The history of Rhône-Alpes can be traced in its art, a priceless legacy testifying to each successive culture and civilization that thrived here. Back around 20,000 years before the birth of Christ, Magdalenian painters created a pictorial account of their hunter culture on the Chauvet Cave walls recently discovered in the Ardèche. A number of museums -- such as the Regional Museum at Orgnac l'Aven and the Paleontological Museum in La Voulte -- have meticulously preserved and displayed prehistoric man's workshops, shelters and tombs. Leaping forward to more recent millenia, the Merovingians, Allobroges, Ambarri, Segusiavians, Helvians and others have all passed through this area, settling long enough to leave their mark and their heritage upon the region.
To witness the vestiges of Gallo-Roman society, follow the brick-red Gier aquaduct to Lugdunum (Lyon), the capital of the Three Gauls founded by the Romans in 43 B.C. The Grand Théâtre, built in 15 B.C. to seat 10,000, is the oldest Roman theater in France. Luxurious botanical gardens at Jardins des Plantes contain remnants of the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gauls, built in 19 A.D.; Christian martyrs met their death here in 176 A.D. Many other relics of Roman civilization may be viewed in the subterranean Musée de la Civilization Gallo-Romaine, which showcases statues, mosaics, vases, coins, and tombstones.
Dauphiné is a historic province of southeastern France, bordered by Italy on the east and the Rhône River on the west. Grenoble, the traditional capital, is now the transportation and manufacturing center of the region. Most of Dauphiné is covered by pre-Alpine mountain ranges and the Dauphiné Alps. Agriculture takes place in the Rhône Valley, where cereals, olives, and fruits (including grapes for wine) are produced; cattle and sheep are raised in the uplands.
The region became part of the kingdom of Arles in 933 and was subsequently a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1349, King Philip VI of France purchased Dauphiné from the counts of Viennois. From 1350 to 1830, Dauphiné was the land grant, and dauphin the title, of the heir to the French throne. After 1790, Dauphiné was divided into the departments of Drôme, Isère, and Hautes-Alpes.
Savoy is a region of southeastern France that extends from Lake Geneva to the Isère River and borders on the Italian frontier. Its command of the western Alpine passes into Italy enhances its strategic importance. Savoy was the original domain of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled Italy from 1861 to 1946.
Savoy's early Celtic inhabitants were conquered by the Romans in 121 BC. During the 5th century AD the Burgundians gained control of the region, which passed in 534 to the Frankish kingdom of Burgundy. Savoy came under the suzerainty of the Holy Roman emperor in 1033. Count Humbert I aux Blanches Mains (the Whitehanded), founder of the House of Savoy and a vassal of the German emperor, then controlled much of the region. He settled in Chambéry and began extracting exorbitant tolls from neighboring kings who wanted to march through the pass. By the 14th century, this powerful kingdom included Nice, the Jura, Piedmonte, and Geneva.
The Savoy dukes increasingly favored their Italian lands, particularly since generations of French monarchs had expressed military designs on Savoy, which was largely French-speaking. The dukes transferred their capital to Piedmonte in 1563. France annexed Savoy in 1792, but it was restored to the House of Savoy in 1815. In 1860, however, after a plebiscite, the region was returned to France, and the French acquiesced to the rule of the House of Savoy over a kingdom in north central Italy.
This ancient Roman capital of Dauphiné is now the capital of the French department of Isère, located in the Alps about 217 km (135 mi) north of Marseille on the Isère River. The city's population is 153,973, and the greater metropolitan area has a population of 400,141 (1990). The climate is characterized by warm, dry summers and relatively mild winters. Easy access to the winter sports regions of the Dauphiné Alps makes Grenoble a major tourist resort.
Grenoble is a cultural and industrial center and is noted for the manufacturing of gloves. Hydroelectric power from Alpine rivers provides much of the energy for telecommunications industries and for the production of electrical machinery, electrometallurgy, cement, chemicals, and plastics. Since the 14th century when Louis XI designated the town a permanent parliamentary seat, Grenoble's university center has been the region's intellectual capital. The University of Grenoble (1339) is a leading educational institution in southern France and has become noted for its contributions to scientific research, especially in physics.
