Visit time : 1 day.
Less than an hour from Paris, Provins is a remarkable site that plunges visitors into the heart of the Middle Ages, a time when the counts of Champagne were powerful enough to organize international fairs and brought together traders from the four corners of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The town’s structure was planned in the 12th and 13th century to accommodate the thousands of traders, and even today the town preserves this wonderful architectural ensemble, a unique testimony in its specificity and richness. But Unesco has also paid tribute to the cultural mix that allowed the fairs of Champagne to flourish. A place for commercial trade but also intellectual and cultural exchange, these fairs irreversibly influenced the changing Western societies.
The fortified medieval town of Provins is situated in the heart of the former territory of the powerful Counts of Champagne. It bears witness to early developments of the international trade fairs and the wool industry. Provins has preserved its urban structure, designed specifically to host the fairs and related activities.
Today, the urban area of Provins is the most authentic testimony to medieval history from the 11th to the 13th century. Its structural and architectural heritage illustrates a formative period of Western history linked to the development of economic and cultural exchanges in Europe. As such, Provins offers a unique example of this exceptionally rich period of economic, cultural and intellectual exchange. In 2001 it was classified as a World Heritage Site by Unesco under criteria (ii) and (iv).
Criteria for selection
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.
Source : UNESCO / ICOMOS
The site of the present town of Provins has been occupied since the Palaeolithic era. Its strategic position on a rocky overhang, as well as the rivers nearby, made it a privileged site for the installation of human communities. But the history of the town really began in the 10th century when the city was included in the county of Champagne.
In 996, the relics of Saint Ayoul were discovered at the foot of the Upper Town, near a chapel dedicated to Saint-Médard. This miracle was behind the construction of a monastery and a church dedicated to Saint Ayoul and many other richly endowed religious institutions – churches, chapels and monasteries – emerged. The Lower Town then developed at the confluence of the Durteint and the Voulzie rivers. But the political and economic ambitions of the Counts of Champagne would forever change the fate of Provins, and they took advantage of the strategic location of the city, at the crossroads of major thoroughfares between northern and southern Europe. The region is the obligatory passage between the ports of the North Sea and the Mediterranean. Flanders initiated trade with Northern Europe and the East, and Italy opened the doors of Byzantium, Africa and the Orient. They would create and develop an international trade fair in Provins and in three other cities in the region (Troyes, Lagny and Bar-sur-Aube). This is the beginning of the golden age of Provins and of the famous fairs of Champagne.
From the 11th century onward, cloth, leather and cutlery manufacturing was developed. With the fairs, the reputation of these workshops extended across Europe and helped the city prosper. Provins is famous for the product of its textile industry: a dark blue woolen sheet called the "ners de Provins." The town was fortified to ensure the safety of residents, merchants and their goods, but also to affirm the power of the counts. The spectacular ramparts, part of which is still visible today, date back to the 13th century and protected the city for nearly 5 kilometers. The city reached its peak during the reign of Thibaud IV of Champagne (1201-1253), when there were no fewer than 80,000 inhabitants. Its structured economic system allowed the city to become the third in France after Paris and Rouen, and was one of the commercial capitals of Europe.
Underground quarries were mined for clay soil, called "fuller's earth", which was used to degrease the wool. To fully imbibe the cloth, it had to be fulled, hence the name given to this clay.
The fairs also accompanied the development of a multitude of activities that together inspired and encouraged a particular kind of urban fabric. The fairs influenced a cityscape designed to accommodate the many merchants (at the time Provins accounted for over 3,000 artisans, grouped on streets or in districts) with wide streets for the convoys and the location of the stalls, the 3-floor merchant houses with sumptuous vaulted rooms for warehouses are examples from this city organized and dedicated to the fairs.
From the late 13th century onward, the commercial importance of Provins would gradually fade. Trade routes moved southward, and new trade fairs thrived in Flanders and the Rhine Valley, competing with the fairs of Champagne. In the early 14th century, when the region became a part of the kingdom of France, the Champagne fairs were gradually deserted. The abolition of merchant privileges, religious wars and epidemics also put an end to the Provins fair, but also those of Troyes, Lagny and Bar-sur-Aube. Of these four cities, Provins is the only one that has so beautifully preserved the architecture and urbanism that characterize these great medieval fair cities. From that point on, farming became the main economic activity of the city.
