Back To Charlemagne’s Time – A Day In 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. The King ordered that Provins, as well as three other cities, was to be the site of an annual fair, which brought trade from across Europe and the Mediterranean.
Already home to a fort, the hilltop was rebuilt as a castle. Around it, the town quickly grew along with the trade, and the local Counts of Champagne re-invested their earnings wisely 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.
Over the course of centuries, power, economics, and politics all change, and, eventually 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 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.
Interestingly, as the town was originally designed to host medieval fairs and trade, buildings were required to be either mixed used (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.
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.
Located on a hill, the cobblestone sidewalks, and tight corridors of Provins add to the charm of the town.
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.
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 Provins was unforgettable. If you have the opportunity to see it yourself, I highly recommend that you do.