A world famous destination
From the early beginning of Tourism in the 18th century, Provence benefits from a special attractiveness regarding travelers from all over the world.
Located between the Alps mountains to the east, the Rhone river to the west and the Mediterranean sea to the south, Provence refers to the south-eastern region of continental France.
Enjoying a mild climate Provence is famous for its lavender fields, its olive trees and sun flowers painted by Vincent Van Gogh, its Sainte Victoire Mountain painted by Paul Cezanne, its vineyards and wines, its delicious food, its limestone rocky coastline, the the noise of the cicadas, its medieval villages, its UNESCO Heritage or its bird sanctuaries.
Is that everything ?
Certainly not !
Let’s see in more details why Provence is a world famous destination and the most visited destination worldwide by the French themselves.
An introduction to the History of Provence
Provence is 1100 years older than France.
Historians consider that Marseilles, today capital of Provence, is the oldest french city. Marseille was founded by the Greek people of Foça (Phocaea), a city located on the western Turkish coast close to Izmir. That is why the French people also call Marseille “La cité Phocéenne”: The Phocaean city.
Founded in 600 B.C., Marseilles was called Massalia in greek. From Massalia the Greeks developed their commercial counters and colonized the coast of Provence & the French Riviera during approximately 500 years. Cities as Nice, Monaco or Antibes are examples of colonies founded by the people of Marseille called the Marseillais in French. The Marseillais also sailed to the west and created colonies on the eastern Spanish coasts as well as the sailed up the Rhone river to the north creating colonies as far north as Lyon. The greatest Greek navigators from Marseilles even reached the coast of England.
Around the year 120 B.C., after several wars between the Marseillais and the local tribes living inland, the Marseillais asked the Roman army for some support. A first Roman colony was founded known today as Aix en Provence; originally Acquae Sextiae. Within a few decades the Roman empire conquered all western Europe and the name Provence actually comes from this period when the Romans baptized this territory the Roman “Province”.
The Roman civilization flourished in this part of France. Provence benefits from 300 sunny days a year and enjoys a lot of water supply coming from the nearby Alps. The water coming down from the Alps is creating rivers as the Rhone or the Durance, allowing irrigation.
The richness of the Roman Empire in this region can still be witnessed today thanks to master pieces of UNESCO World’s Heritage worth to be seen such as the “Pont du Gard”, the Roman Amphitheater & Theater in Arles and the Roman Theater in Orange.
By the fall of the western Roman empire Provence experienced several waves of invasions. It has been occupied by the Goths from the 4th to the 8th century and by the Moors from the 8th to the end of the 10th century.
From the 11th to the end of the 15th century Provence built itself as an independent territory having its own kings. In this period the capital city of Provence was the city of Aix en Provence. At the end of the 15th century Provence unified with the Kingdom of France, a kingdom born in the 5th century from the Francs who invaded the northern part of France and established themselves in Paris.
Provence is definitely older than France, and became a crossroad of Mediterranean culture and trade long before Paris and France acquired the importance that they enjoy today.
Today’s France is divided into 13 regions. The region is the main administrative division in France. Each region has several subdivisions called departments.
The official name of the Provence region is now “Provence, Alpes, Côte d’Azur” that most of the French call PACA. It is subdivided into 6 departments: Bouches du Rhone, Vaucluse, Var, Alpes Maritimes, Alpes de Haute Provence, Hautes Alpes.
The capital city of the region is Marseilles since the french revolution. It has close to 1 million inhabitants. Provence counts around 5 million inhabitants.
Economically Provence remained based on its agriculture. A piece of Provence is even called the Garden of France. Provence produces close to 30% of the fruit and vegetables for the French market. Tourism also represents a huge income and Marseilles, as the biggest port in the entire Mediterranean, concentrates a lot of industry: helicopter factory, electronics, oil and chemicals.
Most of the population is living on the coast in Marseilles, Nice and Toulon, the 3 major urban areas. Inland Provence has no big city. The land is composed by huge forests, fields and villages.
The people of Provence are not known for being great English speakers. They more likely speak a bit of Italian or even Spanish. Also understand their French is not so easy. Their accent can be very strong. A proper Parisian is sometimes having a hard time trying to understand a Marseillais. It comes from the former language spoken in Provence, Provençal, a Latin based language quite close to the Catalan language.
Even if few people can today speak Provençal as this language has been progressively prohibited by the French kings after the union between Provence and France, many street names are written in Provençal and some words are still in use.
In conclusion, Provence is somehow more Mediterranean than French.