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Region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, in Upper Provence
Typical Provençal country road lined with Plane trees.

Provence (Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of southeastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. The traditional region of Provence comprises the départements of Var, Vaucluse, and Bouches-du-Rhône and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes. The Romans, who conquered it in the 2nd Century B.C., called it Provincia Nostra ("our province") or simply Provincia ("the province"), and the name in French thus became Provence.





A dolmen in Draguignan

Provence has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Paleolithic sites dating to 900,000 B.C. have been found along the Côte d'Azur in the interior country above Nice, at the Cave of Valloet[citation needed] (near Roquebrune) and a site dating to 600,000 B.C. at Terra Amata, in the Alpes-Maritimes. Remains of a settlement dating to between 27,000 and 19,000 B.C. were found by Henri Cosquer in 1991 at the Cosquer Cave, an underwater cave in a calanque on the coast near Marseille. The cave walls were decorated with drawings of bisons, seals, penguins, horses and outlines of human hands.[1] A Neolithic site dating to about 6,000 B.C. was discovered in Marseille near the Saint-Charles railway station. Dolmens from the Bronze Age (2,500–900 B.C.) can be found near Draguignan and the Valley of Marvels near Mt. Bégo in the Alpes-Maritimes, at an altitude of 2,000 metres, has an outdoor sanctuary with more than 40,000 rock carvings.


The Porte d'Aix in Marseille.

The first permanent Greek settlement was Massalia, established at modern-day Marseille in about 600 B.C. by colonists coming from Phocaea (now Foça, in modern Turkey) on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, who were fleeing an invasion by the Persians. Massalia became one of the major trading ports of the ancient world. The Phocaeans also established colonies at Nicoea (now Nice), Tauroentum and Rohanousia (now Arles); at Cannes, and south of Nîmes.

Other Greek settlements were established at Olbia (modern Saint-Pierre d l'Almanarre, near Hyeres); Antipolis (modern Antibes). The Greek traders ventured inland by rivers (the Durance and Rhone) deep into France, and overland to Switzerland and Burgundy. One enterprising Greek navigator, Pytheas, sailed from Marseille as far as Cornwall in England between 330 and 320 B.C. in search of tin.

Ligures and Gauls

The Ligures, a Celtic people probably coming from Asia Minor, began to enter Provence in about the 4th Century B.C., and reached as far as Rome in 390 B.C. They established their own hilltop towns and forts throughout the region. Different tribes settled in different parts of Provence; the Cavates settled in the Vaucluse; the Oxybii and Deciates in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes; the Voconces in the Drôme; and the Salyes in Lower Provence.[2] The Ligures were gradually assimilated by another Celtic people, the Gauls, and they were soon in conflict with the people of Massalia. They aided the passage of Hannibal, on his way to attack Rome (218 B.C.) while the people of Massalia looked upon Rome as a potential ally.

Roman Provence (2nd century B.C. to 5th century A.D.)

Pont du Gard, first century BC

In the 2nd century BC the people of Massalia appealed to Rome for help against the Ligures. Roman legions entered Provence three times; first in 181 B.C. the Romans suppressed Ligurian uprisings near Genoa; in 154 B.C. the Roman Consul Optimus defeated the Oxybii and the Deciates, who were attacking Antibes; and in 125 B.C., the Romans put down an uprising of a confederation of Celtic tribes.[3] After this battle, the Romans decided to establish permanent settlements in Provence. In 122 B.C., next to the Celtic town of Entremont, the Romans built a new town, Aquae Sextiae, later called Aix-en-Provence. In 118 B.C. they founded Narbonne.

The Roman general Gaius Marius crushed the last serious resistance in 102 B.C. by defeating the Cimbri and the Teutons. He then began building roads to facilitate troop movements and commerce between Rome, Spain and Northern Europe; one from the coast inland to Apt and Tarascon, and the other along the coast from Italy to Spain, passing through Frejus and Aix-en-Provence.

In 49 B.C., Massalia had the misfortune to choose the wrong side in the power struggle between Pompey and Julius Caesar. Pompey was defeated, and Massalia lost its territories and political influence. Roman veterans, in the meantime, populated two new towns, Arles and Frejus, at the sites of older Greek settlements.

The Roman arena at Arles (2nd century AD)

In 8 B.C. the Emperor Augustus built a triumphal monument at La Turbie to commemorate the pacification of the region, and he began to Romanize Provence politically and culturally. Roman engineers and architects built monuments, theaters, baths, villas, fora, arenas and aqueducts, many of which still exist. (See Architecture of Provence.) Roman towns were built at Cavaillon; Orange; Arles; Fréjus; Glanum (outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence,); Carpentras, Vaison-la-Romaine; Nîmes; Vernègues; Saint-Chamas and Cimiez (above Nice). The Roman province, which was called Narbonensis, for its capital, Narbo (modern Narbonne), extended from Italy to Spain, and from the Alps to the Pyrenees.

The Pax Romana in Provence lasted until the middle of the 3rd century. Germanic tribes invaded Provence in 257 and 275. At the beginning the 4th century, the court of Roman Emperor Constantine (280-337) was forced to take refuge in Arles. By the end of the 5th century, Roman power in Provence had vanished, and an age of invasions, wars, and chaos began.

The arrival of Christianity in Provence (3rd–6th centuries)

The baptistery of Frejus Cathedral (5th century) is still in use

There are many legends about the earliest Christians in Provence, but they are difficult to verify. It is documented that there were organized churches and bishops in the Roman towns of Provence as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries; in Arles in 254; Marseille in 314; Orange, Vaison and Apt in 314; Cavaillon, Digne, Embrun, Gap, and Fréjus at the end of the 4th century; Aix-en-Provence in 408; Carpentras, Avignon, Riez, Cimiez and Vence in 439; Antibes in 442; Toulon in 451; Senez in 406, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in 517; and Glandèves in 541.[4] The oldest still-existing Christian structure in Provence is the baptistery of the cathedral in Fréjus, dating from the 5th century. At about the same time, in the 5th century, the first two monasteries in Provence were founded; Lérins, on an island near Cannes; and Saint-Victor in Marseille.

Germanic invasions, Merovingians and Carolingians (5th–9th centuries)

Beginning in the second half of the 5th century, as Roman power waned, successive waves of Germanic tribes entered Provence; first the Visigoths (480); then the Ostrogoths; then the Burgundians; finally, the Franks in the 6th century. Arab invaders and Berber pirates came from North Africa to the Coast of Provence in the beginning of the 7th century.

During this chaotic period, Provence was ruled by Frankish kings of Merovingian dynasty, then Carolingian Kings, descended from Charles Martel; and then was part of the empire of Charlemagne (742–814). In 879, after the death of the Carolingian ruler Charles the Bald, Boso of Provence, (also known as Boson), his brother-in-law, broke away from the Carolingian kingdom of Louis III and was elected the first ruler of an independent state of Provence.

King Boson and San Stephen (fragment of fresco at Charlieu Abbey)

The Counts of Provence (9th–13th centuries)

Ramon Berenguer I, Count of Provence

Three different dynasties of Counts ruled Provence during the Middle Ages, and Provence became a prize in the complex rivalries between the Catalan rulers of Barcelona, the Kings of Burgundy, the German rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Angevin Kings of France.

The Bosonids (879–1112) were the descendants of the first King of Provence, Boson. His son, Louis the Blind (890–928) lost his sight trying to win the throne of Italy, after which his cousin, Hugh of Italy (died 947) became the Duke of Provence and the Count of Vienne. Hugh moved the capital of Provence from Vienne to Arles and made Provence a fief of Rudolph II of Burgundy.

In the 9th century, Arab pirates (Called Saracens by the French) and then the Normans invaded Provence. The Normans pillaged the region and then left, but the Saracens built castles and began raiding towns and holding local residents for ransom. Early in 973, the Saracens captured Maieul, the Abbot of the Monastery at Cluny, and held him for ransom. The ransom was paid and the abbot was released, but the people of Provence, led by Count William I rose up and defeated the Saracens near their most powerful fortress Fraxinetum (La Garde-Freinet) at the Battle of Tourtour. The Saracens who were not killed at the battle were baptized and made into slaves, and the remaining Saracens in Provence fled the region. Meanwhile, the dynastic quarrels continued. A war between Rudolph III of Burgundy and his rival, the German Emperor Conrad the Salic in 1032 led to Provence becoming a fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire, which it remained until 1246.

In 1112, the last descendant of Boson, Douce I of Provence, married the Catalan Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona, who as a result became Raymond Berenguer I, Count of Provence. He ruled Provence from 1112 until 1131, and his descendants, the Catalan Dynasty ruled Provence until 1246. In 1125, Provence was divided; the part of Provence north and west of the Durance River went to the Count of Toulouse, while the lands between the Durance and the Mediterranean, and from the Rhone River to the Alps, belonged to the Counts of Provence. The capital of Provence was moved from Arles to Aix-en-Provence, and later to Brignoles.[5]

The Church of Saint Trophime in Arles (12th century

Under the Catalan dynasty, the 12th century saw the construction of important cathedrals and abbeys in Provence, in a harmonious new style, the romanesque, which united the Gallo-Roman style of the Rhone Valley with the Lombard style of the Alps. Aix Cathedral was built on the site of the old Roman forum, and then rebuilt in the gothic style in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Church of St. Trophime in Arles was a landmark of Romanesque architecture, built between the 12th and the 15th centuries. A vast fortress-like monastery, Montmajour Abbey, was built on an island just north of Arles, and became a major destination for medieval pilgrims.

In the 12th century three Cistercian monasteries were built in remote parts of Provence, far from the political intrigues of the cities. Sénanque Abbey was the first, established in the Luberon 1148 and 1178. Le Thoronet Abbey was founded in a remote valley near Draguignan in 1160. Silvacane Abbey, on the Durance River at La Roque-d'Anthéron, was founded in 1175.

In the 13th century, the French kings of the Angevin dynasty used marriage to extend their influence into the south of France. One son of Queen Blanche of Castile married the heir of the Count of Toulouse, and another, Louis IX or Saint Louis (1214–1270), married Marguerite of Provence; then, in 1246, Charles, the younger brother of Louis IX, married Beatrice of Provence, and Provence became a fief of the French Crown.

