Guide Tour of Provins, Île-de-France, Seine-et-Marne, France

Provins is a commune located seventy-seven kilometers southeast of Paris, sub-prefecture of the Seine – et-Marne department in the Île -de- France. Known for its well-preserved medieval architecture, the medieval town of Provins is a popular day trip from Paris. the fortified centre within the medieval walls and importance throughout the Middle Ages as an economic center and a host of annual trading fairs, Provins became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

Visit Provins, Provinois, Bassée-Montois and the Valleys of the 2 Morins, discover historical monuments, emotional shows, museums like no other, gardens and natural spaces, numerous activities for children and families…

The fortified medieval town of Provins is situated in the former territory of the powerful Counts of Champagne. It bears witness to early developments in the organization of international trading fairs and the wool industry. The urban structure of Provins, which was built specifically to host the fairs and related activities, has been well preserved.

At the beginning of the 2nd millennium, Provins was one of several towns in the territory of the Counts of Champagne that became the venues for great annual trading fairs linking northern Europe with the Mediterranean world. Provins preserves to a high degree the architecture and urban layout that characterize these great medieval fair towns.

Located in Île-de-France in the Seine-et-Marne department, the historic walled city of Provins is an outstanding and authentic example of a medieval fair town in Champagne, a region that was an important centre of exchange, and which witnessed, together with the rise of trading fairs in the 11th century, the beginning of significant international trade in Europe.

Of international scope, these trade fairs which targeted merchants and traders required the protection of long-distance freight transport between Europe and the East, encouraging the development of activities such as banking and foreign exchange, as well as productive activities (tanning, dyeing, cloth trade). The urban layout and the medieval dwellings that remain in Provins are an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble built specially to fulfill these functions. This complex includes merchant houses, vaulted cellars and warehouses, outdoor spaces for trade, and religious ensembles. The city is also known for its well-preserved defense system, which was built for the protection of the fairs.

Provins is the capital of rose confectionery, the main specialties of which are rose petal jam, Provins rose honey, rose sweets and rose syrup. The Provins rose is said to have been brought back from the Crusades by Thibaut de Champagne. The rose gardens are still in operation. The roses of Provins could be one of the many constituents of theriac and naturally of the preserves of roses of Provins, included in the Western maritime pharmacopoeia in the 18th century. the Provins rosebush, a small hardy shrub much closer to wild varieties than the more recent productions.

There are signs of human occupation in the area as early as the paleolithic era. Provins was at the crossroads of two major regional corridors in Roman Gaul: one from Soissons to Troyes and one towards Sens in the south. Provins was associated with two important regional axes: the road from Soissons to Troyes to the north, and the road to Sens in the direction of the south-west. The upper town would have been transformed into a stronghold under the Roman occupation.

In the year 485 and after his victory at Soissons, Clovis seized the Roman castrum of Provins. As proof of its growing importance, by the 9th century, Provins was minting its own coin, the “denier provinois,” and Charlemagne had sent his missi dominici to the town.

Under the protection of the Counts of Champagne, Provins hosted one of the largest Champagne fairs, an agricultural and trade fair crucial to the medieval economy. In the upper portion of the town, the fair would be held twice a year, in May and November, whereas in the lower town, there was a yearly market in September. During that time, Provins also because a banking center, with the “denier” being widely accepted throughout Europe. The fairs continued from 1120 until 1320.

Provins became at that time the third largest city in France, after Paris and Rouen. Provins was in the Middle Ages one of the towns hosting the biggest Champagne fairs, when the town was under the protection of the Counts of Champagne. It is surely this period that left the most traces on Provins.

King Philippe le Bel traveled to Provins several times, notably in 1289 and 1298. These trips were ruinous for the inhabitants, the king repeatedly levying considerable taxes on the city which only increased the desertion of Provins. and put an end to its prosperity.

In October 1307, the Templars who remained in Provins were arrested and imprisoned in the Château de Melun.

The town was besieged numerous times and changed hands frequently in the 14th through 16th centuries. This political and economic instability reduced the importance of the city.

In 1359, Edward, King of England, unsuccessfully besieged Provins. Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, seized Provins twice, in 1361 then in 1378. The Duke of Berry, brother of Charles V, came to lay siege to this town and the Navarrese capitulated.

