The limy soil of Provins was a perfect dirth to scour the Medieval wool. So the whole town has been excavated underneath the existing house cellars.
During history, the excavated galleries have been used for different purposes, such as hiding places, store rooms, dark gateries etc. Especially this last activity of course drew my attention.
Strange inscriptions, names and mysterious words in Medieval handwriting brighten up the whole thing.
Foresee a warm sweater. The caves are veeeery cold and humid.
We were not allowed to take photograps in the galleries. I picked this one from the Provins Tourism site.
This XIIIth century edifice was used as a covered market during the Fairs of Champagne. Visit this place not only for its beautiful civil architecture (cross-ribbed vaulting, sculpted pillars...), but also to discover the different types of trades and merchants that existed in those days.
An audio guide (about 35mn, free, just leave an ID card at the hostesse) will take you back to a XIIth century fair, where you'll meet an italiant merchant, a Provins woollen cloth merchant, a money-changer, a flemish merchant, a letter-writer, a weaver, a potter, a quarryman a stone cutter and a parchment maker!
child (5-12 year olds): 1,90€
Caesar's Tower is the symbolic monument of Provins!
Built in the XIIth century by the Counts of Champagne, on the edge of a rocky spur, this tower protected the former palace of the counts.
The tower is a magnificent and outstanding illustration of the history of medieval military architecture.
You will visit the former chapel (called model room as it houses a cross-section model of the tower), the guard's room, the Governor's office, the lower room, the battlemented parapet, the amazing framework of the tower's roof from where hangs a bell casted in 1511 and wheighing 3.000kg!!!
The best view over the town is definitely from the tower!
child (5-12 year olds): 1,90€
Originally these galleries were probably used as a quarry to extract a earth that was needed for degreasing woollen cloth. Later they became hiding places, storerooms during the fairs, places of worship., or meeting places for the freemasons!
You will also visit two two beautiful vaulted lower rooms. One, poorly decorated was used to accomodate paupers and pilgrims, while the second one, used by merchanys as their "showroom", is very decorated (pillars' carved capitals, stairway...)
Make this your first stop. The Visitor Center is next to the main parking area at the entrance to the walled town. Pick up a map of the town so you will have a sense of the location of the attractions (Caesar's Tower, the Grange, the Underground tour, etc.). But in this town, even the "non-attractions" are beautiful. Simply stroll around, soak up the ambiance, appreciate the glory of this ancient place.
The walls are very thick and the towers are ether round or square with lookout area on the tops. The bases are broad and sloping to inhibit scaling. It looks like there was even a moat and there may have been wooden hoardings . At the North corner was a large tower with heavy looking walls said to be 3 m thick (Tour aux Engins). The hardest part of the walk was clambering up the grassy slope to the road which entered at the North through the Porte de Jouy
We walked along the 12-13C ramparts as sunset approached in order to stimulate our appetite for the gourmet meal ahead. We exited the walls through the Porte St.-Jean with the remnants of a "murder-hole" in the gate. Outside there was not yet a tourist office, but only a parking area. On the left along the wall was the first of the Medieval performance venues (not yet functioning before the busy season). Nearby one whole segment of wall was being restored.
When we visited Provins 10 years ago, the Tourist Office had not yet learned how to trap tourists but was moving in the right direction. Critically the Michelin rated the Tour 2* in a 1* town. At the time the tower and ramparts were undergoing extensive repairs (not the least for safety of visitors). The jousting style exhibitions had just begun, there was nothing in the Grange, there was no museum and the underground was usually closed. The tower was free. What it offered was its structure and a view. Since we had been in others of the 12C, this was enough. Besides we were elderly and climbing both up and down were stressful. As you can see, we concentrated on the churches. This an example of a Donjon situated on top of a motte. There would have been defenses below.
You have to walk through or by the Place if you are going between the Grange aux Dimes and the Tour de Cesar or Eglise St.-Quiriace. For us it was "out-back" behind the Hostellerie where we were staying (See Hotel Tip). The Place is for sitting and viewing old houses and roof tops. Near its center is a large cross (Croix des Changes) on whose base official notices were anciently placed. Next to it inside a protective fence is a wrought-iron old well cage. From the name of the Place, I suspect that the long gone castle stood between here and the Donjon (Tour de Cesar) seen in the background in the broad view picture.
Like many others this church was built to house a fragment of the True Cross brought back by Thibaut IV on his Crusade adventure. It is amazing how many were taken by the Near Eastern salesmen even then. Luckily he also introduced rose plants to Europe while he continued to write his love songs. The church had to be rebuilt in the 16C after a 15C fire, but pieces of the previous church remain. There is a Romanesque crossing tower (with a new steeple), a Gothic North door and a Renaissance West Portal. We could not go in when we were there but there are interesting fixtures to see inside (like an old font).
Very little was added to the church. The only statue we recorded was one to emphasize that Jeanne d'Arc prayed here. The pulpit was well carved (we have no data on it) and the stained glass was new but in the time styles of the windows in which they were fitted.
The church stood quietly during the trading decline of Provins as textile and other activities survived. A fire destroyed the crossing tower in 1665 and funds were available for a fine dome which stands out all over the upper town. A cross was erected in the garden across the way on the western spot where the church was to have ended. The simplified west door was not changed
The construction of St.-Quiriace began in 1160 encouraged by Henri I with its objective to be the largest and finest church in town. As was the custom it started with the chevet (the apse, chancel, choir and ambulatory). Its model was derived from the new style seen in nearby Sens (early Gothic): tall pointed arches, topped by round-arch blind triforium and tall clerestory windows. There was to be no transepts. When they reached the time for vaulting, they stopped. Encouraged by the invention of flying buttresses they conceived of a unique octapartite vault over the apse and lots of flying buttresses, and they added shallow transepts and contemplated Rose windows. It was now 1238. It was time to build the nave and he first two bays were created. But the times were changing and the heyday of Champagne Fairs (and Provins preeminence) was ending and it was annexed by marriage to France. So because the church was big enough the West Facade became a simple wall. The North transept received its lancet windows but no Rose. In the South only a simple window.
Not only fine 15C stained glass windows greet you but statuary, several pieces in particular also of the 15C done in alabaster: a Nursing Madonna and two Angel Musicians (the creator not given, but he was able to achieve great grace using such soft material. More important perhaps is the fine wood carving in bas relief in panels on various areas of the altar by P. Blasset (11612-63) who died in Provins and is buried in the church; there is a memorial plaque.
The interior is wide with aisle covered by gallery tribunes, popular at the time of rebuilding, with small clerestory windows. The North aisle was redone in the 15C in Gothic style to give more light and equipped with stained glass windows. The ribbed vaulting ended in fine pendants. As time progressed fine accouterments were added.