Clermont-Ferrand is a city and commune of France, in the Auvergne region,
with a population of 140,700 (2008).
Its metropolitan area had 409,558 inhabitants at the 1999 census.
It is the prefecture (capital) of the Puy-de-Dôme department.
Clermont-Ferrand sits on the plain of Limagne in the Massif Central and is surrounded by
a major industrial area.
The city is famous for the chain of volcanoes, the Chaîne des Puys surrounding it.
The Puy-de-Dôme (13km from the city) is the highest of these and well-known for the
telecommunication antennas that sit on its top and are visible from far away.
Clermont-Ferrand is also famous for hosting world's number one International short-film festival
as well as Michelin 's corporate headquarters, the famous wheel company created more
than 100 years ago in the city.
Clermont-Ferrand's most famous public square is place de Jaude, on which stands a
grand statue of Vercingetorix sitting imperiously on a horse and holding a glaive.
The inscription reads: J'ai pris les armes pour la liberté de tous
(English: I took to arms for the liberty of all).
This statue was sculpted by Frédéric Bartholdi who also created the Statue of Liberty.
Recently, Clermont-Ferrand, which was France's first city to get a trolley
(abandoned after world war II), installed a brand new one, therefore linking city's north and
read full wikipedia reference about Clermont Ferrand, France
CLERMONT-FERRAND lies at the northern tip of the
Massif Central. Although its situation is magnificent, almost
encircled by the wooded and grassy volcanoes of the Monts-Dômes
, it has for a century been a typical smokestack industrial centre,
the home base of Michelin tyres, which makes it a rather incongruous
capital for the rustic, even backward province of the Auvergne.
Its roots, both as a spa
and a communications and trading centre, go back to Roman times.
It was just outside the town, on the plateau of Gergovia to the
south, that the Gauls under the leadership of Vercingétorix
won their only, albeit indecisive, victory against Julius Cæsar's
invading Romans. In the Middle Ages, the two towns of Clermont
and Montferrand were divided by commercial and political rivalry
and ruled respectively by a bishop and the count of Auvergne.
Louis XIII united them administratively in 1630, but it was not
until the rapid industrial expansion of the late nineteenth century
that the two really became indistinguishable. Indeed, it was
Clermont that took the ascendancy, relegating Montferrand to
a suburban backwater.
Michelin came into being
thanks to the inventions of Charles Mackintosh, the Scotsman
of raincoat fame. His niece married Édouard Daubrée,
a Clermont sugar manufacturer, and brought with her some ideas
about making rubber goods that she had learnt from her uncle.
In 1889, the company became Michelin and Co, just in time to
catch the development of the automobile and the World War I aircraft
industry. The family ruled the town and employed 30,000 of its
citizens until the early 1980s, when the industry went into decline.
In the years since, the workforce has been halved, causing rippling
unemployment throughout Clermont's economy. Many of those who
have lost their jobs are Portuguese immigrants, imported over
the last thirty years to fill the labour vacuum and well integrated
with the local population.
As in many other traditional
industrial towns hit by recession and changing global patterns
of trade, Clermont has had to struggle to reorientate itself,
turning to service industries and the creation of a university
of 34,000 students. Nonetheless, many people have moved elsewhere
in search of work, reducing the population by nearly a tenth.
The town has changed physically, too, as many of the old factories
have been demolished .
The most dramatic and flattering
approach to Clermont is from the Aubusson road or along the scenic
rail line from Le Mont-Dore , both of which cross the chain of
the Monts-Dômes just north of the Puy de Dôme. This
way you descend through the leafy western suburbs with marvellous
views over the town, dominated by the black towers of the cathedral
sitting atop the volcanic stump that forms the hub of the old
Clermont's reputation as
a ville noire becomes immediately understandable when you enter
the city's appealing medieval quarter, clustered in characteristic
medieval muddle around the cathedral - it is due not to industrial
pollution but to the black volcanic rock used in the construction
of many of its buildings. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame stands
at the centre and highest point of the old town; Freda White
evocatively described its sombre grey-black-stone lava from the
quarries at nearby Volvic as "like the darkest shade of
a pigeon's wing". Begun in the mid-thirteenth century, it
was not finished until the nineteenth, under the direction of
Viollet-le-Duc, who was the architect of the west front and those
typically Gothic crocketed spires, whose too methodically cut
stonework at close range betrays the work of the machine rather
than the mason's hand. The interior is swaddled in gloom, illuminated
all the more startlingly by the brilliant colours of the rose
windows in the transept and the stained-glass windows in the
choir, most dating back to the fourteenth century. Remnants of
medieval frescoes survive, too: a particularly beautiful Virgin
and Child adorns the right wall of the Chapelle Ste-Madeleine
and an animated battle scene between the crusaders and Saracens
unfolds on the central wall of the Chapelle St-Georges.
