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View of Puy de Sancy, the highest peak in the Massif Central
|Peak||Puy de Sancy|
|Elevation||1,886 m (6,188 ft)|
The Massif Central (French pronunciation: [masif sɑ̃tʁal]; Occitan: Massís Central) is a highland region in the middle of Southern France, consisting of mountains and plateaus. It covers about 15% of mainland France.
Subject to volcanism that has subsided in the last 10,000 years, these central mountains are separated from the Alps by a deep north–south cleft created by the Rhône River and known in French as the sillon rhodanien (literally "Rhône furrow"). The region was a barrier to transport within France until the opening of the A75 motorway, which not only made north–south travel easier, but also opened up the massif itself.
The Massif Central is an old massif, formed during the Variscan orogeny, consisting mostly of granitic and metamorphic rocks. It was powerfully raised and made to look geologically younger in the eastern section by the uplift of the Alps during the Paleogene period and in the southern section by the uplift of the Pyrenees. The massif thus presents a strongly asymmetrical elevation profile with highlands in the south and in the east (Cévennes) dominating the valley of the Rhône and the plains of Languedoc and by contrast, the less elevated region of Limousin in the northwest.
These tectonic movements created faults and may be the origin of the volcanism in the massif (but the hypothesis is not proved yet). In fact, above the crystalline foundation, one can observe many volcanoes of many different types and ages: volcanic plateaus (Aubrac, Cézallier), stratovolcanoes (Mounts of Cantal, Monts Dore), and small, very recent monogenic volcanoes (Chaîne des Puys, Vivarais). The entire region contains a large concentration of around 450 extinct volcanoes. The Chaîne des Puys, a range running north to south and less than 160 km2 (60 sq mi) long, contains 115 of them. The Auvergne Volcanoes regional natural park is in the massif.
In the south, one remarkable region, made up of features called causses in French, consists of raised chalky plateaus cut by very deep canyons. The most famous of these is the Gorges du Tarn (canyon of the Tarn).
Mountain ranges, with notable individual mountains, are (roughly north to south):
The following departments are generally considered as part of the Massif Central: Allier, Ardèche, Aude, Aveyron, Cantal, Corrèze, Creuse, Gard, Haute-Loire, Haute-Vienne, Hérault, Loire, Lot, Lozère, Puy-de-Dôme, Rhône, and Tarn; these form parts of the regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.