The Popes in Avignon (14th century)

In 1309, Pope Clement V, who was originally from Bordeaux, moved the Roman Catholic Papacy to Avignon. From 1309 until 1377, seven Popes reigned in Avignon before the Schism between the Roman and Avignon churches, which led to the creation of rival popes in both places. After that three Antipopes reigned in Avignon until 1423, when the Papacy finally returned to Rome. Between 1334 and 1363 Popes Benedict XII built the old Papal Palace of Avignon, and Clement VI built the New Palace; together the Palais des Papes was the largest gothic palace in Europe.[6]

The 14th century was a terrible time in Provence, and all of Europe: the population of Provence had been about 400,000 people; the Black Plague (1348–1350) killed fifteen thousand people in Arles, half the population of the city, and greatly reduced the population of the whole region. The defeat of the French Army during the Hundred Years War forced the cities of Provence to build walls and towers to defend themselves against armies of former soldiers who ravaged the countryside.

The Angevin rulers of Provence also had a difficult time. An assembly of nobles, religious leaders, and town leaders of Provence was organized to resist the authority of Queen Joan I of Naples (1343–1382.) She was murdered in 1382 by her cousin and heir, Charles of Durazzo, who started a new war, leading to the separation of Nice, Puget-Théniers and Barcelonnette from Provence in 1388, and their attachment to the territories of Savoy.

Good King René, the last ruler of Provence

Detail of the Burning Bush triptych by Nicolas Froment, showing René and his wife Jeanne de Laval
The Chateau of René in Tarascon (15th century)

The 15th century saw a series of wars between the Kings of Aragon and the Counts of Provence. In 1423 the army of Alphonse of Aragon captured Marseille, and in 1443 they captured Naples, and forced its ruler, King René I of Naples, to flee. He eventually settled in one of his remaining territories, Provence.

History and legend has given René the title "Good King Réne of Provence", though he only lived in Provence in the last ten years of his life, from 1470 to 1480, and his political policies of territorial expansion were costly and unsuccessful. Provence benefitted from population growth and economic expansion, and René was a generous patron of the arts, sponsoring painters Nicolas Froment, Louis Bréa, and other masters. He also completed one of the finest castles in Provence at Tarascon, on the Rhone River.

When René died in 1480, his title passed to his nephew Charles du Maine. One year later, in 1481, when Charles died, the title passed to Louis XI of France. Provence was legally incorporated into the French royal domain in 1486.

1486 to 1789

Soon after Provence became part of France, it became involved in the Wars of Religion that swept the country in the 16th century. Between 1493 and 1501, many Jews were expelled from their homes and sought sanctuary in the region of Avignon, which was still under the direct rule of the Pope. In 1545, the Parliament of Aix ordered the destruction of the villages of Lourmarin, Mérindol, Cabriéres in the Luberon, because their inhabitants were Vaudois, of Italian Piedmontese origin, and were not considered sufficiently orthodox Catholics. Most of Provence remained strongly Catholic, with only one enclave of Protestants, the principality of Orange, Vaucluse, an enclave ruled by Prince William of the House of Orange-Nassau of the Netherlands, which was created in 1544 and was not incorporated into France until 1673. An army of the Catholic League laid siege to the Protestant city of Mėnerbes in the Vaucluse between 1573 and 1578. The wars did not stop until the end of the 16th century, with the consolidation of power in Provence by the House of Bourbon kings.

View of Toulon Harbour around 1750, by Joseph Vernet.

The semi-independent Parliament of Provence in Aix and some of the cities of Provence, particularly Marseille, continued to rebel against the authority of the Bourbon king. After uprisings in 1630–31 and 1648–1652, the young King Louis XIV had two large forts, fort St. Jean and Fort St. Nicholas, built at the harbor entrance to control the city's unruly population.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Cardinal Richelieu began to build a naval arsenal and dockyard at Toulon to serve as a base for a new French Mediterreanean fleet. The base was greatly enlarged by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the minister of Louis XIV, who also commissioned his chief military engineer Vauban to strengthen the fortifications around the city.

At the beginning of the 17th century Provence had a population of about 450,000 people.[7] It was predominantly rural, devoted to raising wheat, wine, and olives, with small industries for tanning, pottery, perfume-making, and ship and boat building. Provençal quilts, made from the mid-17th century onwards, were successfully exported to England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland.[8] There was considerable commerce along the coast, and up and down the Rhone River. The cities: Marseille, Toulon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, saw the construction of boulevards and richly-decorated private houses.

Marseille in 1754, by Vernet

At the beginning of the 18th century Provence suffered from the economic malaise of the end of the reign of Louis XIV. The plague struck the region between 1720 and 1722, beginning in Marseille, killing some 40,000 people. Still, by the end of the century, many artisinal industries began to flourish; making perfumes in Grasse; olive oil in Aix and the Alpilles; textiles in Orange, Avignon and Tarascon; and faience pottery in Marseille, Apt, Aubagne, and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Many immigrants arrived from Liguria and the Piedmont in Italy. By the end of the 18th century, Marseille had a population of 120,000 people, making it the third largest city in France.[7]

During the French Revolution

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Though most of Provence, with the exception of Marseille, Aix and Avignon, was rural, conservative and largely royalist, it did produce some memorable figures in the French Revolution; Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau from Aix, who tried to moderate the Revolution, and turn France into a constitutional monarchy like England; the Marquis de Sade from Lacoste in the Luberon, who was a Deputy from the far left in the National Assembly; Charles Barbaroux from Marseille, who sent a battalion of volunteers to Paris to fight in the French Revolutionary Army; and Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès (1748–1836), an abbé, essayist and political leader, who was one of the chief theorists of the French Revolution, French Consulate, and First French Empire, and who, in 1799, was the instigator of the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, which brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power.

La Marseillaise 1792

Provence also produced the most memorable song of the period, the La Marseillaise. Though the song was originally written by a citizen of Strasbourg, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792, and it was originally a war song for the revolutionary Army of the Rhine, it became famous when it sung on the streets of Paris by the volunteers from Marseille, who had heard it when it was sung in Marseille by a young volunteer from Montpellier named François Mireur. It became the most popular song of the Revolution, and in 1879 became the national anthem of France.

The Revolution was as violent and bloody in Provence as it was in other parts of France. On April 30, 1790, Fort Saint-Nicolas in Marseille was besieged, and many of the soldiers inside were massacred. On October 17, 1791 a massacre of royalists and religious figures took place in the ice storage rooms (glaciere) of the prison of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon.

When the radical Montagnards seized power from the Girondins in May 1793, a real counter-revolution broke out in Avignon, Marseille and Toulon. A revolutionary army under General Carteaux recaptured Marseille in August 1793 and renamed it "City without a Name" (Ville sans Nom.) In Toulon, the opponents of the Revolution handed the city to a British and Spanish fleet on August 28, 1793. A Revolutionary Army laid siege to the British positions for four months (see the Siege of Toulon), and finally, thanks to the enterprise of the young commander of artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte, defeated the British and drove them out in December, 1793. About 15,000 royalists escaped with the British fleet, but five to eight hundred of the 7,000 who remained were shot on the Champ de Mars, and Toulon was renamed "Port la Montagne".

The fall of the Montagnards in July 1794 was followed by a new White Terror aimed at the revolutionaries. Calm was only restored by the rise of Napoleon to power in 1795.

Under Napoleon I

Napoleon restored the belongings and power of the families of the old regime in Provence. The British fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson blockaded Toulon, and almost all maritime commerce was stopped, causing hardship and poverty. When Napoleon was defeated, his fall was celebrated in Provence. When he escaped from Elba on March 1, 1815, and landed at Golfe-Juan, he detoured to avoid the cities of Provence, which were hostile to him.[citation needed]

19th century

Marseille in 1825

Provence enjoyed prosperity in the 19th century; the ports of Marseille and Toulon connected Provence with the expanding French Empire in North Africa and the Orient, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

In April–July 1859, Napoleon III made a secret agreement with Cavour, Prime Minister of Piedmont, for France to assist in expelling Austria from the Italian peninsula and bringing about a united Italy, in exchange for Piedmont ceding Savoy and the Nice region to France. He went to war with Austria in 1859 and won a victory at Solferino, which resulted in Austria ceding Lombardy to Piedmont, and, in return, Napoleon received Savoy and Nice in 1860, and Roquebrune and Menton in 1861.

The railroad connected Paris with Marseille (1848) and then with Toulon and Nice (1864). Nice, Antibes and Hyeres became popular winter resorts for European royalty, including Queen Victoria. Under Napoleon III, Marseille grew to a population of 250,000, including a very large Italian community. Toulon had a population of 80,000. The large cities like Marseille and Toulon saw the building of churches, opera houses, grand boulevards, and parks.

After the fall of Louis Napoleon following the defeat in the Franco-German War barricades went up in the streets of Marseille (March 23, 1871) and the Communards, led by Gaston Cremieux and following the lead of the Paris Commune, took control of the city. The Commune was crushed by the army and Cremieux was executed on November 30, 1871. Though Provence was generally conservative, it often elected reformist leaders; Prime Minister Leon Gambetta was the son of a Marseille grocer, and future prime minister Georges Clemenceau was elected deputy from the Var in 1885.

The second half of the 19th century saw a revival of the Provençal language and culture, particularly traditional rural values. driven by a movement of writers and poets called the Felibrige, led by poet Frédéric Mistral. Mistral achieved literary success with his novel Miréio (Mireille in French); he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904.

20th century

Between World War I and World War II Provence was bitterly divided between the more conservative rural areas and the more radical big cities. There were widespread strikes in Marseille in 1919, and riots in Toulon in 1935.

After the defeat of France by Germany in June 1940, France was divided into an occupied zone and unoccupied zone, with Provence in the unoccupied zone. Parts of eastern Provence were occupied by Italian soldiers. Collaboration and passive resistance gradually gave way to more active resistance, particularly after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. and the Communist Party became active in the resistance. Jean Moulin, the deputy of Charles DeGaulle, the leader of the Free France resistance movement, was parachuted into Eygalières, in the Bouches-du-Rhône on January 2, 1942 to unite the diverse resistance movements in all of France against the Germans.

In November 1942, following Allied landings in North Africa (Operation Torch), the Germans occupied all of Provence (Operation Attila) and then headed for Toulon (Case Anton).The French fleet at Toulon sabotaged its own ships to keep them from falling into German hands.

The Germans began a systematic rounding-up of French Jews and refugees from Nice and Marseille. Many thousands were taken to concentration camps, and few survived. A large quarter around the port of Marseille was emptied of inhabitants and dynamited, so it would not serve as a base for the resistance. Nonetheless, the resistance grew stronger; the leader of the pro-German militia, the Milice, in Marseille was assassinated in April 1943.

On August 15, 1944, two months after the Allied landings in Normandy (Operation Overlord), the Seventh United States Army under General Alexander M. Patch, with a Free French corps under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, landed on the coast of the Var between St. Raphael and Cavalaire (Operation Dragoon). The American forces moved north toward Manosque, Sisteron and Gap, while the French First Armored Division under General Vigier liberated Brignoles, Salon, Arles, and Avignon. The Germans in Toulon resisted until August 27, and Marseille was not liberated until August 25.

