A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Provins is a smiling medieval town 70km south-east of Paris, well known for its medieval fairs. A long time ago it was the capital of the powerful Counts of Champagne. Thanks to the counts’ protection and its strategic position the town became one of the main actors of the early development of international trade fairs and the wool industry in Europe, during the XIth and XIIIth centuries. While other European city-fairs were always located close to a harbor, Provins’ location was very central, yes, but in the middle of nowhere.
Provins had an urban structure built specifically to host fairs and related activities. Merchants from all Europe and the Orient came to Provins to do business in its busy streets and squares. The town was so prosperous that it even minted its own coinage, the “denier provinois” (Provins’ penny). We especially enjoyed the medieval architecture around the town’s squares. All those years of history are still palpable in its winding streets.
via flickr CC @Guillaume Speurt
PROVINS WAS A FORTIFIED TOWN
In order to protect the town and its wealth, Provins got fortified. Provins’ ramparts were built between IXth and XIIIth centuries, with different towers and fortified gates. Today we can still see 1.200 meters of the original ramparts and 22 towers. From the Tour César (XIIth century), the most iconic tower and the town’s symbol, you can enjoy fantastic 360º views.
What else? Provins has 58 structures registered in the French inventory of Historical Buildings so the town can keep you busy for a while. We enjoyed especially La Grange aux Dîmes, an ancient covered market from the XIIIth century where different objects and mannequins show visitors how was life and customs during the Medieval fairs.
THE UNDERGROUND TOWN
People say that in Provins there is the Upper Town, the Lower Town . . . and the Underground Town. And it is true because under the street level there are kilometers and kilometers of subterranean galleries, vaulted halls, and even crypts! How come? In old Provins, all houses had an underground part consisting (most of the times) of a beautiful vaulted hall usually built 3/4 below the ground level. This part of the house had an independent access to the street and usually was rented to merchants to install their shops or warehouses during fair time.
The vast network of underground passages is mainly from the XIIIth century. These galleries are divided into three categories:
-civil passages used for people’s communication or shelter
-military passages used as warehouses
-private passages to store sheets and woolen clothes warehouses, when Provins was an important center of production of these goods
Today you can visit part of these galleries (about 250 m) with a guided tour (4,5€). Groups leave from le Palais des Comtesses, on the way to the Tour César. There are different tours during the day but there is only one tour in English so try to book in advance here or at your arrival to the town. If you are traveling on a budget and don’t want to spend this money there is a nice medieval bookshop located in one of this typical underground vaulted rooms (9, rue de Jouy). It’s another way to see how houses looked like centuries ago.
MEDIEVAL FESTIVALS IN PROVINS MEDIEVAL TOWN
During spring and summer but also during Christmas Provins organizes Medieval Festivals, welcoming visitors with hosts dressed in traditional costume, lively bands playing, and a range of exciting events for adults and kids.
If you are visiting the area in June, don’t miss Les Médiévales de Provins festival. This great Medieval Festival is one of the most important in Europe. Next dates are 24th and 25th June 2017.
via flick CC @Julien Magne
WHERE TO SLEEP IN PROVINS
With such an interesting heritage some may think that one day is not enough to visit Provins and well, we agree! At nightfall in summer, a thousand candles light the streets and musicians are on every corner so staying overnight is more than recommended. Unfortunately, Provins has a lack of budget accommodation but there are cute little hotels in the Upper Town for reasonable prices, especially if you book in advance. Here are our favorite proposals:
A B&B accommodation in a historical XIIth century building surrounded by beautiful gardens. Quiet hotel with excellent location. Each of the 5 rooms available is unique and spacious and most of them have garden views.
This is a fantastic B&B accommodation located close to the César Tower. The XIXth century building has 5 uniquely decorated guest rooms inspired by classic fairy-tale themes, everything designed by the fashion designer Stella Cadente.
With the best possible location (right of the town’s center), modern facilities and a contemporary design, Le César Hôtel has everything you need for a unique stay in Provins. The beautiful rooms have views of the church or the town.
HOW TO REACH PROVINS FROM PARIS
Provins is in Seine et Marne Department. SNCF trains to Provins leave from Gare de l’Est train station (1,5 hrs direct train). If you have a Navigo Pass 5 zones the ride is free on weekends and holidays. When you arrive at Provins’ train station there is a “tourist line” shuttle waiting right at the exit of the station. This bus goes through the main sights located in the high town (4€ daily ticket, 2.5€ single ticket). These sights are not that far from the station so you don’t really need this service if you like walking.
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