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Region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
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'Azurmarker. The traditional region of Provence comprises the département of Varmarker, Vauclusemarker, and Bouches-du-Rhônemarker and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provencemarker and Alpes-Maritimesmarker. 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'Azurmarker in the interior country above Nicemarker, at the Cave of Valloet (near Roquebrune) and a site dating to 600,000 B.C. at Terra Amata, in the Alpes-Maritimesmarker. Remains of a settlement dating to between 27,000 and 19,000 B.C. were found by Henri Cosquer in 1991 at the Cosquer Cavemarker, an underwater cave in a calanque on the coast near Marseillemarker. The cave walls were decorated with drawings of bisons, seals, penguins, horses and outlines of human hands. A Neolithic site dating to about 6,000 B.C. was discovered in Marseille near the Saint-Charles railway stationmarker. Dolmens from the Bronze Age (2,500–900 B.C.) can be found near Draguignanmarker and the Valley of Marvels near Mt.marker Bégomarker in the Alpes-Maritimes, at an altitude of 2,000 meters, 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 Marseillemarker in about 600 B.C. by colonists coming from Phocaeamarker (now Foçamarker, in modern Turkey) on the Aegeanmarker coast of Asia Minormarker, 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 Arlesmarker); at Cannesmarker, and south of Nimesmarker.

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

Ligures and Gauls

The Ligures, a Celtic people probably coming from Asia Minormarker, 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 Vauclusemarker; the Oxybii and Deciates in the Varmarker and Alpes-Maritimesmarker; the Voconces in the Dromemarker; and the Salyes in Lower Provence. 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.)

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. 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-Provencemarker. In 118 B.C. they founded Narbonnemarker.

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 Aptmarker and Tarasconmarker, 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.
In 8 B.C. the Emperor Augustus built a triumphal monument at La Turbiemarker 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 Cavaillonmarker; Orangemarker; Arlesmarker; Fréjusmarker; Glanummarker (outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provencemarker,); Carpentrasmarker, Vaison-la-Romainemarker; Nimesmarker; Vernèguesmarker; Saint-Chamasmarker and Cimiezmarker (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 Pyreneesmarker.

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 Arlesmarker in 254; Marseillemarker in 314; Orangemarker, Vaisonmarker and Aptmarker in 314; Cavaillonmarker, Dignemarker, Embrunmarker, Gapmarker, and Fréjusmarker at the end of the 4th century; Aix-en-Provence in 408; Carpentrasmarker, Avignonmarker, Riezmarker, Cimiezmarker and Vencemarker in 439; Antibesmarker in 442; Toulonmarker in 451; Senezmarker in 406, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteauxmarker in 517; and Glandèves in 541.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; Lérinsmarker, on an island near Cannes; and Saint-Victormarker 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.

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

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 Barcelonamarker, 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 Clunymarker, 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-Freinetmarker) 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 Rivermarker went to the Count of Toulouse, while the lands between the Durancemarker 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 Brignolesmarker.

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 Cathedralmarker 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. Trophimemarker in Arles was a landmark of Romanesque architecture, built between the 12th and the 15th centuries. A vast fortress-like monastery, Montmajour Abbeymarker, 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 Abbeymarker was the first, established in the Luberon 1148 and 1178. Le Thoronet Abbeymarker was founded in a remote valley near Draguignanmarker in 1160. Silvacane Abbeymarker, on the Durance River at La Roque-d'Anthéronmarker, 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)

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 Papesmarker was the largest gothic church in Europe.

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-Théniersmarker and Barcelonnettemarker 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 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 Tarasconmarker, 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, Vauclusemarker, 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 Vauclusemarker 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.

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. It was predominantly rural, devoted to raising wheat, wine, and olives, with small industries for tanning, pottery, perfume-making, and ship and boat building. There was considerable commerce along the coast, and up and down the Rhone River. The cities: Marseille, Toulonmarker, 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 Grassemarker; olive oil in Aix and the Alpilles; textiles in Orange, Avignon and Tarascon; and faience pottery in Marseille, Apt, Aubagne, and Moustiers-Sainte-Mariemarker. 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.

During the French Revolution

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 Strasbourgmarker, 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 Montpelliermarker 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 Montagnard 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 Elbamarker on March 1, 1815, and landed at Golfe-Juanmarker, he detoured to avoid the cities of Provence, which were hostile to him.

