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A unique heritage marked by the history of the Bourbon dynasty! The Allier is a land of history and culture and distinguishes itself by its 574 castles and beautiful manor houses, by more than 300 religious edifices including some jewels of Romanesque architecture and by a myriad of 'great' and 'small' museums: the National Theatre Costume Centre (CNCS), the Illustration Centre, the Museum of the Visitation, and the Maison Mantin in Moulins; the Opera Museum and the Museum of African and Asian Art in Vichy; and the Museum of Art Brut (Outsider Art) in Lapalisse.
An epic history
History has left a remarkable heritage in the Allier. And this for a very long time, since prehistoric times to be precise, and consequently the Rhinopolis museum in Gannat and the Préhistorama museum in Châtelperron modestly remind us of where we come from.
More recently, it has also bequeathed its sagas, particularly that of the Bourbons: in the 15th Century, under the reign of Anne of France, the Allier was, for a time, the political and royal centre of France, and the first place where the Renaissance, coming from Italy, made its appearance. The castles are undoubtedly the most imposing trace: 574 castles and manor houses flourished here, such as Moulins castle, of which only a few vestiges remain, the remarkably conserved Lapalisse castle, Montluçon castle, which was the fief of Louis II, and the grandiose ruins of the 'cradle' of the Bourbon dynasty, the castle of Bourbon-l'Archambault.
In Souvigny, the priory church of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul affectionately known as 'Cluny Abbey's eldest daughter' is a particularly interesting ensemble, and the churches of Saint-Menoux and Châtel-Montagne are also well worth a visit. There are some fascinating examples of Romanesque art: more than 300 religious edifices, 200 ancient works and 180 dating back, entirely or partly, to the 12th Century, all in all a myriad of remarkable Romanesque churches in Berry, Auvergne and Burgundy style.
Our century has conserved evidence of these past ages with the museums of Anne of France (Musée Anne de Beaujeu) and the Maison Mantin in Moulins; but also those of more contemporary times: the CNCS and the Illustration Centre in Moulins; the Opera Museum and the Museum of African and Asian Art in Vichy, not forgetting the smaller museums dedicated to remembering the lives of everyday people in past ages such as the quirky museum ‘of washing and ironing' in Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais and the Electrodrome in Magnet.
Three towns, three styles
Three big towns, Moulins, Montluçon, and Vichy, have also conserved their historic traces. The renowned spa town of Vichy has a very special architectural heritage marked by Napoleon III, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and focused on its thermal water assets and on well-being. Meanwhile the more industrial town of Montluçon grew up at the foot of the castle of the Dukes of Bourbon and its medieval and later industrial centre. Finally the heart of Moulins conserves the trace of the royal town that it once was.
Between them a chain of indefinably charming little villages link up the three big towns. Charroux for example, one of the 'most beautiful villages of France' has an exquisite 12th Century church, 15th and 16th Century sculpted façades, and a circular village layout due to its past status as a fortified town. Le Mayet-de-Montagne, an enclave of Auvergne in the Bourbonnais, Verneuil-en-bourbonnais, one of the most beautiful villages in the Allier, Hérisson at the heart of the Aumance Valley, Chantelle overlooking the gorges of the Bouble river, and many others: eternal legacies of an unforgettable region!