The fairs of Champagne
The Counts of Champagne decided to establish a system of biannual fairs that lasted several weeks. These fairs attracted merchants from all over Europe, North Africa and the Orient to exchange all sorts of objects : wool, linen, wine, silk, spices, furs, dyes, silverware ... Even the church imported ivory and precious woods from Africa and precious stones from the East that decorated religious objects. Fairs were places for wholesale trade among professionals, unlike the weekly or daily markets for individuals and consumers. They also become major banking centers. Provins created its own currency, the denarius Provins, which was one of the few currencies that was widely accepted throughout medieval Europe. Many European bankers established trading posts in Provins.
From the 12th century onward the city had its own currency but also its own yardstick, weight and grain measurements. At that time the trips were long and perilous. And so the Counts of Champagne offered to escort merchant convoys at their expense on their territory called the "fair conduits." The privileges granted to merchants quickly established a reputation for the fair and in part ensured its success. On site, the counts provided security with fair guards.
The fair was also an opportunity for parties with live music and juggling. But above all, beyond commercial trade, it was the cultural exchanges that were essential to the development of Western societies. The wealth of the West was born of this prosperous period was accompanied by an increasingly sophisticated cultural demand. The fairs of Champagne played a leading role in the fields of literature, art and gastronomy.
Tourist Office of Provins
Chemin de Villecran, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 01 64 60 26 26.
November through March: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (from 9:30 a.m. on weekends) ;
April through October: 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Extensive information on site. Brochures, 3D model of the city ... The Tourist Office is the starting point for guided tours and the Mini Train. It also offers thematic tours. Dynamic and professional staff. Another Tourist Information Desk is set up in the immediate vicinity of the Place du Châtel during the peak season (closed on Mondays).
Price: € 8 / 5-12 years: € 5. 1h30.
The tours offered by the Tourist Office are many and are renewed regularly: classic or themed tours, storytelling walks or dramatized. Just make your choice.
"Provins, City of Medieval Fair":
This tour of the walled city showcases the history of Provins and provides an overview of the richness of its heritage. Information at the Tourist Office.
Tips for visitors
The Pass Visite
Advantageous to visit the four monuments of the medieval formulas: the Tour Césear, the Grange aux Dîmes (barn), the Souterrains and the Musée de Provins.
Price Pass Provins: €12 / 5 to 12 years old: €8.50. Family Pass: €35.50.
The Pass Visite also give you access to discounts on other services: train rides, medieval shows ...
La Grange aux Dîmes
Rue Saint Jean, 77160 Provins
Price: €4.30 / 5 to 12 years old: €2.80. Free for children under 5 years old.
November through February on weekends: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
March through June, daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ;
July and August, daily : 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
September and October, every day. Weekends: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Weekdays: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Audio guide in 5 languages.
This merchant's house (The Tithing Barn), built in the 13th century, housed a covered market during fairs. The lower hall served as a warehouse, the first level, a shop and the final level, housing. This stone building is representative of the Gothic architectural style developed at this time throughout the city: vaulted rooms and sculpted arches on three levels. It was subsequently used to collect taxes on crops, especially in the 17th century, called tithing. The building has kept its name ever since.
It now houses an exhibition of wax figures depicting various scenes of daily trades and medieval life: merchant, stone mason, potter, changer, public writer, wool worker ... The tour will show you everything you need to know about the fairs of Champagne and its participants. Fun visit for the whole family.
Musée de Provins et du Provinois
7 Rue du Palais, 77160 Provins
Tel : 01 64 01 40 19.
Full price / reduced price: €4 / €2
Opening times: November through March, on weekends and during school holidays, from Tuesday to Sunday: 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ; April, May and until mid-June, every day: 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ; mid-June through mid-September, every day: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ; mid-September through October, every day: 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Located in the Maison Romane from the 12th century, certainly the oldest civil building in the city (along with the Hôtel de la Bufette), the Museum of Provins has a collection of archaeological artifacts and objects d’art from the 12th to the 19th century. In the basement and on the ground floor reside an archaeological collection that includes beautiful sculptures, ceramics and objects attesting to the ancient occupation of the site (flint weapons, prehistoric jewelry, Merovingian sarcophagi, a Gallo-Roman statue, religious objects ...). This room also presents furniture from the 17th to the 19th century, another is dedicated to clay, and a third room illustrates life in Provins in the 19th century. The first floor reveals many objects from the 13th to the 19th century (keys, locks, weapons, gems, coins and Masonic objects). The second floor is devoted to religious art from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. You will also discover the treasure of Saint Quiriace.
