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ETHNONYM: Provençal


Identification. Provence is one of the twenty regions that constitute the Republic of France. These regions correspond to the pre-1789 division of the country into provinces. Provence refers to a region in the southeasternmost part of France and it includes the departments of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the Hautes-Alpes (also known as the Basses-Alpes), the Alpes-Maritimes, the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Var, and the Vaucluse.

Location. The region is delimited on the north by the departments of the Rhône-Alpes region and on the west by the departments of the region of Languedoc. The southernmost departments of Provence touch the Mediterranean Sea, and the principality of Monaco in the southeastern corner of Provence is generally considered part of the region. The Italian border represents the eastern boundary of the region. Provence is located approximately at 44° N and 6 to 8° E. Topographically, Provence can be divided into three zonesan alpine zone in the northeast, an intermediate zone of hills between the mountains, and a third zone of river Valley plains in the west and the coast in the south. The hills and highlands are cut by gorges, rocky plateaus, and valleys of the Rhône, the Durance, and the Verdun rivers. Extending from the delta of the Rhône through Monaco to Italy is the famous narrow strip of coastline called the Côte d'Azur. The port cities of Marseille and Toulon and the well-known cities of the French Riviera, Cannes, Saint Tropez, and Nice, are all situated on this coast. The climate of the coast is Mediterranean in character consisting of long hot and dry summers, warm autumns, and relatively mild winters, though the mistral, a chilly wind from the inland mountains, prevails in the winter months. The interior of Provence has a climate that is more continental in character. Average annual precipitation ranges from 50 to 150 centimeters. The annual temperatures vary from highs averaging in the upper 20s to lower 30s Celsius. The average low temperatures for the region range from 15° C on the coast to 5° C in the interior.

Linguistic Affiliation. Within Provence, French represents the official language; however, Provençal is often spoken for everyday purposes, especially among the rural elderly of the region. Provençal is a dialect of Languedoc or the Occitan language, a Romance language once spoken throughout southern France. "Languedoc" comes from the langue d'oc, a language using oc for "yes" (from the Latin hoc ille ). The langue d'oïl was once spoken only in northern France. The Occitan dialects are more closely related to Spanish than to French. Provençal refers both to the dialect of Languedoc spoken in the region of Provence and to the literary language, the language of the troubadours of medieval twelfth-to fourteenth-century France and northern Spain. There is some degree of controversy over the extent to which Provençal is used in contemporary France. Recently, However, intellectuals and some politicians have launched campaigns to preserve local culture and language. So Provençal has come to be taught in schools, and Provençal history, Literature, poetry, and festivals are all undergoing revival.

Demography. The population of Provence in 1990 exceeded 4 million, with about 75 percent concentrated along the coast. The rapid growth in population after World War II (from 2 million in 1950 to the current total) is attributed to the large numbers of immigrants who have settled in the Provence area. In the immediate post-World War II period, immigration from Italy and Spain rose to meet the demand for labor in reconstructing France. More recently, with the collapse of the French colonial empires in Indochina and North Africa, colonial subjects came to France in search of work. Many residents of Provence issue from the former French colonies in North Africa. In Marseille, for example, roughly one-sixth of the population is Muslim Arab, and a large number among them are recent immigrants to France. Refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Palestine have come also to settle throughout France and in Provence.