Avignon TGV station, 2001

After the end of the War, Provence faced an enormous task or repair and reconstruction, particularly of the ports and railroads destroyed during the war. As part of this effort, the first modern concerete apartment block, the Unité d'Habitation of Corbusier, was built in Marseille in 1947–52. In 1962, Provence absorbed a large number of French citizens who left Algeria after its independence. Since that time, large North African communities settled in and around the big cities, particularly Marseille and Toulon.

In the 1940s, Provence underwent a cultural renewal, with the founding of the Avignon Festival of theater (1947), the reopening of the Cannes Film Festival (begun in 1939), and many other major events. With the building of new highways, particularly the Paris Marseille autoroute which opened in 1970, Provence became destination for mass tourism from all over Europe. Many Europeans, particularly from Britain, bought summer houses in Provence. The arrival of the TGV high-speed trains shortened the trip from Paris to Marseille to less than four hours.

At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the residents of Provence were struggling to reconcile economic development and population growth with their desire to preserve the landscape and culture that make Provence unique.

Extent and geography

The Roman Province of Gallia Narbonensis around 58 BC
Provence and France in 1461

The original Roman province was called Gallia Transalpina, then Gallia Narbonensis, or simply Provincia Nostra ('Our Province') or Provincia. It extended from the Alps to the Pyrenees and north to the Vaucluse, with its capital in Narbo Martius (present-day Narbonne.)

In the 15th century the Conté of Provence was bounded by the Var River on the east, the Rhône River to the west, with the Mediterranean to the south, and a northern border that roughly followed the Durance River.


The Rhône River, on the western border of Provence, is one of the major rivers of France, and has been a highway of commerce and communications between inland France and the Mediterranean for centuries. It rises as the effluent of the Rhône Glacier in Valais, Switzerland, in the Saint-Gotthard massif, at an altitude of 1753 m. It is joined by the river Saône at Lyon. Along the Rhône Valley, it is joined on the right bank by Cévennes rivers Eyrieux, Ardèche, Cèze and Gardon or Gard, on the left Alps bank by rivers Isère, Drôme, Ouvèze and Durance.

The Rhône at Avignon

At Arles, the Rhône divides itself in two arms, forming the Camargue delta, with all branches flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. One arm is called the "Grand Rhône"; the other one is the "Petit Rhône".

The Gorge du Verdon

The Durance River, a tributary of the Rhône, has its source in the Alps near Briançon. It flows south-west through Embrun, Sisteron, Manosque, Cavaillon, and Avignon, where it meets the Rhône.

The Verdon River is a tributary of the Durance, rising at an altitude of 2400 metres in the southwestern Alps near Barcelonette, and flowing southwest for 175 kilometres through the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Var (départements) before it reaches the Durance at near Vinon-sur-Verdon, south of Manosque. The Verdon is best known for its impressive canyon, the Verdon Gorge. This limestone canyon, also called the 'Grand Canyon of Verdon', 20 kilometres in length and more than 300 metres deep, is a popular climbing and sight-seeing area.

The Var River rises near the Col de la Cayolle (2,326 m/7,631 ft) in the Maritime Alps and flows generally southeast for 120 kilometres (75 mi) into the Mediterranean between Nice and Saint-Laurent-du-Var. Before Nice was returned to France in 1860, the Var marked the eastern border of France along the Mediterranean. The Var is the unique case in France of a river giving a name to a department, but not flowing through that department (due to subsequent adjustments to the department's boundaries).

The Camargue

Flamingos in the Camargue

With an area of over 930 km² (360 mi²), the Camargue is Western Europe's largest river delta (technically an island, as it is wholly surrounded by water). It is a vast plain comprising large brine lagoons or étangs, cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes which are in turn surrounded by a large cultivated area.

The Camargue is home to more than 400 species of birds, the brine ponds providing one of the few European habitats for the greater flamingo. The marshes are also a prime habitat for many species of insects, notably (and notoriously) some of the most ferocious mosquitoes to be found anywhere in France. It is also famous for bulls and the Camargue horse.


Vallon de Mollières, Mercantour National Park

If the Maritime Alps, along the border with Italy, are considered part of Provence, they are the highest peaks in the region. They form the border between the French département Alpes-Maritimes and the Italian province of Cuneo. Mercantour National Park is located in the Maritime Alps.

The chief peaks of the Maritime Alps are:

Punta dell'Argentera (Italy) 3290 m (10,794 ft)
Mont Ténibre 3032 m (9948 ft)
Cime du Gélas 3135 m (10,286 ft)
Cime de l'Enchastraye 2955 m (9695 ft)
Monte Matto (Italy) 3087 m (10,128 ft)
Mont Bégo 2873 m (9426 ft)
Mont Pelat 3053 m (10,017 ft)
Mont Mounier 2818 m (9246 ft)
Mont Clapier 3046 m (9994 ft)
Roche de l'Abisse 2755 m (9039 ft)
View of Mont Ventoux from Mirabel-aux-Baronnies

Outside of the Maritime Alps, Mont Ventoux (Occitan: Ventor in classical norm or Ventour in Mistralian norm), at 1,909 metres (6,263 ft), is the highest peak in Provence. It is located some 20 km north-east of Carpentras, Vaucluse. On the north side, the mountain borders the Drôme département. It is nicknamed the "Giant of Provence", or "The Bald Mountain". Although geologically part of the Alps, is often considered to be separate from them, due to the lack of mountains of a similar height nearby. It stands alone to the west of the Luberon range, and just to the east of the Dentelles de Montmirail, its foothills. The top of the mountain is bare limestone without vegetation or trees. The white limestone on the mountain's barren peak means it appears from a distance to be snow-capped all year round (its snow cover actually lasts from December to April).

Alpilles landscape near Le Destet

The Alpilles are a chain of small mountains located about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of Avignon. Although they are not particularly high – only some 387 metres (1,270 ft) at their highest point – the Alpilles stand out since they rise abruptly from the plain of the Rhône valley. The range is about 25 km long by about 8 to 10 km wide, running in an east-west direction between the Rhône and Durance rivers. The landscape of the Alpilles is one of arid limestone peaks separated by dry valleys.

Montagne Sainte-Victoire, painted by Paul Cézanne

Montagne Sainte-Victoire is probably the best-known mountain in Provence, thanks to the painter Paul Cézanne, who could see it from his home, and painted it frequently. It is a limestone mountain ridge which extends over 18 kilometres between the départements of Bouches-du-Rhône and Var. Its highest point is the Pic des mouches at 1,011 metres (3,317 ft).

The massif des Maures

The Massif des Maures (Mountains of the Moors) is a small chain of mountains that lies along the coast of the Mediterranean in the Var Department between Hyères et Fréjus. Its highest point is the signal de la Sauvette, 780 metres high. The name is a souvenir of the Moors (Maures in Old French), Arabs and Berbers from North Africa, who settled on the coast of Provence in the 9th and 10th centuries.

The massif des Maures extends about sixty kilometres along the coast, and reaches inland about thirty kilometres. On the north it is bordered by a depression which is followed by the routes nationales 97 and 7 and the railroad line between Toulon and Nice. On the south it ends abruptly at the Mediterraenan, forming a broken and abrupt coastline.

The peninsula of Saint-Tropez is part of the Massif des Maures, along with the peninsula of Giens and the islands offshore of Hyères; Porquerolles, Port-Cros, and île du Levant. Cape Sicié, west of Toulon, as well as the massif of Tanneron, belong geologically to the massif des Maures.

The Calanques

Calanque de Sugiton

The Calanques, also known as the Massif des Calanques, are a dramatic feature of the Provence coast, a 20-km long series of narrow inlets in the cliffs of the coastline between Marseille on the west and Cassis on the east. The highest peak in the massif is Mont Puget, 565 metres high.

The best known calanques of the Massif des Calanques include the Calanque de Sormiou, the Calanque de Morgiou, the Calanque d'En-Vau, the Calanque de Port-Pin and the Calanque de Sugiton.

Calanques are remains of ancient river mouths formed mostly during Tertiary. Later, during quaternary glaciations, as glaciers swept by, they further deepened those valleys which would eventually (at the end of the last glaciation) be invaded with sea and become calanques.

The Cosquer cave is an underwater grotto in the Calanque de Morgiou, 37 metres (121 ft) underwater, that was inhabited during Paleolithic era, when the sea level was much lower than today. Its walls are covered with paintings and engravings dating back to between 27,000 and 19,000 BC, depicting animals such as bison, ibex, and horses, as well as sea mammals such as seals, and at least one bird, the auk.


The Garrigue, typical landscape of Provence

The Garrigue is the typical landscape of Provence; is a type of low, soft-leaved scrubland or chaparral found on limestone soils around the Mediterranean Basin, generally near the seacoast, where the climate is moderate, but where there are annual summer drought conditions.[9] Juniper and stunted holm oaks are the typical trees; aromatic lime-tolerant shrubs such as lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme and Artemisia are common garrigue plants. The open landscape of the garrigue is punctuated by dense thickets of Kermes oak.


Mistral wind blowing near Marseille. In the center is the Château d'If
Nice, the capital city of the famous Côte d'Azur, in the eastern Provence
Sisteron – la Baume rock
Forcalquier Cathedral

Most of Provence has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot, dry summers, mild winters, little snow, and abundant sunshine. Within Provence there are micro-climates and local variations, ranging from the Alpine climate inland from Nice to the continental climate in the northern Vaucluse. The winds of Provence are an important feature of the climate, particularly the mistral, a cold, dry wind which, especially in the winter, blows down the Rhone Valley to the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Var Departments, and often reaches over one hundred kilometres an hour.


Marseille, in the Bouches-du-Rhône, has an average of 59 days of rain a year, though when it does rain the rain is often torrential; the average annual rainfall is 544.4 mm. It snows an average of 2.3 days a year, and the snow rarely remains long. Marseille has an average of 2835.5 hours of sunshine a year. The average minimum temperature in January is 2.3 °C., and the average maximum temperature in July is 29.3 °C. The mistral blows an average of one hundred days a year.[10]

The Var

Toulon and the Department of the Var (which includes St. Tropez and Hyeres) have a climate slightly warmer, dryer and sunnier than Nice and the Alpes-Maritime, but also less sheltered from the wind. Toulon has an average of 2899.3 hours of sunshine a year, making it the sunniest city in metropolitan France,[11] The average maximum daily temperature in August is 29.1 °C., and the average daily minimum temperature in January is 5.8 °C. The average annual rainfall is 665 mm, with the most rain from October to November. Strong winds blow an average of 118 days a year in Toulon, compared with 76 days at Frejus further east. The strongest Mistral wind recorded in Toulon was 130 kilometres an hour.[12]


Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes Department are sheltered by the Alps, and are the most protected part of the Mediterranean coast. The winds in this department are usually gentle, blowing from the sea to the land, though sometimes the Mistral blows strongly from the northwest, or, turned by the mountains, from the east. In 1956 a mistral wind from the northwest reached the speed of 180 kilometres an hour at Nice airport.[Sometimes in summer the scirocco brings high temperatures and reddish desert sand from Africa. (See Winds of Provence.)

