See F. M. Ford, Provence (1979); J. Flower, Provence (1987).
Provence (Provençal Occitan: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of southeastern France on the Mediterranean Sea 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. Provence is so named because it was the first Roman province outside of Italy.
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 (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. 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 meters, has an outdoor sanctuary with more than 40,000 rock carvings.
Greek sailors from Asia Minor began to arrive along the coast in the 7th Century B.C.. establishing depots (emporia) for trade with the local inhabitants. The first permanent Greek settlement was Massalia, established at modern-day Marseille in about 546 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 Nimes.
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.
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-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. 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 aquaducts, 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; Nimes; 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 romaneque 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 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 by her cousin and heir, Charles of Duras, in 1382, which started a new war, and led in 1388 to the separation of Nice, Puget-Théniers and Barcelonnette from Provence, and their attachment to the territories of Savoy.
The 15th century saw a series of wars between the Catalan rulers of Aragon and the Angevin 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.
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, Toulon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, saw the construction of boulevards and richly-decorated private houses.
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.
The Revolution and Reign of Terror 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.
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, includiing 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 Provencal 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.
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 Atilla) and then headed for Toulon (Case Anton).The French fleet at Toulon sabotaged its 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.
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.
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 Sea 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.
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 Verdon River is a tributary of the Durance, rising at an altitude of 2400 meters in the soutwestern Alps near Barcelonette, and flowing southwest for 175 kilometers 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 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.
With an area of over 930 km² (360 sq. miles), 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 mosquitos to be found anywhere in France. It is also famous for bulls, Black Bear and the Camargue horse.
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)|
Outside of the Maritime Alps, Mont Ventoux (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 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).
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 Durance rivers. The landscape of the Alpilles is one of arid limestone peaks separated by dry valleys.
Montagne Sainte-Victoire is probably the best-known mountain in Provence, thanks to the painter Paul Cezanne, 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 .
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 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-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 also known as the Massif des Calanques, are a dramatic feature of the Provence coast, a 20-kilometer long series of narrow inlets in the cliffs of the coastline between Marseille on the east and Cassis on the west. The highest peak in the massif is Mont Puget, 565 meters high.
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 m 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 auks.
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.
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 kilometers 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 centimeters. 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.
Nice and the Alpes-Maritime 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-Provence 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 Ubaye, 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 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 (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.
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 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.
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.
The golden age of Provencal 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.
Provencal writers and poets who wrote in Occitan include:
In the 19th and 20th century, 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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Source and Bibliography about artists on the Mediterranean
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 (fr. sarments de vigne).
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 forbid 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 Provencal 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 Wind.
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.
In addition, there are five local classifications: (Les appellations locales):
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
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, 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, les ped tanco, in the Provencal dialect of occitan, 'feet together.' The first tournament was played in La Ciotat in 1910. The first steel boules were introduced in 1927.
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.