History and Cultural Relations

At the end of the second century b.c., when what is now France was partly under Roman rule, Provence was the first Roman provincia (hence the name Provence) beyond the Alps. With the breakdown of the Roman Empire, about 536, Provence fell under Carolingian rule (in the second Frankish dynasty founded by Charlemagne), after suffering successive invasions by the Franks from the north. Following the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century and until the beginning of the eleventh century, Provence formed part of a series of kingdoms set up between France and Germany. By the end of the tenth century, a local dynasty (which had led the defense against the invasion by Muslims) dominated the area and acquired for its leader the title of count of Provence. In 1113, this dynasty ended, the House of Barcelona gained the title, and Provence fell to Spanish rule from Catalonia for over a century. Under Catalonian-Spanish rule, Provençal cities grew, becoming important centers for trade with Spain. Troubadour poetry, Romanesque architecture, and the use of a language very similar to Latin were characteristic of this period. In the thirteenth century, the Albigensian crusade was launched by the Catholic church to suppress the Cathari sect of southern France, which was considered heretic. The crusade consolidated the influence of the papacy and northern France. The popes acquired certain territories in northern Provence and took up residence in Avignon from 1309 to 1377. The domination of Provence by the north dates from around 1246, with the Extension of the rule of the Angevin dynasty, started by Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX. During this period, the administrative autonomy of Provence prevailed with the development of the estates that had the power to approve taxes and to help rule the province in times of disorder. In 1481, Provence was willed to the king of France, and from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, control by the king grew and the power of the estates decreased. After the revolution of 1789, Provence lost all its political institutions, and in 1790 the first division of the province into departments occurred.

Contemporary France is inhabited by a culturally diverse population, though white native French represent the numerical majority. While Spanish and Italian immigrants have been more easily absorbed into the dominant culture, visible minority groups are less easily absorbed and tolerated. As the economic recession has reduced the demand for labor, resulting in job scarcity, ethnic tensions have grown. In the 1970s, racial intolerance became the political platform of the Right and ultra-Right parties of France. Interracial conflict is especially evident in areas with a large population of visible minority groups, such as Marseille, which represents one of the main ports of entry for the migrants from North Africa. In the rural areas, social interaction between French families and families of North African origin is highly attenuated and limited usually to the workplace.


Roughly 65 percent of the population of Provence is concentrated in the urban areas surrounding Avignon in the Vaucluse, in Marseille, and on the Côte d'Azur. The remaining 35 percent of the population lives in villages scattered throughout the region. In the middle of the nineteenth Century, the population of the hinterland of Provence began to decline as people migrated to the coastal areas in search of employment in a developing industrial and commercial Economy. The inhabitants of rural Provence live together in nucleated villages that are surrounded by fields worked by local farmers and agricultural laborers. Older houses in Provence are constructed of stone and covered by red roof tiles, while more recent dwellings are made of brick and stucco and are also covered by red roof tiles.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The economy of Provence is based on a combination of agriculture, industry, and tourism. The agricultural economy is highly diversified, mixing the cultivation of cash and subsistence crops with animal rearing. Sheep, goats, and cattle are raised in the Highlands and foothills of Provence. On the plateau of Valensole, which is cut by the Durance River, mixed grains are grown, Including corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, and oats. Viticulture takes up the greatest proportion of the arable land, and vine-yards cover almost all of the southern half of Provence, leaving a small area in the Rhône Valley and the river valley of the Durance for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Groves of fruit and olive trees as well as flowers are often found interspersed with vineyards. Half the agricultural output is exported outside the region to large urban centers within France and also abroad to Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. The other half of the agricultural output is primarily sold in local markets and a small proportion is retained by the producers for home consumption. The number of people employed in agriculture has been declining since 1954.

Some small, older industries that were developed in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, such as building-materials fabrication, food processing, and textile manufacture, are scattered throughout the region. However, more recently developed industries tend to be concentrated around Avignon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, and Toulon. These industries include the agro-alimentary, steel, armaments, electronics, energy, and chemical industries. Much of the immigrant population constitutes the labor force in the industrial sector of the Provence economy. The economic recession of the 1980s, economic restructuring, and the transformation of technology have resulted in a reduction of employment in industry. Tourism is also a significant sector of the economy of Provence. In contrast to both agriculture and industry, the tourist economy and the service sector of the economy have grown, absorbing much of the labor force rendered redundant in industry and agriculture.

Trade. Periodic markets, supermarkets, and "hypermarkets" service the population of Provence. The small open-air markets in the villages of the hinterland and the tourist centers along the coast are outlets for the sale of local handicrafts, such as lace, perfume, sweets, pottery, and for local farm products.