The Médiévales de Provins (over one weekend in June)
Website - tel : 01 64 00 39 39.
The Medieval Festival of Provins: Relive the feasts of medieval times and plunge into the atmosphere of knights and troubadours. Entertainment, crafts, jugglers, banquets ... Information at the Tourist Office.
The Fête de la Moisson (End of August)
Website - tel : 01 64 00 59 00.
The Harvest Festival: In a festive atmosphere, the harvest festival takes place in the heart of the village, as it did long before. Grand parade of floats decorated with wheat, folk dances, traditional threshing, vehicles, tractors and old equipment.
Medieval Christmas Market (December)
Storytelling, ice-skating rink, entertainment ...
Covered market under the Halle du Minage (Mining Hall) on Wednesday mornings.
At the Halle du Minage, Place Saint Ayoul and on adjacent streets on Saturday mornings.
Getting to Provins
Highway A4: Paris - Metz, exit 13 Serris - Provins.
Highway N4: Toward Nancy, exit Provins.
Highway A5: Toward Paris - Troyes, exit 16 Châtillon-la-Borde. Toward Troyes - Paris, exit 17 Forges.
Highway A6: Lyon – Paris, then interchange with the A19 toward Sens, then N6 toward Pont-sur-Yonne.
Nearby classified sites
Paris - Banks of the Seine: 90 km (56 mi), time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Château de Fontainebleau: 60 km (37 mi), time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Reims Cathedral: 113 km (70 mi), time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Gare SNCF de Provins
Avenue Jean Jaurès, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 36 58.
From Paris : Gare de l'Est. It is recommended that you begin your tour of the city with the Eglise Saint Ayoul (church), going directly to the lower town from the Provins train station.
Probus (urban bus network in Provins): Line 9, then circuits C and D. This bus takes you from the Provins train station to the Tourist Office.
2 Rue Georges Dromigny, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 01 60 67 30 67.
Bus tours from Paris
Paris City Vision
214 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Website - tel : 01 44 55 61 00.
Excursions from Paris in partnership with the Regional Tourism Committee of Paris.
The walled medieval upper town is not very large, and can be easily explored on foot.
Ample parking is available in front of the Tourist Office. Free on weekdays. Fees applicable on weekends and holidays (€4 per day).
The Mini Train
Tel : 01 60 67 30 67
Price: €6.50 / 5 to 12 years old: €4.50.
Operates daily from May through August and on weekends in April, September and October.
A 30-minute tour leaves from the Tourist Office with various stops in the city. Please note: the ticket is valid all day, unlimited trips. This is a great way to discover the city and its history.
Sleeping / Eating
The selection of accommodation proposed below consists of establishments that offer quality services at competitive rates, they are considered as references in their respective categories. These addresses are nearby or inside the classified area. The prices shown are for the off season, on the basis of 2 people. Note : during the peak season, rates can increase by 50 %.
Hostellerie Aux Vieux Remparts ***
3 Rue Couverte, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 01 64 08 94 00.
Price from €159.
Only hotel in the upper town.
B&B "La Demeure des Vieux Bains"
7 Rue Moulin de la Ruelle, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 06 74 64 54 00.
Price from €145.
The selection of restaurants proposed below consists of restaurants that offer a good price/quality value. These addresses are inside the classified area. “Formule” corresponds to a lunch special with a starter and a main course, or a main course and a dessert. The “menus” usually consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert," for lunch or dinner.
L’Appart - wine bar and bistro
37 Rue du Val, 77160 Provins
Tel : 01 64 08 32 91.
Main course around €18.
La Table Saint Jean - traditional cuisine
3 rue Saint Jean, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 01 64 08 96 77.
"Lunch formule" during the weekdays : €17.90. "Menu" from €20.90.
Hostellerie de la Croix d’Or - delicate cuisine
1 Rue des Capucins, 77160 Provins
Tel : 01 64 00 01 96.
"Lunch menu" during weekdays: €19.90. "Menu" from €31.90.
Hostellerie Aux Vieux Remparts - gourmet cuisine
3 Rue Couverte, 77160 Provins
Website - tel : 01 64 08 94 00.
"Lunch menu" : €48. "Dinner menu" from €75.