Rainfall is infrequent – 63 days a year, but can be torrential, particularly in September, when storms and rain are caused by the difference between the colder air inland and the warm Mediterranean water temperature (20–24 degrees C.). The average annual rainfall in Nice is 767 mm, more than in Paris, but concentrated in fewer days.

Snow is extremely rare, usually falling once every ten years. 1956 was a very exceptional year, when 20 centimetres of snow blanketed the coast. In January 1985 the coast between Cannes and Menton received 30 to 40 centimetres of snow. In the mountains, the snow is present from November to May

Nice has an annual average of 2694 hours of sunshine. The average maximum daily temperature in Nice in August is 28 °C., and the average minimum daily temperature in January is 6 °C.[13]


The Department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence has a Mediterranean climate in the lower valleys under one thousand metres in altitude and an alpine climate in the high valleys, such as the valleys of the Blanche, the Haut Verdon and the Ubaye, which are over 2500 metres high. The alpine climate in the higher mountains is moderated by the warmer air from the Mediterranean.

Haute-Provence has unusually high summer temperatures for its altitude and latitude (44 degrees north). The average summer temperature is 22 to 23 °C. at an altitude of 400 metres, and 18 to 19 °C. at the altitude of 1000 metres; and the winter average temperature is 4 to 5 °C. at 400 metres and 0 C. at 1000 metres. The lower valleys have 50 days of freezing temperatures a year, more in the higher valleys. Sometimes the temperatures in the high valleys can reach −30 °C. Because of this combination of high mountains and Mediterreanean air, it is not unusual that the region frequently has some of the lowest winter temperatures and some of the hottest summer temperatures in France.

Rainfall is Haute-Provence is infrequent – 60 to 80 days a year – but can be torrential; 650 to 900 mm. a year in the foothills and plateaus of the southwes, and in the valley of the Ubaye; and 900 to 1500 mm. in the mountains. Most rainfall comes in the autumn, in brief and intense storms; from mid-June to mid-August, rain falls during brief but violent thunderstorms. Thunder can be heard 30 to 40 days a year.

Snow falls in the mountains from November to May, and in midwinter can be found down to altitude of 1000–1200 metres on the shady side of the mountains and 1300 to 1600 metres on the sunny side. Snowfalls are usually fairly light, and melt rapidly.

The Mistral (wind) is a feature of the climate in the western part of the Department, blowing from the north and the northwest, bringing clear and dry weather. The eastern part of the department is more protected from the Mistral. The Marin (wind) comes from the south, bringing warm air, clouds and rain.

Haute-Provence is one of the sunniest regions of France, with an average of between 2550 and 2650 hours of sunshine annually in the north of the department, and 2700 to 2800 hours in the southwest. The clear nights and sunny days cause a sharp difference between night time and daytime temperatures. Because of the clear nights, the region is home of important observatories, such as the Observatory of Haute-Provence in Saint-Michel-Observatoire near of Forcalquier.[14]

The Vaucluse

The Vaucluse is the meeting point of three of the four different climatic zones of France; it has a Mediterranean climate in the south, an alpine climate in the northeast, around the mountains of Vaucluse and the massif of the Baronnies; and a continental climate in the northwest. The close proximity of these three different climates tends to moderate all of them, and the Mediterranean climate usually prevails.

Orange in the Vaucluse has 2595 hours of sunshine a year. It rains an average of 80 days a year, for a total of 693.4 mm a year. The maximum average temperature in July is 29.6 °C., and the average minimum temperature in January is 1.3 °C. There are an average of 110 days of strong winds a year.[15]

Language and literature

Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, from a collection of troubadour songs, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 854, Bibliothèque Nationale Française, Paris.

Historically the language spoken in Provence was Provençal, a dialect of the Occitan language, also known as langue d'oc, and closely related to Catalan. There are several regional variations: vivaro-alpin, spoken in the Alps; and the provençal variations of south, including the maritime, the rhoadanien (in the Rhone Valley) and the niçois (in Nice). Niçois is the archaic form of provençal closest to the original language of the troubadors, and is sometimes to said to be literary language of its own.[16]

Provençal was widely spoken in Provence until the beginning of the 20th century, when the French government launched an intensive and largely successful effort to replace regional languages with French. Today Provençal is taught in schools and universities in the region, but is spoken regularly by a small number of people, probably less than five hundred thousand, mostly elderly.

Writers and poets in the Occitan Language

"Folquet de Marseilla" in a 13th-century chansonnier. Depicted in his episcopal robes

The golden age of Provençal Literature, more correctly called Occitan literature, was the 11th century and the 12th century, when the troubadours broke away from classical Latin literature and composed romances and love songs in their own vernacular language. Among the most famous troubadours was Folquet de Marseille, whose love songs became famous all over Europe, and who was praised by Dante in his Divine Comedy. In his later years, Folquet gave up poetry to become the Abbot of Le Thoronet Abbey, and then Bishop of Toulouse, where he fiercely persecuted the Cathars.

In the middle of the 19th century there was a literary movement to revive the language, called the Félibrige, led by the poet Frédéric Mistral ([1830–1914), who shared the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904.

Provençal writers and poets who wrote in Occitan include:

French authors

Alphonse Daudet
  • Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897) was the best-known French writer from Provence in the 19th century, though he lived mostly in Paris and Champrosay. He was best known for his Lettres de mon moulin (eng: Letters from my Mill) (1869) and the Tartarin de Tarascon trilogy (1872, 1885,1890). His story L'Arlésienne (1872) was made into a three-act play with music by Bizet.[17]
  • Marcel Pagnol (1895–1970), born in Aubagne, is known both as a filmmaker and for his stories of his childhood, Le Château de la Mere, La Gloire de mon Pere, and Le Temps des secrets. He was the first filmmaker to become a member of the Académie française in 1946.
  • Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) (1873–1954), although she was not from Provence, became particularly attached to Saint-Tropez. After World War II, she headed a committee which saw that the village, badly-damaged by the war, was restored to its original beauty and character
  • Jean Giono (1895–1970), born in Manosque, wrote about peasant life in Provence, inspired by his imagination and by his vision of Ancient Greece.
  • Paul Arène (1843–1896), born in Sisteron, wrote about life and the countryside around his home town.

Emigrés, exiles, and expatriates

F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the climate and lifestyle of Provence attracted writers almost as much as it attracted painters. It was particularly popular among British, American and Russian writers in the 1920s and 1930s,.

Other English-speaking writers who live in or have written about Provence include:


Music written about Provence includes:

  • The saxophone concerto Tableaux de Provence (Pictures of Provence) composed by Paule Maurice.
  • The opera Mireille by Charles Gounod after Frédéric Mistral's poem Mireio.
  • Georges Bizet, 'L'Arlésienne' incidental music to play by Alphonse Daudet.
  • Darius Milhaud, 'Suite Provençale'


Triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment, in Aix Cathedral (15th century)
The 14th century ceiling of the cloister of Fréjus Cathedral is decorated with paintings of century animals, people and mythical creatures (click image to enlarge)

Artists have been painting in Provence since prehistoric times; paintings of bisons, seals, penguins and horses dating to between 27,000 and 19,000 b.c. were found in the Cosquer Cave near Marseille.[18]

The 14th century wooden ceiling of the cloister of Fréjus Cathedral has a remarkable series of paintings of biblical scenes, fantastic animals, and scenes from daily life, painted between 1350 and 1360. They include paintings of a fallen angel with the wings of a bat, a demon with the tail of a serpent, angels playing instruments, a tiger, an elephant, an ostrich, domestic and wild animals, a mermaid, a dragon, a centaur, a butcher, a knight, and a juggler.[19]

Nicolas Froment (1435–1486) was the most important painter of Provence during the Renaissance, best known for his triptych of the Burning Bush,(around 1476) commissioned by King René I of Naples. The painting shows the Annunciation to the shepherds, with the Virgin Mary and Christ above the burning bush. The wings of the triptych show King Rene with Mary Magdalen, St. Anthony and St. Maurice on one side, and Queen Jeanne de Laval, with Saint Catherine, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Nicholas on the other.[20]

Louis Bréa (1450–1523) was a 15th century painter, born in Nice, whose work is found in churches from Genoa to Antibes. His Retable of Saint-Nicholas (1500) is found in Monaco, and his Retable de Notre-Dame-de-Rosaire (1515) is found in Antibes.

Pierre Paul Puget (1620–1694), born in Marseille, was a painter of portraits and religious scenes, but was better known for his sculptures, found in Toulon Cathedral, outside the city hall of Toulon, and in the Louvre. There is mountain named for him near Marseille, and a square in Toulon.

Paul Cézanne, L'Estaque, 1883–1885

In the 19th and 20th centuries, many of the most famous painters in the world converged on Provence, drawn by the climate and the clarity of the light. The special quality of the light is partly a result of the Mistral wind, which removes dust from the atmosphere, greatly increasing visibility.

  • Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), was born in Aix-en-Provence, and lived and worked there most of his life. The local landscapes, particularly Montagne Sainte-Victoire, featured often in his work. He also painted frequently at L'Estaque.
  • Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Van Gogh lived little more than two years in Provence, but his fame as a painter is largely a result of what he painted there. He lived in Arles from February 1888 to May 1889, and then in Saint-Remy from May 1889 until May 1890.
  • Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). Renoir visited Beaulieu, Grasse, Saint Raphael and Cannes, before finally settling in Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1907, where he bought a farm in the hills and built a new house and workshop on the grounds. He continued to paint there until his death in 1919. His house is now a museum.
  • Henri Matisse (1869–1954). Matisse first visited St. Tropez in 1904. In 1917 he settled in Nice, first at the Hotel Beau Rivage, then the Hotel de la Mediterranée, then la Villa des Allies in Cimiez. In 1921 he lived in an apartment at 1 place Felix Faure in Nice, next to the flower market and overlooking the sea, where he lived until 1938. He then moved to the Hotel Regina in the hills of Cimiez, above Nice. During World War II he lived in Vence, then returned to Cimiez, where he died and is buried.
  • Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Picasso spent each summer from 1919 to 1939 on the Cote d'Azur, and moved there permanently in 1946, first at Vallauris, then at Mougins, where he spent his last years.
Paul Signac, The Port of Saint-Tropez, oil on canvas, 1901

Source and Bibliography about artists on the Mediterranean

  • Méditerrranée de Courbet á Matisse, catalog of the exhibit at the Grand Palais, Paris from September 2000 to January 2001. Published by the Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000.


