The fortified medieval town of Provins is situated in the former territory of the powerful Counts of Champagne. It bears witness to early developments in the organization of international trading fairs and the wool industry. The urban structure of Provins, which was built specifically to host the fairs and related activities, has been well preserved.
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Justification for Inscription
Criterion ii At the beginning of the 2nd millennium Provins was one of several towns in the territory of the Counts of Champagne that became the venues for great annual trading fairs linking northern Europe with the Mediterranean world. Criterion iv Provins preserves to a high degree the architecture and urban layout that characterize these great medieval fair towns.
At the beginning of the 2nd millennium, Provins was one of several towns in the territory of the Counts of Champagne that became the venues for great annual trading fairs linking northern Europe with the Mediterranean world. It preserves to a high degree the architecture and urban layout that characterize these great medieval fair towns.
In the Gallo-Roman period, the site of present-day Provins was related to two important regional axes: the route from Soissons to Troyes towards the north and the route to Sens to the south-west. The earliest document related to Provins, an ordinance by Charlemagne of 802, indicates that the site was already an established fort. Because of its political and commercial importance, the castle on the high ground was fortified in the 11th and 12th centuries. The original enclosure (castrum ) was small, but the settlement grew up rapidly outside the fortifications and this, too, was encircled by a defensive wooden wall in the late 12th century. A third set of fortifications, this time in stone, was added in the first half of the 13th century.
Provins is thus one of the four towns (together with Troyes, Lagny and Bar-sur-Aube) where medieval fairs were held in the reign of the Counts of Champagne, developing here from the 11th to the 14th centuries. Provins is the only one to retain its original medieval fabric.
The town developed to the south of the Brie chalk plateau, in a gently hilly region at the confluence of the valleys of the Voulzie and the Durteint. It consists of the Upper Town, which grew up on a spur of the Brie plateau, and the Lower Town, lying further to the east at the confluence of two rivers. The Upper Town is characterized by the small houses built from stone and timber-framed construction and by green areas and gardens. There are two large buildings: the so-called 'Tour de César' or the Big Tower, is a stone structure, dating initially from the 12th century, consisting of three large spaces one above the other, covered with a 17th-century conical roof; and the Romanesque-Gothic church of Saint-Quiriace. Construction of the church began with a choir of impressive size in the 12th century and went on until the decline of Provins in 1320 up to the crossing of the nave and two bays beyond. The vaults above the crossing were damaged in a fire in the 17th century and replaced with a dome. The centre of the town was the old market square, surrounded by houses that developed in relation to the fairs, each with large vaulted underground storage spaces.
The 12th-century ramparts still surrounding the Upper Town on three sides have been relatively well preserved, whereas the enclosure of the Lower Town was dismantled in the 19th century. In the area of the Lower Town there were at first religious ensembles, including the churches of Saint-Ayoul and Sainte-Croix.
When the town was extended into the valley, the religious orders created lots, building and selling houses, following a typology that corresponded to the needs of the fairs. As the land did not allow underground spaces, the storage areas were built above ground, using a similar vaulted construction to that in the Upper Town. The private buildings may be divided into two groups: those with multiple functions and those with solely commercial functions, all date to the 12th and 13th centuries. A characteristic of all the ancient buildings in Provins, whether for mixed or for commercial use, is their system of vaulted cellars, dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries. These are either entirely underground (Upper Town) or partly built up above ground (Lower Town), and all open out to the street by means of a large door to which access is gained by a wide stone staircase. The oldest building in the town is probably the 12th-century Maison Romane (now the museum), constructed in coursed dressed stone. Its location in the former Jewish quarter suggests that it may originally have been a rabbinical school or even a synagogue. The Lower Town of Provins is in particular testimony to the development of various handicrafts into an industrial process; the locations of this development still exist. There are three areas in the slopes of the plateau where clay was extracted for the process of removing grease from wool (fulling). These intricate underground galleries were quarried at several levels and were later also used for storage of wine, etc. The entire town developed in relation to the fairs, either directly serving the fair functions or being indirectly related as an outcome. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
In the Gallo-Roman period, the site of present-day Provins was related to two important regional axes: the route from Soissons to Troyes towards the north and the route to Sens to the south-west. These two routes, together with the valley of the Seine, form an important communication artery enclosing the rocky spur of the early settlement. The origin of the name Provins is uncertain but could be an abbreviation of Probus Vinum. The earliest document related to Provins is an ordinance by Charlemagne of 802 which indicates that the site was already an established fort. In 983 the site became part of the lands of the powerful Counts of Champagne, one of the great feudal domains in France, and a favoured place of residence of the Counts.
Because of its political and commercial importance, the castle (Châtel) on the high ground was fortified in the 11th and 12th centuries. The original enclosure (castrum) was small, including, in addition to the castle, the Collegiate Church of Saint-Quiriace and the Palace of the Counts. However, the settlement grew up rapidly outside the fortifications and this, too, was encircled by a defensive wooden wall in the late 12th century. A third set of fortifications, this time in stone, was added in the first half of the 13th century, to protect the houses and stalls erected for the great fairs in the town outside the earlier walls, down in the river valley.
Provins is thus one of the four towns (together with Troyes, Lagny, and Bar-sur-Aube) where medieval fairs were held in the reign of the Counts of Champagne, developing here from the 11th to the 14th century. Of the four towns, Provins is the only one to retain its original medieval fabric; the others have been substantially altered. The importance of the fairs in Champagne is at the beginning of the process. Their location in central France was along the favoured route to the north. Their political and economic ambitions decided the development by the Counts of Champagne of a system of fairs that were regularly programmed over a yearly cycle, avoiding overlaps and competition. The fairs led to merchants converging here from all over Europe and from the Orient. They became important centres of banking; the Provins denier was one of the few currencies accepted widely throughout the continent of Europe. The towns also became centres of intellectual and artistic life, and Abélard and Chrétien de Troyes are known to have spent time in Provins. The fairs continued from 1120 until 1320, when the economic and political situation changed, and commercial contacts developed elsewhere, particularly with the Hanseatic League, Flanders, and Italy. The function of Provins was thus reduced to a local context.
Provins is fortunate in having preserved good documentation dating from the 12th century onwards, which has helped to throw light on the entire process of development and its consequences.
It is important to distinguish between a market and a fair. A market could be a yearly event, or even a continuous activity, where the purpose was to sell goods directly to consumers. A fair, on the other hand, indicated an activity that was aimed at merchants and dealers, with an international character. It was generally composed of three parts: first the presentation and study of merchandise by potential customers, then negotiation and acquisition, and finally legal verification of the sales that had taken place. The fair required long-distance transport systems and special conditions to guarantee safety and security. Fairs were also accompanied by the development of a multitude of other activities, which together gave the incentive and motivation for the development of a particular type of urban fabric. The historic town of Provins, therefore, can be seen as a materialization of a built framework for the fairs.
The Counts of Champagne starting losing interest in the region on assuming the crown of Navarre in 1234. In 1284, with the marriage of Philip the Fair (Philippe IV le Bel) to Jeanne of Navarre, Champagne (and with it Provins) became part of the royal domain. The town was in English hands during the 15th century but was finally to become French at the end of the Hundred Years' War. Provins was not to be affected to any marked extent by the Industrial Revolution. It has survived to the present day as a small market town, and so has escaped the demolitions and reconstructions that other towns have undergone, allowing it to conserve its medieval form.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation