Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs, is the best preserved example of a town developed for fairs in the Champagne region.
It was home to fairs from 1120, and served as a model for later fair traditions in for example Brugge and the Hanseatic cities. Provins was a veritable crossroads. Its international fairs aimed at merchants and dealers were held three times a year. They attracted traders from all over Europe and the Orient.
The nominated area consists of the Upper Town and the Lower Town. Provins originated from the Castle, which was fortified in the 11th and 12th centuries. The settlement soon grew outside it, and was then enclosed within a defensive wall. In the 13th century the town was expanded again, to include the river valley area (Lower Town). Remains in the Upper Town include small houses built in stone and timber-framed construction and the Tour de César with its remarkable donjon. In the Lower Town there are several churches, storage areas for use during the fairs, mills, wash basins, tanneries related to the textile handicraft and a sophisticated water management system of canals.
Provins was a political and military stronghold for the Counts of Champagne. The Counts understood the economic possibilities of the fairs. They reduced tolls to encourage merchants to use their roads and also implemented a "safe-conduct" escort system for those attending the fairs to protect people and goods en route. They also usurped the right to mint money themselves: the Provins denier was one of the few currencies accepted widely throughout the continent of Europe at the time.
Visit December 2010
I visited Provins on an early Saturday morning in December. I left my car at the large parking lot just outside the gates of the Upper Town. They can handle a lot of visitors here, but all was quiet now and the parking fee was not collected. I had read on the town's website that there would be a Christmas market today (a 21st century fair?). But when I crossed the main square in the Upper Town around 9.30 a.m., people were only just starting to build up their merchandise. As far as I could see, it would become a medieval-themed Christmas market.
I walked on, to the Caesar Tower and the Church of Saint Quiriace. They are the landmarks of Provins, situated on top of a hill and visible from afar. Unfortunately the Tower was still closed too. It is a magnificent sight because of its uncommon shape: an octagonal donjon on top of a square base.
Approachting the nearby Church of St. Quiriace, I was met by 3 camels. They were led into the church to become part of an elaborate Christmas stall (or at least that was my guess).
From behind the church, the road winds down to the Lower Town. This feels like a common French town, but it is quite nice. It has 12,000 inhabitants, so I does not take long to explore. The storage areas that are named in the AB evaluation can be visited - however not on a Saturday morning in December.
I took the "long way" back to my car via the town walls. They have been reconstructed so you can walk on them for a full circuit. It was too slippery to do that now, so I just used the road. My visit was a short one: there's not a whole lot to see here, it is in essence a town with medieval origins and a lot of timber-framed housing. This is not uncommon in Europe, it reminded me of Quedlinburg.
Adrian Lakomy - May 2016
Medieval. Authentic. Charmant.
Few words to describe the town itself. Visited in May 2016 and we really loved it. The ambience, food, the site itself. The best is the town still keeps it sense of being forgotten in time without beign overcrowded and full of 'tourist traps'. I can highly recommend this site.
Hubert Scharnagl - February 2016
Provins can easily be visited in two or three hours, that is enough time for all the main sights and a leisurely stroll through the medieval streets. In fact, there is not much to see. We climbed the Tour César and enjoyed the views over the town and the surrounding fields, we visited the Church of Saint-Quiriace and we walked on the city wall. About one kilometre of the medieval wall and two gates have been preserved, the access is free, only one section where falconry shows take place is not accessible. However, the ramparts and massive towers are even more impressive from the outside (photo). Falconry performances and other medieval shows take place every day in summer, if one is interested in such stuff, we were not.
Provins was mainly inscribed for its importance as a medieval trade fair town. Thus, we thought it would be a good idea to visit the Grange aux dîmes (Tithe Barn). The building dates from the 13th century and was used as a covered market. Today, the two vaulted rooms house a museum: various scenes show medieval crafts and merchant activities. Not all that bad, but the audio guide was a bit too extensive.
The best part of our visit was the stroll through the narrow streets along the half-timbered houses. In the evening, only a few people were in the Upper Town and the sparse streetlights creates a kind of "medieval feeling". However, medieval towns with half-timbered houses are very common in central Europe and are well represented on the WH list, examples are Quedlinburg, Goslar, Albi, and Strasbourg. Visible remains of medieval fairs and merchant activities are limited to some historic buidlings with vaulted cellars and underground galleries, that were used as storage rooms. All in all, there is nothing in Provins that I would consider as outstanding and unique.
We had accommodation in the lovely B&B Demeure des Vieux Bains, a medieval building and formerly a public bath. It was the most expensive hotel on our trip, but by far the largest room and bathroom that I ever had in a hotel in France. The owners are very warm and friendly and we had a delicious breakfast.
Mary Ann Scott - November 2013
Our family visited in October 2013. The weather was cool, but pleasant for walking. Since we were all interested in history it was great. In fact, even the commercialism didn't bother us. The little cafe we ate in had good, reasonably priced food and customer service was above the average we experienced in other places in France. We found Ceasar's tower and the church architecect-urally interesting. Definitely a place to vist away from Paris.
Clyde - June 2013
I visited this WHS in June 2013. The sunny weather helped to appreciate the ramparts, Caesar's tower and the different gates. The highlight was definitely the Caesar's Tower, situated on a high hill, clearly visible from far away when approaching the town. I consider this site more of a national heritage than a WHS but still worth visiting.
marie - October 2011
I live just outside of provins and really enjoy it here. people are very friendly. such a different world compared to the chaos in paris.
