Viviers is a small walled village on the Rhône, set back a little from the river. The village dates back to Roman times. It was a place where they established fish ponds. The first Roman Catholic bishop first came to Viviers in about 430 AD. From that time on, it was a Catholic town.
Viviers was separated long ago into two districts. The bishop and his canons traditionally lived in the upper part of the town, known as the Castle. St Vincent’s Cathedral was built there in the 12th century. Parts of it were destroyed during the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Protestants (Huguenots) during the 1500s. Final work on the building was completed in the 1800s.
We entered the lower town first. This part of town housed the nobles and the bourgeoisie, as well as the poorer residents of Viviers. The lower town typically has narrow, sloping, cobbled lanes leading to the Castle. Its houses have stood since medieval and Renaissance times. Some appear to be in need of repair, especially those which sustained structural damage from the 2019 earthquake. Repairs, of course, take money and time, and must be carried out according to heritage overlays which govern what materials and modifications are allowed. Many of the houses are buttressed against each other to provide greater stability. There appear to be many windows which have either been made smaller or sealed up completely, an outcome of the introduction of a tax on windows in days gone by.
One building was notable. It is known as the House of Knights, because of the facade the owner had added to the building when he took ownership during the 1500s. He was a wealthy salt trader who also became involved in civic affairs of the town. The story goes that he was embezzling town funds, which no doubt helped to pay for this ornate facade and for the other properties he obtained. His great error was to convert to Protestantism during the Wars of Religion, which eventually led to his trial and execution.
We took our ascent fairly easily, stopping often to look at features of the buildings and listen to what our English-speaking guide had to say about them. The views out over the lower town and surrounding Rhône valley were beautiful, marred only by the massive cooling towers of a nuclear power plant in the distance. We could also see the quarry where much of the stone used to build the town was cut from.
There was another walking tour of Viviers also occurring at the same time, and some of our friends from the ship went on that one. It visited sites where incidents connected with the activities of the French Resistance in WWII took place. The guide welcomed the group into her own home and showed them a secret tunnel that would have been used to hide people wanted by the Germans.