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Provence

History

Settled over the centuries variously by the Ligurians, the Celts and the Greeks, the area between the Alps, the sea and the River Rhône flourished following Julius Caesar’s conquest in the mid-1st century BC. The Romans called the area Provincia Romana, which evolved into the name Provence.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century, Provence was invaded several times, by the Visigoths, Burgundians and the Ostrogoths. The Arabs – who held the Iberian Peninsula and parts of France – were defeated in the 8th century.

During the 14th century, the Catholic Church – under a series of French-born popes – moved its headquarters from feud-riven Rome to Avignon, thus beginning the most resplendent period in the city’s – and region’s – history. Provence became part of France in 1481, but Avignon and Carpentras remained under papal control until the Revolution.

From around the 12th to the 14th centuries, Provençal was the literary language of France, northern Spain and also as far afield as Italy, and was the principal language of the medieval troubadours who romanticised courtly love in poems and melodies.

A movement for the revival of Provençal literature, culture and identity began in the mid-19th century, spearheaded by the poet Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914), recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904 (the region’s furious 100km/h winds are named after him). In recent years the language has undergone a further revival, and in some areas signs are written in Provençal and French.