Division of Labor. In the division of labor in rural Provence, men are primarily responsible for executing the tasks of farm production, while women are responsible for the domestic tasks. This division represents the conceptual ideal and is seldom met in practice. Women often perform farm work in the fields on the family holding. Available children and the elderly are also enlisted to aid in the fields. Most rural households survive on the basis of mixing farm work with wage work, and husbands, wives, sons, and daughters may be involved in nonfarm wage work. While women are often involved in farm work, performing a range of light and heavy tasks, married men seldom perform domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

Land Tenure. Land is privately owned, rented, or sharecropped. A farmer may operate a holding that is partly sharecropped and partly owned. Sharecropping arrangements are often made with absentee owners who wish to maintain some agricultural land while not working it. The conditions of each sharecropping contract differ, but generally the owner receives one-third of the revenues generated on the sharecropped land. The sharecropper receives two-thirds of the revenues and provides the equipment and inputs, as well as labor. In rental arrangements, the tenant farmer pays a fixed rent to the owner of the land. The average size of the farms in this region is 11.5 hectares, which is half the national average. Sixty percent of the farming population operate holdings of less than 5 hectares. Because of the relatively small size of the holdings, most rural households combine some form of wage work with agricultural work.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. The "conjugal unit" is Commonly referred to as the famille. It consists of a husband and wife and their unmarried offspring. The term ménage refers to "household," which consists of a coresidential kin core and its dependents. It is usually used interchangeably with famille. Kinship or parenté is reckoned bilaterally, and it is applied to both affinal and consanguineal kin.

Marriage. In rural Provence, women and men tend to marry in their early twenties. There is no strict postmarital residence rule, but the newly married couple tends to reside in a separate residence, close to the location of their principal source of income. In farm households this of course means close to the holdings operated by the farmer. In rural Provence, the preferred marriage partner is a person who owns land.

Domestic Unit. The ménage in rural Provence may consist of many arrangements. In some households, several Generations may live together and grandparents, parents, and children may take meals together and participate in the running of the household and the farm. Other households may consist only of a couple and their unmarried children. Other domestic arrangements may involve kin living under the same roof, but in different quarters, forming separate households.

Inheritance. In the late eighteenth century, the Napoleonic Code abolished primogeniture, and all legitimate off-spring, female and male, came to be legally entitled to an equal share of their parents' estate. The division of property in practice in rural Provence may take a variety of forms. For example, land may be distributed among sons and cash and movable property distributed among daughters. The different forms of property division respond to the pressure preventing, if possible, the further fragmentation of already small holdings.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The villages of Provence tend to be stratified on the basis of landownership. Families who own and operate large agricultural holdings tend to enjoy both wealth and prestige compared with the landless segment of the village population. However, wealth does not necessarily confer political rank and influence. Since the economies of rural villages are complex, with villagers earning incomes from diverse sources, some villagers may become relatively wealthy earning incomes as owners of local businesses, such as hotels, cafés, butcher shops, and hardware stores. The wealthiest members of the village do not necessarily monopolize local power, as efforts often are made to elect officials who reflect the diversity in wealth and occupation at the local level. Hence, landless agricultural laborers, housewives, and schoolteachers have been elected to serve on municipal Councils, as well as large and small farmers.

Political Organization. France is a constitutional republic, headed by an elected president, who forms the government. The president is responsible for the appointment of government ministers and the prime minister. France also has a parliamentary system, which is composed of two houses of elected representatives, the National Assembly and the Senate. The main units of local government are the departments, the communes, and the overseas territories. The department is composed of from 11 to 70 cantons. Cantons are in turn composed of communes, which are the smallest administrative units in France. Each commune has a municipal council headed by a mayor, which is composed of elected representatives who sit for six-year terms. The main political parties in France include the Gaullist party, the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPR). The Socialist party of France (PSF) forms the current government of France headed by François Mitterrand. Other important parties are the Communist party (PCF) and the ultra-Right National Front party (PFN).

