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Ardèche (Occitan and Arpitan: Ardecha) is a department in south-central France named after the Ardèche River.



The area has been inhabited by humans at least since the Upper Paleolithic, as attested by the famous cave paintings at Chauvet Pont d'Arc. The plateau of the Ardeche River has extensive standing stones (dolmens and menhirs), erected thousands of years ago[citation needed]. The river is the largest natural canyon in Europe and the caves that dot the cliffs (which go as high as 300M(1,000 feet)) are known for signs of prehistoric inhabitants (arrowheads and flint knives are often found.)

The Vivarais, as the Ardèche is still called, takes its name and coat-of-arms from Viviers, which was the capital of the Gaulish tribe of Helvii, part of Gallia Narbonensis, after the destruction of their previous capital at Alba-la-Romaine. Saint Andéol, a disciple of St. Polycarp, is supposed to have evangelized the Vivarais during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, and was supposedly martyred in 208. His body was buried by the Blessed Tullie. Auxonius, in 430, transferred the see to Viviers as a result of the problems suffered at its previous site in Alba Augusta.

After a period of eclipse, Viviers was re-established in 1822 as the site of the bishopric see of Ardèche, which it retains to this day.

The area of the Vivarais suffered greatly in the 9th century with raids from Magyar Hungary and Saracen slavers operating from the coast of Provence resulting in an overall depopulation of the region.

In the early 10th Century, economic recovery saw the building of many Romanesque churches in the region including Ailhon, Mercuer, St Julien du Serre, Balazuc, Niègles and Rochecolombe. The medieval county of Viviers or Vivarais at this time was administratively a part of the Kingdom of Arles, formed in 933 with the fusion by Rudolph II of Burgundy of the realms of Provence and Burgundy and bequeathed by its last monarch Rudolph III of Burgundy to the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II in 1032. Locally throughout this period the Church played an important role. John II (Giovanni of Siena), Cardinal and Bishop of Viviers (1073-95), accompanied Pope Urban II to the Council of Clermont. It was later held in fief by the Counts of Toulouse, who lost it to the French crown in 1229. In 1284, with the Cistercian Abbey of Marzan, Philip IV established Villeneuve de Berg, and by the treaty of 10 July 1305 Philip IV of France obliged the bishops of Vivarais to admit the sovereignty of the Kings of France over all their temporal domain. The realm was largely ignored by the Emperors and was finally granted to France as part of the domain of the Dauphin, the future Charles VII of Valois in 1308. During this period the Maillard family, as Counts of Tournon, were influential in the Ardèche. During the Hundred Years War, the area maintained its loyalty to the French crown, despite frequent attacks from the west.

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