Provence (prôväNsˈ) [key], region and former province, SE France. It now encompasses Var, Vaucluse, and Bouches-du-Rhône depts. and (in part) Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes depts. Nice, Marseilles, Toulon, Avignon, Arles, and Aix-en-Provence (the historic capital) are the chief cities. The fertile valley of the Rhône and the French Riviera produce fruits and vegetables (citrus fruits, olive oil, mulberry trees). Cattle are raised in the Camargue. The startling scenery has inspired such painters as Cézanne and Renoir. There are many old towns and historic remains. The coastal strip was settled c.600 B.C. by Greeks; Phoenician merchants also settled there, and in the 2d cent. B.C. the Romans established colonies. A part of Narbonensis (see Gaul), Provence was the oldest of the Roman possessions beyond the Alps; it took its name from Provincia, meaning province. Christianity was implanted very early, and by the 4th cent. the area was a haven for monasteries. It was invaded by the Visigoths (5th cent.), the Franks (6th cent.), and the Arabs (8th cent.), who were repelled by Charles Martel. But Roman institutions continued to have a profound cultural influence. The Provençal language was the standard literary idiom throughout S France in the Middle Ages and is used by some Provençal writers today (see langue d'oc and langue d'oïl; Provençal literature). In 879 the count of Arles established the kingdom of Cisjurane Burgundy, or Provence, which in 933 was united with Transjurane Burgundy to form the Kingdom of Arles (see Arles, kingdom of). The major part of Provence, held by the house of Aragón, passed (1246) to the Angevin dynasty of Naples through marriage, and under the Angevins the towns became virtually independent republics. King René left Provence to his nephew, Charles of Maine, who left it to the French crown (1486). Orange was added in 1672; Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin in 1791; and Nice and Menton in 1860.
See F. M. Ford, Provence (1979); J. Flower, Provence (1987).