In 1417, Philippe, Duke of Burgundy, occupied Provins militarily and seized it. On the night of October 2, 1432, the English entered the city through the Porte au Pain using rope ladders. Nicolas Girème, Commander of the Order of Malta, helped by Denis de Chailly, Bailiff of Meaux, besieged the English who were temporarily driven out and then returned to sack the city.

In one of the most famous events in Provins’ history, the recently crowned King Charles VII attended mass at the Collégiale Saint-Quiriace church, along with his royal court and saint Joan of Arc on August 3, 1429.

According to the letters patent of Louis XI, the city retained its privileges, in particular to attract foreign merchants. The king himself visited the town of Provins on June 21 and 22, 1479, before going to Dijon.

Henri IV besieged Provins in 1590; the city had sided with the League against the king and was fined 8,000 gold crowns in the sun. A second siege was conducted for 3 days in 1592.

In 1617, Louis XIII confirms the three fairs of the city of Provins as well as their franchises and their privileges. The first, called May’s Fair, precedes Ascension Day for days; the second, the Saint Ayoul fair, lasting from September 14 to All Saints Day; and the third, the Saint Martin fair, which begins on Saint Andrew’s Day and lasts until the end of December.

Being largely unaffected by the Industrial Revolution, Provins remained a small market town throughout the 19th century. The Germans occupied the town in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, and were only barely fought off in 1914 during the First World War.

World Heritage
Provins is known for its well-preserved, original fortifications from the 12th century, such as the Tour César (the Caesar Tower) and city walls. Many of the residential and commercial buildings within the Upper Town are likewise from the 12th century; these buildings held the residences of merchants, stores and counting houses. Of the four main fair towns in the County of Champagne (Troyes, Lagny-sur-Marne, and Bar-sur-Aube), Provins is the only one that has retained much of its medieval character.

Provins is famous for its medieval fortifications surrounding the town. The enclosure of the upper town, 1,200 meters long and comprising 22 towers of varying geometries, was built from 1226 to 1314. It remains today the best preserved part, thanks in particular to several recent phases of restoration, and contributes greatly to the tourist attraction of the city. Regarding the part in the lower town, it has suffered the onslaught of time but remains visible in certain places, along the false river.

Although Provins suffered some destruction during the Hundred Years War in the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as during the French Revolution, it was quite minimal. The urban plan of the medieval town is well preserved, as are a large part of the historic buildings, canals and the water management system. Some 150 historic houses have preserved their medieval vaulted cellars, intended for the storage of goods. Despite minor changes since the 17th century, the city has preserved its integrity and that of the places associated with the various functions of the fairs. The relationship of the upper town with the plains of Plateau Briard is also intact. The new buildings in the lower town respect the volumes of the ensemble and integrate nicely with the historic buildings.

Due to its economic decline, but also to the persistence of its urban functions, the medieval fairs town of Provins remains relatively intact to this day. Open spaces, cellars, public and religious buildings and fortifications have preserved the medieval character of the fairgrounds.

The rose garden of Provins presents three hectares rehabilitated since 2008 at the foot of the upper town. An exhibition of old building tools and folk art is also presented there. A bookstore offers books on companionship and trades and tools. The rose has been associated with the history of Provins since the Middle Ages, when Thibaud IV of Champagne, returning from a crusade, would, according to tradition, bring a variety of Rosa gallica to Provins in the middle of the 13th century. Rosa gallica, the rosebush of France, is also called “rosebush of Provins”.

Main Attractions
The medieval city of Provins, Unesco World Heritage, discover the landmarks like César Tower, the Grange aux dîmes, the Saint-Ayoul Priory, the museum, the ramparts…

In the ancient city of Provins, the great saga of the Middle Ages is played out before your eyes. In the 12th and 13th centuries, all of Europe would gather here to buy and sell fabrics, spices and other commodities. Eight hundred years later, the town, with its remarkably preserved fortifications, has not lost any of its epic atmosphere.

Discovering the city’s architectural gems with a Pass Provins, at the top of the city’s impressive ramparts, constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. From the dizzying heights of the Remparts and Lépreux alleys, the view over the ancient city and its winding streets is spectacular.

