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Museums

Inside the Lava Dome

A new volcano theme park stirs in southern France

By Robert Kunzig

Vulcania, the European Park of VolcanismSaint-Ours-les-Roches, Francewww.vulcania.com

On a clear, windswept day in November, from the top of the Puy de Dôme in the Auvergne region of central France, you feel as if you can see the whole gentle country. To the south stretches the Plain of the Thousand Cows, doubtless busy making cheese. Cloud shadows sweep across copses and hedgerows, and all around you the bucolic landscape is punctured only by . . . a passel of volcanoes. Volcanoes? They don't leap to mind when the average tourist thinks of France, and indeed, on the lovely map of the world's active zones that graces the entrance hall of Vulcania, the single-topic museum-cum-science park that opened recently just a few miles from here, France is entirely devoid of the colored lights that indicate sites worth watching. But the youngest of the many craters you can see from the Puy de Dôme—some softened by woods or meadows, some filled with lakes—erupted just 6,000 years ago, a blink of the geologic eye. Our Stone Age ancestors were there to watch.

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Vulcania's 93-foot faux volcano (left) directs natural light into the subterranean reaches of its main galleries. Above, a range of real volcanoes—France's Chaîne des Puys—dominates the surrounding landscape.Photograph courtesy of Vulcania (2).

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