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Massif Central(mäsēf` säNträl`) [Fr.,=central highlands], great mountainous plateau, c.33,000 sq mi (85,470 sq km), S central France, covering almost a sixth of the surface of the country. The chief water divide of France, it borders on the Paris basin in the north, the Rhône valley and basin in the east and south, and the Aquitanian basin in the west. The core of the Massif is the volcanic mass of the Auvergne Mts. that rises to the Massif's highest point, Puy de Sancy (6,187 ft/1,886 m). The Cévennes limit the Massif Central on the southeast and the Causses form its southwest border. The Massif Central is the most rugged and geologically diverse region within France. It is also France's most varied region climatically. All four chief rivers of France (the Seine, Loire, Rhône, and Garonne) receive tributaries from the Massif Central; the Loire, Dordogne, and Charente originate there. Sheep and goat grazing, dairying, cattle raising, and, in the fertile valleys, agriculture are the chief occupations of the region. Kaolin is mined. Hydroelectricity is produced along the western edge of the Massif Central. Clermont-Ferrand, Le Creusot, Limoges, Saint-Étienne, and Roanne are important industrial centers.
a mountain massif in the central and southern parts of France, with elevations up to 1,886 m (Puy de Sancy). The Massif Central is one of the largest ancient massifs of the Epihercynian platform. It exhibits numerous instances of folding, granite magmatism, and metamorphism.
The Auvergne Mountains, which constitute the northern half of the massif, are composed of schists that were folded in the late Precambrian and penetrated by granite intrusives; on the south, the Auvergne Mountains are bounded by the Ruthenia-Limousin zone of Paleozoic folding. The relatively younger Hercynian structure of the southeastern part of the massif includes Montagne Noire and the Cévennes.
The Massif Central was consolidated in the early Carboniferous and subsequently experienced prolonged denudation. In the Cenozoic the region was subjected to general uplifting and was split into numerous blocks; it was an area of extensive volcanic activity, especially in such sections as the Chaîne des Puys. The highest peaks were covered with glaciers in the Pleistocene.
In the northern and central regions, basalt plateaus with cones of extinct volcanoes alternate with tablelands and with the northsouth tectonic valleys of the rivers of the Loire basin; in the south are the karst plateaus of the Causses, and in the east and southeast is a series of mountains and tablelands (including the Cévennes) with steep, steplike slopes facing the Rhône Valley and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The plateaus of Morvan, Limousin, and Millevaches are in the north and northwest.
The region has a temperate marine climate. The summers are cool, with a mean July temperature of 11°–16°C. In the winter, freezing weather and snow alternate with thaws; the mean January temperature is approximately 0°C. The windward slopes of the Massif Central generally receive between 1,200 and 1,500 mm of precipitation a year, although more falls in certain places; 500 to 700 mm falls annually in the basins. Many French rivers rise in the region, including the Loire and right tributaries of the Garonne and the Rhône.
Forests of pine and broad-leaved trees (oak, beech, and chestnut) are common up to elevations of 1,000 to 1,200 m. At higher elevations, up to 1,400 m, the forests are primarily of fir; the forests give way to shrubs and subalpine meadows. The forests, which have been severely depleted, cover ten to 15 percent of the area of the massif and alternate with plowland and meadows. Steppe-like meadows are found on the southern and southeastern slopes.
Natural resources of economic importance are uranium ore, which is extracted from the Plateau Limousin, the Monts du Forez, and the Morvan Mountains, and hard coal, which is mined in the Cévennes and the St. Etienne basin. Various building materials are also economically important. Mineral springs are found in the Massif Central in such locations as Vichy.
R. A. ERAMOV and E. V. PAVLOVSKII