Originally listed in 1875 as a historical monument – 58 of the town’s monuments are of historical note – it was in 2001 that Provins became part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This remarkable mediaeval town hosts a variety of activities to evoke its past from April to November every year. Recently over 650,000 visitors flocked to enjoy the spectacles. Particularly popular are the displays of falconry on the impressive ramparts and the jousting shows on Sundays from June to the end of August . There are also impressive displays of no less than four medieval machines used to attack ramparts, from April through to the end of June. Provins became wealthy in the 12th and 13th centuries when it was strategically situated at a crossroads for the influential Counts of Champagne who protected its merchants and those wishing to visit the fairs as they served to bring them additional riches.
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The Tithe Barn
The Tithe Barn, just off the main square, is an example of a building which served in these times as a covered market. In the Barn there are audio guided tours explaining the era of the Champagne Fairs and you can see the woollen cloth merchant, the Flemish merchant, the money changer, the letter writer and the Italian merchant amongst others. It is said that in 1223 merchants from Toulouse rented this building. The underground galleries in the town which can also be visited are thought to date from this period when the fullers quarried out the earth to remove the grease from the woollen cloth. So successful was trade in this era that Provins even produced its own coinage and the ‘Provins penny’ was accepted throughout France.
In the Place du Châtel or Castle Square, many interesting buildings are to be found including the four gabled house which was restored in 1997. In addition, there is the minor offenders’ court, the cockle-shell house, and the exchange cross and a well. Provins is also famous for its imposing ramparts and the stark outline of Caesar’s Tower which soars above the town. Used as a watchtower, prison and shelter, in the 17th century it housed the church bells whilst the church was under construction. There is also the Collegiate Church of St Quiriace, the church of Holy Cross and the original church of Saint Ayoul. Nearby, in the town of Longueville, steam engine enthusiasts can visit the 10 locomotives at the AJECTA steam railway museum.
Especially dramatic is the two day annual festival in June when the entire town reverts to medieval mode. Everyone, including the staff of the Tourist Office, don their period costumes and even the ‘wheelie’ bins are disguised with sack-cloth. There are also superb performances of ‘Son et Lumiere’. Nowhere else can this period of history be better observed and relived than in the historic town of Provins. For details of shows and times, go to www.provins.net.
At the June Festival, a maypole is erected in the square and all the houses are decorated colourfully with flags and bunting. Provins has a good choice of restaurants and hotels and many specialities are flavoured with the ‘rose of Provins’. The legend is that Thibaud, Count of Champgne, returned from a crusade with the famous ‘Damascus rose’ and certainly Provins is famous for its local rose flavoured honeys and preserves and other rose related products which are sold in the local shops. The crystallised rose preserve is reputed to be particularly delicious when served as an accompaniment to foie gras.See more information on www.provins.net/anglais
Copyright text : Sarah Francis