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Provins, located approximately 70 miles from Paris, is one of the best preserved medieval cities in France. Every street corner evokes the great splendor of the old capital of the Counts of Champagne. Provins is a medieval city located in "Champagne Country" as it is known today. The city, built in the 400's (not a typo) is a surrounded by a 20 foot high stone wall encompassing a little over a square mile. It was one of 53 major trading centers in medieval times.
Provins is now centrally located in champagne country. All of the champagne produced in France comes from this area. Back in time when Provins was serving as a trading center the surrounding fields were used for farming. The people would live in the walled city but do their farming outside of its walls. The walls are over 20 feet in height, as they surround the city, and enclose an area a bit over one square mile.
We visited a museum while in the city and learned how the city operated and prospered back then. Throughout Europe there were about 50 major trading centers. At the time they were called fairs. It was at these centers that merchants could exchange their good for another. Interestingly, there was a common coin in use that allowed a merchant to use the coins to barter for goods versus having to carry their own merchandise.
One of the more important people at each center was the "Money Changer." Even then there were crooks. Sometimes a person would shave the edge of their coins and use the shavings to make a counterfeit coin. The Money Changer had a simple scale comprised of a long stick hung on a piece of string much like we see at the halls of justice. As each coin would be handed to him for authenticity he would weigh it. If it had been shaved he would then stamp it with his assessed value of the coin.
While the Money Changer was considered to be an important person they were not allowed to loan money. This task was restricted to the Jews. They were the only people allowed to loan money as they were considered to be the most trustworthy.
For now, let's take a little walk through the city of Provins.
As we approach the entrance to the city we cross a bridge over a dried-up moat and see nothing but the massive stone walls that were constructed 1,600 years ago. We were privileged to have been introduced to Provins by Sylvia and Jean-Marc Ambrosini who are on each side of Crystal in the right photograph. They are the parents of Max who visited with us for three weeks a couple of years ago.As we enter the city we pass through a tunnel. In the 400's when it was fortified one would have found gates at each end to ward off warring enemies. As we walked through we looked up and could see the slots in the stone ceiling above. The slots were to allow the defenders to pour hot oil on the invading soldiers if they had successfully broken through the first gate.
Provins is on France's Historical Registry and is being maintained to match how it has been historically. The city remains populated i.e. houses, restaurants, shops, gardens etc. Only the residents are allowed to drive their vehicles into the town as the streets are barely wide enough for a single vehicle.
In this picture we are walking along the inside of the wall surrounding the city and are actually walking up a steep grade. We found it interesting how the stone steps are built to allow the residents access to their home while allowing a person to continue their travel along the cobble stone sidewalk.
Note how the sidewalks have been removed on the distant right hand side. This allows for emergency and utility trucks to be able to park when needed.
In the picture below, one can get the feel of the narrow streets.
Actually, as we walked through the village it brought back memories of the style of the buildings in Frankenmuth, Michigan, just a short distance from where we live.
The picture on the right (above) shows a restaurant with additional outdoor seating. The wood "trim" acts as additional bracing for the building plus a place for the stucco to expand and contract. At one time the house on the right was expanded as can be seen by the addition of a shallower sloped roof looking to the right. The roofs are covered with shale "shingles" as is common on older buildings throughout Europe. As far as we know, asphalt shingles as we know them, just aren't used in European construction. Roofs are covered with either slate, tile or some form of stone.
We couldn't help ourselves. He had to stop and take a picture of the "King" in this restaurant window.
Near the center of the city stands a church built entirely of stone. We weren't able to learn just when it was built but the probability is somewhere around the 800's.
While in Paris we visited a number of churches the oldest having been built in the year 360. What is different about this church is the large circular dome at its center. We could almost "feel" its age as we entered through the front doors beneath a statue that looked like it had been there forever. (I guess something as old as 1,400 years might start to look old.)
The narthex of the church seems to leap to the sky. My estimated distance from the floor to the ceiling is approximately 120 feet.
Amazingly it was quite bright in inside given that the skies were overcast. It allowed me to take some photos using only available light as additional flash wasn't allowed. Really, it wouldn't have made any difference because all of the reflective surfaces were so far away.
It occurred to me that the people who attend this church don't do it for comfort. The pews are straight backed chairs reminding me of the kind the Amish sell.
We were intrigued by the painting that hangs on the foyer wall. It is approximately 20 feet long a 8 feet high. From my first viewpoint it looked like the canvas had been folded or wrinkled. As I moved to get a better lighting position I discovered that the painting is painted on wood.
It may have been painted around the same time period as the Mona Lisa. It too is painted on wood. As near as we could determine, this painting in the church is over 500 years old.
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