Puy de Dome – Chaîne des Puys

Puy de Dome is a dormant volcano part of the Chaîne des Puys in the Massif Central.

Puy de Dome aerial view
Aerial view

La Chaîne des Puys is a range of 80 ancient volcanoes aligned over 40km on a north-south axis.

Their rounded summits are locally known as Puys, hence the name!

The highest volcano in La Chaîne des Puys is the Puy de Dome, which peaks at 1.465m.

This ancient volcano is located 15km from the city of Clermont-Ferrand the capital of Auvergne.

It has also become the iconic image of the department, to which it gave its name in 1791.

Its western side strteches in the municipality of Ceyssat, its eastern side and summit in the municipality of Orcines.

On a clear day, the Puy de Dome’s summit boasts spectacular views over the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne.

These include the whole range of Chaîne des Puys, Monts Dore and Monts du Cantal, the Limousin, Les Combrailles and Plateau de Millevaches in Cantal to the west.

The eastern side overlooks Clermont-Ferrand and Monts du Forez in the distance.

The summit of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, is sometimes visible in the far east on a very clear day!

Chemin des Muletiers

There are only two ways to get to the summit of the Puy de Dome!

Volcanoes - Puy de Dome
Puy de Dome

You can walk up via the Chemin des Chèvres (Goats’ path) or the Chemin des Muletiers (Mules’path) via the Col de Ceyssat, which peaks at 1078m.

The 350m long ascent via Chemin des Muletiers takes about 50mn.

However, once at the summit you are rewarded with magnificent views over the Chain des Puys.

If walking is not your thing, you can then opt for a 15mn ride on the Panoramique des Dômes.

The ride starts at the foot of the Puy de Dome and follows the old road.

Meteorological Observatory

The 89m high television relay antenna was built on the top of the Puy de Dome in 1957.

It is located next to the Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers and is visible for miles around.

The observatory was built in 1986.

It depends from the Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, and is equipped with a micro-physical and chemical advanced instrumentation.

Its purpose is to investigate the role of clouds and their composition in climate change and global warming.

Temple of Mercury

The Romans undoubtedly thought that the Puy de Dome’s height and location were exceptional.

Vestiges of the Temple de Mercure on Puy de Dome
Vestiges of the Temple de Mercure

In the 2nd century AD they indeed erected a gigantic temple dedicated to their god Mercury on the summit.

The construction work of the observatory uncovered the foundations of this temple.

Not only was the Temple of Mercury exceptionally large, but its enclosure also stretched over 3600m2.

It faced east and was therefore visible from every district of the ancient city of Augustonemetum (Clermont-Ferrand).

It was certainly one of the most important pilgrimage sanctuaries of the Roman Western Empire.

Its architecture, a successful blend of Gallo-Roman and Greek styles, was adapted to the declivity of the volcano.

Archaeological excavations show that the Roman stonemasons built it with the local volcanic rock.

They then lined the walls with marble and roofed the building with lead plates fixed on a wooden frame.

However, excavations also uncovered the foundations of a smaller temple built during the 1st century AD on the northern side of the Temple of Mercury.

This first temple was pulled down and its stones reused in order built the second temple.

Pline the Elder‘s texts relate that the Gallic tribe of the Arvernes commissioned the Greek sculptor Zenodorus for the creation of a colossal statue of Mercury.

Some believe that this statue once stood by the Temple of Mercury on the summit of the Puy de Dome.

That would be logical, however, no proof has even been found!

Temple of Mercury, a ancient pilgrimage site

Pilgrims walked up to the Temple of Mercury along the Chemin des Muletiers.

The path was a section of the Via Agrippa, the Roman road that linked Lyon to Saintes on the Mediterranean.

Countless annex religious buildings stood along the Chemin des Muletiers.

Excavations conducted between 1999 and 2003 indeed uncovered many vestiges.

Among them were those of a small agglomeration that developed between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD at Col de Ceyssat.

The Col de Ceyssat peaks at 1078m and was the highest point of the Via Agrippa.

The small agglomeration was a sort of stopover village for pilgrims.

It was in fact the last stop before reaching the Temple of Mercury, where they worshiped their god.

Department of Puy de Dome
Coordinates Puy de Dome: Lat 45.772466 – Long 2.964578

Credits: Source article Jean Piludu – Edited and translated by and for Travel France Online – Photos via Wikimedia Commons: header – Temple de Mercure vestiges  – Aerial view

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