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ARDÈCHE, an inland department of south-eastern France,
formed in 1790 from the Vivarais, a district of Languedoc.
Pop. (1906) 347,140. Area, 2145 sq. m. It is bounded N.W.
by the department of Loire, E. by the Rhone which divides it
from Isère and Drôme, S. by Gard and W. by Lozère and Haute-Loire.
The surface of Ardèche is almost entirely covered by
the Cévennes mountains, the main chain, continued in the
Boutières mountains, forming its western boundary. Its centre
is traversed from south-east to north-west by the Coiron range
which extends from the Rhone to the Mont Mézenc (5755 ft.),
the highest point in the department, and the oldest of its many
volcanoes. These mountains separate the southern half of the
department, which comprises the basin of the Ardèche, from the
northern half which is watered by numerous smaller tributaries
of the Rhone, the chief of which are the Érieux and the Doux.
A few rivers belong to the Atlantic side of the watershed, the chief
being the Loire, which rises on the western borders of the department,
and the Allier, which for a short distance separates it
from Lozère. Nearly all the rivers of the department are of
torrential swiftness and subject to sudden floods. The scenery
through which they flow is often of great beauty and grandeur.
Natural curiosities are the Pont d’Arc, over the Ardèche, and
the Chaussée des Géants, near Vals. The climate in the valley
of the Rhone is, in general, warm, and sometimes very hot;
but westward, as the elevation increases, the cold becomes more
intense and the winters longer. Some districts, especially in
summer, are liable to sudden alterations in the temperature.
Rye, wheat and potatoes are the chief crops cultivated. Good
red and white wines are grown in the hilly region bordering the
Rhone valley, the white wine of St Péray being highly esteemed.
The principal fruits are the chestnut, which is largely exported,
the olive and the walnut. In the rearing of silk-worms, Ardèche
ranks second to Gard among French departments, and great
numbers of mulberry trees are grown for the purposes of this
industry. The many goats and sheep of Ardèche make it one
of the chief sources of supply of skins for glove-making. Mines
of coal, iron, lead and zinc are worked, and the quarries furnish
hydraulic lime (Le Teil) and other products. Besides flour-mills,
distilleries and saw-mills, there are important silk-mills and
leather-works and paper-factories. Annonay is the principal
industrial town. The department exports wine, cattle, lime,
mineral waters, silk, paper, &c. Hot springs are numerous,
and some of them, as those of Vals, St Laurent-les-Bains,
Celles and Neyrac, are largely resorted to. Ardèche is served
by the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée railway and has some 43 m.
of navigable waterway. The department is divided into the
arrondissements of Privas, Largentière and Tournon, with 31
cantons and 342 communes. It forms the diocese of Viviers
and part of the archiepiscopal province of Avignon. It is in the
region of the XV. army corps, and within the circumscription
of the académie (educational division) of Grenoble. Its court
of appeal is at Nimes. Privas, the capital, Annonay, Aubenas,
Largentière and Tournon are the principal towns. Bourg-St
Andéol, Thines, Mélas and Cruas have interesting Romanesque
churches. Mazan has remains of a Cistercian abbey founded
in the 12th century to which its vast church belongs. Viviers
is an old town with a church of various styles of architecture
and several old houses.
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