Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur Region origins

This page was updated on: Monday, March 27, 2017 at: 5:17 pm

The colours of Provence


Gallia Narbonensis circa 20BC

Provence... of course most of you know Provence, one of the most popular regions in Southern France.

It is a bit cliché, however, Provence immediately evokes images of sun-drenched landscapes of lavender, sunflower and rose fields and olives groves spreading as far as the eye can see.

Then come the singing cicadas and nectar gathering bees, the picturesque villages and mas (farmhouses).

Finally, there are the trendy ports, seaside resorts and the fine sand beaches of the warm Mediterranean...

But do you know why we call it Provence?

Provence's first settlers

Provence is all that remains of the ancient Gallia Transalpina or Gallia Narbonensis that became known as Provincia Nostra (Our Province) and eventually Provincia.

Provincia was the first province founded by the Romans in the late 2nd century BC to the west of the Alps.

It was (still is!) encompassed within the mountain range, the Rhône Valley and of course the Mediterranean.


Glanum Triumphal Arch in St-Rémy de Provence

It seems that these distant invaders had good taste at choosing their new colonies.

However, they were not the first to be attracted to the area!

The first recorded traces of occupation indeed date back to around 1 million years BC!

Climate change and sea level variations that occurred over the following millennia led to a transformation of the fauna and flora and to population movements.

Two major phases of settlement linked to two ancient ethnic groups were recorded around 6000BC and 2500BC.

The Ligures later settled by waves from 1000BC; the Celts followed around 500BC.

The two cultures blended in order to create a Celto-Ligurian stock.


Antic Massilia harbour's vestiges

Their genes are anchored deep in those of the modern day Provence's native population.

These trade-minded tribes began to exchange their production with neighbouring populations, who eventually established their own trading posts in Provence.

Indeed, the Greeks founded their first permanent trading post in Marseille around 600BC.

Massalia became the busiest trading port of the Antiquity.

A series of small colonies and trading posts were soon built along the coast.

They gave birth to some of our current trendy ports and fishing villages.

Life could have gone on like this for many more centuries, but Ligures, Celts and Greeks had to accept Roman domination around 100BC.

Provence, the Roman Province

The Provincia Transalpina, the future Provence, was born.

The next three centuries were a period of prosperity known as Pax Romana.

But nothing lasts and the Roman Empire's excessive territorial expansion proved detrimental to its stability and strength.


Pont du Gard

The Barbarian invasions began around 275AD.

They took place at regular intervals during the following two centuries.

Insecurity spread like wildfire.

The Roman Empire was falling steadily into dismantlement!

Emperor Constantine (306AD-337AD) thought that unification, thus control of the Empire, could be obtained through a common religion and institutionalized Christianity.

Results were long to show and were unsuccessful at first.

It indeed proved impossible to rule an empire that stretched from modern day Great Britain, France and Spain in the west to Syria and Turkey in the east and along the coasts of Northern Africa!

Inevitably the Roman Empire collapsed in 476AD leaving the door open to a new wave of invaders.

Provence after the fall of the Roman Empire

Visigoth, Burgundian, Ostrogoth and Norman raids succeeded until the 9th century.

Local populations survived by adjusting to the invaders' cultures, wherever they couldn't defeat them.


Palais des Papes in Avignon

The Counts of Provence, thus, originated from three different and successive feudal dynasties (Catalan, Burgundian and Angevin).

They ruled from the 9th century to 1481, when Provence was integrated to the Kingdom of France.

The Golden Age of Provence started in the 14th century with the crisis of the Roman Catholic Church.

Indeed, the popes of French origin separated from Rome and settled in the city of Avignon.

The Cité des Papes, as it is still known,  remained under papal authority until the French Revolution.

The years of chaos that followed the revolution were replaced by a period of reconstruction bound to the industrial boom of the mid 19th century.

Provence is nowadays part of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur or PACA, one of the 13 administrative French regions and the third economically most important.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Gallia Narbonensis by ExploreTheMed is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 - Glanum Triumphal Arch by Greudin is in the Public Domain - Antic Massilia Harbour's vestiges by SiefkinDR is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 - Pont du Gard by Patrick Clenet is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 - Palais des Papes in Avignon by Tognopop is licensed under CC0

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