The Surprising History of Jewish Provence

People are often surprised to learn that France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States.

And they are even more surprised to learn that for centuries the center of Jewish life in France wasn’t Paris, it was Provence… thanks to the Pope!

How did this happen?

Jews have long been subject to persecution in France, as in many places.

In the Middle Ages, French Jews were the victims of murders, riots, and outright expulsions. There were few places where they were allowed to live, even fewer jobs they were allowed to hold, and many were forced to wear a yellow star.

Life was intolerable… but hope beckoned in the south.

Learn all about the surprising history of Jewish Provence in My French Life!

10 Fun Quotes About France

Some quotes from France are beyond famous. King Louis XIV saying “I am the state” or Napoleon’s “An army travels on its stomach” are known around the world. And, if you love quotes, you’ll enjoy these fun France sayings…

“How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?”—Charles de Gaulle

“France is the most civilized country in the world and doesn’t care who knows it.”—John Gunther

“They have a very low rate for attempted murder and a high rate for successfully concluded murder. It seems that when a French person sets out to kill someone, they make a good job of it.”—Nick Yapp

“You should definitely visit the Louvre, a world-famous art museum where you can view, at close range, the backs of thousands of other tourists trying to see the Mona Lisa.”—Dave Barry

“Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything.”—Steve Martin

 “True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee. But why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don’t know.”—P.J. O’Rourke

 “France has neither winter nor summer nor morals—apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.”—Mark Twain

“Every Frenchman wants to enjoy one or more privileges; that’s the way he shows his passion for equality.”—Charles de Gaulle

“The thing that staggers you when you first come to France is the fact that all the French speak French—even the children.”—Olivia de Havilland

The Sardine that Blocked the Port of Marseille

“C’est la sardine qui a bouché le port de Marseille!” (A sardine blocked Marseille’s port!)

This local saying is famous throughout France. Another that is less well-known is “Chercher Molinari” (look for Molinari). Both expressions, curiously, come from the same famous disaster that took place in the 18th century.

Can a little bitty sardine really block a great big port? Yes! Well, kind of.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

Provence and the Greatest Power of the Ancient World

Fontvieille is a charming Provençal village in the south of France, close to Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

This quaint town has a lovely old lavoir (wash house), a shady central square, and a bustling open-air market on Monday mornings. It is a delightful place to spend a few pleasant hours and is also the perfect base for exploring three outstanding nearby sites.

First is the windmill immortalized by Alphonse Daudet in his beloved classic Letters from my Windmill. Then there is the ancient Montmajour Abbey, a favorite of Vincent Van Gogh. Finally there are the remains of the Romans’ Barbegal aqueduct and mills, part of the system that brought water to the city of Arles. They were so vast that they could mill enough grain for 12,000 people a day and have been called, “the greatest concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world.”

That is quite a lot to see! It makes for a lovely day trip.

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

A Mysterious French Monster

History is full of horrible monsters. The ancient Greeks were terrorized by the Cyclops. The snowy Himalayas are haunted by the Abominable Snowman. And in Japan, Godzilla appears from time to time and stomps on Tokyo.

The French have their own terrible creature and—unlike the others—this one was real. The mysterious Beast of Gévaudan ravaged the French countryside in the 18th century, killing so many people that King Louis XV had to send troops to destroy it.

What was the Beast—a vicious wolf, an escaped lion, or something else? It’s a fascinating tale.

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

Roman Provence

Provence is famous for its charming hilltop villages, brilliant sunflowers, and fragrant lavender. It is also where you can find some of the best Roman ruins in all of Europe. This is because Provence was once an important part of the Roman Empire. The Romans even gave it its name: “Provence” comes from the original Latin “Provincia Romana.”

If you like beautiful temples, magnificent amphitheaters, and stunning aqueducts as tall as an 18-story building, then Provence is the place for you. Let’s take a look at some of the best of these Roman sites.

Read all about it at The Good Life France!

Living Like a Local in Provence

Val and I live part of the year in St-Rémy and we’ve tried to become as local as we can. An important part of that is getting to know our region’s history.

One way we’ve done this is through local associations, which are groups organized around a common interest. Associations are popular in France and every town and village has at least a few. They might be cultural, charitable, athletic—you name it. A friend of ours is in a walking group and she joins fellow members for “randonnées” in the countryside every weekend.

We’ve made it a point to go to lectures put on by our town’s historical society. Want to know about the women of the French Resistance? How about what the Pont d’Avignon looked like before it collapsed? Or maybe the REAL story of Mary Magdalene in Provence?

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!

Treasures of Ancient Arles

Ancient ships that have survived until today are few and far between. Maybe the best known is the Gokstad Viking ship in Oslo, dating back to the ninth century. But far older is the Roman barge at the Museum of Ancient Arles, in Provence. This 2,000-year-old vessel is the highlight of a museum that is a must-see for any lover of Roman history.

With a mint-condition bust of Julius Caesar (check those wrinkles!), beautiful mosaics, jewelry and much more, you’ll want to visit this museum on your next trip to Provence.

Read all about it at France Today!

The Most Roman City in France

Just west of Provence, across the mighty Rhône River, lays the Gard Department of France. Gard and Provence share a deep Roman history, from the days when both were part of the Roman region of Gallia.

Because it is so close to Provence, a visit to Gard makes for a nice day trip from Avignon or St-Rémy-de-Provence or wherever you might be staying. And one of the highlights of a visit is the city of Nîmes, once called Nemauses and known as “the most Roman city outside of Italy.” Emperor Augustus made Nemauses his local capital and today Nîmes is filled with sites and monuments that make it a must-see for any lover of Roman history.

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!