Some quick facts:
- Region: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
- Département: Puy-de-Dôme
- Current mayor: Olivier Bianchi
- Population: 141,569 (2012)
- Sports teams: ASM Clermont Auvergne (Rugby), Clermont Foot Auvergne (Football)
- Postal code: 63
Where did the name come from?
Despite being a Latin named town (Augustonemetum or sometimes written as Augusta Nemetum), then Avernis, well into 848 (when it was renamed to Clairmont after the castle Clarus Mons), the name Clermont-Ferrand didn’t come about until 1731, when the two towns of Clermont and Montferrand combined, first decreed by Louis XIII in 1630 by an Edict of Union, and confirmed by Louis XV 101 years later.
The prehistoric and Roman periods
Clermont is one of the oldest cities in France, considering it’s first recorded mention was by Greek geographer Strabo, calling it the ‘metropolis of the Averni’ (note how similar this sounds to the modern ‘Auvergne’). At the time, it was called Nemessos, Gaulish for ‘sacred forest’, and sat on the hill where the black cathedral stands in modern-day Clermont-Ferrand. After the Roman conquest in the Battle of Gergovia in 52BC (headed by Vercingetorix – his statue stands in the modern day Place de Jaude), the town took on the name Augustonemenum around the 1st century, taking the original Gallic name and merging it with the name of Emperor Augustus. In the 2nd century, an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people were living there. Around the year 300 AD, the town took on another name change to become Avernis, named after its inhabitants.
Around the 5th century, the town became the seat of the bishop Namatius (or Saint Namace). After the fall of the Roman Empire and during the High Middle Ages, Clermont went through a dark period of history which can be seen by Gaulish people pillaging those who invaded them. Between 471 and 475, the Auvergne region was habitually targeted by the Visogothic Kingdom for expansion, and after Emperor Julius Nepos gave it up in 475, Clermont became part of this kingdom until 507. Some time later it was taken by the Kingdom of the Franks. In 570, Bishop Avitus told the Jewish population in the town they would either have to convert to Christianity or face expulsion.
In 848, the town became an episcopal town (so ruled by the bishop). When the Vikings invaded at the time when the Carolingan Empire was weakening, the town was not spared, nor when the Normans hit in 862 and 864. Bishop Sigon tried to reconstruct the town in 898 (some say 910), but Bishop Etienne II built a new Roman cathedral on the site of the current Gothic one, consecrated in 946, but the old one was torn down for the cathedral still standing today.
The Middle Ages
In 1095, Pope Urban II chose Clermont to begin the First Crusade. Well-known structures from this period still stand today; the Romanesque Notre-Dame-Du-Port Basilica (which is on the UNESCO world heritage list), and the Gothic-style Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-L’Assomption. A statue of Urban II (in French, Urbain II) sits atop a fountain by the cathedral. During this First Crusade, Christendom wanted to free Jerusalem from Muslim rule.
In 1120, the counts of Auvergne formed the town of Montferrand to counteract the clergy’s power following fall-outs between the bishops of Clermont and the counts.
Early Modern and Modern era
In 1551, the town became royal, and the property of the crown in 1610. The two rival towns of Clermont and Montferrand were forced to merge in 1630 with the First Edict of Union (the Edict of Troyes), and Louis XV confirmed this in 1731 with the Second Edict of Union. At the time, Montferrand was what is known as a ‘satellite town’ – a smaller town, self controlled, in the vicinity of a much larger town (a modern example is Boulder in Colorado, a satellite town of Denver). Montferrand wasn’t very happy about this, making multiple requests for independence in 1789, 1848 and 1863.
The two towns finally came to an agreement in the early 20th century, when the Michelin factories and city gardens were built, bringing into existence the modern Clermont-Ferrand.
