View of Puy de Sancy, the highest peak in the Massif Central
|Peak||Puy de Sancy|
|Elevation||1,886 m (6,188 ft)|
|Native name||Massís Central (Occitan)|
French: [masif st?al]
Occitan: [ma'sis sen't?al]
|Regions||Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie|
The Massif Central (French pronunciation: [masif st?al]; Occitan: Massís Central, pronounced [ma'sis?sen'tral]; literally "Central Massif") is a highland region in the middle of Southern France, consisting of mountains and plateaus. It covers about 15% of mainland France.
Subject to volcanism that has subsided in the last 10,000 years, these central mountains are separated from the Alps by a deep north-south cleft created by the Rhône River and known in French as the sillon rhodanien (literally "Rhône furrow"). The region was a barrier to transport within France until the opening of the A75 motorway, which not only made north-south travel easier, but also opened up the massif itself.
The Massif Central is an old massif, formed during the Variscan orogeny, consisting mostly of granitic and metamorphic rocks. It was powerfully raised and made to look geologically younger in the eastern section by the uplift of the Alps during the Paleogene period and in the southern section by the uplift of the Pyrenees. The massif thus presents a strongly asymmetrical elevation profile with highlands in the south and in the east (Cévennes) dominating the valley of the Rhône and the plains of Languedoc and by contrast, the less elevated region of Limousin in the northwest.
These tectonic movements created faults and may be at the origin of the volcanism in the massif (but the hypothesis is not proved yet). In fact, above the crystalline foundation, one can observe many volcanoes of many different types and ages: volcanic plateaus (Aubrac, Cézallier), stratovolcanoes (Mounts of Cantal, Monts Dore), and small, very recent monogenic volcanoes (Chaîne des Puys, Vivarais). The entire region contains a large concentration of around 450 extinct volcanoes. The Chaîne des Puys (near Clermont-Ferrand), a range running north to south and less than 160 km2 (60 sq mi) long, contains 115 of them (monogenic volcanoes only). The Auvergne Volcanoes regional natural park is in the massif. The amusement park of Vulcania near Clermont-Ferrand allows to discover this natural heritage and to initiate to volcanology.
In the south, one remarkable region, made up of features called causses in French, consists of raised chalky plateaus cut by very deep canyons. The most famous of these is the Gorges du Tarn (canyon of the Tarn).
Mountain ranges, with notable individual mountains, are (roughly north to south):
The following departments are generally considered as part of the Massif Central: Allier, Ardèche, Aude, Aveyron, Cantal, Corrèze, Creuse, Gard, Haute-Loire, Haute-Vienne, Hérault, Loire, Lot, Lozère, Puy-de-Dôme, Rhône, and Tarn; these form parts of the regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.
In the Massif Central, the industry remains little developed except locally (tire industry in Clermont-Ferrand, headquarters of Michelin, world leader in the sector, aeronautics industry in Figeac, etc.). The other industries present are linked to agriculture (Groupe Limagrain, the world's third largest seed producer, cheese-producing industries that export to the world, such as Cantal and Roquefort).
On the agricultural level, the Limagne plain is dominated by major cereal crops but in the mountains, it is mainly livestock farming that predominates: cattle farming in the west for meat and milk (cantal cheese), sheep farming in the south on the limestone plateaus (Roquefort cheese).
Finally, tourism is booming, taking advantage of the UNESCO heritage classification of the volcanoes of the Chaîne des Puys and the Causses-Cévennes region.
The entire economy of the Massif Central has benefited from the opening of roads, in particular the construction of the A75 motorway (on which is located the famous Millau viaduct).