Grenoble was the seat of a bishopric from the 4th century on and contains a number of buildings dating from the 11th to the 15th century. The city was a stronghold of Napoleon I after his return from Elba in 1815. The winter Olympic Games were held there in 1968. Grenoble is a convenient and economical base for jaunts to nearby mountains, and an intriguing city in itself, with a pedestrian vieille ville dating from medieval days, trendy shops, dozens of colorful festivals, numerous museums, and ubiquitous students.
Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saone rivers, about 274 km (170 mi) north of Marseille, Lyon (or Lyons) is the third-largest city in France. The city has a population of 422,444; its metropolitan-area population is 1,262,167 (1990).
Lyon is a significant inland port connected with Marseille by both canal and river. The city has long been famous as a silk manufacturing center, but today the textile industry consists mostly of spinning, weaving, and dyeing of artificial fibers. Chemical, electrical-equipment, and heavy-vehicle manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and metallurgy are other industries. Warehouses and shipping facilities are located along the riverfront. The University of Lyon (1896) and several museums and theaters are located in the city. Lyon is noted for its fine cuisine as well as for locally produced Beaujolais and Maçonnais wines.
To the west, the city is dominated by the Fourvière Ridge, on which Notre Dame de Fourvière basilica (built 1871-94) is located. Nearby are the Roman odeon and theater. The central business district is located on the peninsula formed by the juncture of the two rivers. The city is compartmentalized by its hills and the rivers, and auto traffic is disrupted by these features and by Lyon's many bridges.
Lyon originated as a fishing village during the Roman period and, as Lugdunum, became the capital of Gaul. After the introduction of Christianity into Gaul, Lyon became a major ecclesiastical center. The powerful archbishop of Lyon controlled the city until 1307; two important ecumenical councils were held in Lyon, in 1245 and 1274. Lyon was annexed to the French crown in 1312 and quickly began to prosper as a cultural and commercial center. By the 16th century it was an important silk manufacturing center. It suffered economically during the French Revolution and did not emerge as a prominent city again until the early 20th century. During World War II, Lyon was an anti-German resistance center and consequently suffered much damage. It was freed from German control by the joint efforts of the resistance leaders and the French and U.S. armies in 1944.
PALAIS IDÉAL at HAUTERIVES
Described by Let's Go France as "without a doubt the funkiest thing in all of Gaul", this fantasy palace was built by a postman over a 32-year period starting in 1879, from rocks and pebbles he picked up during his 32km mail route and in many evenings of scouring the fields around Hauterives. Ferdinand Cheval constructed an unbelievably detailed world of grimacing giants, frozen palms, unearthly minarets, and swirling staircases, until his creation was almost 80m long and over two stories high.
The palace is an unparalleled example of folk architecture, displaying an indescribable mix of Middle Eastern architecture with Western elements and hallucinatory images. Now a national monument, its many caves, crevices, mottos and mysteries can be climbed and explored by visitors. Hours: April - Sept., 9am - 7pm; Sept. 16 - Nov. and Feb. - April 14, 9:30am - 5:30pm; Dec. - Jan., 10am - 4:30pm. Admission: 22FF (under 16, 15FF). Phone: 04-75-68-81-19. (Approx. 54 km south of Lyon, 24 km north of Romans, 57 km west of Grenoble.)
Bibliography: History intro: Ian C. Mills. Dauphiné: Timothy J. Rickard; Savoie: Charles F. Delzell (Professor of History, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN); Grenoble & Lyon: Lawrence M. Sommers (Professor of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.), 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v9.0.1., Grolier Interactive Inc., Danbury, CT. Let's Go - The Budget Guide to France 1997, Thomas F. Moore, 1997, Let's Go Publications, Cambridge, MA, printed by St. Martin's Press, New York. Rhône-Alpes - Choose Your Colours, a publication of Rhône-Alpes Tourisme, Charbonnières-les-Bains, France. Fodor's 99 France, Editor: Natasha Lesser, Fodor's Travel Publications, New York. An Uncertain Hour: The French, the Germans, the Jews, the Klaus Barbie Trial, and the City of Lyon, 1940-45, T. Morgan, 1990.