforated cards laid on the loom to define the pattern. A single worker, in place of five in earlier times, could make the most complicated fabrics as easily as plain cloth. In a town that had 20 000 looms, tens of thousands of workers found themselves under threat of losing their jobs. They immediately protested against the new loom which deprived them of work. Despite this, Jacquard convinced them of the utility of his invention. By decreasing the production costs, it would be possible to withstand foreign competition and increase sales. Manufacturers set an example and, in 1812, several Jacquard looms were brought into service in Lyon. The experiment worked so well that the name is still in use today.

Thimonnier, the unfortunate inventor of the sewing machine – Unlike Jacquard, Thimonnier did not have the good fortune to see his invention being used in his native country. His father was a dyer from Lyon who had fled the town and its upheavals during the French Revolution. In 1795 the family settled in Amplepuis where the young Thimonnier was apprenticed to a tailor.

In 1822 he left the region to set up in business as a tailor near St-Étienne. Haunted by the idea of sewing clothes mechanically, and taking inspiration from the hooks used by embroiderers in the Lyonnais mountain range, he built a wooden and metal device that would produce chain stitch – the first sewing machine.

To register a patent, the inventor entered a partnership with Auguste Ferrand, a teacher at the Miners’ School in St-Étienne. An application was filed on 13 April 1830 in the names of both partners. Thimonnier then left St-Étienne for Paris where the first mechanical sewing shop soon saw the light of day.

There, 80 sewing machines produced goods six times quicker than manual workers, arousing the hatred of Parisian tailors who feared that their profession was on the point of ruin. On the night of 20 to 21 January 1831, 200 workers employed in the sewing and tailoring business ransacked the Parisian workshop. Thimonnier was ruined and he returned to Amplepuis where, in order to feed his large family, he again began work as a tailor. In 1834 he was back in Paris but nobody was interested in mechanical sewing. Two years later, utterly destitute, he travelled south again on foot, carrying his machine on his back and using it to pay for his board and lodging on the way.

Worn out by 30 years of work and struggle, Thimonnier died at the age of 64 – without seeing the extraordinary success enjoyed by the sewing machine.

Leading lights from the Auvergne

538–59 –Gregory of Tours (born in Clermont-Ferrand), churchman and historian

938–1003 – Gerbert d’Aurillac, theologian and scholar who went on to become Pope Sylvester II

1555–1623 – Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Marshal of France under Henri IV and Calvinist leader

1623–1662 – Blaise Pascal (Clermont-Ferrand), academic, writer and philosopher

1652–1719 – Michel Rolle (Ambert), mathematician and author of a treaty of algebra

1757–1834 – Marquis de La Fayette (Chavaniac), general and politician

1851–1914 – Fernand Forest (Clermont-Ferrand), inventor (four-stroke engine)

1853–1929 – André Messager (Montluçon), composer

1853–1931 and

1859–1940 – André and Édouard Michelin (Clermont-Ferrand), industrialists (rubber tyres and tourist publications)

1884–1932 – Albert Londres (Vichy), journalist and writer

1911–1974 – Georges Pompidou, politician and President of the French Republic (1969–74)

b 1926 – Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, politician and President of the French Republic (1974–81)

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