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Provins, a small town (about 12,000 inhabitants) located in the Ile de France, in the department of Seine-et-Marne, less than 100 km south-east from Paris, on a plateau at the confluence of the Voulzie and Durteint.
Known as Pruvinum in Roman times, the first historical document attesting its importance dates back to 802 AD. In 996, where the lower city is today, the remains of Saint Ayoul were discovered, thanks to this discovery, the place became home to numerous sacred buildings. In the 12th and 13th centuries Provins became an important commercial center of the County of Champagne (Comté de Champagne), thanks to its position at the center of important communication routes that connected Italy to Flanders, in fact 9 main roads and 11 secondary roads arrived there.
The famous “Foires de Champagne” were held in the city twice a year, during the fairs a great variety of products (wool, clothes, wine, leather, dyes, jewellery) from all over Europe were traded, the city at the time it minted its own currency (the “denier provinois”). Starting from the second half of the 13th century, Provins suffered competition from the fairs of the Rhine Valley and Flanders, this caused a clear decline in the trade and wealth of the city, which continued unstoppable with the union of the County of Champagne with France.
In 2001, UNESCO included Provins, the city of medieval fairs, in the list of world heritage sites.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: WHAT TO VISIT IN PROVINS
The medieval urban structure of Provins, a fortified city home to important medieval fairs, is still excellently preserved. The city, enclosed by the 13th century walls, keeps its medieval aspect almost intact, is divided into Ville Haute and Ville Basse, and represents a remarkable example of medieval architecture between the 11th and 13th centuries.
In the heart of the Ville Haute are the Place du Châtel, the Tour César, the Collegiale di Saint-Quiriace, the Palais des Comtes de Champagne, the Maison Romane (today the Municipal Museum), the Grange aux Dîmes (13th century merchant house).
Provins is famous for its beautiful medieval fortifications, today 1,200 meters long with 22 towers and two gates (Porte de Jouy and Porte St-Jean), built between 1226 and 1314. Very interesting is the visit of the medieval underground cellars, which run along the underground of the town, today a 250 meter stretch located under the Hôtel-Dieu and the rue Saint-Thibault can be visited, this section includes the rooms (salles basses voûtées), i.e. two rooms, one was used as a hospital for the reception of poor and pilgrims, the other used as a display area for merchandise. In the center of the upper part of the town (Ville Haute) we find the Place du Châtel, in ancient times it housed the money changers, among the interesting buildings that overlook the square: the Maison aux 4 pignons, the Hôtel de la Coquille (“Saint Jacques” ), the remains of the Church of Saint-Thibault, the Maison des Petits-Plaids.
There are two buildings that stand out over the upper city: the first is the Collegiate Church of Saint-Quiriace (Collégiale Saint-Quiriace), a beautiful Romanesque style church dating back to the 12th century, but finished with the erection of the dome in the 17th century, also the interior decoration dates back to the 17th century, the choir covered by a vault divided into eight parts is notable. Next to the Collegiate Church of Saint-Quiriace are the remains of the Palais des Comtes de Champagne, a 12th century building which was the seat of the city’s justice bodies until 1670 and then transformed into the Oratorians’ College.
The second building is the Tour César, a 12th century construction commissioned by the Comte de Champagne, thanks to its position at the end of the rocky spur that dominated the valley, it represented the Count’s power and authority over the city, it was also used as a prison. The structure has a square base, which becomes octagonal halfway up, and is flanked by four towers that rise from the level of the first patrol walk. The base of the building is surrounded by a heavy wall added by the English after the siege of 1432, and therefore called “Pâté aux Anglais”.
The tower can now be visited inside: the Salle des Gardes Voûtée, the Governor’s Chamber, etc. The view from the top of the tower is remarkable. Among other notable buildings in the Ville Haute: the Grange aux Dîmes is a 13th-century merchant’s house, which served as a place to store goods during large medieval fairs, today it houses a museum on the life and crafts of the Middle Ages. The Maison Romane is the oldest house in Provins, dating back to the 11th century, and today houses the Museum (Musée du Provinois). The Hostellerie de la Croix D’Or (1264-1270), the oldest hostellerie in France, now a restaurant, still with the original facade. Opposite the Hotellerie is the Hôtel de Vauluisant with a 13th century façade.
Among the buildings of the Ville Basse: the Church of Saint-Ayoul: in 996, where the church is today, the remains of Saint Ayoul were discovered, built between the 11th and 16th centuries, it has an unusual appearance, presents many styles due to the numerous changes it has undergone over time. The first commercial fairs in Provins took place in front of this church. The Church of Sainte-Croix, was built between the 12th and 16th centuries, has a typically Renaissance facade, the church owes its name and a piece of the True Cross brought from Jerusalem by Thibaud IV. The Tour Notre Dame Du Val of 1544 represents the only remnant of the ancient Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame. Other buildings in Provins worth mentioning: the Convent-Abbey des Cordelières, the Hôtel de Savigny, the Hôtel de Ville, the Hôtel-Dieu, the Hôtel du Saint-Esprit, the Maison du Bourreau.
MUSEUMS: Provins Museum (Musée de Provins et du Provinois), located inside the Maison Romane (11th century), one of the oldest houses in the city, the museum displays pieces from archaeological excavations, medieval sacred art objects, and works of art of the XII-XIX centuries. La Grange aux Dîmes houses a museum on life in the Middle Ages through the reconstruction of the various professions of the time.
The climate of Provins.
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