Provins: Wool Tunics, Honey, and Roses

It’s been ten days since my last post and, although I’m currently in the midst of end-of-semester exams, I feel compelled to share something with you. But what? It’s not as if I’m experiencing anything new and exciting lately; all that seems to occupy my mind these days is French grammar … French literature … French cinema … and French history. Just yesterday, in fact, I took the final exam for my seminar on the history of Paris from its origins to the French Revolution, which was — obviously — heavy on the Middle Ages. That brought to mind one of the weekend trips Michel and I have taken, one that’s a definite must for any medieval history buff living in Paris …

(pronounced [pʁo.vɛ̃] — no “s” — otherwise French people will hear “provinces,”
the generic word for somewhere other than Paris,
and they’ll just ask you again where you’re going specifically)

Provins  is located on the border between the regions of Île-de-France and Champagne, making it an easy day or weekend trip from Paris. Today’s Provins is rather small, but during the Middle Ages, it served an important function in the economy not just of Champagne or France, but of the entire continent of Europe. The town was located at the nexus of the east-west trade routes between Germany and Spain and the north-south trade routes between Flanders and Italy. As a result, the Counts of Champagne put the town under their protection, fostering the development of a vibrant merchant economy there. Provins was one of six such towns that participated in an annual cycle of fairs, where medieval merchants came to trade textiles, leather, fur, and spices. Since 2001, Provins has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its well-preserved medieval walls and other edifices, which really are quite impressive.

Provins is also known as a cultivation center for the Provins rose, which was used for perfume and medicinal purposes as early as the reign of Charlemagne. It is still used today in Provins to make rose petal jam, candy, and honey. (I’ve sampled all three, and I can definitely attest to the quality of the Provins rose — at least from a culinary perspective.) The rose even has an English connection; it was adopted by Edmund Crouchback, the First Earl of Lancaster, as the heraldic symbol of the House of Lancaster after his marriage to Blanche of Artois, the widow of King Henry I of Navarre, the niece of King Louis IX of France, and the Countess of Champagne and Brie. Speaking of cuisine … not a bad title, huh?

Anyhow, enough from the armchair historian. Here’s a gallery of photos from our weekend excursion back in December 2010. It just so happened that our visit coincided with one of Provins’s semi-annual medieval fairs, reenacting what it might have been like for merchants from the Middle Ages to trade their goods in the Count of Champagne’s bustling little commercial hub. It made for quite a pleasant surprise. For more on Provins’s medieval fairs, you can click here.

And here’s a little teaser:

Well, what did he expect? I was filming!

Enjoy the gallery, and don’t miss the second little video at the end.
To open the gallery, simply click on one of the photos below (or on a white space if nothing appears). You will then be able then scroll through all of the photos in a larger format.

The End • Fin

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

4 thoughts on “Provins: Wool Tunics, Honey, and Roses

  1. (Haha, love your post’s musical conclusion.)

    How funny! I was just talking about Provins yesterday with a friend. Thought it might be a nice day or week-end trip. And so, if we make a long story really short, the English took their symbol from the French? Interesting.

    1. I’ve been waiting for so long for an occasion to use that little video. 🙂 You should definitely take the trip. By the way, apparently the next fair will be in June, so there’s plenty of time to plan the trip.

      As for the rose, it certainly seems so. Of course, at that time, the English nobles were more “French” than “English” in many ways.

  2. I recently visited Provins and I fell in love. I purchased several items made of rose.. the candies are my favorite! Is there any way I can order some for delivery to the US?

    1. Hi Monica, it’s a lovely place, isn’t it? Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about ordering and shipping to the US. You may be able to google it and see if there are distributors in the US who import these products. It would probably be cheaper that way that a direct order from France, too! Good luck!

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