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 Canalmarker 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 Solferinomarker, which resulted in Austria ceding Lombardy to Piedmont, and, in return, Napoleon received Savoy and Nice in 1860, and Roquebrune and Mentonmarker in 1861.

The railroad connected Paris with Marseille (1848) and then with Toulon and Nice (1864). Nice, Antibesmarker 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 Frederic 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 Eygalièresmarker, in the Bouches-du-Rhônemarker 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 Torchmarker), 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 Cavalairemarker (Operation Dragoon). The American forces moved north toward Manosquemarker, Sisteronmarker and Gapmarker, 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'Habitationmarker 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 Festivalmarker (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 Pyreneesmarker and north to the Vauclusemarker, with its capital in Narbo Martius (present-day Narbonnemarker.)

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


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 Glaciermarker in Valaismarker, 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 Eyrieuxmarker, Ardèchemarker, Cèzemarker and Gardonmarker or Gard, on the left Alps bank by rivers Isèremarker, Drômemarker, Ouvèzemarker and Durancemarker.
The Rhône at Avignon
At Arles, the Rhône divides itself in two arms, forming the Camarguemarker 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 Rivermarker, a tributary of the Rhône, has its source in the Alps near Briançonmarker. It flows south-west through Embrun, Sisteron, Manosquemarker, Cavaillonmarker, and Avignon, where it meets the Rhône.

The Verdon Rivermarker is a tributary of the Durance, rising at an altitude of 2400 meters in the southwestern Alps near Barcelonette, and flowing southwest for 175 kilometers through the Alpes-de-Haute-Provencemarker and Varmarker (départements) before it reaches the Durance at near Vinon-sur-Verdonmarker, south of Manosquemarker. The Verdon is best known for its impressive canyon, the Verdon Gorgemarker. 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 Rivermarker rises near the Col de la Cayolle (2,326 m/7,631 ft) in the Maritime Alpsmarker and flows generally southeast for into the Mediterranean between Nice and Saint-Laurent-du-Varmarker. 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 Camarguemarker 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 Alpsmarker, 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-Maritimesmarker and the Italian province of Cuneo. Mercantour National Parkmarker is located in the Maritime Alps.

The chief peaks of the Maritime Alps are:
Punta dell'Argentera 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 3087 m (10,128 ft)
Mont Bégomarker 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)

Outside of the Maritime Alps, Mont Ventouxmarker (Occitan: Ventor in classical norm or Ventour in Mistralian norm), at , 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 Luberonmarker range, and just to the east of the Dentelles de Montmirailmarker, 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 south of Avignon. Although they are not particularly high – only some 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 Durancemarker 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-Victoiremarker 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 kilometers between the départements of Bouches-du-Rhônemarker and Varmarker. Its highest point is the Pic des mouches at .
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 Hyèresmarker et Fréjusmarker. Its highest point is the signal de la Sauvette, 780 meters 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 kilometers along the coast, and reaches inland about thirty kilometers. 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-Tropezmarker is part of the Massif des Maures, along with the peninsula of Giens and the islands offshore of Hyèresmarker; Porquerollesmarker, Port-Cros, and île du Levant. Cape Sicié, west of Toulon, as well as the massif of Tanneronmarker, belong geologically to the massif des Maures.

The Calanques

Calanque de Sugiton
The Calanquesmarker, also known as the Massif des Calanquesmarker, are a dramatic feature of the Provence coast, a 20-kilometer long series of narrow inlets in the cliffs of the coastline between Marseillemarker on the west and Cassis on the east. The highest peak in the massif is Mont Pugetmarker, 565 meters high.

The best known calanques of the Massif des Calanques include the Calanque de Sormioumarker, the Calanque de Morgioumarker, the Calanque d'En-Vau, the Calanque de Port-Pin and the Calanque de Sugitonmarker.

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 cavemarker is an underwater grotto in the Calanque de Morgiou, 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. 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.


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 Vauclusemarker. 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-Rhônemarker and the Varmarker Departments, and often reaches over one hundred kilometers an hour.


Marseillemarker, in the Bouches-du-Rhônemarker, 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 millimeters. 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.

The Var

Toulon and the Department of the Varmarker (which includes St. Tropezmarker and Hyeresmarker) 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, 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 millimeters, 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 kilometers an hour.


Nice and the Alpes-Maritimesmarker 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 kilometers 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 millimeters, 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 centimeters of snow blanketed the coast. In January 1985 the coast between Cannes and Menton received 30 to 40 centimeters 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.