If the day is fine, it's
worth climbing the Tour de la Bayette (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sun
3-6pm) by the north transept door: you look back over the rue
des Gras to the Puy de Dôme , looming dramatically over
the city, white morning mist retreating down its sides like seaweed
from a rock.
A short step northeast
of the cathedral, down the elegant old rue du Port, stands Clermont's
other great church, the Romanesque Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Port
- a century older than the cathedral and in almost total contrast
both in style and substance, built from softer stone in pre-lava-working
days and consequently corroding badly from exposure to Clermont's
polluted air. For all that, it's a beautiful building in pure
Auvergnat Romanesque style, featuring a Madonna and Child over
the south door in the strangely stylized local form, both figures
stiff and upright, the Child more like a dwarf than an infant.
Inside, it exudes the broody mysteriousness so often generated
by the Romanesque style. Put a coin in the slot and you can light
up the intricately carved ensemble of leaves, knights and biblical
figures on the church's pillars and capitals. It was here in
all probability that Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade
in 1095 to a vast crowd who received his speech with the Occitan
cry of Dios lo Volt (God wills it) - a phrase adopted by the
crusaders in justification of all subsequent massacres.
For general animation,
shopping, drinking and eating, the streets between the cathedral
and place de Jaude are best, with the main morning market taking
place in the conspicuously modern place St-Pierre just off rue
des Gras. Place de Jaude remains another monument to planners'
aberrations in spite of the shops, the cafés well placed
to take in the morning sun and an attempt to make it more attractive
with trees and a fountain. Smack in the middle of the traffic,
a romantic equestrian statue of Vercingétorix lines up
with the Puy de Dôme.
Away from these central
streets, there is nothing to tempt the pedestrian, save perhaps
rue Ballainvilliers , whose eighteenth-century facades recall
the sober, sombre elegance of Edinburgh and lead to the city's
most interesting museum, the Musée Bargoin (Tues-Sun 10am-6pm),
with displays of archeological finds from round about. These
include lots of fascinating domestic bits: Roman shoes, baskets,
bits of dried fruit, glass and pottery, as well as a remarkable
burial find from nearby Martres-de-Veyre dating back to the second
century AD: a young girl's plaited blonde hair, her thigh-length
boots, dress, belt and goatskin shoes. There is also an extraordinary
collection of wooden limbs found during building operations,
buried in a covered-over spring in the suburb of Chamalières:
the gifts of people whose ailments had been cured thanks to these
waters. Upstairs is a very handsome exhibition of oriental carpets
The city's two other museums
are not of great interest. Musée Lecoq , directly behind
the Musée Bargoin (May-Sept Tues-Sat noon & 2-6pm,
Sun 2-6pm; Oct-April 10am-noon & 2-5pm), is devoted mainly
to natural history - and named after the gentleman who also founded
the public garden full of beautiful trees and formal beds just
across the street. Musée du Ranquet , to the west of the
cathedral at 34 rue des Gras (Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; free), is housed
in a noble sixteenth-century house, containing, at its most interesting,
a collection of traditional tools and domestic objects and two
versions of seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist Blaise
Pascal's calculating machine.
Montferrand is today little
more than a suburb of larger Clermont, standing out on a limb
to the north, but it's good for a stroll if you're feeling active.
Built on the bastide plan, its principal streets, rue de la Rodade
and rue Jules-Guesde (the latter named after the founder of the
French Communist Party, as Montferrand was home to many of the
Michelin factory workers), are still lined with the fine town
houses of its medieval merchants and magistrates.
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