Monday, May 30, 2016

Provins, a travel back in time to the knights, fortresses and the eagles :) :) :)

France, to most people, is predominantly all about Paris. The city of lights, the city of love, the city best known for its monuments, fashion and perfumes. It is a city etched with modernization, though quite a few age-old architectural marvels are still well preserved. A lot has changed with the times, not just with Paris, but with most of the cities around it as well. 

One city that has missed a great deal of modernization, retaining its medieval grandeur is Provins, about an hour and 20 min from Paris by train, in North-Central France.

Modernized streets of Provins

Inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001, this city has a lot to offer for a day trip. Intrigued by what we saw on the tourism website, a couple of my friends and I decided to visit this medieval town. Placed in zone 5 of Ile-de-France, travel is easy and cheap. With each of us having the travel pass ‘navigo’ that we use for our daily commutes to work, we had no extra ticket to be bought to get to Provins. We took the train, RER-P, from Gare de l’est and headed out on our exploratory trip.
Old city of Provins
Reaching Provins by noon, we walked uphill to reach the tourism office, to collect the passes for the visits in the city, booked online ( What we thought was a 5-7 min walk, turned out to be about 20 min from the train station. But what we saw was a change in scene, from a slightly modernized look of streets near the station, to old cobble-stoned streets deeper inside. The architecture looked old, dilapidated at times, making me feel as if I was back in time. Reaching the tourism office, we took our passes and headed out to explore the city.

Provins has its share of monuments. The main attraction of the place is the Saint-Jean’s gate and the ramparts. The fortified walls built in the 13th century have gates with almond shaped towers. The walls are presumed to be protecting the old roads to Paris! Standing high and mighty, the walls portray grandeur and make you feel inconsequential! 

The Remparts of Provins
Apart from this, Provins boasts of nearly 58 monuments, all built during the 12th and 13th century. The list is complete when you include a military cemetaire in it :).

The city claims to be the first to introduce a passport for the safe passage of merchants and this made the fairs of Provins one of the most important ones among that time, in Europe. We were able to re-live some of the aspects of the trade carried out during that time, visiting the Tithe Barn, a typical Provins house that was rented during those times to the merchants. With a beautiful audio guide, we felt as if we were actually amidst the people in a live trade!

Trade at the tithe barn
Clothing sold back in those days!
Caesar's Tower
Following the visit to the Barn, we shifted our focus to the Caesar’s tower. Built in the 12th Century, as a symbol of the power of the Counts of Champagne. Initially used as a watchtower, later as a prison, it finally became a bell tower, which it still is. The scenes within the tower show us how life would have been in those days. Atop the tower, we get a beautiful, scenic, panoramic view of the city. If you are up on top of the tower at any time of the day close to the half-hour or hour mark, be prepared to have your ears get a feel of the bell resonating :). It can be loud!

View of the Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church 
from atop the Caesar's Tower
From a prison, we moved to the Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church, erected in the 12th century. Simple architecture, with no much decorated colored glass windows or golden pillars at the altar, it highlights the simplicity of the people of this city, as well as the financial troubles the French kingdom went through during the 13th and 14th century, which marked a decline in the city’s prosperity as a trading hub of France.

Provins is not just about monuments. It has its share of art and entertainment too. Medieval festivals, “The Legend of the Knights” and “The Eagles of Remparts” showcase the medieval era beautifully. Though we did not visit the show on the knights, looking at the area where they perform reminded me of the Game of Thrones, with Robert Baratheon used to enjoy his knights jousting.

Artists performing at the Eagles of Remparts

The Eagles of Remparts is a show of predator birds. A 50-min show highlighting the predatory instincts of Vultures, Eagles and Falcons, this show is all about the birds, flying just above your heads. Unfortunately, our inability to understand French did not let u enjoy the show better, but who cares! We got to see these birds up-close, and I mean real up close!

Trainer explaining the characteristic 
features of this Eagle..
Fiery-eyed bald Eagle flying right above our heads!

In all, I must say, Provins, a relatively unknown place for most of the tourists who visit France, is one beautiful place to spend a day, especially on a bright and sunny day. Go there, if and when you come to France :) :) :)