The Department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provencemarker has a Mediterranean climate in the lower valleys under one thousand meters in altitude and an alpine climate in the high valleys, such as the valleys of the Blanche, the Haut Verdon and the Ubayemarker, which are over 2500 meters 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 meters, and 18 to 19 °C. at the altitude of 1000 meters; and the winter average temperatures is 4 to 5 °C. at 400 meters and 0 C. at 1000 meters. 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 meters on the shady side of the mountains and 1300 to 1600 meters on the sunny side. Snowfalls are usually fairly light, and melt rapidly.

The Mistral 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 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-Provencemarker in Saint-Michel-Observatoire near of Forcalquiermarker.

The Vaucluse

The Vauclusemarker 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.

Orangemarker 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 millimeters 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.

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.

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

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 Abbeymarker, 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.

  • 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 Academie Francaise in 1946.
  • Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) (1873–1954), although she was not from Provence, became particularly attached to Saint-Tropezmarker. 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 Manosquemarker, wrote about peasant life in Provence, inspired by his imagination and by his vision of Ancient Greece.
  • Paul Arène (1843–1896), born in Sisteronmarker, wrote about life and the countryside around his home town.

Emigrés, exiles, and expatriates

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'


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 Cavemarker near Marseille.

The 14th century wooden ceiling of the cloister of Fréjus Cathedralmarker 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.

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 Announciation 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.

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 Monacomarker, and his Retable de Notre-Dame-de-Rosaire (1515) is found in Antibesmarker.

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 Cathedralmarker, outside the city hall of Toulon, and in the Louvremarker. 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-Victoiremarker, featured often in his work. He also painted frequently at L'Estaquemarker.

  • 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 Arlesmarker from February 1888 to May 1889, and then in Saint-Remy from May 1889 until May 1890.

  • Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). Renoir visited Beaulieu, Grassemarker, Saint Raphael and Cannesmarker, before finally settling in Cagnes-sur-Mermarker 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. Tropezmarker in 1904. In 1917 he settled in Nice, first at the Hotel Beau Rivage, then the Hotel de la Mediterranee, 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 Vencemarker, 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 Vallaurismarker, then at Mouginsmarker, 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 Ciotatmarker. It was shown to an audience in Paris on December 28, 1895, causing a sensation.

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..

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


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 Cavaillonmarker.

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
  • Ratatouille is a traditional dish of stewed vegetables, which originated in Nicemarker.
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.

  • 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. [7849]


  • 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.

  • 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.[7850]

  • 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 Phoceansmarker 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.

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.".

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."

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 Nicemarker) 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, pignerolmarker, and muscat.

  • Palette AOC; the little village of Paletemarker, four kilometers 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 meters, and extends about thirty kilometers 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 Ciotatmarker 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.

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. Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, (pg. 35)
  8. See Mediterranean climate.
  9. source: précipitations à Marseille
  10. source: precipitations a Toulon.
  11. Météo-France. site
  12. Infoclimat – Météo en temps réel – observations previsions climatologie forum
  13. Infoclimat – Météo en temps réel – observations previsions climatologie forum
  14. source: précipitations à Orange
  15. from the article "Provence" in the French-language Wikipedia.
  16. Atlantic Brief Lives, A Biographical Companion to the Arts, pg. 204, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1971.
  17. Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Editions Ouest-France, 2001.
  18. Fixot, Michel, and Sauze, Elisabeth, 2004: La cathédrale Saint-Léonce et le groupe épiscopale de Fréjus. Monum, Éditions du patrimoine.
  19. 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.
  20. * Complete film on YouTube * The Lumiere Institute, Lyon, France
  21. "...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
  22. See the Michelin Guide Vert, Côte d'Azur, pg.31 (in French), for this classic version. There are countless others.
  23. Ratatouille. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd edition.
  24. Lucy's Kitchen Notebook. L'Ail est Arrivé! – Soupe au Pistou
  25. Link to the traditional recipe for pissaladiëre(in French)
  26. Cicero, Book III Chapter 9 of De Republica, quoted in Histore sociale et culturelle du Vin, Gilbert Garrier, Larousse, 1998.
  27. Martial, Epigrams X-36, cited by Garrier, op.cit.
  28. Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine, Mitchell Beazley Publishers, 1971
  29. 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)

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