Provence has a special place in the history of the motion picture – one of the first projected motion pictures, L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (eng: the entry of a train into the station of Ciotat), a fifty-second silent film, was made by Auguste and Louis Lumière at the train station of the coastal town of La Ciotat. It was shown to an audience in Paris on December 28, 1895, causing a sensation.[21]

Before its commercial premiere in Paris, the film was shown to invited audiences in several French cities, including La Ciotat. It was shown at the Eden Theater in September 1895, making that theater one of the first motion picture theaters, and the only of the first theaters still showing movies in 2009.[22].

Three other of the earliest Lumiere films, Partie de cartes, l'Arroseur arrosé (the first known filmed comedy), and Repas de bébé, were also filmed in La Ciotat in 1895, at the Villa du Clos des Plages, the summer residence of the Lumiere Brothers.

Two modern films particularly capture the idyllic qualities of Provence: Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon of the Spring.

Parks and gardens in Provence

See Gardens of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur


An authentic bouillabaisse from Marseille. The fish and shellfish are served on one platter, the broth is served in a bowl with rounds of bread spread with rouille. (photo copyright Office du Tourism et des Congrés de Marseille, used with permission)

The cuisine of Provence is the result of the warm, dry Mediterranean climate; the rugged landscape, good for grazing sheep and goats but, outside of the Rhone Valley, with poor soil for large-scale agriculture; and the abundant seafood on the coast. The basic ingredients are olives and olive oil; garlic; sardines, rockfish, sea urchins and octopus; lamb and goat; chickpeas; local fruits, such as grapes, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries, and the famous melons of Cavaillon.

The fish frequently found on menus in Provence are the rouget, a small red fish usually eaten grilled, and the loup, (known elsewhere in France as the bar), often grilled with fennel over the wood of grapevines .

  • Escabeche is another popular seafood dish; the fish (usually sardines) are either poached or fried after being marinated overnight in vinegar or citrus juice.
  • An oursinade is the name of a sauce based on the coral of the sea urchin, and usually is used with fish, and also refers to a tasting of sea urchins.
  • Brandade de Morue is a thick cream made of cod crushed and mixed with olive oil, milk, garlic and sometimes truffles.
  • Rouille is a mayonnaise with red pimentos, often spread onto bread and added to fish soups.
A bowl of ratatouille with bread
An Aïoli made of garlic, salt, egg yolk and olive oil
  • Aïoli is a thick mayonnaise made from olive oil flavored with crushed garlic. It often accompanies a bourride, a fish soup, or is served with potatoes and cod (fr. Morue). There are as many recipes as there are families in Provence.
  • Soupe au pistou, either cold or hot, usually made with fresh basil ground and mixed with olive oil, along with summer vegetables, such as white beans, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, and potatoes.[25]
  • Tapenade is a relish consisting of pureed or finely chopped olives, capers, and olive oil, usually spread onto bread and served as an hors d'œuvre.
  • Fougasse is the traditional bread of Provence, round and flat with holes cut out by the baker. Modern versions are baked with olives or nuts inside.
  • Socca is a speciality of Nice – it is a round flat cake made of chickpea flour and olive oil, like the Italian farinata. It is baked in the oven in a large pan more than a meter in diameter, then seasoned with pepper and eaten with the fingers while hot. In Toulon socca is known as La Cade.[26]
  • La pissaladière is another speciality of Nice. Though it resembles a pizza, it is made with bread dough and the traditional variety never has a tomato topping. It is usually sold in bakeries, and is topped with a bed of onions, lightly browned, and a kind of paste, called pissalat, made from sardines and anchovies, and the small black olives of Nice, called caillettes.[27]
  • The calisson is the traditional cookie of Aix-en-Provence, made from a base of almond paste flavored with confit of melon and orange. They have been made in Aix-en-Provence since the 17th century.
Calissons from Aix
  • The tarte Tropezienne is a tart of pastry cream (crème pâtissière) invented by a St. Tropez pastry chef named Alexandre Micka in the 1950s, based on a recipe he brought from his native Poland. In 1955, he was chef on the set of the film And God Created Women when actress Brigitte Bardot suggested he name the cake La Tropezienne. It is now found in bakeries throughout the Var.[28]
  • The gâteau des Rois is a type of Epiphany cake found all over France; the Provençal version is different because it is made of brioche in a ring, flavored with the essence of orange flowers and covered with sugar and fruit confit.
  • The Thirteen desserts is a Christmas tradition in Provence, when thirteen different dishes, representing Jesus and the twelve apostles, and each with a different significance, are served after the large Christmas meal.
  • Herbes de Provence (or Provençal herbs) are a mixture of dried herbs from Provence which are commonly used in Provençal cooking.


Vineyards near Montagne St. Victoire, producing wines of the AOL Côtes de Provence

The wines of Provence were probably introduced into Provence around 600 B.C. by the Greek Phoceans who founded Marseille and Nice. After the Roman occupation, in 120 B.C. the Roman Senate forbade the growing of vines and olives in Provence, in order to protect the profitable trade in exporting Italian wines, but in the late Roman empire retired soldiers from Roman Legions settled in Province and were allowed to grow grapes.[29]

The Romans complained about the competition from and poor quality of the wines of Provence. In the First Century A.D. the Roman poet Martial condemned the wines of Marseille as "terrible poisons, and never sold at a good price.".[30]

As recently as the 1970s the wines of Provence had the reputation of being rather ordinary: In 1971 wine critic Hugh Johnson wrote: "The whites are dry and can lack the acidity to be refreshing; the reds are straightforward, strong and a trifle dull; it is usually the rosés, often orange-tinted, which have most appeal." He added, "Cassis and Bandol distinguish themselves for their white and red wines respectively. Cassis (no relation of the blackcurrant syrup) is livelier than the run of Provençal white wine, and Bandol leads the red in much the same way."[31]

Since that time, cultivation of poorer varieties has been reduced and new technologies and methods have improved the quality considerably.

The wines of Provence are grown under demanding conditions; hot weather and abundant sunshine (Toulon, near Bandol, has the most sunshine of any city in France) which ripens the grapes quickly; little rain, and the mistral.

The great majority of the wines produced in Provence are rosés. The most characteristic grape is mourvèdre, used most famously in the red wines of Bandol. Cassis is the only area in Provence known for its white wines.

There are three regional classifications (Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC)) in Provence:

The appellation covers 20,300 hectares. 80 percent of the production is rosé wine, fifteen percent is red wine, and 5 percent white wine.

  • AOC Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence was classified as an AOC in 1985. The wines of Aix were originally planted by veterans of the Roman legions in the first century B.C., and were promoted in the 15th Century by René I of Naples, the last ruler of Provence. Most vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera in the 19th century, and very slowly were reconstituted. The principal grapes for the red wines and rosés are the grenache; mourvèdre; cinsault syrah; counoise; carignan; and cabernet sauvignon. White wines are made mainly with bourboulenc; clairette; grenache blanc and vermentino. There are 4000 hectares in production. 70 percent of the wines are rosés, 25 percent red wines, and 5 percent white wines.
  • AOC Coteaux varois en Provence is a recent AOC in Provence. The name Coteaux Varois was first used in 1945, and became an AOC in 1993. the name was changed to Couteaux Varois en Provence in 2005. The red wines principally use the grenache, cinsaut, mourvèdre and syrah grapes. White wines use the clairette, grenache blanc, rolle blanc, Sémillon Blanc, and Ugni Blanc. There are 2200 hectares in this AOL. It produces 80 percent rosés, 17 percent red wines, and 3 percent white wines.
Chateau bellet

In addition, there are five local classifications: (Les appellations locales):

  • AOC Bellet; at the time of the French Revolution, the little town of Saint Roman de Bellet (now part of Nice) was the center of an important wine region. Production was nearly destroyed by the phylloxera and by the two wars, and only in 1946 was the region again producing fully. It was classified as an AOC in 1941. Today the region is one of the smallest in France; just 47 hectares. The grapes are grown on terraces along the left bank of the Var River, east of the town. The major grapes grown for red wines and rosés are the braquet, Folle, and Cinsault,blended sometimes with grenache. For white wines, the major grapes grown are rolle blanc, roussane, spagnol and mayorquin; the secondary grapes are clairette, bourboulenc, chardonnay, pignerol, and muscat.
  • Palette AOC; the little village of Palete, four kilometres east of Aix-en-Provence, has long been famous for the production of a vin cuit, or fortified wine, used in the traditional Provence Christmas dessert, the Thirteen desserts, and the Christmas cake called pompo à l’oli, or the olive-oil pump. This production was nearly abandoned, but is now being recreated. The main grapes for red wine are grenache and mourvèdre and cinsaut; for the white wines clairette.

South of Avignon, it occupies the north and south slopes of the Alpilles, up to an altitude of 400 metres, and extends about thirty kilometres from east to west. The principal grapes for the red wines are the grenache mourvèdre, and syrah. For the rosés, the main grapes are the syrah and cinsault.

For more see Provence wine


A glass of diluted pastis

Pastis is the traditional liqueur of Provence, flavored with anise and typically containing 40–45% alcohol by volume. When absinthe was banned in France in 1915, the major absinthe producers (then Pernod Fils and Ricard, who have since merged as Pernod Ricard) reformulated their drink without the banned wormwood and with more aniseed flavor, coming from star anise, sugar and a lower alcohol content, creating pastis. It is usually drunk diluted with water, which it turns a cloudy color. It is especially popular in and around Marseille.

Pétanque or boules

Men playing pétanque next to the Port St. Louis in Toulon

Pétanque, a form of boules, is a popular sport played in towns and villages all over Provence. The origins of the game are said to be ancient, going back to the Egyptians, ancient Greeks, and Ancient Romans, who are said to have introduced it to Provence first. The sport was very popular during the Middle Ages throughout Europe, known as bowls or lawn bowling in England, and as boules in France.

A more athletic version of the sport called jeu provençal was popular throughout Provence in the 19th century – this version is featured in the novels and memoires of Marcel Pagnol; players ran three steps before throwing the ball, and it resembled at times a form of ballet. The modern version of the game was created in 1907 at the town of La Ciotat by a former champion of jeu provençal named Jules Hugues, who was unable to play because of his rheumatism. He devised a new set of rules where the field was much smaller, and players did not run before throwing the ball, but remained inside a small circle with their feet together. This gave the game its name, lei peds tancats, in the Provençal dialect of occitan, 'feet together.' The first tournament was played in La Ciotat in 1910. The first steel boules were introduced in 1927.