Social Conflict. One of the main sources of social conflict is political allegiances. These differences become most apparent around election time, when animosities between supporters of the various political parties at the local level can develop into brawls in public places as well as attacks on private property. Political allegiances often reflect class differences in the local population, as agricultural laborers as well as small farmers historically have tended to support the parties of the Left while large landowners have tended to support the parties of the Right. Conflicts between agricultural laborers and their employers revolve around wage rates, conditions of work, and terms of employment, and differences over these issues have often resulted in strikes and work stoppages.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The dominant religion in rural Provence is Catholicism; however, because of the significant numbers of Muslim Arabic residents, Islam represents an important religious force. The majority of people in Provence observe the holy days and participate in the cycle of festivities of the Catholic church. Thus, Epiphany, All Souls' Day, Assumption, Candlemas, and Lent are celebrated. One of the most prominent festivals is Carnaval, which is held during Holy Week at Easter. Carnaval has enjoyed a revival in rural villages in Provence and Languedoc. While the specific rites and ceremonies may vary from one region to another and from one village to another, the reemergence of Carnaval is linked to a revival of Occitan customs, language, and culture. This revival has also occurred in the arts.

Arts. The music and poetry of the troubadours is being revived in Provence as part of a movement to preserve regional identity against the dominant French identity. Written in the Occitan language, troubadour art forms flourished in Medieval Provence. Occitan literature and the Occitan language itself also have become part of school curriculums at the local level.

Medicine. Villages are served by licensed medical practitioners (i.e., doctors and nurses), who make their rounds visiting patients in their homes as well as tending to them in their offices. One doctor or nurse may serve several villages in close proximity to one another. Most large villages contain a pharmacy that stocks standard pharmaceutical products as well as homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic remedies as well as naturopathy are used in conjunction with "scientific" medicine. Medical knowledge itself is not the strict domain of medical practitioners, as many villagers, especially the elderly, are familiar with the medicinal properties of a wide variety of herbal plants that grow wild in the countryside. These plants are collected, dried, and brewed into teas that are used as medical remedies for many ailments.


Atlas economie régional (1987). Marseille: Chambre Régionale de Commerce et d'Industrie, Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur Corse.

Busquet, Raoul, V.-L. Bourilly, and Maurice Agulhon (1986). Histoire de la Provence. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Forster, R., and O. Ranum, eds. (1977). Rural Society in France, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wylie, Lawrence (1956). Village in the Vaucluse. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


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Provençal a Romance language closely related to French, Italian, and Catalan; it is sometimes called langue d'oc (or Occitan), though strictly speaking it is one dialect of this. In the 12th–14th centuries it was the language of the troubadours and cultured speakers of southern France, but the spread of the northern dialects of French led to its decline.

Provence, on the Mediterranean coast east of the Rhône, was settled by the Greeks in the 6th century bc. In the 1st century bc, the area around Marseilles became part of the Roman colony of Gaul. It was united with France under Louis XI in 1481.

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Provençal Variety of the Occitan language, spoken in Provence, se France. It is a Romance language belonging to the family of Indo-European languages. In the Middle Ages, it enjoyed a great literary flowering as the language of the troubadours. Provençal is now largely a spoken language.

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Pro·ven·çal / ˌprävənˈsäl; ˌprōvən-; ˌprōˌvän-/ • adj. of, relating to, or denoting Provence or its people or language. • n. 1. a native or inhabitant of Provence. 2. the Romance language of Provence.

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ProvençalAmal, Arles, banal, Barisal, Basle, Bhopal, Carl, chorale, corral, dhal, entente cordiale, Escorial, farl, femme fatale, Funchal, gayal, gnarl, halal, Karl, kraal, locale, marl, morale, musicale, Pascal, pastorale, procès-verbal, Provençal, rationale, real, rial, riyal, snarl, Taal, Taj Mahal, timbale, toile, Vaal, Vidal, Waal •Stendhal • Heyerdahl • housecarl •cantal • hartal • Wiesenthal •Lilienthal • neanderthal • Emmental •Hofmannsthal • Wuppertal •Transvaal • Roncesvalles • Kursaal

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Provençal pert. to Provence, former province in south-east France XVI; the Romance language spoken there XVII. — F. — L. prōvinciālis PROVINCIAL; the southern part of ancient Gaul, under Roman rule long before the rest, was familiarly styled (nostra) provincia the or our province.