Iron and coal turned Alès into one of the country's first steel-producing centres. Indissociable from the history of the Cévennes, the memory of the mines has been maintained around the coal basin of Alès. Visiting Alès, you will discover these last vestiges of its past twith its well-highlighted industrial heritage.
Situated 40 km from Nîmes, the Cévenole capital is an excellent departure point for discovering the Cévennes.
Alès, the “black country”
Coal mining, for a long-time carried out by family businesses using traditional techniques, changed when the king gave Pierre-François Tuboeuf the exclusive concession of the mines in the entire Lower-Cévennes region. His innovative, very efficient techniques allowed for the digging of new and deeper shafts thanks to a sophisticated system of ventilation and drainage.
The city of Alès
Stronghold Vauban in Alès
Panorama of the town of Ales from the Hill of Hermitage
The industry quickly developed and mining activities boomed in the 19th century thanks to railway lines that now linked the mining sites of Grand'Combe followed by Bessèges to the sea. Alès became the main coal basin of the Cévennes. Production increased spectacularly and grew from 20,000 tons in 1815 to 2 million tons in 1890 to reach a record in 1958 of 3.3 million tons from a workforce of 20,000 in the Alès coal basin.
Cost-prices becoming less competitive due to other energy sources, the mining industry began to decline, dwindling out in 1985 with the closing of the Puits des Oules mine. Some production did continue in the open-pit mines, but they also progressively shut down and all exploitation ceased in 2001.
To find out more about the mining world in the Cévennes
The museum mine in Alès retraces the history of coal in the region. The industrial archaeological museum proposes a circuit of over 600 metres in the galleries of the former mining school. All the exploitation techniques have been recreated.
The Puits Ricard in Grand'Combe is the last vestige of this history. It today houses the Maison du Mineur, which, through a collection of objects and narrative, recounts the miners' life and work. The ensemble des installations have been listed as Historic Monuments since 2008 and provide for a moving discovery of the heritage and history of the mining basin.
Other places of interest in Alès
The Ermitage Hill
Excavations have unearthed many traces of human occupation since the Neolithic. A very nice trail lets you discover the ruins of an oppidum dating from the Gallo-Roman era. The site offers panoramic views over the city and the Cévennes.
It's a bit too bad that the architectural decisions in the early 1960s resulted in the destruction of a part of the old town of Alès to make room for council apartment blocks that disfigure the city centre.
The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral
Built on the remains of a Carolingian church, with the preserved porch bell tower that dates from the 15th century, it is surmounted by a campanile that replaced the older lead-covered dome struck by lightening in 1775. The main part of the building, in gothic style, was reconstructed in the 17th century.
Situated on the Butte de la Roque hill, the fort was built in the 17th century by one of the students of the master architect Vauban: François Ferry.
The mineralogical museum of the Mining School of Alès houses a very big collection of fossils and minerals from around the world.
The PAB Museum
The Château de Rochebelle with its neo-classical décor houses the Alès Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the collections bequeathed to the town of his birth by Pierre-André Benoit, editor, printer and artist: precious books (by André Breton, René Char, Tristan Tzara, Eluard, Dubuffet, Duchamp...) and quality pictorial works: Alechinsky, Picasso, Braque, Picabia, Camille Claudel, Miró...
The Colombier Museum
A Château from the late 18th century houses the Archaeological and Fine Arts Museum that presents a collection of works from the 16th to 19th century. You can admire works by Breughel the Elder, Mieris, Bassano, Coypel, Raoux and a beautiful triptych of the Trinity by Bellegambe as well as the archaeological collections and the beautiful pieces of furnishings.
Outside are the Louis XIII dovecote and French-style gardens.
The Tempéras arena, built in the 19th century, is the venue for festive events every year.
To see in the area around Alès
The medieval village of Vézénobres
Anduze and the Prafrance bamboo plantation
The Steam Train of the Cévennes
The Château de Rousson
The Prehistorama in Rousson
The Château de Portes