Cochonnet next to the boule

The object is to throw a ball (boule) as close as possible to a smaller ball, called the cochonnet, (this kind of throw is called to faire le point or pointer); or to knock away a boules of the opponent that is close to the cochonnet (this is called to tirer). Players compete one-on-one (tête-à-tête), in teams of two (doublettes) or teams of three (triplettes). The object is to accumulate thirteen points. The point belongs to the ball the closest to the cochonnet. A player pitches balls until he can regain the point (reprenne le point) by having his ball closet to the cochonnet. Each ball from a single team, if there are no other balls from the other team closer to the cochonnet, counts as a point. The points are counted when all of the balls have been tossed by both teams.[32]

See also

Sources and references

  1. ^ Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Editions Ouest-France, 2001
  2. ^ Aldo Bastié, pg. 9
  3. ^ Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, pg. 9
  4. ^ Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, (pg. 13.)
  5. ^ Histoire de la Provence, pg. 16
  6. ^ Bastiė, Histoire de la Provence, pg. 20.
  7. ^ a b Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, (pg. 35)
  8. ^ Etienne-Bugnot, Isabelle, Quilting in France: The French Traditions,, retrieved 2010-05-02 
  9. ^ See Mediterranean climate.
  10. ^ source: précipitations à Marseille
  11. ^ source: precipitations a Toulon.
  12. ^ Météo-France. site
  13. ^ Infoclimat – Météo en temps réel – observations previsions climatologie forum
  14. ^ Infoclimat – Météo en temps réel – observations previsions climatologie forum
  15. ^ source: précipitations à Orange
  16. ^ from the article "Provence" in the French-language Wikipedia.
  17. ^ Atlantic Brief Lives, A Biographical Companion to the Arts, pg. 204, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1971.
  18. ^ Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Editions Ouest-France, 2001.
  19. ^ Fixot, Michel, and Sauze, Elisabeth, 2004: La cathédrale Saint-Léonce et le groupe épiscopale de Fréjus. Monum, Éditions du patrimoine.
  20. ^ The cult of Mary Magdalen was very important in medieval Provence; What was believed to be her sarcophagus had been found in a Gallo-Roman crypt in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in 1279, and the construction of a large church, the Basilica Sainte Marie-Madeleine, was begun on the spot in 1295.
  21. ^ *Complete film on YouTube
  22. ^ "...Onze autres projections en France (Paris, Lyon, La Ciotat, Grenoble) et en Belgique (Bruxelles, Louvain) auront lieu avec un programme de films plus étoffé durant l’année 1895, avant la première commerciale du 28 décembre, remportant à chaque fois le même succès." From the site of the Insitut Lumiere in Lyon. see Site of the Institut Lumiere
  23. ^ See the Michelin Guide Vert, Côte d'Azur, pg.31 (in French), for this classic version. There are countless others.
  24. ^ Ratatouille. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd edition.
  25. ^ Lucy's Kitchen Notebook. L'Ail est Arrivé! – Soupe au Pistou
  26. ^ fr:Socca
  27. ^ Link to the traditional recipe for pissaladiëre(in French)
  28. ^ fr:Tarte tropézienne
  29. ^ Cicero, Book III Chapter 9 of De Republica, quoted in Histore sociale et culturelle du Vin, Gilbert Garrier, Larousse, 1998.
  30. ^ Martial, Epigrams X-36, cited by Garrier, op.cit.
  31. ^ Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine, Mitchell Beazley Publishers, 1971
  32. ^ Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Dalmas, Pétanque – Technique,Tactique, Entrainement Robert Laffont, Paris 1984. This seems to be the definitive book on the subject, co-written by pétanque champion Marco Foyot.


  • Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Editions Ouest-France, 2001.
  • Michel Vergé-Franceschi, Toulon – Port Royal (1481–1789). Tallandier: Paris, 2002.
  • Cyrille Roumagnac, L'Arsenal de Toulon et la Royale, Editions Alan Sutton, 2001
  • Jim Ring, Riviera, The Rise and Fall of the Côte d'Azur, John Murray Publishers, London 2004
  • Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Dalmas, Pétanque – Technique, Tactique, Entrainement, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1984.
  • Denizeau, Gerard, Histoire Visuelle des Monuments de France, Larousse, 2003
  • LeMoine, Bertrand, Guide d'architecture, France, 20e siecle, Picard, Paris 2000
  • Jean-Louis André, Jean-François Mallet, Jean daniel Sudres, Cuisines des pays de France, Éditions du Chêne, Hachette Livre, Paris 2001
  • Prosper Mérimée, Notes de voyages, ed. Pierre-Marie Auzas (1971)
  • Martin Garrett, 'Provence: a Cultural History' (2006)
  • James Pope-Hennessy, Aspects of Provence (1988)
  • Laura Raison (ed.), The South of France: an Anthology (1985)

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Provence is in the southeast of France. Its identity as a geographical region is a hold over from the days of the Roman Empire. Its western border is the Rhône River and its eastern border is Italy. Provence includes the French Riviera and is famous for its sun, color (Van Gogh spent a respectable amount of time in Arles, painting the countryside), traditions, wines, food, and language (Provençal). Its main attractions include the city of Avignon and the wide variety of villages which can be easily explored by car or bicycle on the network of country roads and highways.


Provence is now a part of the official administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, but the region's identity is associated more closely with its history and culture. Although a bit stereotyped now (those lavender fields all over postcards and guidebooks, that you'll have a hard time finding!), Provence culture is rooted in what was once a lively regional culture and language.

Luberon mountain is a highlight of Provence, often referred as the "Chic" Mountain that rises up the valleys of Calavon in the north, to the Durance in the south. The views of this Valley are most sought after and the lifestyle of the "pays du Luberon" are an inspiration since the Roman days. [1] All about provence], food, history, climate is unique and aspirational.

Provence is a vast and beautiful region, and merits a long trip, not just a few days or a week. To truly appreciate this region you must be the type of traveler who likes food, wine and local crafts. It is recommended to make your own itinerary, and make it flexible enough to enable you linger at an outdoor cafe or winery or take in an interesting Roman ruin when the moment takes you. There is a "joie de vivre" attitude throughout this area that is contagious, especially after two glasses of the regional rose and a picnic of cheese and sausage from the local farmers.


Most French cities have their own websites and tourist offices (which offer a wealth of information in many languages), allowing anyone interested the means to find what they are looking for.

Those interested in literary interpretations of provincial life should look up the works of Marcel Pagnol and if wealthy British expatriates are your thing, Peter Mayle.


French is of course the official language of this region, but you'll find that many people from here have an atypical accent. The last syllables of words are often pronounced softly in Provence, where in standard French they are not pronounced at all.

An example: the word "Provence" in standard French ends with an "s" sound, as "proh-VAHNSS", where in Provence itself, it will often be ended with a sound resembling a short English "eh", as "proh-VEN-seh". Many vowels are changed as well, being pronounced in a manner somewhat closer to the English pronunciation of the written vowels. [2] Of course, standard French will be understood by the locals.

This is because several generations ago, they spoke a different language - Langue d'Oc - and so learned French only in school. The dialect of Langue d'Oc spoken in Avignon was Provençal, and is the object of a strong preservation effort in the early 1900's on the part of a group of writers and artists known as the Felibrige. The most famous was Frédéri Mistral, Nobel Prize of Literature in 1908. The language has, however, now largely disappeared, though it is still taught in some regional universities and courses run by non-profit groups. Recently (around 2004) signs on the highway are printed with the village names en Français and in Provençal.

Get in

Train connections from Lyon and Paris are excellent. The TGV fast train gets you there in about three hours. Typical gateway cities include Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, and Valence. From these cities, one can easily explore the beautiful region. On Saturdays in the summer season, a Eurostar service operates to Avignon direct from London (see the Eurostar website for more information [3]).

Get around

The best way to explore is by car or bicycle. The network of country roads and highways are easily navigated. With a village every ten minutes by car, Provence is one of those places where getting lost can work to your favour.


The Pont du Gard is an aqueduct in the south of France constructed by the Roman Empire.


Centuries of intense study of the culinary arts has produced a country where the food is invariably excellent. It is difficult to have a bad meal because the French standards are so high. They simply do not tolerate lackluster or even mediocre preparation.

Each village in this region has a market day. You can buy local fare from the farms of each region (breads, cheeses, sausage, olives and preserves) and have a picnic while exploring the countryside.

If you are going for a sit-down meal, you have many types of dining experiences to choose from. Restaurants are more formal in France, serving full dinner menus and at a pace that is slower than in, say, North America. You are expected to enjoy the food and it should be the main reason for going out. It is considered inappropriate to request that a dish be prepared in a different way than is stated on the menu. Restaurants usually have a selection of set menus, each with a different price range. You can also choose from a list of a la carte items. A bistrot is more casual and has more individual items. A café is even more casual, serving press coffee, drinks, sandwiches (like the ubiquitous croque monsieur) or pizzas.


All wine in this region must be tasted. While all are of fine quality, a local favorite is the rosé. Unlike the sweet, cheap stuff many of us remember from the seventies, Provencale rosé is dry, light and a perfect accompaniment to an afternoon picnic of bread and cheese.

Stay safe

If you decide that the Provence is your place to stay, you might as well stay safe. The last 10 years have seen a sharp rise in the crime rate on Cote d'Azur, with many houses burgled. Help and information for victims of burglary and those who want to check or improve the security of their property is best done with the local police chief. If you decide to make the Provence your base and you are looking to buy a property, you also need to be safe. Don't just buy your property without doing the necessary research. Make sure you buy your property through a listed agent who is in possession of a 'permit". All recognized estate agents in the South of France are listed on [4]

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PROVENCE (Provincia, Proenza), a province in the south-east of ancient France, bounded on the N. by the Dauphine, on the E. by the Rhone and Languedoc, on the W. by the Alps and Italy, and on the S. by the Mediterranean. The coast, originally inhabited by Ligurians, was from an early date the home of some Phoenician merchants. About 600 B.C., according to tradition, some traders from Phocaea founded the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseilles) and the colonists had great difficulty in resisting the Cavares and the Salyes, i.e. the Ligurian peoples in the vicinity. Other colonies in the neighbourhood, such as Antibes, Agde, Nice, originated in this settlement. During the wars which followed, the inhabitants of Massalia asked assistance from the Romans, who thus made their first entry into Gaul (125 B.C.), and, after a campaign which lasted several years under the ' Gras was Capoulie from 1891 till 1901, succeeding his brotherin-law, Roumanille, who held the office from 1888 till 1891. The first Capoulie was, of course, Mistral (1876-1888). Gras's successor was Pierre Devoluy, of Die (appointed in April 1901).

direction of the pro-consul C. Sextius Calvinus, conquered the territories between the Alps, the sea and the Rhone (with the province of Narbonne on the right bank of this river). These lands formed the Provincia romana, and the name was retained by Provence. The town of Aix (Aquae Sextiae) was founded to form the capital of this conquered land. In consequence of the conquest of Gaul by Caesar (50 B.e.) and the administrative reforms introduced by Augustus, the territory of the former Provincia was divided into the new provinces of Narbonensis II., of the Maritime Alps and of Viennois, but it still remained an important centre of Roman learning and civilization. Marseilles, which for some time had a prosperous Greek school, and also Aix now became of secondary importance, and Arles was made the chief town of the province, becoming after the capture of Troves by the barbarians (A.D. 418) the capital of Gaul. Christianity spread fairly early into Provence, although the legend that this country was evangelized by Mary Magdalene and some of the apostles cannot be traced farther back than the 12th century. Trophimus established a church at Arles in the 3rd century, and during the two centuries which followed bishoprics were founded in all the cities of Provence.