Next, make for the Grange aux Dimes, a former covered market dating to the era of the Champagne fairs. Here, you can participate in a sweeping re-enactment of the medieval markets, complete with actors in period dress. Get behind the scenes of courtly life under the Counts of Champagne in the superb 12th-century Tour César, before heading to the top of the keep to explore the ramparts.

The Eagles of the Ramparts show an experience of hawk hunting. For almost one hour, this king of birds – with its court of buzzards, owls and other masters of flight – will delight you with its breathtaking airborne ballet.

The Legend of the Knights show, which take place at the foot of the ramparts, revives the tradition of equestrian jousting tournaments. The knights’ impressive tumbles provide guaranteed thrills.

Stop by the Provins rose garden and drink in the delicious fragrances as you stroll through this dreamy garden.

As night falls, the Banquet of Troubadours will initiate you into medieval culinary traditions, accompanied by jugglers, storytellers and acrobats.

Tour César 12th century: Only octagonal keep with a square base; it is built on an artificial mound.
The underground passages: The basement of the old town is full of medieval underground passages that can be visited, and which constitute a point of articulation in the development of Umberto Eco ‘s novel, Foucault’s Pendule, with the other curiosity tourist attraction that is the tithe barn.
Romanesque house: surely the oldest house in Provins (10th or 11th century), it houses the Provinois museum.
Notre-Dame-du-Val tower, rue Vieille Notre-Dame (1544).
Hostellerie de la Croix d’Or: the oldest hostelry in France (currently a restaurant). The facade has remained unchanged since its construction (from 1264 to 1270).
Hôtel du Vauluisant (13th century): The Old Baths, now called La Demeure des Vieux Bains, are the oldest bathing place in Provins (13th century). In 1256, the place consists almost only of old stones; in 1309, it was Louis le Hutin who had many improvements made there: paving of the baths with stones from Paris, installations of furnaces, boilers and ovens… The place became an important place in Provins, where many come together to enjoy the curative values attributed to it; it reached its peak in 1311.

Le Provinois has an old cheese-making tradition, recently renewed. In 1979, Brie de Provins was created 78 and the trademark of the same name was registered. In 2010, on the occasion of its return to traditional production, Brie de Provins was presented at the Salon du Fromage and dairy products in Paris 80.

Provins is also known for its niflettes, a puff pastry filled with pastry cream. Niflettes are tasted on November 11 and also during the Medieval Festival and some other city festivals.

French city of the rose, Provins is also historically known for its rose confectionery, in particular rose petal jam, Provins rose honey or rose sweets.

From April to November you can enjoy its colourful shows, including medieval pageants in June, and a Christmas market in winter. Aspiring knights can experience, over a family weekend, breathtaking jousting tournaments. Meanwhile, lovers of medieval romance will enjoy the banquets animated by troubadours, and demonstrations of the art of hunting with eagles.

Many shows on the medieval theme take place all year round in Provins:
The eagles on the ramparts: equestrian falconry show;
The legend of the knights: show of chivalry in the ditches of the ramparts;
The medieval: medieval festival, street entertainment, craftsmen, parade;
Sound and light: historical night show that evokes the hours of joy and sorrow in the Middle Ages, show designed, produced and directed by volunteers.

The harvest festival (succeeding the medieval festival which took place in June) testifies to the cultural richness of the Provinois country. It is celebrated on the last Sunday of August, and formerly marked the end of the wheat harvest, an important production in the country of Brie champenoise – even if today corn, beetroot and rapeseed vie for the limelight. Harvest festival floats are always decorated with wheat, evoking the harvest; moreover, a tarare is often used to project sound onto passers-by.

The traditional niflette festival takes place every year on November 11 in the city center, and honors this pastry specialty from Provins. The niflette consists of puff pastry and pastry cream subtly flavored with orange blossom. In the Middle Ages, it was distributed to orphans at the exit of cemeteries, at the time of All Saints’ Day. The word originates from the Latin injunction “Ne flete!” meaning “don’t cry!”.

Since 2007, the Provins-Middle Ages prize has been awarded each year to a book on the history of the Middle Ages.

The easel tournament is organized on the second Sunday of September and reserved for amateur artists, this day rewards the most beautiful works of painting and plastic arts (drawing, charcoal, collage, pastel, watercolor, etc.) executed on site and in an allotted time.

Exceptional heritage, getaways, educational farms and leisure activities will take you between history and traditions in Provinois region.