Peter Alleblas - September 2011
On a sunny day in August 2011 I visited the medieval town Provins. I parked my car in front of the tourist office. Fortunately there where some places left in the shadow. Outside the tourist office I saw that the tourist train was waiting for passengers. Of course I decided to walk, but my first impression was good, a beautiful tourist office, free toilets, a lot of information available and a little train ! In 5 minuts I walked to fortified wall and I made some nice photos of the wall and the gate. I saw that it was possible to climb the wall a little bit, but that I was for later. First I walked slowly to the center of the town. Now I saw a little bit more tourists, but in general it was quiet. One moment I thought that I was walking in a little German town because of the similar timber-framed houses. The square was nice to see, little souvenirs shoppings, restaurants with terraces half full with visitors. From the square I saw the the Caesar Tower and that was my first goal, because I not knew till what time the tower was open. Trough picturesque streets I walked to the tower, I paid 3,80 Euro and went inside. Glady the tower was open till 6 pm. Via a lot of narrow steps I climbed higher. Inside also a movie on the walls about the life a long time ago was busy. Upstairs the view was really beautiful to the square and the Church of St. Quiriace. I was almost one hour inside the tower. Later I walked very slowly back to the center, I took something to drink on a terrace and then I went to my car. Of course I climbed a little piece of the wall on the way back. That day I visited only the upper town and for that I needed more then 2 hours. I am aware of the lower town but Provins was for me just a stop on the way to my hotel near Fontainebleau, the next destination. I liked Provins very much, and I was happy that the tower was open. Also the sunny weather is ideal to walk in towns like Provins. Walking there on a rainy day with everything closed and no tourists at all....that is boring ! With a good feeling I continued my trip through the countryside to Fontainebleau.
Natasha - April 2011
Fantastic trip to Province today. No problem at all not being able to speak fluent French - generally staff were fluent in English and audirecordings were offered in different languages. It was Easter Monday, a notoriously busy tourist season in Paris but Provins was calm and refreshingly uncrowded. Lovely scenery, restaurants, cafes, girft shops and typical French patisseries - alongside an astonishingly (coming from England) well presevered mix of architecture from the 12th century to the 19th. So glad I took the time to come here and will be coming back - particularly lovely for romance!
Klaus Freisinger - October 2009
Provins is a pretty town in the Ile-de-France, not too far away from Paris and easily reachable in an 80-minute train ride from Paris-Est station. Walking through the narrow streets of the medieval upper town is really a step back in time, and there are many historic buildings, especially churches, all over the town. A visit to Caesar's Tower (actually a medieval building as well) is certainly a highlight and gives you a great impression of an authentic fortification. Its WH designation was controversial and may probably not be entirely justified, but there are certainly worse sites on the list, and a visit to Provins is definitely a nice and memorable experience.
sophocles - July 2009
A very lovely town with hospitable people and a long history.
I guess that i was lucky to visit Provins in 2008 when not so many tourists were there because it seems that when restoration of all of the town's treasures ends thousands will be rushing through it's narrow medieval streets.
Not speaking French is a problem though if you want to follow the guided tours or other events.
Frederik Dawson - September 2006
While many tourists go to Paris and its famous neighbors like Versailles, Fontainebleau or Chartres, Provins seems to be unknown by all tourists. Provins a small town near Paris and has a good transportation link with Paris by trains from Paris East Station is overshadowed by other famous attractions of Ile de France. Traveling to Provins from Paris gives a different perspective of this region with endless farmlands and beautiful forest valleys, something you hardly believe that you are near Paris. The old town of Provins can be divided into two parts, upper Provins and lower Provins, both of these parts are world heritage site.
In lower part, the town seems to be a typical French town with beautiful square, stately city hall and a lively market street. The star of lower Provins is its old churches; these churches are beautiful with architectural mixing and in very good states. And one area of lower Provins near the train station has many pretty small canals and called “little Venice”. The upper part is on the hill and dominated by the dome of Provins’s main church which has historical link with Joan of Arc and many French kings. The upper part of the town is protected by the huge wall that some parts are still in a very good condition. The most famous part of this fortification is Caesar Tower that was restored and opens for tourist.
Medieval trade fair is a reason that put Provins on the list of world heritage. The upper town’s urban layout was specially designed for the events. You can easily notice that in such a small town, Provins has quite large squares and very wide streets and you can feel that from this vast space make upper Provins looks a little bit empty. But the timber houses of upper Provins are very cute; I even think this town looks similar to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast cartoon scene.
Provins is also famous for its rose; the rose of Provins can be seen in many places in town. I highly recommend you to try local delicacies make from rose, for example, rose candy, rose jam and rose chocolate and you may want to come back to Provins for just these sweets.
Ashley Waddell - June 2006
When I was living in France, I bought an annual train pass for the local lines, and on days when I didn't have other plans I would go to the nearest train station, get on whatever train was leaving soonest, and ride it to the end of the line.
This is how I discovered Provins.
I visited in November or December, when no tourists were around, and in the quiet and solitude I found it easy to imagine the medieval town that once was there. Unlike many busier attractions that limit visitors' movements, at Provins you can walk all over the ramparts and follow the underground tunnels once used by secret societies. It's a fascinating step back into the past.
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Full name: Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs
2001 - InscribedReasons for inscription
1998 - RejectedBureau - Only of European significance (later withdrawn by France)
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Religion and Belief
- Jewish religion and culture "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."
- Legends and Folk Myths Provins recieved its name from the wine belonging to Roman general named Probus (Probi vinum).
- Religious Relics The Empress Galla Placidia is said to have presented Ancona with the relics of Judas Cyriacus. However, the saint's head was situated at Provins, which was brought over from Jerusalem by Henry I of Champagne, who built a church in this town to display it.
- Built in the 12th century Fairs were held from 1120
WHS on Other Lists
- Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible heritage Falconry, a living human heritage (2012)