Skip to main content

History of the Cevennes

While nature has shaped the Cevennes over millions of years into the majestic mountainous region we find today, the influence of human history on this fascinating region of southern France has been altogether slight.

Nomadic trails

Embracing the peaks and foothills of the Massif Central, the earliest visitors to the Cevennes are thought to have appeared during Neolithic times, with Nomadic animal herders forging tracks that wind their way through the hillsides. These early trade routes would set a precedent for what would follow, with the Celtic tribes of ancient Gaul using the pathways to transport livestock across the verdant region, establishing basic settlements along the way that would slowly grow into communities.

For centuries, the anonymity of the Cevennes was preserved by its hilltop setting, leaving only sparsely inhabited regions untouched by outsiders, and preserving the natural charm of the mountainous area.

Huguenot settlers

With the onset of the 16th century, more and more travellers would find themselves heading towards the Cevennes region, with the set of French Protestants known as the Huguenots calling the region home. As the Huguenots, whose numbers across southern France reached in excess of two million by the mid 16th century, became more open about their faith, so the Catholic church became more vigorous in its opposition.  

With the publication of the Edict of Nantes declaring France a wholly Catholic nation, the Protestant Huguenots were, for a time, appeased through certain political freedoms. The situation gradually deteriorated in the decades that followed, however, causing more and more Huguenots to flee southern France. The reign of Louis XIV ultimately declared Protestantism illegal, with the remaining Huguenots taking refuge among the hills and valleys of Cevennes.

End of persecution

As the years passed and the modernisation of France gathered pace, persecution of the French Protestants – not least those resident in the Cevennes hills – dwindled, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen affording them equal rights in totality. As such, the freedom of religious practice saw many return to the region without fear of discovery, and the mountainside communities continued to live among the peaceful surroundings.

Throughout the 20th century, Cevennes has enjoyed a sedate existence, yet still managed to play an important part during the events of the Second World War. Having experienced religious persecution throughout its own history, the Protestant community was selfless in sheltering many Jews in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, saving the lives of a number of those victimised for their faith.

The Cevennes’ stunning panoramas, coupled with its intriguing human and religious history, has ensured a wealth of discoveries are ready to be made by walkers in the region.