At the beginning of the 5th century, Provence was attacked by the Visigoths. In 425 the Visigothic king Theodoric I. was defeated by Aetius under the walls of Aries, but the part taken by the Goths in the election of the emperor Avitus did not put a stop to their attacks (450). In 480 Arles was captured by Euric I., and the southern part of Provence, i.e. the country south of the Durance, thus came definitely under Visigothic rule. The more northern cities, such as Orange, Apt, TroisChateaux, &c., were again joined to the kingdom of Burgundy. Towards sio Visigothic Provence was ceded to Theodoric, king of the Italian Ostrogoths, by Alaric II. as a mark of his gratitude for the support given to him during the war against the Franks. In addition to this, about 523, the Ostrogoths took advantage of the wars between the Franks and the Burgundians to extend their lands in the north as far as Gap and Embrun. Vitiges, king of the Ostrogoths, ceded Provence to the kings of the Franks about 537, when it was divided in a peculiar manner: the northern cities and those on the coast (Arles, Marseilles, Toulon, Antibes, Nice) were given back to Burgundy, whilst a narrow strip of territory with Avignon, Apt, Cavaillon, Riez, &c., extending from the west to the east as far as the Alps, was added to the kingdom of Austrasia, and from that time followed the fortunes of Auvergne, which, as is known, was generally dependent on Austrasia. Provence was united under one ruler during the reigns of Clotaire II. and Dagobert I., but at the death of the latter in 639 was divided again, only to be reunited under the successors of Dagobert II. (679). At this period the name of Provence was restricted to the southern cities, which had passed from the Gothic to the Frankish rule; it did not regain its original signification and denote the country extending as far as Lyonnais till the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th centuries.

At the beginning of the 8th century, some Arabs from Spain, who had crossed the Pyrenees and settled down in Septimania, attacked Provence, in 735 took the town of Arles and in 737 captured Avignon, thus becoming masters of one part of the country. Charles Martel who had already made two expeditions against them, in 736 and 737, with the help of the Lombards of Italy, succeeded in 739 in expelling them, and brought the country definitely under Frankish rule. Austrasian counts were given authority in the cities, and under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious the history of Provence became incorporated with that of the rest of the empire. At the time of the partition of Verdun (843) Provence fell to the share of the emperor Lothair I., who joined it to the duchy of Lyons in 855 to form a kingdom for his youngest son, Charles. On the death of the latter in 863 his inheritance was divided between his two brothers, when Lothair II., king of Lorraine, received the northern part, Lyonnais and Viennois, and to the other, the emperor Louis II., king of Italy, was given Provence. At his death in 875 Provence passed into the hands of Charles the Bald, and he entrusted the government to his brother-in-law, Duke Boso, who, taking advantage of the struggles between the Frankish princes which followed the death of Charles the Bald, reconstituted the former kingdom of Charles, the son of Lothair, and in 879 was acknowledged as its sovereign at Mantaille in Viennois. This is the kingdom of Provence (Provence, Viennois, Lyonnais and Vivarais), sometimes, but improperly, called Cisjuran Burgundy.

Boso died in 887, having succeeded in maintaining his independence against the united Frankish princes. His widow Ermengarde, daughter of Louis II., with the assistance of the emperor Arnulf, had her son Louis acknowledged king at an assembly held at Valence in 890. Louis attempted to seize the crown of Italy in goo, and in 901 was even crowned emperor at Rome by Pope Benedict IV.; but in 905 he was surprised at Verona by his rival Berengar, who captured him, put out his eyes, and forced him to give up Italy and return to Provence; he lived here till his death in 928, leaving an illegitimate son, Charles Constantine. The principal figure in the country at this time was Hugo (Hugues) "of Arles," count, or duke, of Viennois and marquis of Provence, who had been king of Italy since 926. In order to retain possession of this country, he gave the kingdom of Louis the Blind to Rudolph II., king of Burgundy (q.v.), and thus the kingdom of Burgundy extended from the source of the Aar to the Mediterranean. But the sovereignty of Rudolph II. and his successors, Conrad (937-993) and Rudolph III. (993-1032), over Provence was almost purely nominal, and things were in much the same condition when, on the death of Rudolph III., the kingdom of Burgundy passed into the hands of the German kings, who now bore the title of kings of Arles, but very rarely exercised their authority in the country.

At the beginning of the 10th century Provence was in a state of complete disorganization, a result of the invasions of the Saracens, who, coming from Spain, took up their quarters in the neighbourhood of Fraxinetum (La Garde-Freinet in the department of Var) and ravaged the country pitilessly, the Christians being unable to oust them from their strongholds. All the real power was in the hands of the counts of the country. It is probable that from the 9th century several of the Provençal countships were united under one count, and that the count of Arles had the title of duke, or marquis, and exercised authority over the others. In the middle of the 10th century the countship of Provence was in the hands of a certain Boso, of unknown origin, who left it to his two sons William and Roubaud (Rotbold). These two profited by the commotion caused by the capture of the famous abbot of Cluny, St Maiolus (Mayeul), in 973, who had fallen into the hands of the Saracens, and marched against the Mussulmans, definitely expelling them from Fraxinetum. About the same period the marquisate seems to have been re-established in favour of Count William, who died in 993, and from that time the descendants of the two brothers, without making any partition, ruled over the different countships of Provence, only one of them, however, bearing the title of marquis. The counts of Provence had, from about the middle of the 11th century, a tendency to add the name of their usual residence after their title, and thus the lordships, known later under the names of the countships of Arles (or more properly Provence), of 'Nice, and of Venaissin, grew up. Roubaud had one son named William, who died without children, about 1043, and one daughter, Emma, who married William, count of Toulouse, by whom she had a son, Pons (1030-1063), the father of Raymund of Saint-Gilles (1063-1105). William also had a son of the same name. This William II. had three sons by his wife Gerberge - Fulk, Geoffrey and William. The lastmentioned had a son, William Bertrand (1044-1067), whose daughter Adelaide married, first, Ermengaud, count of Urgel, and then Raimbaud of Nice. Geoffrey was the father of Gerberge, who married Gilbert, count of Gevaudan, and he had a daughter Douce, who in 1112 married Raymund-Berenger, count of Barcelona; by this marriage, Provence, in the correct sense of the word, passed over to the house of Barcelona. At the beginning of the 12th century the various marriages of the Provençal heiresses, of whom mention has just been made, led to the land being divided up among the different branches of the ancient countly family (1105, 1125 and 1149), and thus the countships of Provence, Venaissin and Forcalquier were definitely formed.

Under the command of Raymund of Saint-Gilles the Provengals took an important part in the first crusade, and the use of the term "Provencal" to denote the inhabitants of southern France, their language and their literature, seems to date from this period.

The history of the princes of the house of Barcelona, RaymundBerenger I. (1113-1131), Raymund-Berenger II. (1131-1144) and Raymund-Berenger III. (1144-1166), is full of accounts of their struggles with the powerful feudal house of Baux, which had extensive property in Provence; in 1146 one of the representatives of this house, Raymund, obtained from the emperor the investiture, though only in theory, of the whole countship of Provence. After the death of Raymund-Berenger III., who was killed at the siege of Nice (1166), his cousin Alphonso II., king of Aragon, claimed his inheritance and took the title of the count of Provence. But his succession was disputed by the count of Toulouse, Raymund V., a marriage having been previously arranged between Raymund-Berenger's daughter and his son, and he himself hastening to marry the widow Richilde, niece of the emperor Frederick I. The majority of the lay and ecclesiastical lords of Provence recognized Alphonso, who in 1176 signed a treaty with his competitor, by which Raymund V. gave up his rights to the king of Aragon in consideration of a sum of money. Alphonso was represented in Provence by his brothers Raymund-Berenger and Sancho in turn, and in 1193 by his son Alphonso, who succeeded him. This Alphonso gave Aragon and Catalonia to his brother Peter (Pedro), and kept only Provence for himself, but on the death of his father-in-law, Count William II., in 1208, whose son had been disinherited, he added to it the county of Forcalquier. He was able to protect Provence from the consequences of the war of the Albigenses, and it was not until after his death (1209), during the minority of his son Raymund-Berenger IV., who succeeded him under the regency of his uncle, Peter of Aragon, and later of his mother Gersende, that Provence was involved in the struggle of the count of Toulouse against Simon de Montfort, when the part played by the city of Avignon in the Albigensian movement finally led to Louis VIII.'s expedition against the town. William of Baux took advantage of the troubles caused by Raymund-Berenger's minority to have the kingdom of Arles conferred upon himself by Frederick II.; this led, however, to no practical result. Raymund-Berenger had also to fight against Raymund VII., count of Toulouse, the emperor having ceded to this latter in 1230 the countship of Forcalquier, and showed another mark of his favour in 1238, when, in consequence of some difficulties with the city of Arles, Raymund-Berenger drove the imperial vicar from the town. The intervention of St Louis, who in 1234 had married Margaret, the eldest daughter of the count of Provence (the second, Eleanor, married Henry III. of England in 1236), put an end to the designs of the count of Toulouse. Raymund-Berenger died in 1245, leaving a will by which he named as his heiress his fourth daughter, Beatrice, who shortly afterwards, in 1246, married the celebrated Charles of Anjou (see Charles I., king of Naples), brother of the king of France. After her death, in 1267, Charles still maintained his rights in Provence. The countship of Venaissin Was left to him by his sister-in-law, Jeanne, countess of Toulouse, but in 1272 King Philip the Bold took possession of it, giving it up in 1274 to Pope Gregory X., who had claimed it for the Roman Church in pursuance of the treaty of 1229 between Raymund VII. of Toulouse and St Louis. Almost all the time and energy of Charles of Anjou were taken up with expeditions and wars concerning the kingdom of Naples, which. he had gained by his victories over Manfred and Conradin in 1266 and 1268. His government of Provence was marked by his struggles with the towns. The movement which resulted in the emancipation of these had its origin fairly far back. In the first part of the 12th century the towns of Provence, no doubt following the example of those in Italy, began to form municipal administrations and consulates, independent of the viscounts, who in theory represented the authority of the count in the towns. This movement was occasionally interrupted by home disturbances, such as struggles against the civil and ecclesiastical authorities; nevertheless Marseilles, Arles, Tarascon, Avignon (whose consulate laws date from the 12th century), Brignoles and Grasse were self-governing and elected their magistrates, sometimes negotiating with the count, as a power with a power, and concluding political or commercial treaties without consulting him. ' The city of Nice, which was joined to Provence in 1176, had retained its freedom. This state of affairs was in direct opposition to the authoritative government of Charles of Anjou, who tried to bring back the most independent of these towns under his sway. In 1251 he seized Arles and Avignon and placed them under a viguier (vicar) nominated by himself. In 1257 Marseilles was also subdued, and ministers nominated by the court performed their duties side by side with the municipal officials.