20th century to modern day
Not much can be said about the town itself during the past 100 years that didn’t happen anywhere else, but here’s a quick timeline:
- 1906: The Galéries de Jaude building built in the town centre
- 1919: The local paper La Montagne begins publishing, and still runs daily to this day
- 1940: Occupied by German forces in June, becomes a temporary seat of French government in July
- 1961: Gare Routière (coach station) built
- 1974: Jardin botanique de la Charme created
- 1980: The first iteration of the Centre Jaude shopping centre opens
- 1982: The famous Clermont-Ferrand short film festival (Festival du Court Métrage) begins
- 1999: The Polydome sports centre opens
- 2003: The local Zap magazine begins publication
- 2006: The Ligne-A tramway begins operation, the contemporary Place de Jaude square inaugurated
- 2008: The Centre Jaude shopping centre undergoes a major renovation
- 2010: Grande Mosquée de Clermont-Ferrand built
- 2013: An extension to the Centre Jaude shopping centre added across the road, named Jaude 2
- 2014: Olivier Bianchi (current mayor) voted in
- 2016: Clermont-Ferrand becomes part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region
People you may know
Quite a few famous French people were actually born in Clermont-Ferrand! Here’s a few internationally-known people:
- André and Edouard Michelin, founders of Michelin tyres
- Blaise Pascal, mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher
- Audrey Tautou, actress known for Amélie, A Very Long Engagement, and Coco avant Chanel.
There are of course many places to visit in Clermont-Ferrand, but here’s a select few that really define the town.
Click on an image above to see full size
If you look up any photo of Clermont-Ferrand, chances are you’ll see this cathedral in almost any image. Although work started in 1248, the cathedral that we see today wasn’t actually finished until 1884, and the access steps on Rue des Gras weren’t put in until the start of the 20th century. It’s built in a Gothic style, with a spire reaching 96.1 metres (~315.3 feet). Made from black lava stone from the Volvic area, it’s a hard-to-miss feature of the Clermont-Ferrand skyline.
Puy de Dôme
Click on an image above to see full size
The region Clermont-Ferrand sits in is actually named after this dormant volcano. Yes, there is an actual dormant volcano only 10km (6 miles) from the city, but don’t worry it’s not going to erupt any time soon. The last eruption was around 10,700 years ago and there hasn’t been any recorded volcanic activity since. There was an earthquake in 2017 after the local rugby team ASM beat Toulouse in the final. With around 30,000 supporters marching to the town square it created a mini-earthquake in the town with around 1-3Hz of energy. Anyway, you can get to the top either by hiking or taking the dedicated train, and you can get incredible views of the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes and Clermont-Ferrand itself. The Puy-de-Dôme attracts around 500,000 visitors a year, whatever the weather. Whether it’s paragliding or hiking, there’s something for everyone.
Place de Jaude
The Place de Jaude acts as Clermont-Ferrand’s main town square by being a major shopping and transport hub. Not only is the Centre Jaude shopping centre located here, but also a plethora of smaller retailers bordering the main centre area. The two public transport stops offer connections around the city, whether by tram or bus, and the availability of outdoor seating scattered about makes this the ideal meeting place. The modern paved area that we see today was only finished in 2006, as was the tramway system, and as a result the area feels modern and clean, yet welcoming. At one end of the square, a statue of Vercingetorix stands tall as a reminder of his fight to take back the Auvergne region way back in 52BC. At the other, a fountain runs during the warmer months with smaller features along the border of the second square, providing not only an interesting show but also a source of activity during the daytime when people are at work.
Puy-de-Dôme as a region
The Puy-de-Dôme region is generally hilly and mountainous thanks to it’s 80+ volcanic craters. The department is in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, and is bordered by Loire, Haute-Loire, Cantal, Corrèze, Allier and Creuse.
The geography of Clermont-Ferrand
The town itself reflects the general geography of it’s region, with many hills and dips. Because it’s right in the shadow of the Chaîne des Puys, Clermont-Ferrand is quite sparse rain-wise and therefore has one of the driest climates in mainland France, beaten only by some of the southern departments on the Mediterranean coast. Again thanks to the mountain ranges in the area, Clermont-Ferrand has quite a continental climate, meaning the summers are very hot and the winters are very cold – the oceanic influence of the Atlantic is blocked off. During the hot summer months, thunderstorms can be common. During the winter, however, bad weather is hard to come by; snow can be common but is normally short-lived and very light.
That brings us to the end of part one of This Is Clermont-Ferrand. If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment below so I know to do more like this. The next part will focus on the food and drink in the town, from restaurants to bars, cheese to coffee shops. I’ll see you there! À bientot!