Coal and iron have made Alès one of the country’s leading steelmaking centres. Indissociable from the history of the Cévennes, the memory of the mines is kept alive in the coal mining areas around Alès. Visit Alès to explore the last remains of this past thanks to the town’s carefully preserved industrial heritage. Coal extraction methods, which were for a long time family-based and small-scale, changed rapidly when the king gave Pierre-François Tuboeuf exclusive rights to the mines in the entire Basses-Cévennes region. His new techniques were very effective and made it possible to sink deeper shafts thanks to sophisticated ventilation and drainage systems.
A visit to the site has several different elements: exhibition of plant fossils from the carboniferous period, as well as full-scale animal fossils from the same period.
A video explains how these plants became fossils. Then a little train takes you through the forest to the fossil forest itself, where a guide presents the forests and takes you back 300 million years through time.
On the way back, children are able to look for skulls and a 6.5 metre dinosaur skeleton in a specially designed area for them to dig (shovels and rakes provided free).
LE FORT VAUBAN
The citadelle in Alès, known as Fort Vauban, was built in 1688 just after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. It was built on the Roque outcrop which overlooks the town, on the side of 2 castles belonging to the Lords of Alès, of which only the postern (13th century gateway) of the barons’ castle was preserved. The Fort played a dual role: sheltering a garrison which controlled everything that the Protestant religion had just forbidden and for imprisoning those who resisted. Contrary to its name, it wasn’t actually Vauban who built the citadel. Vauban was absent from building sites in the Cévennes (the Nîmes and St Hippolyte forts date from the same era). The three forts were built in the same style as those of Vauban.
LE CHÂTEAU DE PORTES
Nicknamed the Ship of Cévennes on account of its spectacular stone prow, which is unique in Europe, the Châteaeu de Portes, a listed Historic Monument, and its pass surveyed the former Régordane route taken by pilgrims from Saint-Gilles and the Crusaders to the Holy Land.