The successors of Charles of Anjou also showed great interest in maintaining their rights over the kingdom of Naples, and only occasionally do they appear in the history of Provence. Charles II. (1285-1309), after failing in several attacks on the house of Aragon in southern Italy, lived in the country during the latter years of his reign as duke, and tried to reform some of the abuses which had grown up in the administration of justice and finance. Robert of Calabria (1309-1343), his son and successor, was forced to sustain a long siege in Genoa, whither he had been called by the Ghibelline party: a siege which cost a large number of lives to the Provencal navy. Robert was succeeded by his granddaughter Joanna, widow of Andrew of Hungary, who sold her rights over the city of Avignon to Pope Clement VI. in 1348, in order to raise funds to enable her to continue the struggle against the house of Aragon in her Neapolitan states. The political situation of the country was not much changed by Charles IV.'s residence in Provence, nor by the empty ceremony of his coronation as king of Arles (1365). Charles IV. gave up his rights, or his claims, to Louis, duke of Anjou, brother of Charles V., but the expedition which this prince made to take possession of Provence only resulted in the seizure of Tarascon, and failed before Arles (1368). Joanna had nominated as her heir Charles of Anjou-Gravina, duke of Duras, who had married her niece Margaret, but to provide herself with a protector from Louis of Hungary, who accused her of murdering her first husband Andrew and wished to dispute her right to the kingdom of Naples, she married again and became the wife of Otto of Brunswick. Charles of Duras, discontented with this marriage, took part against her, and she in her turn disinherited him and named Louis of Anjou as her eventual successor (1380). The duke of Anjou took possession of Provence, whilst Charles of Duras made the queen prisoner at Naples and gave orders for her to be put to death (1382). Louis of Anjou also made an expedition to Naples, but did not arrive till after her death, and he died in 1384. His son Louis II. (1384-1417) banished the viscount of Turenne from Provence, because he had taken advantage of his sovereign's absence to ravage the country. He did not live in Provence till the last years of his life; in 1415 he established a parlement. The following year the country was devastated by a terrible plague. The wars carried on by his successor Louis III. (1417-34) against the kings of Aragon, his rivals at Naples, were the cause of the complete ruin of Marseilles by the Aragonese fleet. The town, however, regained its former state comparatively quickly. Although Louis III. had centred almost all his attention on the expeditions in Italy, he managed to secure the lands belonging to the house of Baux on the death of the last of the family, the Baroness Alix (1426). Rene, duke of Lorraine (q.v.), Louis's brother and successor, after an unsuccessful attack on Naples (1460-1461), went to live on his property in France, and after 1471 was principally in Provence, where he built the castle of Tarascon and interested himself in art, literature, and pastoral amusements. He left his territories (Anjou, Lorraine, Provence) to his nephew Charles, count of Maine, by his will in 1474. Louis XI., king of France, protested at first in the name of the rights of the Crown, and even seized Rene's duchies. In consequence, however, of an interview between Rene and the king at Lyons, the former obtained a withdrawal of the seizure and ended his days peacefully in Provence (1480). The rights of his successor, Charles, were disputed by Rene II., duke of Lorraine, but, with the support of Louis XI., his attack on Provence was defeated. On the other hand, Louis had corrupted some of Charles's advisers, especially Palamede de Forbin, with the result that, at Charles's death in 1482, he left Provence to the king of France in his will. Rene of Lorraine protested in vain; Louis claimed the possession of the disputed territory, but Provence was not definitely annexed to France till 1486, under Charles VIII., and even then it preserved a certain individuality. In laws relating to this country the sovereigns added to their title of king of France "and count of Provence and of Forcalquier," and Provence always preserved a separate administrative organization.

In the 16th century Provence took part in a war between France and the imperialists. The constable de Bourbon, who had received the investiture of Provence from the emperor Charles V., crossed the Var in 1524 with an army, but was defeated at Marseilles. The expedition under Charles V. and the duke of Savoy in 1536 had no more definite result than the coronation of the emperor at Aix as king of Arles. About the same time the first signs of the Reformation became evident in Provence, at first in the country of the ancient Vaudois at Cabrieres and at Merindol in the county of Venaissin. A sentence passed in 1540 by the parlement of Provence against these heretics was carried out with great severity in 1545 by the president d'Oppede and the baron de la Garde, who burned the villages and massacred the inhabitants. Protestantism did not take a great hold on Provence, but drew a fair number of followers from the ranks of the lesser nobles, who, with Paul de Mauvans at their head, began the struggle against the Catholics under the comte dP Carces. Charles IX.'s journey in Provence in 1567, followed by the establishment in the parlement at Aix of a court (chambre) in which Catholics and Protestants had an equal number of seats, led to a momentary cessation of hostilities. These were resumed between the Carcistes (Roman Catholics) and Razats (Protestants), and again interrupted by the peace of 1576, which gave some guarantees to the Protestants, with La Seyne as a place of security, and also by the plague of 1579, which affected the whole country. The league, on the other hand, made rapid progress in Provence under the direction of the comte de Sault and Hubert de la Garde, seigneur of Vins, and the governors of Epernon and La Valette vainly tried to pacify the country. La Valette and the political party or Bigarrats were finally more or less reconciled to the Protestants, and, at the time of the death of Henry III., the struggle was no more than a question of district politics. Weakened by the division between the comtesse de Sault and the young comte de Carces, the league applied to the duke of Savoy, who was besieging Marseilles. Carces and the other heads of the league submitted one after the other to the new governor Lesdiguieres, who was succeeded by the duke of Guise in 1595, and in 1596 the religious wars in Provence were definitely ended by the capitulation of Marseilles.

During the reign of Henry IV. the country was comparatively peaceful; but under Richelieu the restriction of local freedom and the creation of new offices led to the insurrection of the Cascaveous (small bells, a name derived from their rallying sign), which Conde came to suppress in 1630-1631. At the time of the Fronde additional taxes were levied by the parlement at Aix, and the struggle began between the Canivets (Mazarins) and the Sabreurs (prince's party), who captured the governor, the comte d'Alais, for a short time. The duke of Mercoeur calmed the country down. Louis XIV.'s tour in Provence (1660) was marked by an insurrection at Marseilles, which brought about the abolition of the last remaining municipal liberties of the town. Provence was severely tried by the imperialist invasions of 1706 and 1746, and the great plague of 1720. Towards the end of the ancien regime the movement which resulted in the revolution of 1789 made itself felt in Provence, and was most apparent in the double election at Aixand at Marseilles of Mirabeau as deputy for the states-general.

Provence, with its own special language and its law so closely related to Roman law, has always been quite separate from the other French provinces. Theoretically it retained its provincial estates, the origin of which has been traced to the assemblages of the 12th century. They met annually, and included representatives of three orders: for the clergy, the archbishop of Aix, president ex officio of the estates, the other bishops of Provence, the abbots of St Victor at Marseilles, of Montmajour and of Thoronet; for the nobility, all the men of noble birth (gentilhommes) until 1623, when this privilege was restricted to actual holders of fiefs; for the third, the members of the twentytwo chief towns of the vigueries 1 and fifteen other privileged places, among which were Arles and Marseilles. There were theoretically no taxes, but only supplies given freely by the estates and assessed by them. However, this assembly did not meet after 1639. The administrative divisions of Provence were constantly changing. In 1307 Charles II. divided it into two senechaussees, Aix and Forcalquier, comprising twenty-two vigueries. At the end of the ancien regime the government (gouvernement) of Provence, which corresponded to the generalite of Aix, was made up of eight senechaussees, those of Lower Provence - Aix, Arles, Marseilles, Brignoles, Hyeres, Grasse, Draguignan, Toulon; and four of Upper Provence - Digne, Sisteron, Forcalquier, Castellane. From a judicial point of view the parlement of Aix had replaced the former conseil eminent or cour souveraine. There was a chambre des comptes at Aix, and also a cour des aides. A decree, dated the 22nd of December 1789, divided Provence into the three departments of Bouche du Rhone, Basses-Alpes and Var, and in 1793 Vaucluse, the former county (comtat) of Venaissin, which belonged to the pope, was added to these. The boundaries of the department of Var were modified in 18Eo after the annexation, when the department of the Alpes Maritimes was formed.


There is no good general history of Provence. For a complete work consult the ancient works of H. Bouche, Chorographie et histoire chronologique de Provence (2 vols. in fol., Aix, 1664); Papon, Histoire generale de Provence (4 vols. in 4to, Paris, 1 7771 7 86); L. Mery, Histoire de Provence (3 vols. in 8vo, Marseilles, 1830-1837). For special periods of history see F. Kiener, Verfassungsgeschichte der Provence, 510-1200 (8vo, Leipzig, 1900); R. Poupardin, Le Royaume de Provence sous les Carolingiens (in 8vo, Paris, 1901); G. de Manteyer, La Provence du i e1 a xii e siecle (in 8vo, Paris, 1907); Lambert, Essai sur le regime municipal et l'affranchissement des communes en Provence (in 8vo, Toulon, 1882); Les Guerres religieuses en Provence (2 vols. in 8vo, 1870); Cabasson, Essai historique sur le parlement de Provence (3 vols. in 8vo, Aix, 1826). (R. Po.)

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French Provence.

Proper noun




  1. A maritime region of southern France bordering Italy

Derived terms



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From Latin provincia.


Proper noun

Provence f.

  1. Provence (region in France)

Derived terms


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