1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Provins

PROVINS, a town of northern France, capital of an arrondissement of the department of Seine-et-Marne, at the junction of the Durtain with the Voulzie (an affluent of the Seine), 59 m. E.S.E. of Paris by rail. Pop. (1906), 7546. The town enjoys a certain reputation for its mineral waters (which contain iron, lime, and carbonic acid, and are used for bathing and drinking), and is also known from its trade in roses, but it derives a higher interest from numerous remains of its medieval prosperity. Provins is divided into two quarters—the ville-haute and the less ancient ville-basse—which in the 13th century were surrounded by fortifications. There still remains a great part of these fortifications, which made a circuit of about 4 m., strengthened at intervals by towers, generally round, and now, being bordered with fine trees, form the principal promenade of the town. The large tower situated within this line, and variously known as the king's, Caesar's or the prisoners' tower, is one of the most curious of the 12th century keeps now extant. The base is surrounded by a thick mound of masonry added by the English in the 15th century when they were masters of the town. The tower serves as belfry to the church of St Quiriace, which dates its foundation from the 12th century. These two buildings in the ville-haute rise picturesquely from the crest of a steep wooded hill above the ville-basse. The church preserves among its treasures the pontifical ornaments of St Edmund of Canterbury (d. 1242). The interior is plain, but very beautifully proportioned. The appearance of the exterior suffers from an inappropriate dome erected above the crossing. The palace of the counts of Champagne, some fragments of which also belong to the 12th century, is occupied by the communal college. The old tithe-barn is a building of the 13th century with two fine vaulted chambers, one of which is below ground. The church of St Ayoul dates from the 12th to the 16th centuries, the transept being the oldest part; it is in a state of great dilapidation, and the choir is used as a storehouse. St Croix belongs partially to the 13th century. Extensive cellars, used as warehouses in the middle ages, extend beneath portions of the town. On Mont Ste Catherine, opposite Provins, the general hospital occupies the site of an old convent of St Clare, of which there remains a cloister of the 14th century. The sub-prefecture, tribunals of first instance and of commerce are among the public institutions. There is an active trade in grain, livestock and wool, and the industries include flour milling, nursery-gardening, brick making, and the manufacture of porcelain, pianos, gas and petrol engines, agricultural implements and sugar.

Provins began to figure in history in the 9th century. Passing from the counts of Vermandois to the counts of Champagne, it rapidly attained a high degree of prosperity. Cloth and leather were its staple manufactures, and its fairs, attended by traders from all parts of Europe, were of as much account as those of Beaucaire, while its money had currency throughout Europe. In the 13th century the population of the town is said to have reached 60,000; but the plague of 1348 and the famine of 1349 proved disastrous. The Hundred Years' War, during which Provins was captured and recaptured, completed the ruin of the town. During the religious wars it sided with the Catholic party and the League, and Henry IV. obtained possession of it in 1592 only after thirteen days' siege.

See Felix Bourquelot, Histoire de Provins (2 vols., Provins, 1839–1840).