Back To Charlemagne’s Time – A Day In Provins, France

Provins, France.

Provins, France.

During a vacation in France, I was able to make the one hour drive south-east of Paris to visit Provins, France. Strategically situated along natural routes heading east and west, as well as north and south, the area has a recorded history of human settlement going back to the bronze age. The first historical evidence for the name of the town comes from 802, and directly from Charlemagne. As King, he ordered that Provins, as well as three other cities, were to be the sites to hold annual fairs. As such, each of these towns became centers of trade from across Europe and the Mediterranean.

The keep of Provins.

The Castle of Provins.

Already home to a fort, the hilltop of Provins was rebuilt as a castle. Around it, the town quickly grew along with trade and fairs. And the local Counts wisely re-invested their earnings in ample defenses. Throughout 1200’s and into the early 1400’s, a series of increasingly fortified walls were built to surround and protect the town.

The fortified walls of Provins.

The fortified walls of Provins.

Over the course of centuries, power, economics and politics all change and ventually Provins declined in importance. Fortunately, and unlike the other three towns hosting Charlemagne’s fairs, Provins has held on to its history. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, the town is an utterly amazing time capsule from 800 years ago.

Home next to a vineyard that's gone fallow, in town.

Home next to a vineyard that’s gone fallow, in town.

Home to a little over 12,000 people, Provins is not a small town, although, the bulk of the population lives outside the ancient walls. The old-town is incredibly walkable, and, turn-after-turn you find these amazing, ancient, buildings and houses.

A tiny (by today's standards) and very old home in Provins.

A tiny (by today’s standards) and very old home in Provins.

Interestingly, as the town was originally designed to host medieval fairs and trade, buildings were required to be either mixed-use (commercial and residential), or purely commercial. This is why many of the builds are multiple floors, the 1st to host the business, and upstairs for living space.

A "mixed use" structure in Provins.

Part of the monastery of Provins.

Another 'mixed use' building in Provins.

A ‘mixed use’ building in Provins, note how the foundation is settling.

As the town declined in economic power with the end of the fairs for the Counts of Champagne, building rules were relaxed, and Provins features some of the finest examples of 15th through 17th century homes and buildings in the world.

The gate to a very old villa in Provins.

The gate to a very old villa in Provins.

A fine home in Provins.

A fine home in Provins.

Located on a hill, the cobblestone sidewalks, and tight corridors of Provins add to the charm of the town.

Just your average street in Provins.

Just your average street in old-town Provins.

A walk between blocks.

A walk between blocks.

Built between the 12th and 17th centuries, at the center of Provins is the domed Church of Saint-Quiriace, which contains some beautiful works of art, including some amazing frescos.

Church of Saint-Quiriace

Church of Saint-Quiriace

Frescos of Church of Saint-Quiriace

Frescos of Church of Saint-Quiriace

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Frescos of Church of Saint-Quiriace

During my visit, one of the features of Provins that struck me was the amount of colorful foliage that was growing on the town walls. Experiencing Provins1 was unforgettable. If you have the opportunity to see it yourself, I highly recommend that you do.

Flowers on the walls of Provins.

Flowers on the walls of Provins.

Good nutrients in those walls...

Good nutrients in those walls…


References   [ + ]

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Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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