- Massif Central
/mann seef sahonn trddannl"/a great plateau and the chief water divide of France, in the central part.
* * *Plateau region, south-central France.It is bordered by the lowlands of Aquitaine, the Loire basin, the Rhône-Saône valley, and the Mediterranean coastlands of Languedoc. Comprising about one-sixth of France, it occupies an area of 35,006 sq mi (90,665 sq km). It consists mainly of plateaus with elevations of 2,000 to 3,000 ft (600 to 900 m). Its highest peak is Puy de Sancy, which reaches 6,184 ft (1,885 m). It is the source of many rivers, including the Loire, Allier, Cher, and Creuse.
* * *upland area in south-central France. Bordered by the lowlands of Aquitaine on the west, the Paris Basin and the Loire River valley on the north, the Rhône-Saône river valley on the east, and the Mediterranean coastlands of Languedoc on the south, it is conventionally demarcated by the 1,000 feet- (300 m-) above-sea-level contour. Occupying about one-sixth of France (33,000 square miles [86,000 square km]), the massif, for the most part, consists of plateaus lying between 2,000 and 3,000 feet (600 and 900 m). The highest peaks are Sancy Hill (Puy de Sancy; 6,184 feet [1,885 m]) and the Plomb de Cantal (6,096 feet [1,858 m]).About three-quarters of the region is underlain by crystalline rocks, mainly granite, gneiss, and schist, produced by the Hercynian earth movements of the Carboniferous and Permian periods. Sedimentary deposits of a later age have been denuded in most areas but are evident in the Jurassic limestones of the Causses and the Tertiary sands and clays of the upper Loire and Allier river valleys. Uplifting and tilting during the mid-Tertiary Period, together with intense volcanic activity beginning in the Pliocene Epoch, produced the area's volcanic cones and the extensive plateaus now deeply dissected by gorgelike valleys formed by glacial waters. These Tertiary uplifts also determined the two great trenches of the Loire and the Limagne, and they caused the tilting of the massif, which inclines gently to the west and north, then rises abruptly from the valley of the Rhône and from the sill of Naurouze, especially in the Cévennes.Physiographically, seven areas can be distinguished: the Morvan on the northeast; the eastern margins, extending the length of the Rhône-Saône valley and including Cévennes; the central uplands, characterized by volcanic cones and plateaus (notably, the Chaîne des Puys and Dore Mountains); the Grands-Causses, a permeable limestone region trenched by imposing gorges of the Tarn and Lot rivers; the southwestern uplands of the Ségalas, Lacaune, and Noire Mountains; Limousin, comprising the plateaus of La Montagne and a series of lower plateaus; and the northern basins of the Loire and Allier rivers.Land use reflects the diverse topography and the differences that exist between the massif's interior and its periphery. Cattle are raised on the interior upland meadows, with sheep occupying the more barren areas of the periphery. In the central uplands of Auvergne, distinctive cheeses, such as Cantal and Bleu Saint-Nectaire, are produced, while in the Grands-Causses, Roquefort cheese is made from ewe's milk. On the favoured slopes a variety of fruits and wine grapes are produced; on arable lands, grains, potatoes, sugar beets, and fodder crops are grown, with market gardening important near the larger towns.The mining of coal (which ceased by the late 1990s) at Saint-Étienne, Alès, and Blanzy furthered the development of steelworks and metallurgical industry in the Saint-Étienne region, at Le Creusot, and Montluçon. The Michelin Tire Company produces rubber at Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges has long been famous for its fine porcelain, and various textile plants are widespread. Other industries, often using local raw materials, manufacture bricks, tiles, furniture, paper, leather goods, and lace. A nuclear power plant at the confluence of the Loire and Vienne rivers near Chinon and hydroelectric stations on the Dordogne, Cère, Truyère, Lot, and Tarn rivers generate a significant portion of the nation's electric power.Population is unevenly distributed over the massif. The largest conurbations centre around Saint-Étienne, Clermont-Ferrand, and Limoges. In contrast there are some plateau areas more than 3,000 feet (900 m) above sea level and parts of the Causses that are virtually uninhabited. A number of market towns are dispersed through the more agriculturally productive areas. Tourist centres include Vichy, Le Puy-en-Velay in the upper Loire Valley, and Millau in the Grands-Causses.
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