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Provence

Society

State structure

Provence consists of five departments: Bouches-du-Rhone, Vaucluse, Var, Alpes-Maritimes, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

France is a democratic republic which came into being in 1789 when the French Revolution put an end to the monarchy and the feudal form of government. There are 101 départements (96 in France and 5 in the overseas territories), all numbered in alphabetical order. The départements turned out to be too small to function properly and so the country was redivided into 22 regions.

Every six years, people go to the polls to elect a departmental government. They, in turn, elect the daily board (4-7 people) of the department, the departmental commission. At the head of this is the prefect, the representative of the national government. The department is further subdivided into cantons, which in turn are subdivided into communes (communes). At the head of a commune is a mayor (maire). The departments are divided into 326 'arrondissements' and within these lie more than 3800 'cantons'. The cantons are in turn subdivided into approx. 36,500 municipalities. However, the arrondissements and cantons have a lot to say, and the power of the municipalities is very small. To change this, 21 regions (Circonscriptions d'Action Régionale) were created in the 1970s. The head of such a region, the 'préfet de région', is responsible for the development of the region. In this way, they tried to bring government closer to the people. For the current political situation in France, see History.

Typical Provence

BULLFIGHTING

The most famous events in Provence are the bullfights, the 'courses camarguaise'. One of the most famous fights is the Cocarde d'Or of Arles, which was held for the 75th time in 2006.

The fight starts with a bull run through the streets of the city, the 'abrivado'.

The six bulls are chased to the bullring, where they each perform for 15 minutes. Between the bull's horns, a red 'cocarde' or rosette is attached, which so-called 'razeteurs' (a 'razet' is a multi-toothed knife used to cut the string) try to get hold of. Tourneurs' assist the razeteurs by distracting the bulls' attention. The season ends with the grand final of the razeteurs' trophy, after which the winner is honoured and receives a sum of money.

The corrida, the Spanish way of bullfighting, has also been held in Provence since 1853. The intention is to kill the bull.

CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE

In 1157, Bishop Geoffroy of Avignon decided to plant vines and soon the area grew to about 300 hectares. John XXII caused the greatest expansion of the wine region by declaring the deep red wine of Châteauneuf his favourite. The wine was soon called "vin du pape" and this wine region was the first in France to be awarded the "appellation d'origine" label. (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, sometimes abbreviated to AOC or AC, is a French quality control on agricultural products, including wine).

In 1933 this wine was officially named 'Châteauneuf du Pape', and from then on strict production rules and terrain restrictions had to be observed regarding the variety and size of the grapes, the fermentation, the yield per hectare and the minimum alcohol percentage. Besides Grenache, twelve other grape varieties are cultivated: syrah, mourvède, cinsault, muscardin, counoise, vaccarès, picpoul, terret noir, clairette, bourboulenc, roussane and picardin. Of these thirteen grape varieties, only eight are still actually cultivated.

The cultivated area is currently 3200 ha of very rocky, loamy and dry soil. Every year 13 million copies are produced, of which only 700,000 are white wine. The maximum permitted yield is 35 hectolitres per hectare.

LAVENDER

The land of lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is mainly located in the Vaucluse. The soft purple, blue and sometimes pink lavender can be found from an altitude of 500 metres and flowers in the months of June and July, just before the plant is harvested in three weeks. The lavender plant benefits from the abundant calcareous soil.

The world-famous lavender cultivation, often still harvested by hand, covers a total area of more than 10,000 ha. It is on the Valensole plateau that most lavender in France is grown. Lavender has been cultivated in Provence since the 19th century and meets 80% of world demand.

There is the large lavender or 'spike', and the wild, or true lavender, which is grown between 600 and 1600 metres altitude. The bulbous lavender, a hybrid species of lavender, has largely taken the place of true lavender. It grows between 400 and 700 metres and its yield is five times that of true lavender, but it is of a lesser quality.

TRUFFLES

Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Vaucluse are among the most truffle-rich regions in France. Production is currently around 20 tonnes a year. The black truffle ("Mélanosporum", Périgord truffle or "rabasse") is harvested between November and February at an altitude of 400-1000 metres by so-called "rabassiers", especially in the Pays de Forcalquier and on the Plateau de Valensole.

The truffle grows at the foot of the truffle oak and costs around 500 euros per kilo! Truffles are nowadays tracked down using trained dogs; in the past, pigs were used for this purpose, but they caused too much damage.

‘TANCHE’, THE BLACK OLIVE OF NYONS

The olive tree, a tough species that can live up to a thousand years, is said to have been brought to Provence by the Romans around 2 000 years ago. The suitable climate and perfect soil conditions in the north of Provence make it possible to produce the 'tanche' olive. The 'tanche' is the only olive variety in the world to have a controlled designation of origin, the 'apellation d'origine contrôlée Olives noires de Nyons'. This designation area comprises 61 municipalities.

The black tanche olive is picked ripe in December or January and then washed and crushed with sophisticated machines, formerly with millstones. The resulting paste is mixed and pressed into juice in mats of coconut fibre called "scourtins". The juice is then centrifuged, separating the water from the oil.

Other very good varieties are the aglandau, the grossane, the salonenque and the picholine.

BORIES

A "borie" is a dome-shaped structure of loose flat stones that was once used as a shelter for shepherds and sheep. Some of these bories were as large as a farm and were also inhabited.

The flat stones or 'lauzes' used for the bories were created naturally; freezing cleaves limestone blocks, forming thick slabs of about 10 cm that lie flat on the ground.

The construction technique used to make bories is also very remarkable. Layers of stones are always slightly overhanging the previous layer. In this way, the walls come closer and closer together and finally one large stone covers the whole at the top. In this way, it is not necessary to use masonry mortar.

It is estimated that these buildings were built between the 16th and 19th centuries. Around the Lubéron and the Plateau de Vaucluse, there are still about 3000 bories scattered around or in groups.


Sources

Blisse, M. / Provence
Lannoo

Eck, N. van / Provence, Côte d’Azur
Gottmer/Becht

Guérin, R. / Provence
Van Reemst

Jardinaud, M. / Provence
ANWB

Provence
Lannoo,

Williams, R. / Provence & Côte d’Azur
Van Reemst

Zwijnenburg, H. / Provence, Côte d’Azur
ANWB

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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